The end result of a good contemporary dance performance incorporating elements of theatre and multi-media is that it should be greater than the sum of its parts. Dance a la Carte has not quite managed to come together as perhaps it could have, but certainly shows some potential by the three Australian dancers.
Dance a la Carte is split into three separate performances: 'Room With Her View', choreographed and performed by Aisling Donovan, 'Toys', choreographed and performed by Melbourne-based performer, Tina Evans, and 'Legs 11', choreographed and performed by Jeni Sutton with Aisling Donovan. Together they make up the starter, the entrée and the main course in the program, respectively. Although the three courses are not related to one other per se, there is certainly an underlying theme concerning the nature of loneliness running through all of them.
'Room With Her View', by Aisling Donovan, is a short piece about social anxiety and how it can lead to fear-based, self-imposed isolation. There’s no doubt that Donovan is a gifted dancer. As she moves further into her anxiety, her body takes on more and more distorted shapes, as if the world around her is forcing her into unnatural positions she’s helpless to defy. At one point Donovan is on the floor on her back, her arms bent into a square above her head, and she is literally winding around herself on the floor like a clock losing time in a movement well matched to the music. Throughout the piece Donovan moves her scant possessions around the stage, as if attempting to claim her own space in a frightening world. This was my interpretation, but I could be wrong, the piece was hard to decipher and ultimately, it left me unmoved.
'Toys', performed by Tina Evans, explores the bleakness of child sex trafficking and is an interesting piece in several ways. The film by Sasha Dylan Bell that accompanied it works extremely well with it, not detracting from the live performance or falling away unnoticed. It’s an intriguing and disturbing piece with inventive movement based predominantly on repetition. It has a particularly compelling beginning, the effect of which is unfortunately diluted because it went on a bit too long. Evans’ movement compliments the music well and her spoken performance was certainly the stand out of the night, although I did wonder if the dialogue had been more innocent, the overall outcome would have been more chilling. I did wonder also, whether the performance should be classed as physical theatre rather than contemporary dance. The costuming was particularly effective and Evans’ petite frame was perfect for the piece.
'Legs 11', a dance theatre duet about two old ladies reliving their youth, is the most problematic of the three performances. The poor script could have easily been done away with, as the characters are stereotyped and ultimately distracting. There is a section in the middle of it where Donovan and Sutton are dancing against the back wall of the theatre that, to me, is what contemporary dance is all about. They use the floor and each other’s bodies with grace and strength and intrigue. There is also a section where the girls dance with buckets as an homage to their drug days that is quite entertaining, although the unison could have been tighter. (Also, I’m not sure how many women in their eighties smoked bucket bongs in their youth…) As a whole though, this piece is immature and indulgent.
Sutton, who also produced Dance a la Carte, says that she wants to bring contemporary dance to the masses. She has attempted to do this of course, but these days the landscape has changed with the advent of the phenomenon that is So You Think You Can Dance, which has brought contemporary dance (amongst other styles) straight into the average Australian family’s living-room, and packaged it in a way that is quite the spectacle. Whether that spectacle is a good or a bad thing is beside the point because, unfortunately or not, it now means that any small independent dance productions need to make sure that the sum of its parts provides a mass audience with a full and engaging experience. Dance a la Carte has not quite managed to do that.
Dance a la Carte
A triple bill of contemporary dance
The Blue Room Theatre
July 24 – August 9
Tuesday to Saturday, 8:00pm
Bookings: 9227 7005 or www.blueroom.org.au