precipice is an aurally and visually stunning new work by choreographer Rachel Arianne Ogle. It brings together light, sound and movement to take us through a conceptual exploration of space and our vulnerability within it. In precipice, the visual and sound design share equal footing with the choreography, the work itself rendered more complete and fulfilling because of the sanctity of this trinity.
The piece begins in silence with four dancers aligned on two intersecting shafts of light; each pair of dancers on opposite ends of the shafts of light run towards each other, meet in the middle of the X on the floor, and stare each other down before rotating, breaking away and retreating back to the end of the light shaft in the edge of darkness. This happens repeatedly, quickening in pace until the dancers are flying towards each other and nearly colliding with each other in the middle of the X. The only sound is the sound of their breathing, the thud of their footfalls and the squeak of the skin of their feet twisting on the vinyl flooring. This opening sequence goes on for roughly ten minutes before the soundtrack, composed by Luke Smiles [motion laboratories] kicks in.
From this point on, we are treated to some truly memorable moments from this team of creatives. Smiles’s soundtrack is masterful; it’s dark and foreboding, keeping us on the edge of our seats, but also glitchy and crunchy, adding texture and touches of the unexpected. Benjamin Cisterne’s lighting is fascinating; at times he makes the space feel like a cathedral, with beams of downlights that stretch the space vertically and ask you to look up. He is continually opening and closing the stage through his inventive lightscapes, which make full use of every single angle you could possibly light from in the Studio Underground. He uses washes that change the dancers’ skin tones from fuchsia to green to Blue Man Group blue, while their costumes, designed by Colleen Sutherland, seem to remain a nearly constant royal blue. The final lightscape and sequence is an intellectual and visual homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey, and the post-curtain call outro music, David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity,’ couldn’t be a more fitting choice.
One scene in particular where choreography, light and sound all come together in perfect unison is what I mentally dubbed as “the car crash scene” which saw the dancers assemble and freeze in different positions in a strobe light; after a few seconds holding each position in suspended animation, the music released the dancers as the light changed to a dark blue wash. This precisely-timed pattern of hold/release was repeated several times, demonstrating the high level of physical control and timing these strong, interconnected performers have achieved. In fact, one of the more interesting and satisfying parts of watching this work is observing how the dancers either subtly or overtly influence each other, remarking on the intimacy of their physical and mental understanding of each other within the construct of this piece.
All four dancers are similar in stature, but as similar as they may look at first glance, we soon realise how very different they each express themselves. Tyrone Robinson and Niharika Senapati have a similar sensibility in their performance, and fuse together when doing partner work. Senapati also has a wonderful stumbling solo, where you panic for her as she appears nearly to fall over, until you realise she’s just dancing; it’s a remarkable display of physical control and committed performance. I wonder if she feels solidly in control of her every move, or if she too feels like she’s on the verge of falling over as she moves through the sequence. Perhaps this is the ultimate question that’s asked by Ogle and her team in this work; how far can they push themselves to the edge of the unknown and still feel in control? I suspect there’s room yet to keep pushing.