Review / Dancing to the rhythms of nature

Dance / “The Beginning of Nature”, Australian Dance Theatre, Canberra Theatre until June 15. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

BASED upon rhythms in nature, Garry Stewart’s astonishing new work, which received its Australian premier performance in the Canberra Theatre last night (June 14), is an extraordinarily poetic exploration of how these rhythms permeate all aspects of the material universe.

That may sound like a highfalutin’ description to disguise an incomprehensible evening of impenetrable contemporary dance, but don’t be put off.

“The Beginning of Nature” is remarkably accessible and packed with extraordinarily seductive images created by Stewart’s endlessly inventive kaleidoscopic choreography that quickly transports the viewer beyond the present into the space promised by the title.

To interpret his hypothesis, Stewart has assembled a remarkable company of lithe, muscular dancers who understand and interpret his choreography with astonishing bravery and virtuosity. He’s surrounded them with an equally virtuosic creative team, which has created a lush, deceptively simple, environment that both focused the concept and enhanced the work of the dancers.

For much of the performance the dancers are costumed in flowing unisex robes, revealingly slashed at the sides to allow the dancers freedom and also reveal the fabulous lines created by Stewart’s choreography.

Elsewhere, the dancers replace the robes with loose trousers or trunks. At one point a bare-topped couple, clad only black trunks and locked at the mouth in an endless kiss, maneuvered each other around the stage and, elsewhere, two female dancers gnawed, spider-like, on the leg of a stricken male dancer. Occasional use of bright green, in gloves, long sticks and plants, effectively symbolised primitive life. Otherwise no storyline distracted from the stunning brilliance of the dancing.

Brendan Woithe’s haunting score features sections of indigenous Kaurna language sung in operatic style by Heru Pinkasova and Karen Cummings, both seated at the back of the stage with Adelaide’s Zephyr Quartet, which gave a superb account of the atmospheric score that also featured pre-recorded enhancements.

During a pre-show talk last night, Garry Stewart remarked that “The Beginning of Nature” was not his most difficult work to date. It may not be his most difficult, but it is certainly among his most beautiful. Following its Canberra premiere will be seen widely throughout Australia, before being performed overseas, including New York next year.  

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