Clever, complex, joyful ‘chaos’

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Jack Ziesing’s “Sympathetic Monsters”. Photo: Lorna Sim.

Dance / “Leap Into Chaos”, choreographed by Ruth Osborne, Steve Gow, Jack Ziesing, Alison Plevey, Olivia Fyffe and Ryan Stone for QL2 Dance. Canberra College Theatre, Woden, October 15. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

IF there’s an upside to COVID-19, it’s the challenge it has provided to theatre-makers to come up with innovative new ways of producing theatre works. 

Like every other performing arts company, QL2 Dance was forced to abandon its planned programs for 2020. Not to be deterred, QL2 decided to seek out a new performance space, experiment with different ways of rehearsing, and offer two major performance projects, Jack Ziesing’s commissioned work and the annual end-of-year “Chaos” program, as a double-bill entitled “Leap into Chaos”.

The annual “Chaos” project focuses on young and less experienced dancers as the entry point into the Quantum Leap youth dance ensemble. This year, 53 dancers aged from eight to 19, some making their first stage appearances, participated in a work entitled “Touch”.

This year, 53 dancers aged from eight to 19 participated in “Touch”. Photo: Lorna Sim.

The great strength of QL2 Dance is that it’s more focused on process than execution, and its works are always proudly ensemble. Under the guidance of professional choreographers, the dancers explore set themes and are encouraged to contribute movement ideas, which the choreographers are tasked to shape into a coherent performance.

The fascination for audiences is watching the personalities of the dancers emerge, despite the variations in age and experience, as they perform quite complex routines.

“Touch” explores the effects of the withdrawal of a basic human instinct. Photo: Lorna Sim.

Taking inspiration from COVID-19 restrictions, “Touch” explores the effects of the withdrawal of a basic human instinct. Five choreographers, Ruth Osborne, Steve Gow, Alison Plevey, Olivia Fyffe and Ryan Stone, worked with groups of dancers to create the seven episodes which make up the work.

Ryan Stone’s athletic choreography for his two episodes, “Tapestry” and “Find your Mark”, contrasted neatly with Alison Plevey’s whimsical “Keep in Touch”, for which she made clever use of face masks, and her “The Butterfly Effect”, a gentle section encouraging care for each other, for which Plevey worked with Olivia Fyffe. Fyffe also created a section entitled “Can We Touch Now”, and collaborated with Ruth Osborne and Steve Gow to create the opening section, “New Rule”. Osborne choreographed the final section, “Closing”, in which she cleverly corralled the 53 dancers into referencing each of the preceding sections, in joyful celebration of communal dance.

All the sections of “Touch” were performed to an evocative electronic soundscape by Adam Ventoura, who also provided the intense, moody soundscape which drove the second work on the program, Jack Ziesing’s “Sympathetic Monsters”.

“Sympathetic Monsters” commences with a single dancer, in a tight spotlight, slowly performing a series of strange, zombie-like contortions. As the spotlight widens, that dancer was replaced with another, and another, each attempting to outdo the other in pushing their bodies to extremes.

“Sympathetic Monsters”… a remarkably mature and challenging work for the QL2 senior dancers. Photo: Lorna Sim.

As each dancer was replaced, they retired to the back wall from where they observed their replacement until suddenly the stage erupted into a long, unison segment, performed with admirable precision, involving all the dancers performing to mesmerising effect, movements seemingly extracted from the individual performances.

Taking his inspiration from Shaun Tan’s book “The Arrival”, Ziesing has created a remarkably mature and challenging work for the QL2 senior dancers, to which they’ve responded with astonishing commitment and finesse.

As is the norm with QL2 presentations, the technical aspects of both presentations was exemplary, particularly Cate Clelland’s muted-toned costumes for “Sympathetic Monsters”, which were both serviceable and appropriate, as was Craig Dear’s imaginative lighting design, and of course Adam Ventoura’s extraordinary sound design.

Because of restrictions on audience numbers, all performances of “Leap Into Chaos” are sold out. It has been filmed for streaming on October 23, 6pm-9pm. Details here.

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