Trades Hall, Melbourne.
18 October 2023.
If, after only a few minutes, you are reminded of both Fantasia and Esther Williams swimming pool kitsch, you soon realise that what the blurb meant by new was old. Indeed, despite playing at the Melbourne Fringe, Mechorstra would surely fit the bill as inoffensive cruise ship fare. Less fringe, more family.
However, we should not read this as snooty dismissal. Flirting with cliché in search of something fresh and interesting is creatively risky and, at times, Mechorstra dazzles in this pursuit. In between the derivative, the innovative is clearly evident.
So too the advertised concept; namely, that the 14 strong ensemble would emulate and embody musical instruments, from orchestra to rock band. It is a simple and lyrical idea, one that resonates in the world of dance. The body as instrument, etcetera. In truth, choreographers Scott Pokorny and Tim Barnes could have teased this out with more daring, rather than embedding it in the comfort of old forms.
In glimpses, Mechorstra is also an extractive exercise, mining motifs from across the 20th century. Weimer cabaret and ’30s Broadway, vaudeville and music hall, variety hour and half-time show. There are even hints of circus and corporate event.
Yet, rather than just a menu of the familiar, Scimm. Dance Company reaches into exacting and technical precision. And here is where the contemporary, the balletic, come into focus. In its finer details, its thoughtful fusions, Mechorstra exudes an athletic and vivacious energy, a deep love of the artform and its possibilities. For dance nerds, there is also the delight of seeing certain phrases repeated and reconfigured throughout, suggesting a through-line rooted in the musical body – the one we all share.
What you sense here is a beginning. There is talent and passion in abundance, and a silo-busting sense of play and exploration. For all its ‘talent school showcase’ shimmer, this is a work with satisfying hints of sweat and grit. Once the bathing beauties and Disney cartoons have had their play, the Mechorstra promise, (redefinition), may well be realised. Either that or it will simply go cruising.
By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.