Sydney Festival 2013

2013 Has leapt out of the starter’s gate for live entertainment via the Sydney Festival. At first glance I have to admit that I flicked back and forth through the hardcopy several times before resorting to the index which revealed (only) 3 dedicated dance events!

Sacre, by German writer and choreographer Raimund Hogue, most notable for being Pina Bausch’s dramaturg (10yrs), was the first work I’d seen with dance billing. Entering the theatre (Carriageworks), Raimund and another male performer were lying face down and at right angles to one another, crossed at the shins downstage right. Both house and stage lights were up, two grand pianos were placed back-to-back upstage centre, a large bonsai upstage right in partial darkness,  and a bowl with folded rug upstage left.

This work can be best described as considered, every action imbued with the symbolic weight of ritual. From the initial slow fading of stage lights, so sparse was the scene set,  you could hear the crackle of metal as the lights cooled, to the alternating immersing of faces into the cubed glass bowl half-filled with water, and the improbable counterbalance of its seemingly imbalanced counterparts. This was not a flashy work in spite of the score (Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring). It was not jam-packed with virtuosic manoeuvres and bare skinned bodies in revealing costumes, instead almost pedestrian action, cutting the stage with geometric precision, symmetric gesture in unison. Yet despite the lack of easily identifiable dance markers this writer was enthralled. I perceived malevolence, respect, disrespect, care, duty, obligation, felt surprise, empathy, frustration and time – passing, the sparsity allowing my mind to contemplate the implicit nuance.

Attending the talk with Raimund Hogue at Critical Path, facilitated by Martin del Amo, I thought I would be well equipped for the performance to come. I did learn of his dislike of ‘busy’ work and preference for diverse performers including disabled, older and those with non-performative backgrounds. The dismissive cynic in me was surprised to be so fully engaged. This show, like its musical score’s history, is not without controversy, performing to mixed revues and tweets dedicated to the number of walkouts.

In contrast Branch Nebulla’s Concrete and Bone Sessions is filled with the spectacular, set in a skate park in Dulwich Hill as the sun is setting. The space: a playground for daredevils. As I enter there are skaters and bikers playing.

This gives way to the official opening of a lone man in beige retro shorts scalloped with red trim. He is fit. From a simple walk he graduates to parkour leaps from surface to surface with enviable precision and agility. He is soon joined by a dancer, then another, and quickly the grey undulating landscape is inhabited by a myriad of diverse athletes.

Afterward performer Chloe Fournier shared insight to one of the strategies for avoiding collision stating, if a situation isn’t going to plan, the dancer must stand still for the riders to move around them. This, she stated, goes against her natural instinct.

As a dancer watching the performance I am aware that the surface is unforgiving, am able to appreciate the outrageous skill needed for each discipline to interact, and realise the potential for misadventure is high, but I am shocked that I can feel so blasé about the death defying feats before me. Perhaps it is the prevalence of action movies and CGI that leaves me momentarily complacent-Momentarily. The choreographer in me identifies with the merit in the novel and innovative, and can envisage the potential possibilities. Maybe attending one more performance might be on the cards, after the excitement of opening night, closer to the end of the season, when relaxed daring prevails.

What I have discovered, is that advertising can be pleasantly misleading, that dance can be discovered via the free community experience and can be hidden inside theatre and circus. I mean, what is music without dance? Even the gentle tap or clap in time, a wiggle while sitting or a crafty jig up the aisle.

Opening night at the Domain and again last Saturday had me clapping, tapping, wiggling and jigging big time with a few thousand like-minded compadres. We got our soul on with the Dap Kings and worked our inner sister spiritual survival skills the following week. There is nothing quite like the spontaneous and intuitive response to live performance en masse.

Last, but certainly not least, I am most eager to mention the little gem that was Micro Parks. A whirlwind of join-the-dot instillations mapped out in intimate green-spaces around Erskineville. To walk from park to park, experience an encounter of Japanese inspired high tea, complete with one-on-one conversation and decadent iced vo-vo’s topped with a dollop of canned miracle whip, hunt for a four leaf clover, sit amongst live surround sound opera divas and get Benched with Julia (Julie-Anne Long) and Martino (Martin Del Amo) as they picnic like no other, in their Sunday finest. They enter, strolling in formation, they sit, he strips, she gets soused, and roles are reversed as they get hot under their very civilised collars. All too soon it is over.

Sydney festival is in mid-swing with much to offer for all budgets. Things kick off in Parra over the coming days, there’s Opening Night on the 19th Jan, Archie Roach on Australia day and Urban (circus) to name a few. Get going.

Photo: Annamone Taake

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