Review / Dancing away to renewable energy

Dance / “Energeia”. Conceived and directed by Alison Plevey for Australian Dance Party. At Mount Majura Solar Farm November 16-18. Reviewed by Bill Stephens

PERFORMED by Alison Plevey, Stephen Gow, Alana Stenning, Olivia Fyfe and Adam Deusien, “Energeia” is a site-specific dance work conceived and directed by Plevey for her dance company, Australian Dance Party.

With this work Plevey seeks to illuminate the current debate on renewable energy through dance.

It’s a challenging concept, and one that drew a large audience of supporters and dance-curious to the Mount Majura Solar farm on a fine, cold November evening. Performed on a large, silver-surfaced stage, in front of rows of solar panels, with Mount Majura in the distance silhouetted by a crimson sunset, with all the lighting and sound powered entirely by batteries, solar or kinetic power, “Energeia” commenced with a discourse on energy.

Each dancer took turns in annunciating sections of the discourse at the same time joining with the others to illustrate the words with tightly choreographed movements. The sounds of crackling electricity heralded a change of pace, with the dancers reacting with shivering movements as though zapped with electricity, leading into long shuddering solos by Stephen Gow and Alana Stenning.

Other sequences included one in which Olivia Fyfe aimed an electric hair dryer at Stenning, manipulating her limbs with its jet-stream; Plevey performing a comedy highlight as a manic gym coach exalting her exhausted dancers to join her in “Lovin’ It”; and a frustrated Adam Deusien regaling the audience with his insecurities.

The work bristles with interesting ideas, with the dancers costumed in Charne Esterhuizen’s industrial-inspired high-vis costumes, which responded interestingly to the changes in lighting. However, the connection to energy and how some of the sequences related to the central theme, was not always obvious, so that the work became fragmented, threatening to stall at one point as the dancers sat on the floor engrossed in hand-held gadgets while one of their number offered pieces of freshly cut oranges to the audience.

However, although the work was resolved with a graceful unison Tai Chi-inspired section, “Energeia” lacked the overall cohesion of the best of Plevey’s previous creations.

Besides her choreographic skills and penchant for highlighting political issues through dance, Plevey is an extremely accomplished and interesting dancer. By necessity, the members of her ensemble vary from project to project. Plevey’s signature style involves carefully choreographed sections interspersed with improvised sections drawing on the individual skills of her dancers.

On this occasion, although each of the present ensemble is individually an interesting dancer, none is able to match Plevey in technique or presence to express her ideas, allowing the focus of the central issue to sometimes become clouded and difficult to define.

Plevey with her Australian Dance Party is among an ever-diminishing list of professional dance companies. Her tenacity with her site-specific works in challenging and testing contemporary dance boundaries to highlight important political issues makes her unique among Australian dance makers.

“Energeia” is an excellent example of the distinctive contribution made by this company to dance in the ACT.

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