Australian Dance Reviews

‘Oracle’: A mixed bag of ‘wow’ factors

Katrina Lilwall in 'Oracle'. Photo by Lucy Rose.
Katrina Lilwall in 'Oracle'. Photo by Lucy Rose.

Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney.
29 June 2023.

Oracle, by Melbourne-based Bass Fam Creative, showed at the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney this June-July. Oracle is a burlesque, circus and dance extravaganza, a creative depiction of the zodiac origin story. The myth of the zodiac, as well as historical narratives from other cultures such Greek and Egyptian mythology, weave their way through as the inspiration for Oracle.

Each element of the zodiac comprises a section of the work, with a cast of 18 weaving in and out of each scene, their own feature moments highlighted throughout the work. It was quite cabaret-like in its structure, with each new section a piece in and of itself.

Oracle was predominantly circus, with some wonderful moments comprising of quite difficult tricks and combinations, such as lyra and silks, that dance and burlesque gave some padding to create an interesting showcase of those elements. The dance, however, was average, the burlesque elements were okay. The burlesque-ish components did not draw out the sensuality and story in a way that well-developed burlesque acts usually do.

There was a lack of mature development toward being a wholistic work with a developed underlying narrative, so when the work ended with encouraging the audience to learn from the lessons spoken of in the work, this was confusing. There was not enough of a build-up to any kind of lesson to be learnt, it was just a short telling of each story that caused the appearance of the zodiac, and it felt rather trite to project a larger ‘lesson’ at the end. Not every piece of art we watch needs to have a lesson to be learnt, and we did not need it here.

The highlight of Oracle was the extravagant costumes, makeup and sets, with colours that were larger than life. High fashion was an underlying premise and definite vibe throughout the work. Pop music with interesting mixes and intricate lighting detail gave Oracle an otherworldly atmosphere. The curation of the theme in each detail of the staging elements set an ethereal ambiance, and dominated the movement elements. 

The dance technique was very average, particularly the pointe work attempted by the artist cast as Persephone/Virgo (Natalya Alessi), although apart from this, she had a sensual, commanding presence, as did the rest of the cast. There were some beautiful male dancers who had wonderful extension and strength to their work. The cast were bold, wonderful performers, and presence was not lacking; it is just a shame the work was not crafted and directed better. 

In true burlesque style, there was a lovely connection with the audience from each of the performers. The audience really engaged, cheered and interacted with the acts, the fourth wall a nearly non-existent entity in Oracle. There was a need for more dynamic maturity drawing on the mystique of each scene, created a little more suspense and crescendo, to bring out the unique magic that burlesque performance does. The opening act with a cleopatra style Libra (Keeva Svikart) gave time and space for this, but there was not the same sense of breath given to each section.

All-in-all, Oracle was a mixed bag of wow-factors, a vaudeville-style cabaret circus, with dance and burlesque thrown in for fun. It was a night of high-energy entertainment that you did not have to think too hard about, just sit back and be entertained.

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.

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