Review by Cicely Binford
Cultures fuse and create a hybrid of Indigenous, Indian and contemporary dance in the enthralling new work by OCHRE Contemporary Dance Company called KAYA [Hello]. Presented at UWA’s Dolphin Theatre, directed by Mark Howett, dramaturged by Phil Thomson, and choreographed and devised by the ensemble, Ian Wilkes, Lynette Narkle and Gail Yorkshire, KAYA is replete with prestigious artists, beautiful imagery, and stirring music. KAYA is dance theatre done right and done well.
Noted theatre, television and film performer Trevor Jamieson struts his charismatic stuff as he and Melinda Eades guide us through two overlapping worlds, one connected to the land, and the other a disconnected cityscape. The ensemble holds a mirror up to how we West Australians clash, collide, and coexist in this vast land; it shows us parallels between ourselves and the animals around us; it demands we see beyond the steel and glass to the land beneath us and the sky above.
A narrative isn’t the only important aspect here – what also counts is your sensory experience, and the impressions the production makes on your heart and mind. The ensemble is unbeatable, with dancers from a wide range of performance backgrounds. WAAPA-trained Michael Smith, a man of Nyoongar and Wongi heritage, is electric: he is certainly one of the best movers I’ve had the pleasure of watching on any Perth stage. You simply can’t contain him, and he exudes energy from every inch of his frame. Isha Sharvani, an Indian dancer currently resident in Perth, swirls across the stage with fluid, swan-like grace, her energy serving as a counterpoint to some of the more vigorous moments.
Sound and music are provided live on either side of the stage by Kelton Pell, also a familiar face from theatre, film and television, and Tao Issaro, a percussionist and composer from Kerala. They frame the visual scene, and the music they create together also reinforces the company’s mission of cross-cultural exchange. Pell uses the didgeridoo and clapsticks as well as song, while Issaro uses a cajon, other percussion instruments, and vocal manipulations, and the the resulting fusion is evocative and rhythmic.
The only element that was out of step in the entire piece was the video production across the back string curtain that went offline briefly, but this was a small glitch that would most certainly be avoided in subsequent performances, and it in no way detracted from our collective enjoyment of this wonderful production. Design from Matt McVeigh, beautiful lighting by Chloe Ogilvie, and earthy costumes by Raquel Duarte provide a cohesive, visually intriguing setting.
OCHRE Contemporary Dance has begun an exciting new chapter under Mark Howett’s direction, and if KAYA is an indication of what’s to come, we can look forward to challenging, thought-provoking, inspiring works drawn from WA stories and culture.
KAYA runs until 23 October at UWA’s Dolphin Theatre. For more information and tickets, visit the Ochre website here.