The Heart of Another is a Dark ForestThe Melbourne based Rawcus and Adelaide based Restless Dance Theatre share the aim of working creatively with people with disability to produce professional works that give a voice to their imaginative worlds. The two companies have joined together to create a performance for the 2008 Melbourne Fringe Festival: The Heart of Another is a Dark Forest.

In the directors' notes Kate Sulan and Ingrid Voorendt explain that the starting point for the work lay in questions about how well we can know another, and indeed how well we can know ourselves. The collaborative process began with an exchange of questions between the twenty-four performers (12 from Rawcus and 12 from Restless), questions such as How long does it take you to get to sleep? What part of your body do you like best? The two companies met each other for the first time within an improvised performance during a creative development week in late April. The result was the performance I attended on Saturday night.

The Sylvia Staehli Theatre at Dancehouse was packed and I was reliably informed that they had been forced to turn people away from every one of the five previous performances. Clearly Fringe crowds know a special show when they hear of it.

From the beginning the space had a welcoming feel. A piano is being played quietly in the back corner, softly lit and issuing a warm and welcoming glow, a bit like a cozy bar. One performer stands towards the front of the stage, stationary in a blue and black patterned kimono, which is removed to reveal a man in white Tshirt and trousers. Slowly the other performers enter, one by one, down walkways on either side of the space, milling around him until they fill the central area. They look at each other and smile. The performance begins.

There are moments of energetic action; during one some of the male performers tumble, roll and jump around the stage. These are contrasted with other, quieter moments of closeness and touching. One which stands out for me is when a woman gently strokes the hand and face of a man in a wheelchair - his response is wonderfully warm and gentle. A group of women perform a sassy dance, bums shaking, and a group of wheelchair performers play a cheerful game of cards. There is laughter and joy, and there are quieter moments which are suggestive of dreams and alter-egos, and separateness.

The set design by Emily Barrie works well, especially with its use of the curtained stage to reveal action which compliments or contrasts with events in the foreground. Richard Vabre's lighting design, with its use of light and shadow to highlight individuals and moments, sometimes linking them across the space, beautifully compliments both design and performance, whilst Zoe Barry's composition and Jethro Woodward's sound design are wonderfully evocative.

Kate Sulin's and Ingrid Voorendt's direction ensures that the different parts come together as an effective and affective whole, within which individuals retain the freedom to express their often quite anarchic individuality. There is one performer who is clearly a clown at heart and whose cheerful grin elicits supportive laughter from the audience. But ultimately this is very much an ensemble piece and one can't help but feel the camaraderie and mutual support which exists between the performers.

Those of you who had the pleasure of attending a performance of The Heart of Another is a Dark Forest will look forward to another opportunity to see the work of these companies. Those of you who didn't; well make sure you don't miss out next time.

Rawcus & Restless Dance Company presents
The Heart of Another is a Dark Forest

Dancehouse, 150 Princes Street North Carlton
Dates: 24 - 27 September, 2008
Times: September 24 & 25 at 7.30pm; September 26 & 27 at 1pm & 7.30pm.
Tickets: Conc $15.00, Full $20.00, Group $10.00
Bookings: Festival Tix: 03 9660 9666 or

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