Boldly Going Where Words Cannot

02/11/2009 at 4:01 pm Leave a comment

The Curiosities – Sue Healey
Performance Space, Carriageworks, November 2009

I have to admit I have no training in the conventions of dance. The first time I went to see a professional dance production was only a few years back scoring comps to the opening night of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. By the end of Act One I felt a distinct connection with Tchaikovsky’s Russia and the isolation of the winter. Although I had heard the music before, of course; the work is incomplete without the movement – and coming from a world where in performance the script is central – this was a revelation. The piece has no words and yet it reaches into me – how can this be??

I’m amazed as to how limiting the craft of writing can be when you’re restricted to such misshapen things as words to describe fluid movements, confident sensuality or tricks of light. Dance is a medium of intense audiovisual metaphor; and this ensemble under the choreography of Sue Healey are committed to the creation of such a thing to scrutinise emotional states at an almost cellular level. What is the biological makeup of Heartbreak? Or Joy? Or Freedom? Where words might indulge in formalist sophistry to define such things, the absence of them seems far more appropriate to explore ourselves as human. After all, music and movement are universal, verbal language is not.

The impressive dynamic between Darrin Verhagen’s hard-edged musical compositions and careful, poignant set pieces makes a captivating performance, with deceptively simple staging across the large floorspace. Film and animation play a key role in extending the visual motifs, integrating within the movements and even the dancers themselves – it sounds strange but I never thought I’d see live dance and animation fused this seamlessly. Perhaps it’s because the film components carry a nostalgic quality, with a sense of fun and pantomime-silent-movie-flicker to complement the darkness of the emotional territory we’re traversing. The mood switches between cheeky, melancholy, angry, sexual, yearning… with the character based metaphors equally as diverse in imagery, ranging from the spiritual to the Dali-esque.

Shadow is a vital part of the symbology here – where there’s light there must be umbrage – and designer Joseph Mercurio has carefully set his spots to create maximum contrast in the tones of black, white and skin. The absence of colour might have proven a sterilising influence on the overall feel of the work but instead it seems to accentuate the dance, you feel too much colour would distract from the emotional biopsy we’re engaging though the microscope of movement. I also felt as if the show might feel differently depending on where I sat in the audience, angles of perspective are carefully developed so in the wide stage area of Bay 20- your peripheral vision factors into the perception of the work. Projections and movements carry right onto the side walls so if I were viewing from the other end the effect of certain scenes might be completely different!

That’s very much what I enjoy most about dance and physical theatre of a quality this high – perspective is left to the individual audience member. All those pesky words can divert from appreciation of the high expressionism that dancers entail over months of training and development. You can create your own mental space without the distraction of figuring out what’s being said or done, what’s there in front of you is exactly what it is, nothing more or less. Let it wash over you and the effect can be very cathartic. You won’t need an understanding of dance conventions to enjoy this – just an open mind.

The Curiosities plays at Bay 20, Carriageworks until November 7.

Entry filed under: Dance/ Physical Theatre, Inside Theatre REVIEWS, Sydney THEATRE. Tags: , , , , , .

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