Australian Dance Reviews

Eliza Cooper’s eerie and captivating ‘Bat Lake’ 

Allie Graham in 'Bat Lake'. Photo by Dom O'Donnell.
Allie Graham in 'Bat Lake'. Photo by Dom O'Donnell.

Riverside Theatres, Sydney.
13 October 2022.

Bat Lake is an eerie, gripping, atmospheric astonishing piece by Sydney dance artist Eliza Cooper, evoking the dark and mysterious world of bats from pollination to echolocation.

The work, presented by FORM Dance Projects as part of Dance Bites 2022, is Cooper’s striking second full-length dance work. Cooper is a 2016 Sydney Dance Company Pre-Professional Year graduate. Her first full-length work, Old Life/Dead Life, performed by Sydney Experimental Arts Ensemble, premiered at the Old Theatre 505 in 2019, exploring the origins and development of life.

For over a year, Cooper herself designed and made the costumes for the production. The seven dancers – Maxine Carlisle, Mitchell Christie, Allie Graham, Jasmin Luna, Cassidy McDermott-Smith, Remy Rochester and Strickland Young – are barefoot and in black outfits, the leggings with ruffles on them. Sound artist Mason Peronchik, a long-time collaborator of Cooper, synthesised the sound of bats with the electronic score. 

Lighting was designed by Frankie Clarke. At times, looming shadows are important, a storm hits, and reflection off the ‘blooming cactus flowers’ that look like large silver lily pads is used. At one point, the lighting was darkly luminous like a Caravaggio portrait. This is contrasted by the accent of three spotlights in another section for a solo. 

Ballet technique is used as a base but deconstructed. And yes, there are fleeting references to Swan Lake. Cooper’s extraordinary work demands a very flexible body and is, at times, almost acrobatic, other times, extremely minimalised and controlled. It includes headstands and cartwheels, as well as moments of silence and stillness. The dancers sometimes appear to ‘fly’ as they coil and uncoil, have sharp spiky turns, crouch, run, spin solo or strive toward one another, snare and voraciously feed, slip and slither across the stage. Their arms, at times, are bent like wings. Vampire-like hands and fingers have become eerie stretched claws or spiders, emerging from the looming darkness. Or they flutter close to the chest. There are lifts and jumps, ensemble repeated movement phrases and back bends. Embodied in the work are some captivating solos and duets. Overall, Bat Lake is a most hypnotic and dynamic work.

By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

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