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Short Sweet+Dance 2010: Week 2
Written by lloyd bradford (brad) syke   
Thursday, 08 April 2010 17:07

Short Sweet+Dance 2010: Week 2I remember thinking, last year, that Short Sweet + Dance was at the pinnacle of the Short Sweet formula, which now touches everything from comedy, to drama, to song & cabaret. That impression still holds up pretty well. Festival director, the highly-polished Olivia Ansell, of Western Sydney Dance Action has everything to do, I suspect, with the professionalism with which the programme is presented. It's way slicker than any pro-am production has any right to be and the technical fastidiousness is an indicative litmus for the quality one can expect.

Even before a single foot hits the stage, SS+D's record is laudable, as Ansell points out, 'having provided over 110 choreographers & 450 dancers with an opportunity to share and perform new work; and that's just in Sydney'. You see, the festival has put down roots also in Canberra, Melbourne, Malaysia & Singapore. It's smart, too, to be 'bipolar' (Riverside & Parade) with the Sydney venues, to generate different audiences.

SSD brings together both established and emerging choreographers, from all over NSW and beyond.

The evening began, unexpectedly, in the foyer, with Ballyhoo, in which what looked, at first glance, like cloned Tina Turners (it was the wigs), revealed themselves to be all-out, flaneletted uber-bogans, replete with Capperesque mega-mullets. To the thumping rhythm of The Glitter Band's Do You Wanna Be In My Gang and, incongruously, a tidbit of Tchaikovsky, comic choreo Kay Armstrong devised and chanelled a VB-fuelled parody of suburban anti-chic, through Anna Healey, Ashlee Barton, Natalie Pelarek & Amy Coggiolo (who comprise part of the youMove company. Described aptly as head-banging ballet chicks, they were not so much Nutcracker as ballbreaker. Armstrong picked up an award for dancing its former solo incarnation, 'though I'm unsure of it's nature. It was broadly entertaining and ridicule of alcoholic, try-hard machismo, even when incarnated in females, is always appropriate, but it wasn't really anything, thematically, that hasn't been done before and wasn't, especially, dance-focussed. There wasn't really enough extension of the idea to sustain it for its allotted time so, while I smiled politely, along with many others I noted, in somewhat feigned amusement, it turned tedious after a few minutes.

Seated, we were subjected to Deixa Cair: 'four women engaged in a syncretic ritual of letting go', whatever that means. Frankly, pretentiously inscrutable curatorial notes, as is so often the case in the world of visual art, are both annoying and undermining of the work itself, not to mention an imposition on the intelligence and imagination of the audience, which might well bring with it a superior, or at least alternative, interpretation, regardless of artistic intention. Yes, I like the idea of putting the cup down, as much as imbibing the elixir of life, but this would remain nebulous in, say, poetry, let alone being discernible through the overwhelmingly impressionistic medium of dance. The themes, after some pedantic waffle about South American refreshments of all kinds, were touted as surrender, concentration, and celebration. Leave it at that! I think I'll forgo program notes, from now on, and see for myself.

Putting this major quibble to one side, there were some very sleek moves interpolated here, choreographed by Angela Hill and her dancers (Pamella Alvarado, Charemaine Seet & Eve E White; as well as Hill herself), melding traditional Latino with freeform, expressionist modern. Costumes, as they were throughout the night, were superbly thoughtful, enhancing the smart, symmetrical lines and genuinely enhancing underlying ideas. These dancers displayed great skill, reflected thorough training, rehearsal, form, experience and, above all, a collaborative synergy that assisted the fluctuating physical consonance and dissonance of the piece. In short, impressive. But spare me the backstory, which had no real narrative linearity, either on paper, or on stage. I really liked the choice of music, including Mestre Acordeon & The Capeira Arts Cafe which, via liberating, primal rhythms and unbridled sensuality, gave licence and credence to notions of surrender and celebration, particularly.

Giftwrapped succeeded, narratively, where Deixa failed, thanks to its singlemindedness and simplicity. It made the most of collateral arts, including lighting and theatrical craft, to crisply deliver its timely message: mutton can't be disguised as lamb, no matter how intensive the effort. This was transliterated into dance by the contrast of 'little Ms Perfect', with her sleek, blond bob and shining complexion, and the downright dowdy 'Ms What You See Is What You Get'; the two (co-choreographers, Jenni Andrews & Emma Hawthorne) dressed, respectively in white and black. One was packaged perfectly, the other's flaws veritably naked, before God and everyone else. Each inhabited her character with a convincing physical disposition and neither was thrown by a few missed re-cues of an excerpt from White Christmas. Good and pleasing work, with no prepossessions insofar as setting the world on fire.

The Strange Exchange was aptly named. I'd no essential beef with Erin Brookhouse's choreography, 'cept to say she must've been dreamin' to think any dancers this side of Decorte and Lawrence had a snowball's chance in heck of pulling it off. Immensely, ingeniously athletic, dramatic and complex, it was not only a thrill a minute, but every second was fraught with the danger of missing a beat, mark, or cue. Angela Blake and Daniel Dolling should be awarded medals of honour for taking it on but, unfortunately, it came off as graceless, heavyhanded (and footed) and cringeworthy. Which isn't to say the sexuality wasn't palpable. Matters weren't helped by the seeming cockiness of Dolling; then again, he needed all the ammo he could get to try and bluff his way through. The hard yards had obviously been put in but the plain fact is these moves, and their intensity, demand the strongest dancers the form can put forward and these weren't they. Or aren't yet. In seeking glory and triumph, you can go for too much and this was way too much. Not even Belgian band Hooverphonic's Mad About You could rescue this presentation from coming off red-faced, unfortunately not just from the workout. Again, too, the almost laughable 'liner' notes were a real spoiler. Pens down, please!

