Australian Dance Reviews

Skeleton by Larissa McGowan

Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Melbourne
March 15 2013
As part of Dance Massive

By Grace Edwards.

An examination of physicality, in all its strength and vulnerability, Larissa McGowan’s Skeleton marks her first commissioned full-length work as an independent choreographer. Exciting, even unsettling, this intense and frenzied hour-long exploration of skeletal form and memory is best described as an ‘experience’.

McGowan offers us thought-provoking enquiries into our relationship with the objects of our childhood. Accidents and stolen moments with bicycles, baseball bats, and heels are physically ‘remembered’ and re-enacted onstage in slow motion and in reverse by the dancers. The objects break apart at key moments, and are removed or replaced by a fellow performer, drawing attention to the ways in which we experience and categorise these physical memories, distinct as they are from our memories of human relationships

Sliding black screens work like magic, as dancers suddenly appear and disappear from the stage like mental traces. The dancers pop, lock, jerk and pulse their way around the stage, making good use of gravity along the way, tumbling and slamming their bodies to the floor. Their movements frequently seem directed by the relative weights of their anatomical parts, such as the head, reminding us of the ways in which these subtle dynamics affect our movements each day and evolve as we age.

The ‘skeletons’ in this work are well-rehearsed and highly dynamic; whilst Larissa McGowan and Lisa Griffiths show a natural leadership stemming from their years of experience, the gender neutral choreography and distinctive personalities of the performers draw the eye equally to all and make for a truly coherent ensemble.

Many of the conceptual elements of Skeleton, from the jarring soundscape which mixes industrial and biological sounds from the outside world and film, to the highly physical choreography, are reminiscent of the work of Garry Stewart into which McGowan has undoubtedly also had significant input. It will be interesting therefore to see if McGowan will continue to explore her work within this familiar aesthetic framework or branch out in an alternative direction in years to come.

At times, the unrelenting, fast pace of the work proved a little exhausting and some light and shade in the form of some more intimate or introspective scenes would have been welcome. No doubt, however, this balance will be fine-tuned as McGowan grows more familiar with creating full-length work.

As it stands, nonetheless, this offering from McGowan commands one’s attention and is designed to take you along for the experience, setting the bar high for her future work.

Photo (top): Dancers perform Larissa McGowan’s Skeleton. Photos by Chris Herzfeld.

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