Building on its admirable policy of commissioning professional dance makers to create a work in response to a current major exhibition, The National Portrait Gallery commissioned a second work from Canberra choreographer, Alison Plevey and her Australian Dance Party.
Her first commission was Weave, Hustle and Halt – an imaginative large-scale work for the exhibition, Dempsey’s People: British Street Portraits, which was performed as outdoor for several performances.
For this second work, In a Flash, commissioned by the NPG for its current exhibition, Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits, Plevey has created a light-hearted, exhilarating and absorbing work drawing on the skills of four accomplished professional dancers in addition to herself.
Making imaginative use of the spacious National Portrait Gallery main foyer, the dancers performed, behind, and in front of, the foyer’s towering back windows, and as they performed their movements were captured by photographer Lorna Sim and transmitted to graphics artist, Anna Trundle, be processed and projected, slighted delayed, on to a large screen set up to one side of the performing area.
The work commenced with the dancers filing out to the sunny courtyard on the outside of the foyer windows. They were glamorously costumed in party wear. To the music of the popular song, Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps – a nod to Strictly Ballroom, one of the films featured in the exhibition, they pushed themselves against the windows, smearing makeup on the glass, and squashing their bodies into grotesque shapes against it, as if trying to push through the glass.
When the music changed to another song from Strictly Ballroom, Happy Feet, the performers entered the indoor performance area, and only then did the audience notice that with their glamorous gear, they were wearing thongs on their feet (Priscilla?).
After performing some cleverly choreographed funny and funky moves, they discarded the thongs, and the party gear, performing the rest of the work in body-hugging dancewear over which they added various elements of costumes as required for each sequence.
The sequences were succinct and clear, cleverly highlighting each dancer’s personality and skills through selective improvisation combined with carefully choreographed unison sections to capture the glamour, adventure, iconography and nostalgia of life on the silver screen.
Memorable sequences included a section where the dancers spoke their individual biographies aloud while rotating in a circle, another, an apparent audition, in which Alison Plevey performed a series of complex physical manoeuvres while calmly chatting with the director, played by Adam Deusien. A piece of white cloth was manipulated around Leeke Griffin to become a fur cape, a showgirl’s train, or a background for a Hollywood glamour shot.
As all this progressed seamlessly, the viewer was torn between watching the excellent work of the dancers, and marvelling at the photographic skill of Lorna Sim as she captured each highpoint with unerring accuracy, and the remarkable editing skills of Anna Trundle in the selecting which image to highlight as the work progressed.
Apart from providing an entertaining and intriguing half-hour, In A Flash provides the opportunity to experience the maturing of the choreographic skills of Alison Plevey who is emerging as one of the country’s most interesting dance makers.
In a Flash
National Portrait Gallery, King Edward Terrace, Parkes (Canberra)
Performance: Saturday 10 February 2018
Next performance: Sunday 18 February 2018 – 11.00am & 2.00pm
Image: Australian Dance Party presents In a Flash – photo by Lorna Sim
Review: Bill Stephens OAM