Big Dance 2.0 2023

Looking back on the year that was 2023 I think the 10th anniversary of Dance Makers Collective’s Big Dance 2.0 program encapsulated our mood in that it was brash and colourful, predominantly light and funny. And boy, didn’t we need funny. What, with Covid, followed by an economic downturn and then pockets of disturbing unrest in Ukraine and now Israel, humour has proven to be the best distraction, if not quite the antidote.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly needed a reprieve from the influx of earnest art imitating the relentless onslaught of the darker aspects of life on our not so green planet. So an in depth delve into the 10th anniversary of the Big Dance that was will now ensue.

Big Dance 2.0 kicked off with Emma Harrison’s Fever Dream which saw an ensemble of six, decked out in bedazzling gold frocks of complimentary cuts, to catch the light from all angles at all times. Musical accompaniment was provided by an acapella deconstruction of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s iconic coming out anthem, coupled with Harrison’s choreography consisting of a constant configurative setting and resetting of the stage space, proved to be the perfect absurdist indictment on humanity’s current follies.

Harrison’s Fever Dream was followed by Eliza Cooper’s Snake Battle which picked up the absurdist mantle and ran with it. In the program Cooper spoke of using the genre of WWE, aka WrestleMania or performative wrestling, to grapple with the confines of binary gender norms.

As a high-school student who regularly engaged in breast binding and who shaved her head with a Bic razor blade twice a week to stave off stubble decades before it was fashionable, I could empathize with the concepts Cooper was grappling with. However, my coming of age plight was hidden and secretive and I thank the stars that today these explorations and practices have become an accepted rite of passage which are in turn unpacked and celebrated on stage. Cooper’s quirky yet fierce physicality in Snake Battle proved that the very best of femininity is that which is endowed with masculine strengths and vice versa.

Choreographer Ashleigh Veitch’s Rerun was a visual essay on our relationship with digital media. Veitch’s overt use of multiple devices and live capture technologies to catch and replicate in real time and digest in delayed action. Juxtaposed against the actual moving bodies, we were forced to examine the power relationship between three dimensional versus the reproduced two-dimensional projected entities, as they both vied for our attention.

The strength in this work lay in the slow sequence progression, which in of itself contained repetitious loops so that when it was doubled, trebled and quadrupled, a calming mandala was produced. I could have watched this work constantly unfolding for a lot longer than the allotted ten minutes.

Jye Uren’s Flux used the choice and subsequent removal of clothing as a metaphor for social convention. This work represented safe conceptual engagement and was full of potential for further engagement. Apparel has more power than we and maybe even Jye realised. Think of the ubiquitous orange jumpsuit that labels a person a prisoner, or the six-pointed yellow star that drove many to their premature deaths or denim that was once the unofficial uniform of North American Slaves, to the simple head scarf that if peeking from either back pocket told the world not only of your availability status, but of your sexual orientation.

Like couture, movement language has similarly been regulated. From the banned North American First Nations pow-wows, to the chain gang progressions of the African slaves which would later influence the heralding of dance trends like the Charleston and Hip-Hop. In Flux I feel that Uren has just scratched a surface ripe with potential.

Jana Castillo’s A Saucy Romance Parts I and II was a jaunty dip ditch, which topped and tailed the interval. This dance also gently piqued and challenged our perceptions regarding social norms. It was set in the 1940s or 50s, with characters dressed in polka dotted circle skirted dresses and pants alluding to the dun-coloured hues of military fatigues in which Jana set a burgeoning love story. Jana choreographed using the physical dexterity she is known for executing with sublime facility. Her cast of three lifted and manipulated each other in tongue in cheek entanglements with equal amounts of strength and control. This was clearly a euphemism for the slack women took up while the men were at war, both at work and in the bedroom.

Amy Flannery’s Orange Gazing was said to have been conceived by aspects of the belly button but I would gently contest that notion. From I witnessed Orange Gazing was indeed instigated from the belly button, however, it definitely traveled beyond her original idea. Through three short solos she digressed from the seemingly inconsequential body part, often regarded as a source of novelty beyond its original purpose as a portal of nourishment.

Using oranges as a property element throughout an overarching conceptual engagement with connection and kin emerged. However, in the last solo performed by Jye Uren the tone of the choreography took a decided departure and I admit, I was initially confused. It was in hindsight that I saw Uren, as the wielder of sliced oranges at a non-disclosed sporting event as the social glue in their community, while keeping the function adequately hydrated, or lubricated, so to speak.

Second last on the Big Dance 2.0 program was Ella Watson-Heath’s Cat and Mouse. In it, Watson-Heath used the Future Makers Ensemble along with Jana Castillo and Mitchel Christie. Again, on the playbill Watson-Heath had written, “Two aliens and some doomsday preppers walk into a dystopian hellscape”, and yet again I didn’t immediately get that. Ah well. This is not to say I wasn’t engaged. Maybe I took the word alien too literally, to mean from outer space or something.

Upon reflection of Cat and Mouse afterwards I attributed alien in this context to be, or mean, the inevitability of anything existing outside of another larger entity which may become subsumed by that larger or dominant body, structure, organisation or system.

The dance language in Cat and Mouse was very satisfying to watch as the alien duo moved well in compliment to their prepper counterpart. The back and forth traversing from the top right-hand corner of the stage to downstage left of the ensemble imbued the work with more weight, as if the mass were carving a track in space, emphasizing this idea of inevitability.

Jana Castillo was well utilised as an ‘alien’ because, let’s face it, compared to mere mortal dancing bodies, she is. (Not jealous- well not much.) Simply exceptional.

Last but not least was choreographer Mitchel Christie with Trackwork. This was a dancer’s dance packed with just the right amount of exuberant energy to round off the evening. I could literally feel my muscles ping in empathy. The feel of this was what you expect from a large repertory company.

Ah guys, I have to admit I originally endeavored to include in this bonus end of year blog, an in depth unpacking of the film contribution from Short Sharp Dance as I was a judge, but unfortunately I ran out of space. But if the powers that be at FORM keep them up ‘til the new year is rung in, I will write another bonus blog first up in 2024.

The great thing about virtual media is its lasting presence. Unfortunately it can also be its downfall, thankfully not in this case.

Maybe if we are lucky, Dance Makers Collective will also post some visuals for you to digest, along with the usual festive stodge. Fingers crossed.

Vicki Van Hout
FORM Dance Projects
Blogger in Residence