IslandChoreographer and dancer, James Batchelor is on a mission to change his audience’s perception and expectations of what a dance performance should be. Since his graduation from The Victorian College of Arts in 2012, Batchelor has continued working as a dancer on projects with Sue Healey, Antony Hamilton, and Stephanie Lake, while attracting attention and grants from funding bodies for his choreographic output. His dance installation In Wonderland toured extensively both in Australia and overseas.

For his latest, very professionally produced, abstract dance and installation piece, Island, his designer Ella Leoncio has transformed the Courtyard Studio at the Canberra Theatre Centre into a huge black box with mirrored walls and floor outlined in neat perspective-challenging white lines. Positioned within this box are six large free-standing transparent perspex screens surrounding six circles of white light on the floor.

During the work the screens and white lights are manoeuvred into different positions by the dancers. There is no conventional theatre seating, although stools and chairs are available for audience members requiring them. Instead the audience is invited to wander around the installation and view the performance from different parts of the installation as the performance progresses.

The three dancers, Bicky Lee, Amber McCartney and James Batchelor himself, clad in identical loose fitting crisp white costumes and make-up, perform as series of complex kinetic rap-like movements to a relentlessly driving soundscape devised by Morgan Hickenbotham. The work, divided into three sections, each following the other without interruption, commences with a rather slow mime-style solo performed blank-faced by Bicky Lee.

A busy, intricate duet featuring Amber McCartney and James Batchelor, also performed blank-faced, and much of it in unison, follows, before all three dancers combine for the final section. The movement is committed and skilful and while appearing repetitious at first, as the viewer becomes aware of the constant small changes of detail, multiplied and heightened by the mirrors, white lines and perspex reflections, the effect is mesmerising.

Whether Island represents the new direction for dance remains a moot point but it certainly provides a fascinating and worthwhile experience for its audience, who, in another break with tradition, are invited to contribute a donation on leaving, instead of paying for a ticket in advance.

Choreography: James Batchelor  Featuring: James Batchelor, Bicky Lee, Amber McCartney  Design: Ella Leoncio  Sound Design: Morgan Hickinbotham

Courtyard Studio – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Thursday 1 May 2014
Season: 1 – 4 May 2014

Review: Bill Stephens

Image: Island – courtesy of Helen Musa