Australian Dance Reviews

Dancenorth’s ‘Spectra’ brings contemporary and butoh to Sydney Festival

Dancenorth's 'Spectra'. Photo by Prudence Upton.
Dancenorth's 'Spectra'. Photo by Prudence Upton.

Seymour Centre, Sydney Festival, Sydney. 
January 11, 2017.

Spectra is the inaugural work for North Queensland company Dancenorth’s newest artistic director, Kyle Page, in collaboration with Associate Artistic Director Amber Haines and dancers. Spectra had its premiere as a co-commissioned piece for the OzAsia Festival in 2015. The work features guest performers from the Batik butoh company (of Tokyo), with internationally renowned Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima creating the visual design, and live music created and performed by Jiri Matsumoto.  Miyajima’s work is currently showcasing at the Museum of Contemporary Art as a part of the Sydney International Art Series.

Dancenorth's 'Spectra'. Photo by Prudence Upton.

Dancenorth’s ‘Spectra’. Photo by Prudence Upton.

Recently presented as part of the 2017 Sydney Festival, Spectra is a beautiful leap onto the scene for the newly appointed directorship team, and a wonderful experience for the audience. The work explores the idea of the “nature of causality — the way one things leads to another” in various forms. The work had a very organic sense to its exploration of the theme, not contrived or stressing the point but instead scene leading to scene from one mesmerizing movement to another. Throughout the work, the sense of groundedness and unity of presence spoke through the artists, the connectedness of each moment of start point and reaction quite seamless. The work is quite meditative at times but does not allow for complacency of viewing; it is jolting at times with unexpected moments that speak to make a disturbance in the continuum of causations and reactions.

The work commenced with a beautiful lighting design splayed across the stage, and ropes lying across the stage, which commenced the causation stimuli for the performers. The ropes snaked off the stage, taking a life of their own, the dancers eventually interacting with one another once the external stimuli disappeared. Stylistically, the work used not only modern contemporary dance influences but also the Japanese dance theatre method of butoh and various forms of hip hop — not in a forced manner but instead in a way that spoke of the different movement genres speaking seamlessly through each other to add accent to a work that spoke one language. There was a beauty to the way the dancers moved and interacted, with process time well spent. Particularly, a duet between Page and dancer Jenni Large that flowed from one lift to another effortlessly was particularly breathtaking.

It was wonderful to see Haines dance seven months (but still quite tiny!) pregnant, with her usual stunning but fierce presence, adding beautifully to the idea of connection and relationship that threads throughout the work.

Dancenorth's 'Spectra'. Photo by Prudence Upton.

Dancenorth’s ‘Spectra’. Photo by Prudence Upton.

Design and visual elements were wonderful collaborative performers throughout the work, lending their own unique flavor to the movement vocabulary. Costumes were neutral in colour, generally loose-fitting and shapeless garments, which surprisingly added to the movement and overall presence of the work, perhaps allowing for freedom of movement to speak, as opposed to tight-fitting costumes that lend themselves to more precision and technical execution. Although these dancers are all highly technical artists, and this work did not lack order, the artists used the abandon and freedom of their movement to speak, as opposed to the preciseness of any defined technical feat they might achieve. This feature made the work particularly easy viewing and gave it a beautifully mature edge. 

Being early on in their tenure, the new artistic directorship has yet to completely establish themselves; however, Spectra as a first work is a firm start which speaks of much promise, and this is definitely a unique and wonderful space to be watching for what the future will bring. If Spectra is anything to go by, Dancenorth may yet become one of Australia’s leading companies for dance innovation.

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.

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