We have many reasons this week to be truly fired up about the new avenues that are opening in Perth’s arts sector, not least of which is the launch season of Perth’s new “flagship contemporary dance company,” Co3. Re:Loaded 2015 is an exciting, stimulating set of short dance works that showcase the new company in all its scope, from choreographers, to its core company of nine dance artists, to the army of young student dancers in the Co:Youth Ensemble. And so, Perth, in the words of artistic director Raewyn Hill: Co3 has arrived.
We are first introduced to the Co3 dancers in Transducer by choreographer Larissa McGowan. Clad in an array of salmon-coloured gear, the dancers take turns giving and receiving energy to a soundtrack by Charlie Chan of staticky noises and beats that send pulses through their bodies.
McGowan describes the piece thus:
“I have called the work Transducer, a device that converts one type of energy to another, and reflected this in the energy and focus which becomes visible between the performers. The eruptions that take place and release from the body create a spasmodic and unsettling style, which pulses and bounces between the dancers, becoming a contagious and erratic eruption of virtuosic movement.”
You said a mouthful there Ms. McGowan, but as an introduction to the troupe, this piece gives us a good feel for the range of movement styles and interpretive powers of each of the company’s performers. We begin to understand each dancer’s strengths and vulnerabilities, how they interact with each other in pairs and groups, and we get a feel for how they communicate with us, their audience.
The piece is a play of light and shadow, silhouette and form, and the dancers focus in on their own bodies’ electrical currents, extending and contorting themselves as shocks move through their muscles. It’s not exactly ECT we’re seeing, and sometimes the performers seem to become bionic or robotic, but there is always the sense that electricity is moving fiercely around the stage. Katherine Gurr‘s intense solo work at the piece’s conclusion is extremely visceral and elicits audible reactions of amusement and awe from the audience.
Following Transducer we meet the Co:Youth Ensemble, who have been waiting patiently in the first two rows of the stalls for their cue, which comes in the form of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us.” Their massive ensmble lines up in front of the stage and up either side of the auditorium to give us a drill team style, site-sepcific rendition of the pop hit.
After the young folks leave us the curtains open to a woman (Talitha Maslin) waving her arms slowly under a single downlight. In a mostly black space, in front of a chain-link fence and upstage of several white posts, we watch her wave her arms, first slowly, then frantically, then slowly again. We begin to build a story around her striking presence and wonder where she’s come from, or going, or who will see her. Without warning she’s joined by two men in button-down shirts and slacks, who collide and begin to jostle and wrestle, unaware of the waving woman. The posts get knocked about by the performers and eventually they’re all three engaged in a conflict of unknown motivation.
While the given circumstances of What’s Left remain obscure, choreographer Gavin Webber tells us in the program notes that he “recently read a book called This Changes Everything by Naoimi Klein…What we ended up making in that rehearsal room is not a piece about climate change so much as a work that deals with the complexity of the emotions that surround it. The question is, when you turn your gaze to this topic and don’t avert your eyes, how do you feel?”
This piece is ostensibly the most theatrical of the evening, as it has a strong narrative feel. It is a bit difficult to pin down or glean a true narrative, and the metaphor becomes most concrete with the help of the program notes. Nevertheless, there are is strong partner work between guest artist Andrew Searle and Zachary Lopez, as the two tumble and topple each other in slow motion. It’s a fairly messy affair that conveys a sense of warning.
After interval, the Youth Ensemble is back, this time on stage, emerging from the wings with their black pants tucked into white knee-socks for Toros, a re-imagining of choreographer Raewyn Hill‘s Fugue (a work she created in 2012 at Dancenort for The Australian Ballet’s 50th Anniversary). This is an infinitely fascinating piece set to Maurice Ravel‘s Bolero that alludes to the toreador, the bullfight and of course, the toro. The Ensemble consists of little kids all the way up to tall, lanky teens and just about everything in between, and they are configured in groups, moving in and out of each other, the momentum building as Bolero builds. There is such a variety of age and size, skill level and apparent experience, and the massive chorus of black-clad movers creates almost a surrealistic effect akin to Rene Magritte’s Golconde. These young dancers got a chance to exhibit their training, and the show of artistic potential on stage is impressive.
As Toros concludes, the adult company of 9 slink on from the wings, also draped in black, hunched and shuffling as they mix themselves in with the youth ensemble. A brief choregraphed transition takes place enabling the youth to make their exit, and the Co3 dancers take over the stage for Carnivale, also choreographed by Raewyn Hill. It continues on in the bullfighting ring and with Ravel’s Bolero reworked by composer Eden Mulhulland. The dancers each have different sleek, flowing ensembles, all of which I would like in my own closet, and they remain in the tightest formation possible the entire way through the dance.
Hill says: “For me, Carnivale is a piece that really defines Co3; a unison work that tests the endurance of performers and generates a powerful internal community. I’ve sought to challenge the dancers to negotiate the tight spaces between them and to balance a strong sense of group with asssertion of their own identity. The costumes give you a glimpse of each of their personalities and styles, which, when nutured along with artistry, further define us as a company.”
These statements are so clearly demonstrated throughout the piece that I have every confidence that Hill will continue to be a woman whose work is as good as her word. The dancers were visibly pushed, and pushed themselves, to the limit with this piece, and they left every ounce of themselves on the stage with energy and determination. The result is an exhilirating expectation of good things to come, both in their eyes and in the eyes of the energized standing crowd at the night’s conclusion.
These are indeed exciting times for Perth arts.
re:Loaded 2015 runs only until 1 November at the State Theatre Centre. Book tickets here, and do it quick.