Review: Entertaining, often enlightening dance

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EACH year for the last six years selected students from Australia and New Zealand tertiary dance institutions have converged on QL2 in Canberra to try their hand a creating a short individual dance work.

Initially instituted to bring QL2 alumni back to Canberra during their tertiary studies to share what they have learned, “On Course” has now expanded to include other tertiary dance students. This year the seven young participating choreographers included students from New Zealand and the UK as well as from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and the Victorian College of the Arts.

In the two weeks of the residency, each choreographer is tasked with creating a short dance work on senior QL2 dancers and other participating students. The results of their efforts are shown at two public performances before a paying audience. At this performance, each choreographer introduces their work with a short explanation of their choreographic inspiration. The performance is followed by a short session involving both dancers and choreographers, during which members of the audience have the opportunity to question the participants about their work.

Several of the choreographers chose to explore deep abstract themes, but one of the most successful and best resolved works was inspired by buzzing mosquitos. WAAPA student, Tanya Brown incorporated slapping noises and quirky movement to create a witty, amusing work for four dancers called “Buzz Off”. Excellent music choice and an imaginative finale involving two dying R & J mosquitos added to the fun.

“(Limits at infinity, approaching zero)” by VCA student, Chad McLachlan, was also notable for its imaginative use of video images projected on to the bodies of the two white clad male dancers who performed complex repetitive movements against a neutral background to a driving soundtrack also composed by McLachlan.

NZSD student Sam Hall’s “Earth V.2” was an absorbing and well-prepared work for six dancers, incorporating unison and free-form sections to explore concepts of how people might cope with the destruction of the earth’s biosphere. This work was particularly notable for the well-staged struggle for leadership supremacy by two male dancers.

For her work “Disambiguation”, Falmouth University (UK) student, Melanie Kerr, made striking use of white masks for her exploration of stereotyping. The work included some lovely unison sections which were well managed by her four dancers.

By contrast, WAAPA student, Ayesha Katz, in her work “Impetus”, for seven dancers, utilised free-flowing structured improvisation, performed to a haunting soundtrack, to create an abstract, lyrical piece of considerable beauty.

The one solo piece in the program was a dense piece entitled “When the Wolves Turn Blue” given a strong performance by the choreographer, Dean-Ryan Lincoln, from WAAPA, to his own composition of the same name.

The final work on the program was a delightfully playful, circusy piece by VCA student, Amanda Lee, called simply “Experiment”. Posing the question “What if we never lost our magical sense of imagination and creativity we had as children” and performed to a varied soundscape incorporating spoken word and music, Lee’s five dancers enthusiastically embraced their inner child, mimed funny dialogue and bombarded the audience with hundreds of multi-coloured balloons. While it did flag a bit towards the end, “Experiment” provided an unexpected and joyful finale to the performance.

As with all QL2 Dance presentations, “On Course 2014” was impeccably stage managed, the costumes were simple but appropriate, the sound and lighting excellent. In their comments at the post-show forum, the choreographers and dancers were fulsome in their appreciation of the advice and mentorship of Ruth Osborne and Adelina Larsson.

The dancers, some of whom performed in several works, were well-prepared and disciplined. Given the limited time they have had to work on these works – just two weeks – and given that the focus of the program is on the choreography rather than the dancing – the standard of dancing throughout was very impressive, including that of several of the choreographers who danced in works other than their own. While it might seem unfair to single out particular dancers, it would be equally remiss not to mention the work of Ryan Stone, whose strongly committed performances enhanced several of the works.

Apart from providing an entertaining, often enlightening evening of contemporary dance, “On Course” also acts as valuable and fascinating microcosm of current dance trends in our tertiary dance institutions, as the young choreographers inevitably reflect these influences in their works, as they each strive to identify their own individual choreographic voice.

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