the machine that carries the soulPhotos - Marisa Cuzzolaro

In their first full-length work, dance collective Phluxus brought their uniquely original show home to Brisbane on Tuesday night, after an award-winning run at last year’s The Age Melbourne Fringe Festival. The independent collective is made up of three young artists - Nerida Matthaei, Skye Sewell and Chafia Brooks - who studied locally and shared a common goal of creating work on the local scene. Expanding what had previously been a ‘work-in-progress’, the hour-long performance is both simple and complex and - above all - completely mesmerising. Drawing upon the unique language of three bodies, subtle lighting effects and thousands upon thousands of eggshells, the performance was described as expressing the girls’ personal emotional experiences such as ‘the grieving process, the struggle for equilibrium and the pivotal choices that confront us in life.’ Needless to say, I was intrigued.

Coming from a background in film review, I’m the first to admit I was weary of the far more abstract nature of live dance performance. What right have I to judge? What are ‘movement vocabularies’? What role could eggshells possibly play? I might as well have been reviewing a foreign film, void of subtitles and without locations. Thankfully, I was wrong - for the most part.

Despite the lack of dialogue or scene-setting, the show’s narrative turned out to be as engrossing as film - if not more so - though it was completely alien. Unable to blink, the first ten to fifteen minutes had me captivated. The elf-like, androgynous Skye Sewell stood silently - calmly and tenderly consuming a hard-boiled egg - and it was disarming, to say the least. What was this all about? Where is the dancing? My curiosity was aroused further as the three young women began to wander the stage, carefully pouring handfuls of crushed eggshell into what appeared to be random lines. Slowly, they found themselves trapped within boxes: two isolated by the others, while the third - the dark, fluid beauty Chafia Brooks - isolated herself. Clichés about confinement, feeling boxed in and even walking on eggshells came to mind. Suddenly, I understood - at least I feel I had a sense of understanding - and I was relieved at the imaginative simplicity of this universal theme.

Expressing three distinct attitudes to their confinement via movement, each of the young women danced within their box for sometime before the first escape. The stronger, more masculine Nerida Matthaei broke out violently, sending the delicate eggshells sweeping across the floor. Next up was Sewell, elegantly and purposefully breaking free before Brooks - in the most poignant of the girls’ experiences - appeared increasingly frustrated and suffered under the weight of her isolation as hundreds of eggshells plummeted from above. In time she stood, delicately recreating a tiny square, before the free women chose to assist her. Despite the apparent cliché, it nevertheless drew on common truths about the restrictions we place on ourselves and the occasional need to accept aid. The sequence was easily the most satisfying of the show.

Less satisfying, the final stretch of the performance became far more abstract and increasingly tedious. While I appreciated the possibility that I was perhaps out of my league, there was a repetitive - somewhat ominous - element to the music and randomness to the motions that left me wondering when it was all going to end. Focusing more on the girls dancing together, these sequences nevertheless provided the show with a heightened drama, a sense of fun and the techniques were clearly more advanced. However, as the women appeared to laugh and throw eggshells at one another, I found myself lifted out of my mesmerised state and longing for the clearer narrative of the first forty minutes.

Despite my initial concerns and the occasional feeling that the show retained a ‘work-in-progress’ quality, it was nevertheless an ambitious and interesting introduction to contemporary dance. The girls are nothing if not entirely unique and should be applauded for their imaginative efforts.

Vegans beware.

Phluxus Dance Collective presents
the machine that carries the soul

Performance Space | Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts
Tue 26th – Thur 28th June @ 7:30PM
$14 - $22
07 3872 9000, Mon-Fri: 12noon to 4pm |

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