State Theatre Centre of WA and other venues
September 12 – 22, 2018

Run as a collaboration between Ausdance West Australia and local companies, the fourth MoveMe festival features the first new work in some years from WA local Chrissie Parrot (choreographing on Co3 dance company), a new piece from rising star Kynan Hughes, an intimate performance in a Perth bungalow by WA performance royalty (Elizabeth Dalman and George Shevtsov), as well as work from The Farm (Perth regulars based on the Gold Coast) and senior WA interdisciplinary theatre maker Sally Richardson. With such an impressive program and very little infrastructural support, one can only celebrate this fabulous smorgasbord, even if some pieces came off as slightly unfinished or not entirely coherent in their current form.

Hughes’ Love/Less came out of the choreographer’s mourning for his father. In its current state though it is an unremittingly heterosexist and romantic work in which two women (very well danced by Marlo Benjamin and Rachel Ogle) compete for, or mourn the loss of, the affections of one male dancer (Alexander Perrozzi). This is reinforced by a melancholic female voice-over on the loss of physical contact with her lover. Parrot’s In-Lore Act II is also unsubtle, using high Romantic music and dramatic string orchestrations (from the more usually refined Eden Mulholland) to suggest a massively overdetermined and emotionally heavy ambience, an element further underscored (for no clear reason) by costumes and hairstyling evoking 1960s Sweden, which is paired with an untranslated Swedish language voice-over.

Love/Less‘ Alexander Perrozzi, Rachel Arianne Ogle and Marlo Benjamin. Photo © Emma Fishwick

Both dance-works overstay their welcome given that, in case of Love/Less, it is a very commonplace narrative which is evoked (girl-loses-boy), while In-Lore’s emphasis on an impenetrable series of familial tensions whose details are denied to the audience—even though everything else in the dramaturgy suggests there is a potent psychosexual meaning behind it all. It all ends up becoming somewhat exhausting. Both dance-works are however redeemed by outstanding choreographic execution, and, interestingly, both feature female solos of great power.

Benjamin is a tall, willowy dancer with a dark shock of hair. Her elbows and wrists lightly flick backwards the wrong way while she folds one limb impossibly behind herself before dropping to the ground, one leg outstretched and ready to suddenly rise back up in an equally impossible yet graceful twist. In Parrot’s piece, aside from the fabulous, sharp sexualised aggressiveness of dancer Ella-Rose Trew (unfortunately attired in extremely ugly pants) and the dense weightiness of David Mack (equally bizarrely dressed in heavy Scandinavian wool), there is Tanya Brown (mercifully wearing an unfussy white shift) enacting a tremendous, essentially “hysterical,” explosion of violent movement. This is the nervous female body writ large. Brown shakes before smashing onto the floor and bounding up, hair flailing. It is a rare moment of clarity for In-Lore, where corporeal freneticism portrays not just the emotional trauma of Brown’s character, but also her tendency to reflect the tensions of those around her.

In Lore‘s Andrew Searle and Tanya Brown. Photo © Stefan Gosatti

The Farm’s Cockfight begins as a series of dramatic skits built around the abstraction of repeated, highly-focussed, and competitive, actions set within an office environment: answering a phone, clambering about on a filing cabinet, lecturing on public speaking, shifting objects about on a desk, and so on. Initially an absurdist theatrical comedy, it becomes more dancerly when the younger interloper Joshua Thomson launches into a magnificently over-the-top, crazed disco solo, to proclaim his impending victory over his mature tormentor, the tall and until that point supremely confident Gavin Webber. Webber’s commanding stature and effortless ability to disrupt Thomson’s actions and speech every time the latter seems about to successfully threaten the former’s dominance is reinforced by a wonderfully ludicrous but compelling tale which the taller man keeps recounting: of the migration of the sooty shearwater and the fact that, against all logic, it is always the stumpy younger birds (Thomson) who die along the way, the elegant older creatures succeeding every time. Webber emerges as a figure with no psychological or emotional attachments outside of his job. After an extended clambering duet between the pair (typical of The Farm’s ungainly, risky and muscular choreography), Webber’s physical exhaustion leaves him as little more than a reflex-driven shell of a man, still trying to compete with Thomson. Webber’s final ruse is to chain the two together by knotting their office ties into one, leading to an extended painful sequence in which Thomson has no choice but to drag the dead weight of his companion with him. Cockfight ends in a somewhat arbitrary manner, with a sudden door-knock from an as yet unknown interloper, but it is an otherwise stellar and surprisingly poignant, seasoned production.

