Every now and then, a contemporary dance choreographer incorporates some more mundane gestures, like brushing teeth, combing hair or even kissing, to dance movements. Usually it works to attract attention and sympathy from the public. This is what director Lee Wilson does very well in Paradise City, performance that the Branch Nebula dance company is presenting now, in Perth, as part of its national tour.
However, Wilson and co-creator Mirabelle Wouters go further than others typically risk doing. Not only do they unite on stage a skateboarder, a B-boy, a BMX rider, and a singer/composer, but they also incorporate harmoniously, in the breathtaking choreography of their two dancers/acrobats, urban expression arts forms like break dancing, and twists and turns that resemble BMX and skateboarding movements. The result is a thrilling, powerful performance.
The Sydney Opera House commissioned Paradise City, after an initial development residency at the Performance Space. The choreography was first presented at the Opera House Studio, in 2006. Last year, Wilson and Wounters took Paradise City to four Brazilian cities. While there, Wilson described his work as way to “share with the audience the city cultural life we live in and love”. He could not have described his work in a better way. More than the Paradise City popularized in Guns n’ Roses musical hit, where “the grass is green and the girls are pretty”, Branch Nebula's Paradise City is like any other big city in the world: weird, intimidating, oppressive, speedy, devastating, but at the same time intriguing, fascinating, sensual and powerful.
On stage, two skate ramps and a few road barriers, which are used in multiple ways, produce a representative niche of Branch Nebula's Paradise City. The six characters interact with them in ways that are usual - mostly when bike rider and skateboarder do their show - and unexpected - like when a dancer/acrobat climbs them with her high shoes. There is also much interaction among characters themselves, and this is facilitated by the choreography that incorporates break dancing plus movements inspired on the BMX rider's and the skateboarder's acts.
Paradise City reaches its most powerful moment when the six characters' interactions become a series of challenges. The bike rider (X-Games champion Simon O'Brien) spins his BMX, responding to the dancer's challenge. The dancer then lies down on the floor, while the skateboarder (Petera Hona) nearly grazes her body with a jump. In this sensual and pungent fight, at the end the only winner is the public.
In this mostly spectacular performance, there was only one loose end: I couldn’t understand the relationship between the decadent diva, character played by singer Inge Liljeström, and the others on stage. Although very talented, and clearly influenced by Icelandic singer Björk, Liljeström's character represents well a big contemporary city, but does not evoke exactly the same culture as the others. The scene where a dancer takes the decadent diva's clothes and shoes is beautiful. Nevertheless, I felt everything made more sense whenever she wasn't singing.
Paradise City is brilliant, not only because Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters came up with the fantastic idea of mixing dance and urban-expression art forms, but also because of the talent of the group they put together. Alexandra Harrison and Kathryn Puie incorporate in their dance and acrobatic movements the gestures of the BMX rider, the B-boy and the skateboarder with competence and humor. On the other hand, with their streetwise skills, BMX rider, B-boy (Anthony Lawang) and skateboarder give the audience a taste of the real action happening nowadays on the streets of big cities.
Paradise City provides a perfect combination of arts and city life for those who adore contemporary dance and urban culture.
2008 National Tour
Brisbane Powerhouse 9 – 12 April | 07 3358 8600 or www.brisbanepowerhouse.org
Darwin Entertainment Centre 15 – 16 April | 08 8980 3333 or www.darwinentertainment.com.au
Araluen Arts Centre 18 – 19 April | 08 8951 1122 or www.nt.gov.au/nreta/arts/ascp/araluen
Adelaide Festival Centre 23 – 26 April | 08 8216 8600 or www.afct.org.au
PICA 30 April – 10 May | 08 9228 6300 or www.pica.org.au
Artshouse 14–17 May | 03 9639 0096 or www.easytix.com.au/artshouse
Wodonga Civic Centre 21 May | 02 6022 9223 or www.wodonga.vic.gov.au
Merrigong Theatre Co. 23 – 24 May | 02 4226 3366 or www.ipac.org.au
Performance Space 28 May – 7 June | 02 9698 7235 or www.moshtix.com.au
Casula Powerhouse 10–11 June | 1300 795 012 or www.ticketek.com.au