Semaphore is one of those works that has been fortunate enough to be given a long development time, with creator Kate Neal, having returned sporadically to this work over the past seven years. This long development time is evident from the outset, every detail on stage has been thought through, though like it’s subject matter, what was communicated needed to be a little less encoded for audiences to really latch on.
The musicality of this performance is complex, rousing stuff, performed with precision, from a base of percussive beats rose the sounds of strings and woodwind. Semaphore is very much a performance where music and dance meet, the fusion of these two forms at times worked so beautifully that the action on stage was mesmerizing, with audiences being drawn into this confusing reality.
Transitions between scenes, were definitely something that could benefit from further thought process and refinement. Though exposing the mechanics behind performance is an idea not without merit, here in Semaphore, it unfortunately left audiences disengaged, having to work twice as hard to be drawn back in. It’s questionable to have musicians move (with instruments in tow) so many times, irrespective of this being mentioned in the artistic notes, ultimately these choices detracted from the brief moments of dance found in Semaphore.
In response to the dance found in Semaphore, the choreography is nothing much, the opening scene being perhaps the most engaging, with following scenes unfortunately not able to match. Each of the dancers gave it there all, James Welsby was, as always luminary, it might just be impossible for this guy to be anything short of amazing.
It’s difficult to articulate just what went wrong with this performance, each of the elements in their own right are marvelous, but together something just didn’t gel. Perhaps it can be attributed to such long development time, it felt as if this performance wasn’t able to breath, being so constructed, give us something more, a little liveliness never hurt anyone.
Semaphore would perhaps be more suited to presentation in the round, the formality of such grand ideas could do well being challenged in this manner in turn, providing a more relaxed setting for audiences, allowing them to drift in and out of this reality.
All in all, it’s a dense and overly constructed work certainly not for the uninitiated audience – it could have gone further and become so much more than it was. Certainly offering no afterglow, closing scenes fizzled out after such a strenuous time trying to engage with a detailed work that somehow failed to offer up any detail at all, which in itself is a strange and ultimately disappointing dichotomy to be left pondering…
Arts House – North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Season continues to 31 May 2015
Bookings: (03) 9322 3713 or online at: www.artshouse.com.au
Image: Semaphore (supplied)