Posts Tagged ‘dance theatre


The Paratrooper Project


The Paratrooper Project

Phluxus2 Dance Collective

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

June 25 to July 4 2015


Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway


Enter the trenches in this immersive new production…

Phluxus2 Dance Collective




The Paratrooper Project is promoted as an immersive experience, and this it certainly delivers. Described in the brief program notes as a dance theatre installation, it is the theatre that dominates.


War and conflict and their effects are the subject. Richard Matthaei, grandfather of Phluxus2’s Artistic Director Nerida Matthaei, was a paratrooper in World War II, and this work was inspired by mementoes he left behind.


The audience stood (or occasionally sat or lay) on the floor of the performance space in the Judith Wright Centre, with white parachutes and webbing suspended above us, sometimes billowing up and down, and covering the performers.


Their layered costumes (Lisa Fa’alafi) are all also white – pants, tunics, shirts, and military-looking coats with wide lapels. This makes the performers stand out amongst the audience, but could also connote ghostliness, death, and the afterlife.


the paratrooper project


The audience starts out standing huddled in a crowd under a tent-like parachute. Is it going to fall on us? Is there going to be sudden blackout? No, there are performers in there with us, they start speaking, and the parachute lifts.


The creators and performers – dancers Nerida Matthaei, Gareth Belling, Gabriel Comerford, and actor Margi Brown Ash – move through different areas of the performance space, the audience shifting (or being directed to shift) around them.


The sound design (Andrew Mills) includes clinking sounds like dishes or metal in a workshop, waves breaking, and a plaintive fragmentary tune.


Belling and Comerford represent soldiers or fighters, engaging in much violent, grappling movement, frequently crashing with full force onto the floor. They also enact roles of the wounded or dead, the torture victim, and the rescuer.


Matthaei is at first a grief-stricken woman, widowed by war; later, a chilling torturer; and then a rape victim. She and Brown Ash also speak of matters on the domestic front, such as tea and biscuits, and borrowing sugar.




Brown Ash is the dominant, compelling force in this work, her mesmerising authority and the power of her voice unequalled. In a surreal evocation of domesticity, she paces around while knitting and trailing an unravelling ball of wool behind her.


In this she echoes Madame Defarge, from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, who incorporated the names of intended guillotine victims in her knitting, and also the Three Fates from Ancient Greek stories, who created and destroyed people’s lives by spinning and cutting thread.


Brown Ash also parodies a Churchillian wartime leader, exhorting and haranguing us; and huddles and flinches as a terrified torture victim.


This is not comfortable escapist theatre.


The audience is instructed, harangued, and physically directed around the space. Brown Ash took people by the hand and led them where they were meant to go, until the rest of us understood we were meant to follow. Others were invited to take part in some of the action.




Brown Ash orates at the end about the idea of war continuing on, and affecting us now. Moving amongst us, she then asks us to remember the dead, and give them a voice. Most of the audience engaged in a very personal way with this, seeming to forget where they were, and becoming totally absorbed in the moment.


This work is gripping and moving, and pulls you into its orbit.


Occasionally, though, the attention lapses when some parts go on a little too long (such as the dancers hurling themselves to the floor over and over at the end).




In Phluxus2’s previous work de-generator, the audience also followed the dancers around the space, but moved out of the way of the action without any guidance.


This current work is a more sophisticated and choreographed development of audience involvement. It is more powerful, covering more dimensions of experience, but also more coercive and controlling for the audience.



White Porcelain Doll


White Porcelain Doll 

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

July 28 – August 2 2014


Reviewed by Meredith Walker




Dance is a pure and honest way of communicating. However, that which makes it enthralling can also render it distributing and difficult to watch. This is the case with the dark tale that is White Porcelain Doll, the first full-length work from husband and wife duo Lizzie and Zaimon Vilmanis of Prying Eye Productions, current artists-in-residence at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts.


Billed as a fairy tale based on true horror stories of women held as long-term captives by men, the show was inspired by real life stories of Stockholm syndrome. It is confronting subject matter for dance theatre and while the reality of its real-life account inspiration is chilling, at times the interpretation is too abstract to allow the audience to follow all the nuances of its narrative.




