Australian Dance Reviews

No limits in Tra Mi Dinh’s ‘(Up) Holding’

Tra Mi Dinh's 'Up (Holding)'. Photo by Christina Mishell.
Tra Mi Dinh's 'Up (Holding)'. Photo by Christina Mishell.

Brand X, Sydney. 
27 January 2023.

Tra Mi Dinh brought her newest work, (Up) Holding, to the Brand X stage, and this latest instalment in her body of work, in what is emerging as the Dinh signature, brings a provocative piece that surprises, delights and challenges. Dinh has that unique ability to take a broad subject matter and flesh it out in layers that leave you processing, unwrapping and immersed all at the same time. Performing with dance artists Emma Harrison and Emma Riches, creative forces and powerful technicians in their own right, (Up) Holding was almost guaranteed to be a good night of dance, and it did not disappoint.

The premise for (Up) Holding was ‘a high energy work that has three dancers stuck in a loop – enduring, struggling, and performing their way towards clarity and resolution.’ On a background of the dancers’ lived experience, struggle, history and theatrics, (Up) Holding explores relentless repetition, mixed in with concepts of striving to ideals and platforms. It was incredibly thought-provoking and involving, but as a work that was not trying to be overtly so, it did not feel forced.  

Dinh does not shy away from the idea that she is a dancer, working with dancers, and so brings a bold physicality to the work, pushing somatic limits, exploring new ways to move, and offers execution of difficult sequences with ease. It is very satisfying watching, ultimately refreshing to see dance that utilises a broad spectrum of the ability available.

(Up) Holding opened with the dancers balancing on single leg relèvé, holding this for an impressive length of time, whilst visibly struggling to keep balance, progressing to putting shoes on, and cycling through a few articles of black clothing. The costumes were reminiscent of classic era boxer outfits, as were the pulled-up socks and runners. These worked alongside a mash-up score of humorous race-track announcer calisthenic-style instructions for movement/pin-up girl/fitness Olympia vibe, with quirky theatrics and high-energy sequences. The work cycled through various motifs, becoming more frantic at times, projecting outward, and at others it slowed right down to a more internal and intimate moment. 

Staged in the black box, Dinh did not let that limit her. Mirrors were placed at the upstage limit, and at the end of the work, the dancers faced toward them, the lighting shone toward the audience, and we were suddenly aware of ourselves within the work, reflected in the mirror, with a multi-angle look at the dancers, and them at us. It was a wholistic way to close out the work.

Whilst being credited as Dinh’s choreography, (Up) Holding had a Harrison-esq flavour in the work with the bent toward female experience merging into the narrative, evidence of the collaborative magic that happens when artists of such calibre get together to create work. It added a richness and layering to the work that complimented Dinh’s own processes and thematic bent, toward new corners of exploration. Riches also brought her unique signature, and the strengths of all three performers came out in their own quirks and stylistic traits. Dinh’s co-performers are encouraged to bring their own flavour, whilst remaining very true to concept.

All in all, (Up) Holding was a triumph, and each new piece Dinh creates goes from strength to strength. The theatre was positively buzzing post-show, with the feeling that we are witnessing a giant emerging in the choreographic space. Along with a stellar cast, Dinh has created a substantial, distinctive and wonderfully satiating work once again. (Up) Holding will travel next to Melbourne to show at Dancehouse in the coming months. The opportunity to see such a mesmerising work and strong cast should not be missed. 

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa. 

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