The National Portrait Gallery has established an admirable practice of commissioning original dance works to reflect and illuminate their various exhibitions. The latest work in this series is a captivating site-specific work, Weave, hustle and halt, which was given several performances on the forecourt of the National Portrait Gallery.
Responding to the current exhibition, Dempsey’s People: British Street Portraits – an exhibition of 50 remarkable portraits portraying predominantly 19th century British tradespeople, choreographer, Alison Plevey, augmented her own Australian Dance Party with young dancers from QL2, and some older Canberra dancers.
Rather than mimic the 19th century costumes from the portraits, Plevey had her dancers wear contemporary street clothes and challenged them to draw inspiration from the portraits to create their own stories and characters, within the choreographic framework she laid out.
As well, she incorporated two musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Alex Voorhoeve and Tim Wickham, who, in addition to becoming part of the movement while still playing their instruments, also created an electronic soundscape which incorporated traditional and spontaneous improvised music with city and outdoor sound effects.
The worked commenced rather like a flash mob, with each dancer disconnecting from their friends in the audience to move on to the performance area. Seemingly improvising each quickly established their individual character, independent initially and lost in their own little world.
Gradually they began forming groups, occasionally acknowledging one or other to perform choreographed patterns, cleverly interweaving often complex unison movement with individual improvised sections drawing on their own abilities.
When the musicians eventually joined in the movement, the mood became more inclusive and joyous. The effect was absolutely mesmerising as the nine dancers weaved, hustled and occasionally halted, performing the cleverly conceived choreography with style and commitment.
Then, as mysteriously as they had arrived, the dancers dissipated into the sunny afternoon, leaving their captivated audience to muse on how successfully, and rather magically, they had managed to capture, perfectly, the essence and mood of Dempsey’s People.
Weave, hustle and halt
National Portrait Gallery, King Edward Terrace, Parkes (Canberra)
Performance: Saturday 9 September 2017
Image: Weave, hustle and halt – photo by Lorna Sim
Review: Bill Stephens OAM