More movement, than dance, the choreography is full of animalistic actions, which is in keeping with the show’s aim to examine the emerging instinct that enables some victims to survive rather than succumb. Lizzie Vilmanis is an independent choreographer and dancer of pedigree, thanks to her work with Expressions Dance Company and there is no denying her talent on stage. As the hostage, she delivers a powerful and physically demanding, yet sinuous performance with emotional range from innocence and fragility, to panic and terror and then frustration and determination. However, with only limited glimpses of her face, it is difficult to engage with her character in an empathetic way.


As the captor, Zaimon is a show of strength from his first solo scene, moving around a stage set sparsely with only a metal box, armchair and draped sundress. When she appears and he attempts to dress her, her struggles lead to her being dumped in the box. Thus begins her terrifying and isolated journey, told through a series of vignettes and freeze-framed stillness.




Whilst I was unsure what to make of much of the content of the show, there is no denying the talents of its performers. The partnering routines are fluid and it is frustrating that the work includes so little contemporary dance. Rather, as a cross-arts performance piece, it uses music, movement, sound and video arts to convey its chilling story. Superb lighting, simple staging and an unobtrusive soundscape combine to create its unsettling, haunting experience; however, it is the simulated violence of projections that are amongst the most confrontational memorable moments. In contrast, a disconnect between music and movement makes it difficult to maintain absorption, especially as themes are repeated and show’s pace drags.




There is no denying that White Porcelain Doll represents an uncomfortably-voyeuristic experience for its audience. Prying Eye states that they wish to take their audiences on a journey to the other side, the one farthest from their thoughts, and in this exploration of the power play between perpetrator and his broken doll victim, they have certainly succeeded. Its disturbing themes might not be for everyone; however, they are guaranteed to garner a reaction. And isn’t this the measure of all true art?







The Danger Ensemble

With support from Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground program

Judith Wright Centre

July 3 – 12 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




Right after seeing The Danger Ensemble’s latest visual feast mindfuck, Caligula, Sam offered Director, Steven Mitchell Wright, the most apt description I’ve ever heard of his work:


“Someone shot you in the head, and the bits of your brain that slid down the wall to land on the floor is what you’ve made this show with.”


The design elements are beautiful (Designers Benjamin Hughes & Nathalie Ryner), the first ten minutes – otherworldly beautiful – and then, once we’ve heard from two tour guides (not your usual suspects and serving in this moment as Greek Chorus) about Caligula’s character and infamous short reign over the Roman Empire, all descends into chaos. We transcend time and place to find ourselves lost somewhere between “history” and the fetish clubs of the 21st century. It’s loose, it’s a little wicked, and it’s not anything at all like you might expect, even if you thought you were familiar with The Danger Ensemble’s work. And that’s the thing.


The Danger Ensemble is the only company in the place doing this work. It’s bold and cheeky, and it’s quite often crass and downright revolting (it’s no secret that I disliked Sons of Sin), but it’s being made and THAT is a beautiful thing.


The work itself usually contains, on some level, a whole lot of brutality, sensuality, classically derived text, and new interpretations of ancient beliefs or popular opinions or bits of history. This work, just as Loco Maricon Amour did, boasts moments of immense beauty, and subtlety too. The images conjured (and they are conjured, as if by magic; as I’ve noted before, Steven Mitchell Wright’s expertise in painting pictures on stage is impressive), are capable of affecting us in a way that only art can. Each piece or tiny moment is unique and we respond to it in such a personal way that sometimes the effect is difficult to describe. Sometimes, when I’m writing up a show like this, I just wish you’d been there. You need to get out more! Experience the work!


