Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne
July 5 2012
By Paul Ransom.
It is obvious that Briwyant has been thought about long and hard. The sheer number of ideas and motifs running through the contemporary work prove that.
However, for all that layered complexity, Vicki Van Hout’s exploration of meaning in traditional indigenous painting and the place of ancient clan knowledge in the context of urban Australia comes across as somewhat academic. The ideas crowd out the passion and at times there is so much happening (between the dancers and the video screens) that it’s hard to know where to look.
That aside, Briwyant is a highly textured piece; complete with compulsory video, dialogue and cleverly employed soundscapes. In its blending of traditional (and tribal) forms with the vernacular of contemporary dance it finds its place between the meaning of ceremonial practise and the aesthetic of the black box. The movement here is much more than mere stylised prettiness; it has intent.
On the whole it would have more compelling with more energetic performances. The seven strong ensemble (which includes Van Hout herself) bordered on lacklustre at times; perhaps weighed down with too much conceptual baggage.
Having said that, Briwyant is scattered with highly watchable tricks and moments, and is often quite funny. The almost audacious use of silence is notable, as is the ingenious employment of silhouette. There is also a courageous complexity happening here. Vicki Van Hout is clearly not afraid to be running several parallel threads. When it works it’s really good; when it doesn’t, it’s a little overcooked.
For Australian audiences who are used to the notion that Bangarra are the only indigenous contemporary dance outlet, Vicki Van Hout may well provide an alternative and sharp choreographic and intellectual vision.