THERE is something very inspiring in the sight of doyen of Australian contemporary dance, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman still performing and choreographing in her 80th year. Martha Graham did it, so did Ruth St.Denis. There may be others, but it’s still a very rare event. Since founding Australian Dance Theatre in 1965, then later Mirramu Dance Company, Cameron Dalman has continued to teach, choreograph and inspire generations of dancers both in Australia and internationally.
“Mirror Image” is the culmination of collaboration between Cameron Dalman’s Mirramu Dance Company, and two other dance companies, Dancecology from Taiwan and DPAC Dance Company from Malaysia. Each of these companies shares a compelling interest in the ecology and with “Mirror Image” they have combined resources to express this interest through dance. Later this year, following its premiere season in Canberra. “Mirror Image” will be shown in Taipei and Malaysia, despite the fact that it has received no Government funding of any kind.It was disappointing therefore that the first performance drew only a small audience to the ANU Arts Centre. Particularly as the small ensemble cast of “Mirror Image” included, in addition to Cameron Dalman herself, Peng Hsiao-yin the artistic director of dancecology with her principal dancers Chen Yi-ching and Chen Fu-rong, and Wong Jyh Shyong, the artistic director of DPAC Dance Company, together with Mirramu dancers Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, Janine Proost and Linton Aberle.
The work itself consists of nine sections with titles such as “Old Tree”, “Earth Moving”, “Root and Earth”, “New Life”, “Human Footprint”, “Animal Spirit”, “Confrontation”, “Mirroring” and “Life Force”, all seamlessly interwoven and presented without interval. Not all the references were obvious but memorable sequences included the haunting opening and closing sections, both featuring the powerful presence of Cameron Dalman, and others in which the dancers movements suggested rolling spindle bushes, various animals, including goannas and crabs, performed to a haunting soundscape featuring bird songs, rain and storm effects and music from an eclectic assortment of composers including Riley Lee, Brian Eno, Gabrielle Roth, Andrew Ford and Canberran, Kimmo Vennonen.
The cavernous ANU Arts Centre stage was draped in black overhung with white silk on which Karen Norris’s imaginative lighting design made effective use of projected video images of waterfalls, bushfires and forest greenery.
To accommodate the participation of three separate dance companies, attention had obviously be given to creating an homogenous dance style for the whole ensemble, however, given the quality of the dancers involved, one longed to see more individual moments like that provided by Wong Jyh Shyong in his remarkable solo performed naked except for a black G string.
Cameron Dalman mentions in her program note these Canberra performances represent “the first development” of “Mirror Image”, which suggests further finessing of work will continue. However even in its present form, “Mirror Image” is a powerful, thoughtful and accomplished work that provides a unique opportunity to experience a remarkable collaboration between dancers from different cultures drawn together by their passion to influence what is happening in the world around them.