Had you been there, you might have breathed more quietly, or held your breath, or tried not to visibly squirm, or tried to stop yourself from digging your nails into the palm of your hand as the beating of your heart quickened…


Have you ever sat through a delivery boy’s litany on the pros and cons of fisting (Stephen Quinn), or listened to the deadpan delivery from a woman wearing the horns of Beelzebub (Lucinda Shaw) on how to skin an animal while the “animal” twitches and tenses and dances and stumbles and eventually dies in front of you, collapsing into a deep pool of plastic party cups? No? See? You just don’t know how you’ll respond to that! How good is live theatre!?


The cast has been literally cast to create white plaster torsos that hang from the gods and rise to reveal the actors behind them, only to stop and hang in mid air, to look over the strange, sordid action that follows. The effect is a haunting reminder that somebody, whether or not we believe it to be a pantheon of gods, is always watching. We are, each of us, responsible for the way we choose to feel but we realise too that our words and actions have an impact on those around us.




Sometimes while Sam drives I write, and as I write I’m grateful the P Plater in front of us has wrenched himself back onto the highway instead of dying in the gutter tonight. How close we can come to death. How sad it is that we need these reminders to truly value our lives. And then there are those who ignore the reminders and continue to live ungratefully, recklessly, selfishly, and viciously. They make me sick. And then I remember I can try not to feel disgusted by their apathy for the feelings of others. Try to frame it differently. Try to feel compassion. Poor, stupid people who go through life hurting others… That’s right, isn’t it?


An entire section of Caligula (and, it seems, the Dharma), has been completely lost on me; it’s almost a stand-up comedy segment comprising Chris Beckey and Nerida Matthaei using hand held mics to hold a rather odd conversation about the ways she wishes to be hurt by him.


I want you to hit me with your car.


Really? YOU WANT HIM TO HIT YOU WITH HIS CAR. Who would want that? Is it a metaphor? Is it a kiss with a fist?



It made me think of a few things, including another song, you know, the Swedes singing about driving a car into a bridge? I’m appalled that Poppy knows the lyrics and we’ve talked about how crazy and ungrateful it is that she wouldn’t even care, about her life, about other peoples lives, about what happens in the lives of the people she leaves behind… I also think of an ex-boyfriend who was genuinely an emo (I know, what was I thinking? I’m actually a beach baby! And I love happy endings!), and that stupidly disturbing and unnecessarily revoltingly violent film, which I never finished watching and never will, Irreversible.


There’s the thought too that Nerida Matthaei’s choreography makes Caligula a convincing “dance theatre” piece (it’s a term that seems to be bandied about a bit at the moment), as much as it is a work of theatre or contemporary performance art. I can imagine this show performed in all its parts at various times of the day and night in a place like MONA.


I enjoyed Beckey’s voice – rich and salubrious – vocally and physically his is a consummate performance as always, right to the glittery end. And the twitching, dying movement sequence mentioned earlier, performed by Gabriel Comerford, will be sure to sear some sort of cruel image on your mind so you’ll certainly remember him the next time you see him (or hear about Anna Krien’s Us and Them). Even without Steven Mitchell Wright on stage – he cut his role the day before opening, as it seemed superfluous – this is another bold configuration of one of the country’s most confident, most consistently challenging creative companies. What we’re seeing here is the earliest version of this piece, thanks to The Judy’s Fresh Ground program; it’s a slightly messy birth but we know that whatever this baby looks like in the first instance, we’ll give it a chance.


Caligula comes to us at the perfect time, challenging our perceptions of what art is, what is acceptable to see and to talk about in public, and what parallels are to be drawn between historical and current leaders and followers. Power, wealth, sex, power. Power. Who else is asking the questions? Who else is presenting multiple possible answers for us to discuss and digest?
It’s true (and unfortunate) that The Danger Ensemble flirts with financial ruin when compared to the obvious commercial successes of our pretty, lovely, light and fluffy theatre companies but then, why compare? The work is unapologetic, pushing the proverbial boundaries and promising nothing at this stage but a unique night out, which you certainly won’t forget but you might not want to remember. Regardless, let’s see more of it!




Bangarra’s BLAK is coming…




Cutting-edge creative collaborations emerge



Bangarra Dance Theatre is back at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) from 18 to 27 July with their brand new emotionally powerful and physically dynamic production Blak.


