107 Projects, Sydney.
23 February 2019.
RITUAL is a work-in-progress by independent choreographer and dance maker Angela Hamilton and her company, Twisted Element. It is an exploration of how daily rituals give structure to life but can also be used by cults to achieve a kind of groupthink, mind control and even religious transcendence.
RITUAL was billed as a taster for further ongoing experimentation and a more complete work that will be finished late 2019-20. It’s a multi-sensory experience that breaches the usual divide between audience and performers with much of the performance set in a darkened room and dancers performing amongst the audience.
With some reservations due to a personal dislike of notions involving “audience participation” (if I’m made to perform, I expect to be paid), RITUAL’s immersive experience is challenging, with its intimacy and ability to illicit discomfort regarding the underlying manipulation of our social dynamics and interaction. There was a constant debate with myself as to how much and how I would participate if required.
The work opens on a large banquet table with dancers whose costumes are a cross between the gowns from A Handmaid’s Tale and kabuki makeup enacting a sort of twisted dinner party from hell. With Zombie-like head banging, silent laughter and follow-the-leader gestures that are part of any aspiring dinner party and church service, RITUAL engages the audience in an internal struggle between individual and group identity.
The darkened room and absence of delineated social spaces means that there is a kind of heightened state induced in the audience who can’t just try to follow the rituals being enacted but also attempt to “place” themselves in the shifting inherent uncertainty of the work.
The dancing had the sonorous quality of many rituals with slow ghostly otherworldly steps that hardly demonstrate the dancers’ individual ability or personality. It was all about the singular motion of the group. In the rare instances when dancers had more individualised parts, they were able to create striking images, such as an alien emerging from some filmy membrane and a burial scene in the catacombs.
By removing the performance “fourth wall” and blending performer and audience spaces, RITUAL was able to create an immersive experience with a minimal array of set design and props other than a dining table, sheer cloth and some nifty lighted goggles. The intimacy of the performance made it easy to forget that RITUAL was performed in a shared community exhibition space in Redfern.
As a taster for Twisted Element’s forthcoming work, RITUAL is an intriguing “amuse bouche”. The willingness to create and present challenging contemporary work in everyday spaces is rooted in Hamilton’s evolving artistic vision.
As much of the work can be placed within fringe theatre contemporary dance, there is a lot to gain from moving beyond traditional and rarified performance spaces. As much as I was impressed by RITUAL’s theatrical vision, I would like to see the strictly dance element in RITUAL undergo more development and dynamism. I am intrigued to see how the final development is realised.
By Michael Jarque of Dance Informa.