If you've seen the trailers for Botanica and you've thought that it looks pretty wonderful and might be worth seeing, just go with that feeling and go see it.
The title of this hour and a half dance spectacular is a little misleading in that it's not just about dancing flowers, as I jokingly described it to friends prior to seeing it. Certainly there are allusions to the ever changing cycles of plant life and the seasons, but there is so much more to this sprawling, magical, often surprising tapestry of life. There are also, mammals, birds, insects, sea creatures, the often forgotten aquatic plant life...
And in fact this is obviously why the title is not so misleading after all; mammals eat them, insects pollinate them, birds live in them. All life is connected to botanica.
Botanica is a collection of dance vignettes drawing on a wide variety of styles from classical to modern, as well as a variety of visual and technical devices that truly dazzle. Some pieces are lengthy and sweeping, others are short comical stabs. All rely on the impressive and graceful physicality of these 10 or so wonderful performers working together as a tight-knit team, or solo. The dancers also work brilliantly with the sound and lighting team to produce a magical visual feast. Sometimes what is taking place on stage messes with your senses and your logic so that you can't believe that what you are seeing is a result of dancers and lighting.
The black light section is the perfect example of this. Parts of the dancers' bodies are covered in UV reactive material with the rest covered in black, invisible to the UV light – at least I think that's what was happening... perhaps the black-clad dancers were holding UV reactive shapes that they moved about in synchronisation, or perhaps it was a combination of both. Either way, what unfolds here is mesmerising as the floating shapes in the dark morph from what seem to be microscopic life forms to birds, human facial features and everything between. It is dizzying, dazzling and wonderful in the truest sense of the word. I suspect I was not alone in watching this entire section agog and with a half smile on my face.
Which is the reaction pretty much to the entire show. Gossamer material wafts and shifts shape and becomes a screen sometimes for colour-rich projections and a human shape with large wings morphs into a giant flower... there is lots of wafting and morphing. But sometimes it's just the dancing that entrances. There is so much grace up there on stage, so much fluidity, so much strength and agility.
Highlights are hard to pick. There was the previously mentioned black light dance. The huge Triceratops skeleton puppet – designed by Cirque du Soleil's Michael Curry – was impressive and probably the closest any section came to being narrative as the lone dancer riding its back became its prey. There was the Whirling Dervish-like dancer with a headpiece of beads that almost touched the ground, and which, due to centrifugal force, became wings or petals; a striking feature of this piece was that the several minutes of spinning was done without spotting, making one wander how the performer did not topple over with dizziness. There was the simply executed section with a near nude performer dancing horizontally atop a slanted mirror so that her jagged, angular movements resembled strange sea creatures, or moving Rorschach shapes. There was the centipede-like conga line that broke up and became preening Centaur-like creatures... and that was all that wonderful wafting and morphing.
The music was as luscious as the visuals and mostly comprised the oddly tagged genre of 'world music', contemporary beats drawing on diverse traditional ethnic sounds. Ear-candy to accompany the eye-candy.
Botanica is not narrative. There is no message. What it is is time out from a cluttered world of deadlines, meetings, the mindless drudgery of nightly TV and the problems of the world. It is beauty for beauty's sake. It is going to the circus. It is stopping to smell the flowers. It's a brief escape from our mundane modern life to appreciate the beauty and wonder of life.
Arts Centre Melbourne presents
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre
Dates: 8pm Wednesday 7 – Saturday 10 August, 2pm Saturday 10 – Sunday 11 August