Following on from its World Premiere season at Arts Centre Melbourne and seasons in Wollongong, Sydney and Canberra,Blak will arrive on the Playhouse stage, QPAC exploding with stories about a contemporary clan and the collision of two worlds.


In Blak, Bangarra’s acclaimed Artistic Director Stephen Page and dancer/choreographer Daniel Riley McKinley peel back the layers, crossing the worlds of old and new, exposing our universal yearning for spiritual connection.


For the first time, Bangarra’s artist in residence and music composer David Page will collaborate with Paul Mac on the exciting soundscape for Blak. A songwriter, musician and producer, the multi-ARIA award winning Paul Mac is one of thecountry’s leading figures in electronic music.


“I have had such an incredible experience working with this crew. Being able to experiment with sonics, rhythms, and arrangements out of the straightjacket of pop music has been completely liberating.


“Watching the dancers bring the music to life through Daniel Riley McKinley and Stephen Page’s choreography has taught me so much about dance. I have never written for a contemporary dance company before, so I jumped at the chance to collaborate and co-write the music for Blak with David Page,” said Mac.



Fourteen dancers will be featured in Blak, including Bangarra’s two newest company members, Queenslander Nicola Sabatino and Beau Dean Riley Smith, along with guest artist Hunter Page-Lochard.


The son of Stephen Page, Hunter is one of Australia’s young talents to watch, having appeared in previous Bangarra productions, last year’s acclaimed Sydney Theatre Company production Bloodland and numerous films including the worldwide hit The Sapphires.


Drawn from the artists’ urban perspectives, Blak tells the stories of contemporary Indigenous Australia in a work of dance theatre that is physical and edgy. Jacob Nash’s sensational set designs, Luke Ede’s costumes and Matt Cox’s lighting will combine to bring further depth and mood to Bangarra’s evocative theatrical journey.


Under the leadership of Artistic Director Stephen Page, Bangarra Dance Theatre is acclaimed for its performances throughout Australia and internationally most recently in New York, Mongolia and Vietnam.


Named NSW Australian of the Year in 2008 and NAIDOC Artist of the Year in 2012, Stephen Page has long been recognised for his phenomenal ability to create milestone productions in the Australian cultural cannon. Continuing his commitment to the next generation of story-tellers, Page has commissioned Bangarra dancer Daniel Riley McKinley to create his second choreographic work for the 2013 production Blak.


Bangarra BLAK

Bangarra Dance Theatre is Australia’s premier national Indigenous performing arts company.


The company has strived to maintain the cultural integrity and spirit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tradition, combining it with contemporary stories, dance and music. Bangarra creates dynamic, moving theatrical experiences and delivers these experiences to audiences across Australia and around the world.


Book online for BLAK






521772_10151422002753406_162782658_n-1FOOD has been shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards (Nick Enright Award – Playwriting).

Congrats Steve Rodgers! 

Winners announced in May.


XS Entertainment at FOODI loved FOOD – the delicious new play by Steve Rodgers. I was always intrigued by the potential for movement in the piece. Reading it, I wondered how it had ever become a “dance theatre” piece without losing the heart of the drama…or going completely OTT. In writing the education notes I was determined to offer some ideas up for dance teachers this time, as well as for drama teachers. Most actors are accustomed to being asked to move in some form or another, and many of them keep up with some sort of dance training, but dancers are not always challenged to work to the same extent within the realm of acting. Don’t get me wrong, dancers are actors too – experts in whole body expression, facial expression and gestus – but there is often a very different approach in the way a text or idea is presented to actors v dancers. I wish I could sit in on every session in schools that are lucky enough to have teachers take their kids to see this show. Teachers and students, do let me know which tasks you end up doing!


