Australian Dance Reviews

Kate Prince’s ‘Message in a Bottle’: Dance as it should be

Kate Prince's 'Message in a Bottle'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Kate Prince's 'Message in a Bottle'. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Sydney.
26 October 2023.

Message In A Bottle comes to the Sydney Opera House, as a part of the SOH 50th year celebration.  Message In A Bottle is the latest offering from ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company, and is produced by Sadler’s Wells and Universal Music UK, along with Birmingham Hippodrome and The Lowry, Salford, as co-producers. 

Choreographed and directed by Kate Prince MBE, Message In A Bottle is a fictional work of the very real and lived experiences of displaced persons. Message In A Bottle is a poignant story of the times, with millions of people around the world currently experiencing the need to flee their homeland and find refuge in places other than their home, places that are often very foreign to where they grew up. Refugeeism is a global phenomenon that is currently occurring on an exponential level, caused by the current state of unrest generated by war and conflict in many places around the planet. Prince’s visionary work takes us on a journey of three siblings whose peaceful community is shattered by an attack, and the siblings must make their way separately in the world as seekers of a new life, and a new place to belong.

This theatrical dance work travels through a montage of scenes with all the passion, drive, emotional highs and lows, that dance has the unique ability to portray in such a wonderfully crafted way. Choreographically, Prince takes from the styles of hip hop, breakdance and lyrical, with a strong cast of dancers who seem to originate from a mostly hip hop background. They are not the most technically proficient group, but they are powerful in their execution, and their charisma is catching. They carry an earnest sense of the story they are telling, and they know how to communicate. The cast gives everything to their performance, and the joyous ending gives a beautiful sense of hope in what seems to be a hopeless situation. Prince has a unique ability to create a moving picture and bring characters to life with excellent group work. She uses the whole space well, not relying on busy costumes or set pieces, but really allowing the choreography to shine, in the macro and the micro.

The anthem-like music of Sting is the main feature and thread, communicating the story collectively with the movement. Message In A Bottle showcases Sting’s music in a whole new light, his own artistic journey, its themes and concepts, in a feast of sight and sound. It was like Sting’s body of work was intentionally made to be put together to form a complete journey, and Prince the master storyteller to bring it to life visually. Each song brought with it a strong sense of recognition in which we were finally seeing it for what it was trying to say all along, adding another dimension. Numbers included “Desert Rose,” “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You,” “Fields of Gold,” “Every Breath You Take,” “Message In A Bottle,” “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free,” and “Englishman In New York,” to name a few. All songs most of us would know well, now with a whole new perspective.

Costuming was simple, mostly harem style pants in natural materials that had been dyed in gradient, and the sets were also rather modest, with uncomplicated props and structures. Lighting was used as a feature to accentuate the visual pictures the blocking and movement created.

Message In A Bottle is ultimately a story of hope amongst seemingly hopeless circumstances, and the way Prince and her team have come together to create this very special work is dance and storytelling at its very best. It is a chance to experience dance as it should be – accessible, infectious in its communication and telling the stories of the time, so we are left with an indelible impression we will not forget. The cast gave it everything, leaving nothing offstage. Message In A Bottle is a truly wonderful example of dance that has the potential to tell a powerful narrative, and inspire young dancers to greater heights in their own performance journey.

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.

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