The squeals and whoops from the audience during Stephanie Lake Company’s Manifesto feel more like a rock concert than a contemporary dance work at a posh arts festival. The screams begin almost with the first beating drum.
In a semi-circle around the stage are 9 drummers and 9 identical rock drum kits. They are on raised platforms draped in pleated fabric – set by Charles Davis – which changes with the light – lighting by Bosco Shaw – from reds through oranges to pinks and look they were hand ironed with the precision of a fastidious parent getting a uniform ready for the first day of school. It looks like a big band concert or a movie musical from the 1940s and 50s, but it doesn’t feel nostalgic.
Robin Fox’s composition is all beats and rhythm. Dancers move to beats. Our bodies need our heart beats. Beats are felt as much as heard. The melody is unheard or is meaningless as the drumming is the call to action and the impulse to move. But there are hints of melody in the dance that occasionally moves against the rhythm and in the growing responsive cheers from the audience.
The 9 dancers – Samantha Hines, Marni Green, Melissa Pham, Harrison Ritchie-Jones, Robert Tinning, Josie Weise, Kimball Wong, Jack Ziesing, Rachel Coulson – begin sitting in chairs in a semi-circle reflecting the drummers a metre or two above them. They are dressed in formal white with black trimming that could be band uniforms or costumes from those same 1940’s movies.
They make static individual moves on the beat. It’s like they have been stuck and are re-discovering what their bodies can move like. There are no limitations or expectations and none of the order and rules of classical or formal dance.
They are soon moving together and over the next hour, there’s solo, duo, trio and ensemble work. As the dance becomes less static and more personal, their costumes – by Paula Levis – become lacey and unique, and the chairs even return to be rediscovered as objects that are no longer made for passive sitting.
The 9 drummers - Nat Grant, Robbie Avenaim, Rama Parwata, Alex Roper, Alon Ilsar, Maria Moles, Tina Nguyen, Rohan Rebeiro, Jen Tait - are as watchable as the dancers. Each are dressed in individual blacks that they could have chosen themselves or been designed to suit their personality. It’s easy to imagine who has drummed in pub bands, orchestras, stadium concerts or studios.
They never stop watching the dancers and whether the first move comes from dancer or drummer is impossible to guess because they are so connected.
The emotional impact of dance and music can be muffled by using words to describe them. Audiences cheer because they feel something that they can’t contain. Manifesto builds and creates joy that spills from the stage.
Lake describes her work as a manifesto to optimism. No matter how stuck we get, no matter if we’re at the back or being ignored, there are ways to move and grow and share joy. Manifesto had a short season but be optimistic that it will be back.
Merlyn Theatre – Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Saturday 12 June 2022
Season: 9 – 12 June 2022 (ended)
Image: Manifesto – photo by Sam Roberts and Roy Vandervegt
Review: Anne-Marie Peard