Force Majeure’s work is well known and I think when we’re discussing and defining (re-defining) “dance theatre” we can confidently look to their product (this time a co-pro with Belvoir) – and their process – and see that this extraordinary company are part of something quite exquisite, and exciting. They are continuously creating and refining a form that defies description and shrugs off labels; in FOOD we experience the best kind of theatre there is. Real stories, familiar places, strong voices, and ultimately, a sense that what we’ve seen has made us think or feel differently because a passionate, physical form, not too far removed from the actors’ natural instincts – movement as the extension of an emotion or the end of an unfinished phrase (“DON’T FINISH FOR ME!”) – has made the story that much clearer, and brought it that much closer to home. x



Force Majeure & Belvoir

The Roundhouse

16th – 27th April 2013



Fayssal Bazzi, Kate Box and Emma Jackson


Reviewed by Meredith McLean



It was a full house at The Roundhouse on opening night, a busy, bustling sort of night for a Wednesday. There were even a few faces to be recognised in the crowd. But this was good; this made me feel like word had travelled quickly. I had a good feeling that FOOD, written by Steve Rodgers and co-directed by Rodgers and Kate Champion, was not going to disappoint.


On a stretch of Australian highway, two sisters run their family takeaway joint. Chiko Rolls and reminiscing are on the menu. While they quietly wage war with their past and dream up a brighter future, a young life-loving Turkish traveller arrives with a charm and sensuality that turns their world around.

Their dreams become reality when they transform their run down fast-food stop into a restaurant showcasing Elma’s gift for comfort cooking. Audience members become restaurant guests as the sisters serve up Elma’s hearty minestrone soup, sour dough and local wines.


At first I thought Nancy’s character was a lot younger. But we later learn of her younger self during some very poignant flashbacks. Regardless, that first introduction of Nancy as a character is the foreground for Elma’s story. Nancy’s past has more serious connotations but the revelations of Elma feel far more tragic. I’m a troublesome middle child myself, in between two brothers. But the dynamics of Elma as the older sister and Nancy as the younger is really what this play is about, despite what it may seem at first. The line, “This is the first time in my life that hole hasn’t been there” was the killer for me. You have to watch the show to understand what I’m referencing here but when you do you’ll find it as hard-hitting as I did.



Described as dance theatre, you’d think that’s what FOOD is about in the first twenty minutes. But – and to be honest I was relieved – they keep the dancing sparse. If anything, it is more a portrayal of movement. Some of which is so honest and authentic. The choreography is perfect, and avoids being too gimmicky or kitsch…except where intended and we all remember groovy moves like those! (Composer & Sound Designer Ekrem Mulayim).


And those pots, those magical kitchen pots (Set & Costumes Anna Tregloan). You never know what’s going to come out of one. Sometimes it’s food, a sheet, even projectors showing small snippets of the past. My not-so secret love of lighting was satisfied thrice over when projections of the past played over Nancy and Elma’s bodies from a projector hidden in a giant pot (Lighting Designer Martin Langthorne).



Last but not least, the concept that fuels this whole show… THE FOOD. Unfortunately I didn’t get a taste of it myself but the show has enough merits that dinner would’ve just been a bonus. However, I could definitely smell it and enjoy the looks on everyone’s faces confirming the minestrone soup, and Mojo Shiraz were delicious. It was the faces of the actors that made me laugh most though. There was almost a tentative “Is this going to work?” which then turned into “Thank Christ, it worked!” But isn’t that exactly how a restaurant should go? Now I’m second-guessing myself; I can’t tell if they were nervous about the interactive component of the show being a success or if they were just acting really spectacularly.


There were so many moments in this performance that felt so realistic it’s hard to decipher now.



Whatever the case, this show is a hit! With the right balance on the scales of humour and revelation I found myself laughing at moments and gripping my chair at others. Not only was it a fantastic performance, but also it was a chance to catch up with my beautiful editor, Xanthe Coward who also attended. Awww, shucks, Meredith! It was fun to finally see a show WITH you. We are so lucky to have you. Thank you. x


Not a single person in our little troupe of theatregoers had a bad word about this performance. So get on the website, grab the tickets and aim for somewhere in the first few rows, where you’ve got the best chance of tasting some of that delicious soup!