Things got really interesting with An Empty Room, by Emma Fishwick. Kynan Tan's composition was integral to its success, as were dancers Fishwick, Ashlee Barton, Sean Marcs (watch this and other spaces), Anna Healey, Angela French, Cloe Fournier and Imogen Cranna. A meditation on the nature and relative attractions of noise, quiet, emptiness, fullness, light, dark, yin and yang, and our constant struggle with these dichotomies, it was brilliantly conceived, costumed, lit, propped and danced. Each part formed a compelling, cohesive whole, with that more than the sum of the parts. Sophisticated. Eloquent. Brill!

After a brief interval, including a slightly awkward, if charismatic, fist at pretending she knew what she was talking about by this week's NSW arts minister, Virginia Judge, we had A Little Light Dinner Conversation, which kept the momentum well up. Gemma Dawkins deserves pretty much as much credit as Fishwick for her originality and judicious sense of the achievable: what she and her dancers can actually carry. Cool tracks from the likes of Mowgli were further proof of the mature wisdom of her choices. The terrific troupe included Caitlin MacKenzie, Lucy Ingham, Jake Kuzma, Abby Johnson, Katie Neumann and, most notably of all, Luke Currie-Richardson, a complete natural, God's latest gift to Australian dance. This work succeeded, too, in starting with a very simple idea: a warm, humane, humourous, compassionate, forgiving look at the family dinner-table and all that happens there. Table (and chairs) sufficed to discuss what happens around and what's swept under it. Clever deviations from real time, conjured with music and motion, could've proved gimmicky, but didn't, thanks to expertise and a measured approach. A definite highlight.

Surface Tension had an altogether more serious-minded, focussed, (dare I say) European sensibility, but in a good way. Movement was innovative & suitably fluid, without being overwrought, thanks to the fine judgement of dancer-choreos Venettia Miller, Marttaleena Luukkonen & Eleanor Kelly. Surface Tension created just that, with an insistently dripping, aqueous soundtrack. A modest exposition of intent, on paper, was substantially realised. Arresting and thoroughly (post)modern(ist) work; refined and ready for any professional space, especially of the arty kind.

Tanya Voges' Remove Darkness, with musical vignettes from Ben Frost & The Spheres, to name a couple, employed her solo talents to abstract effect, invoking the pensive and the dynamic, in a quest for enlightenment which, as she alludes, can arrive in unexpected, myriad and mundane forms. I'm not sure it entirely succeeds in decoding such, but it makes for a poised, balanced and satisfying journey into heart, mind and soul.

Ambivalence, an exploration of conflicting emotions, was as much performance art, or theatre, as dance, but in the broader context, that's fine. Sarah-Vyne Vassallo conceived and choreographed the piece, which utilises The Irrepressibles' In This Shirt, as well as Ivey Wawn, Rhiannon lambert and Shannon Ryan, spotlit by turns, locked in different states of being and feeling. It was very well-performed, 'though, given me druthers, I would've plumped for a more dancerly approach, given the context, since much of the dancing was with the eyes, nose and mouth.

Finally, What's Essential Is Invisible To The. That's what it's called. Cryptic title, perhaps, but nothing could be less cryptic, or straightforward, or enjoyable, than this shiny, big-production, high-camp, Hollywood glitz-'n'-glamourous number, to an iconic Benny Goodman big band number, the name of which aggravatingly eludes me, for the moment. Think A Chorus Line, Fosse, et al. Showgirls in scanty, glittering costumes, en masse. And it's rarely done much better than this. Choreographed by Paulina Quinteros, with dancers Chantel Baptista, Amelia Campbell, Brittany Daenell, Erin Davie, Kristy Edwards, Amanda Jarman, Veronika Polaskova, Simone Smiles, Nicola Rossetti, Georgette Sofatzis and Chanelle Freeland (phew!), it refreshed the parts other dance can't reach. And, at last, a synopsis that says it all, without saying too much: 'the music plays, the body follows, the feet tap to those beats; the heart begins to laugh, the mind forgets; life is great!'


SHORT SWEET+DANCE

Short Sweet+Dance Week 1
March 30 - April 1, 2010
Riverside Theatres  | Corner Church and Market St Parramatta
Tuesday - Thursday 8pm
$28 / $25
Bookings: www.riversideparramatta.com.au | 8839 3399

Short Sweet+Dance Week 2
April 7 - 10, 2010
Parade Theatres Kensington (NIDA)
Wednesday - Saturday 8pm plus 4pm Saturday matinee
$28 / $25
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au | 1300 795 012  

Short Sweet+Dance Week 3
April 13 - 17, 2010
Parade Theatres Kensington (NIDA)
Tuesday - Saturday 8pm plus 4pm Saturday matinee
$28 / $25 conc
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au | 1300 795 012  

Short Sweet+Dance Wildcards
Parade Theatres Kensington (NIDA)
Sat April 10 at 2pm
$25 / $22
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au | 1300 795 012  

Visit: www.shortandsweet.org
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