Neilson Studio, Sydney Dance Company, Sydney.
15 September 2023.
After a short but successful run in 2022, Paulina Quinteros’ Water Mirror made a return to the Sydney Fringe Festival for 2023. Water Mirror is a powerful, energetic explosion of acrobatic and contemporary movement, inspired by Japanese calligraphy, in collaboration with Taikoz, Sydney-based Japanese taiko drumming company.
Water Mirror began with the presentation of a water bowl. In Japanese culture, water is very significant, representing a bridging of the gap between tradition and modernity, preparing the space in which the work was to be performed. This set the stage for the performers, who alternated between short solos, group work and what looked to be aikido-inspired partner work. When not moving or drumming, the performers watched each other from the sidelines, either by kneeling, sitting or standing, and looking into the space to give each moment its attention. This set a lovely atmosphere of honour for each other, the sacredness of the performance space and the traditions from which the work drew its muse. Water Mirror explored being present, if nothing else, with each movement of the work, the performers gave careful attention to the task at hand, being fully present and aware.
Ian Cleworth, Ryuji Hamada and Felix Gregg-Partos collaborated in composition of the music and rhythms for this work. On stage were musicians Hamada, Joe Small, Silvana Imperatori and Haruka Kunimune. The energy with which they performed, the speed and strength they kept up and the stamina was incredible. The rhythms and sound rolled on and on, vibrating and projecting throughout the space. It was immersive, and you could not help but feel the rhythms from your head to your toes. The movement patterns and physicality of the drumming layered so wonderfully with the dance as its sharp edges and rhythmical designs unfolded in front of the instruments. Dowels, and an umbrella-like prop among others, were used by the dancers, complimenting the rather large sticks the drummers used. It does indicate that a more distant view of the work than a small black box space would give a further interesting and blended perspective to these elements.
The choreography was highly energetic, with a folk-esque quality to the acrobatics and contortion. There were repeated motifs within the work that were carefully woven through, giving the feeling of the cyclical nature of time, a concept that features in Japanese cultural tradition. The concentration and focus of the dancers (Sienna Denby, Ashlee Wilson, Samantha Leon, Bridget Macallister and Laura Vlasic) for the most part, was quite mesmerising. They certainly had their work cut out for them, with high-speed intricate details that demanded perfect synchronicity, and lengthy sections of flipping and tumbling. They matched the drummers in their intensity, and so many of the feats they threw themselves into were jaw droppingly impressive, only to go and repeat the same thing over and over. Particularly impressive was the flexible, explosive strength of Leon, who drew us in with her force of nature approach to everything she brought to the work.
Water Mirror was not a work that was just about showing off the cast of dancers’ incredible skills, although it did, but it really gave a nod to the structure and disciplines of the ancient martial art movement forms. It was fantastic to see a contemporary work that really utilised the abilities and skill sets at its disposal. Quinteros chose a young cast, and for that there was some loss perhaps in their maturity of the younger members, which is interesting considering the subject matter. It was a difficult feat Quinteros set before them; however, they brought everything they had, and for that they deserve the loud applause they received.
Water Mirror is a fun work that is experienced rather than observed. Quinteros and the entire creative team involved are to be congratulated for such a wonderful achievement.
By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.