Dancers Erak Mith & Aaron Lim in Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច; photo by Bryony Jackson.
Like any arts festival, Melbourne’s contemporary dance festival Dance Massive is best explored by diving in headfirst. Seeing an array of works gives greater perspective on the program, and keener awareness of the choreographic trends and concerns on show.
The main drawback of seeing as much work as possible over the festival’s 13 days (other than the inevitable festival fatigue) means there’s less time for detailed and considered critical responses to the work on show. The solution? Snapshot reviews that give a clear sense of each work’s strengths and aesthetics, which we’ll update frequently in the coming days.
Nick Power’s Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Until 18 March
From Los Angeles to London, and Darwin to Phnom Penh, dance battles are a common component of b-boy culture. In this latest exploration of the form, choreographed by Sydney-based hip-hop dance artist Nick Power, two men use the rituals, movement styles and language of their shared hip-hop culture to explore points of commonality and difference. The result is an intelligent, expressive and engaging production which gently subverts preconceptions around hip-hop and masculinity, providing an ideal entry point to contemporary dance for those unfamiliar with the genre while also providing much for aficionados to enjoy.
Read: Not lost in translation
In the work’s early stages, the two performers – Aaron Lim (Darwin) and Erak Mith (Phnom Penh) – stand opposite each other, echoing one another’s abrupt movements, encircled by the audience (who stand throughout proceedings). Lim’s gestures are strikingly precise; Mith is more fluid, his slighter body assisting him in the piece’s more acrobatic moments.
The four main elements of b-boying are all present, including swiftly performed power moves – windmills and headspins – and dramatic freezes, but there’s no sense of Power being limited by tradition. As the work progresses the dancers’ bodies, once in vigorous competition, become united, their movements fluid, occasionally even tender. Arms lock together, fingers bloom like rare flowers. Jack Prest’s score is driving but never dominating, and as the lights dim as the piece ends, there’s a strong sense of wanting the work to continue. A rich exploration of the possibilities of hip-hop choreography and an early highlight of Dance Massive.
Victoria Hunt’s Tangi Wai… the cry of water
Meat Market, North Melbourne
Until 18 March
3 ½ stars out of 5
Photo by Bryony Jackson
A powerful sensory experience, Victoria Hunt’s Tangi Wai…the cry of wateroriginally premiered as part of Performance Space’s Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art in October 2015. Inspired by the Australian-born Hunt’s Maori heritage, the piece transports its audience into a world of elemental and supernatural forces. The result is hypnotic, imaginative and richly realised, with light, water, sound and movement impressively combined, though as the work builds, there’s also a slight, nagging sense of absence – a lack of physical presence, with the dancers only half-glimpsed for prolonged periods, their movements sometimes frustratingly invisible. Clearly it’s a deliberate choice: Hunt demonstrates total control throughout the piece, so perhaps one should read this absence of ‘dance’ as a deliberate challenge to Western preconceptions of art and entertainment – perhaps even an evocation of the absence of Indigenous cultures in a predominantly white Australia?
Design elements are the real stars of the show – wafts of mist, crackling lines of light, cacophonous and chthonic sounds. Fragmented bodies emerge slowly from the darkness: sometimes angular and almost inhuman in the shadows, at other moments filleted by light so that all we see are hips and legs, like ancient fertility images. A hip thrusts, toes stretch and scrabble at the slippery floor.
These glimpses of movement are isolated; Hunt’s focus is clearly larger than the dance alone. The final image is remarkable: what appears to be a mask or a shield is revealed as a human back – an act of transmogrification that typifies the imagination of this remarkable and challenging work.
14–26 March 2017