A collaboration between four dancers and six musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Strings Attached was the inaugural presentation of a new Canberra-based professional contemporary dance company, Australian Dance Party.
The brain-child of choreographer and performer, Alison Plevey, Australian Dance Party aims to challenge audiences to actively think, question ideals and debate current issues through creative collaborations and adventurous performance projects by engaging a diversity of Canberra performers, thinkers and experts moving across site-specific and theatrical venues.
To this end, the choice of a pop-up theatre in the Nishi Building in the New Acton precinct was an imaginative one. Signs directing audience members to the venue provided a sense of discovery, and once inside, the sophisticated atmosphere created by Victoria Lee’s string sculptures, the comfortable chairs and tables arranged cabaret style, at either end of the performance space, the large harp and other musician’s paraphernalia arranged along either side, all heightened the air of anticipation.
With the stated objective of exploring the connection between dance and music, Strings Attached consisted of seven short works, presented without interruption or costume changes, as a sort of taste-treat of possibilities. The program commenced with the room being suddenly darkened. The sound of breathing, lightly at first, then building in intensity as the lights slowly came up to reveal the four dancers and six musicians taking the stage. They formed a circle, and replaced the breathing with rhythmic slapping and clapping sounds.
As the musicians moved towards their instruments, Alison Plevey challenged the harpist, Meriel Owen, to improvise to her movements. One by one the other dancers challenged other musicians similarly, often intruding on the previous dancer. Eventually the musicians combined to launch into a languorous arrangement of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Ritornelle et chantee to which each of the dancers in turn, Alison Plevey, Janine Proost, Gabriel Comerford and Liz Lea, improvised a dance in response, allowing each to showcase their particular strengths.
Similarly, each of the musicians, Meriel Owen (harp and piano), Tim Wickham (Acoustic and electric violin), Stephen Fitzgerald (percussion), Miroslav Bukovsky (Trumpet), Dave Flynn (double bass, guitar and bass guitar) and Alex Voorhoeve (acoustic and electric cello) had the opportunity to shine in excellent arrangements by composers as eclectic as James Hannigan, Zoltan Kodaly, Mariano Mores, Cy Coleman, Jimi Hendrix, Jean-Baptiste Lully and even three of the participating musicians, Alex Voorhoeve, Gavin Findlay and Tim Wickham. The musical arrangements by Dave Flynn, Mike Dooley and Miroslav Bukovsky, provided opportunity for the musicians to display their multi-instrumental skills.
Most of the dances relied heavily on the improvisational skills of the various participants, which led to some repetition, but among the more memorable moments were the fiercely athletic solo performed by Gabriel Comerford to a militaristic Soviet style march, the erotic, bare-foot tango danced by Comerford and Proost, the energetic, unison Frug danced by Plevey, Lea and Proost and the orgiastic, hair-tossing finale performed by all four dancers.
Strings Attached proved a promising and tantalising entrée for the Australian Dance Party. The challenge now is to develop a cohesive choreographic style and personality to build on the interest and goodwill achieved with this inaugural program.
Nishi Playhouse, New Acton (Canberra)
Performance: Thursday 25 August 2016
Season: 25 – 27 August 2016
Image: Alison Plevey performs in Strings Attached – photo by Lorna Sim
Review: Bill Stephens