Be Your Self | Australian Dance TheatrePhoto - Chris Herzfeld

The Australian Dance Theatre is renowned for its cutting edge explorations into the borders of contemporary dance and their new show, Be Your Self, is no exception. Incorporating innovative use of movement, text, projections and an interactive set, last night’s world premier was undoubtedly world class.

With a history stretching back as far as the 1960’s, ADT has been touring Australia and overseas since the early days of the contemporary dance genre. Renowned choreographer Garry Stewart has worn the Artistic Director hat since 1999 and with his passion for film and multimedia, has taken the company from strength to strength. Stewart describes his new work, Be Your Self, as an inquiry into the notion of the ‘I’, and the relationship between this concept in the mind and our physical, mechanical bodies.

While a distinct visual theme is clear from the outset - the set’s initial lighting has a hospital-esque quality and dancers are dressed in white - the deeper ideas are not articulated nearly as well until one reads the explanation in the booklet. It is certainly to great advantage if this background information is received before viewing the show, as it may not be conveyed entirely through the piece alone. With dance theatre, there is a blurring of genre and considerable difficulty in communicating a narrative, although Be Your Self is received as a cohesive piece, one may be left wondering what it was actually about.

Nevertheless ADT present a visual feast. Lighting designer Damien Cooper has used an entire ceiling of fluorescent lights to complement varying moods and precision spotlighting to highlight some stop-start movement phrases. The score is from composer Brendan Woithe and is wildly electronic, punctuated with robotic screams and sounds that seem to come from the distant ramblings of a pack of drunken Transformers. It wasn’t always pleasant or even overtly musical, but did reflect the sense of disjointed movement and the unembodied physical monologue of the dance.

A definite highlight of the production was the set. Created by New York based architects Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, a white fabric covered wall moves from upstage to down, out of which body parts emerge and interact and moving images are projected. This is a truly stunning effect and is utilised to full potential through the choreography. This section of the show deviates the most from traditional ideas of dance, and moves into a more contemporary, almost visual art aesthetic.

The spoken text is taken from medical and neurobiological writings and used to further interpret the boundaries of a robotic notion of self. Contrasting this text, the bodies on stage project powerful emotive energies and use gestures with highly impassioned meaning. While some of the dancers are beautifully expressive, many remain strictly within the realm of dance, not managing to act with much sincerity. Though when one can move like this cast can, much is forgiven. Ten bodies of the utmost level of athleticism literally throw themselves about the stage, demonstrating feats of extreme strength and skill. 

Be Your Self is not an easily digestible piece of dance theatre, and some of its ‘wow’ factor may also be credited to having a very large budget to play with. But its thematic ideas are fascinating, and the performers communicate them with stunning, albeit slightly weird, dances. With a smattering of ovations at the end, it’s safe to say that ADT is at the top of its game, and this amazing show will be well received around the world by all those who relish the world of very contemporary dance.


Presented by Australian Dance Theatre in association with Adelaide Festival & Adelaide Festival Centre's Pivot(al) Program
BE YOUR SELF

Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre | 58 Grote Street, Adelaide
Dates: 19 Feb 2010 - 28 Feb 2010
Tickets: $59 - $50
Bookings: BASS www.bass.net.au

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