The highlight of MoveMe however was the superb two-hander Dust on the Shortbread. Choreographed by Anything is Valid Dance Theatre, it is performed by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, the founder of Adelaide’s Australian Dance Theatre, and George Shevtsov, who is one of Perth’s most seasoned and empathetic performers. The pair are magnetic alone, and together, in this site-specific work on aging. The select audience (up to 15 a night) is invited to stand or seat themselves in the kitchen-cum-lounge of an early 1900s house, and the performers intermittently move past us, offering asides to individual spectators, or at one point spectators are evicted from their seats by Shevtsov when the latter builds a bonfire of memories.

Devised as a meditation on dementia, the piece is really a memory play, dramatising the vital power of one’s life memories and favourite stories, how they bind us together as individuals as well as to loved ones, but how they also readily crumble. Are any of the memories related by these characters real, or are they just fantasies, stories told so often, or in an act of groping to remember, that in each retelling we remake ourselves anew—and so lose who we once were, becoming instead a new, fractured version of ourselves?

The dramatic strength of the work therefore comes both from the wistful beauty of this realisation, and the strange attraction and poetry of seeing life as a creative reflective slick which we cast upon undulating waters. The central conceit of the production indeed reflects the nature of theatre itself, a fluttering retelling of something that may or may not have actual substance behind the thin veneer of its retelling. Who is dreaming whom, one might well ask? Is Shevtsov nothing but the memory of Dalman, or vice-versa? Are they really ghosts of the house itself, both humans now being long dead? The production allows these different perspectives to emerge and shift, without any single version becoming dominant.

Dust on the Shortbread‘s George Shevtsov. Photo © Sophia Natale 

The fragile, melancholic beauty of Dust on the Shortbread is also sonically embodied in the form of Tristen Parr’s wonderful sound design. Using speakers in different locations, Parr scatters various sounds, echoes and pieces of music across and within the house, down its hallways, and into its main spaces. The performance begins with Dalman repeatedly and haltingly reciting a story about losing her wedding ring while disposing of rubbish in an un-serviced Italian town many years ago, while she and Shevtsov prepare to share tea at the kitchen table. Later, breathy sounds of the kettle and clinks of spoons lightly reverberate about and behind us. Music too is crucial here, as a key to returning to the past, but also perhaps as a desperate gesture in the present. A record player is set in motion several times, once to accompany a touching waltz which the couple share in the middle of the room, and then again when the crackling vinyl harkens back to their apparent meeting at a rock-n-roll gig of the 1960s. These recordings produce a joyous explosion of the pair boogieing together, their graceful physical energies speaking of both time recovered through this act of dancing in the now, as well as of the time lost in the ageing of their bodies and minds, both of which now function and shift differently. A similar sense of enthusiastic recovery paired with a sense of loss infuses Shevtsov’s stacking of all the furniture in the centre of the lounge to evoke the regular Christmas bonfires and firing off of fireworks from his days of youth now long past. These moments of pleasurable return are twinned with Dalman’s intensely quizzical frowns or far-away stares from out in the garden as her character seems to sense something is missing here today. Shevtsov has a protracted sequence in which he dresses and undresses, each repetition seemingly somehow unsatisfactory, and hence must be done again.

Dust on the Shortbread closes with our couple receding from view, framed within the entrance hall, as the house seems to draw its echoes and its sounds about their pair. The two dance briefly in the hall and then exit. It feels both tangible, their intense physical presences now leaving a vacuum in the space, but also as though we were watching willow-the-wisps, fragments which never quite managed to build themselves back into convincing human subjects after all these years of decay. It is a poignant and beautiful ending to a piece which one can only hope others may be able to share.

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