Kate Champion & Steve Rodgers in conversation

Food rehearsal room

23 March 2012

Kate: Why did you think movement and a dance-theatre director would be the right fit for your play?

Steve: It’s a domestic story, set in a very common place – a kitchen, a takeaway shop. But at the same time it deals with these big, archetypal themes. I mean the story isn’t new: a parable without a clear moral; a play about siblings, dealing with memory; how we construct and frame it; and how we own an experience according to whether we were a witness, or participant to the event. The characters’ memories are contentious and often ambiguous, and I think, sometimes, voicing them, words aren’t enough…

Kate: So it’s the interaction between the micro and macro? Steve: Yeah, the domestic interacting with the epic. I wanted the theatrical form to be able to meet that objective – where inner thoughts can be explored through body and image, physically, sometimes transcending the words.

Kate: So it’s not just choreographed movement you’re talking about? It’s also observational physicality, or proximity – all the things that can be dealt with without words. So we’re not talking dance per say, we’re talking about every movement possibility, in the staging and stylisation.

Steve: My best nights in the theatre as an actor and in the audience have been when the shows interact with other art forms.

Kate: Like you were saying, sometimes words aren’t enough, and sometimes dance isn’t specific enough. Steve: And is that why you set out to create your own work, so you couldn’t be pigeonholed as just a dance choreographer?

Kate: From a very early age I’ve been exposed to task-based performance and movement triggered from improvisation. In Force Majeure’s work, actors, dancers and creatives bring their ideas into the room and I edit, shape and direct them with my associates. I find this more liberating and challenging than what you would call traditional choreography. If you had to give a percentage of what’s autobiographical in the play, how much would it be?

Steve: It’s hard to work out when the memory stops and fiction starts. A lot of it comes from my own experience and the people I’ve observed and loved in my life: my family, girlfriends, mates. But the characters in the play take over and it becomes something else. I’ve had battles with weight and my relationship to food has been destructive over the years; I was 118 kilos at worst. Have you always had a healthy relationship to food?

Kate: I can remember getting off a plane in Munich when I was 16 and the dance company I was working for telling me I had to lose five kilos minimum. And I remember thinking I’d love to escape to the country and have six kids and eat whatever I like – I couldn’t believe the whole of life seemed at that time to revolve around food and weight. But whenever I was thin I’d receive more praise for my dancing, so I started to equate the two – being skinny and good dancing became one. If you spend your whole day in a leotard looking at yourself in the mirror you’re going to feel fat.

Steve: I’m interested in how we view ourselves as being good enough – especially for another’s affections … emotionally and physically. I’m interested in how self-perception can be determined by the role you were cast in or actively sought out as a kid (the funny one, the smart one, the creative one, the shy one) by your family, or friendship group, or the role you’re still playing now as an adult… Is it possible to shed that role? How do you navigate all that now as adults?

Kate: And you’re not awake to the ramifications when you’re young. I mean you’re just looking forward on your own trajectory. But if you fill up a space, take on a role, it can mean your sibling or partner won’t take it up because it’s already done for them. We often take on the roles that need filling.

Steve: And if you compete for the same role – that can be interesting too – it’s like a whole lot of extroverts in a room. There’s nothing more full on than watching a whole bunch of extroverts cancelling each other out. Competing natures.

Kate: Like that flocking game when you all have to move and stop at the same time – I always request that if you’re someone who initiates all the time, please don’t. And you can see the controllers finding it difficult because they can’t determine when the group moves.

Steve: That’s like yesterday when we were doing yoga. We were doing the third salute and you weren’t talking us through it – we were supposed to just let the breath lead us and stay together. I was in dog pose and we normally do three breaths in that position but I’d done about five, but I didn’t come up because I was determined to come up with everyone else. You were on my right, so I thought the only way to get this right is to take it off Champion. And then you went and I went with you. And I was the only one, I was so proud – I went with Champion … even though I cheated.

Kate: (laughs) Are you a bit sore today? Steve: Yeah, stomach muscles. Kate: From all the sit-ups. Stevie: Yep.

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