Abandon | OperaQ Studio and DancenorthPhoto – Bottlebrush Studios

More than anything else, Abandon is an intelligent work. A collaboration between contemporary dance company Dancenorth, Opera Queensland and classical accordion virtuoso James Crabb, Abandon can be rightly described with any number of flattering adjectives. It’s definitely beautiful. It’s unquestionably technically accomplished. Surprisingly, it’s also quite funny, on occasion. However, more than anything else, it’s intelligent.

A truly massive undertaking driven by three singular creative aesthetics, Abandon could easily have deteriorated into a brawl (literal or figurative) between Crabb, Dancenorth Artistic Director Raewyn Hill and Opera Queensland Artistic Director Lindy Hume. Alternatively, Abandon’s collaborative processes could simply have washed away all of the idiosyncrasies of each company. We could simply have been left with the indulgence of three unchecked creatives running wild.

Instead, Abandon finds Crabb, Hill and Hume working as a team in the best sense of the word. They each bring their strengths to the table and they each work to guard against each other’s weaknesses. It’s inspiring. Opera Queensland bring a classical sense of beauty to proceedings; Dancenorth inject their characteristic flair for the leftfield – and Crabb’s score (Handl; rearranged for violin and cello) brings both sensibilities together with gusto.

That said, it’s probably wrong to be so reductive. Abandon’s triumph is in no small part attributable to a sense of cohesion. There is no clear demarcation between dancers, singers and instrumentalists. At times, instrumentalists will enter the fray and stalk their singers. At others, dancers will give the stage away to an opera singer. At one point, an opera singer will allow herself to be suspended upside down mid-performance (and continue like a trooper, it must be said).

It’s hard not to feel you can spot each director’s fingerprints, though – especially when they seem to guard each other so well. When you fear a segment of the work is starting to get too pompous and operatic, Raewyn Hill swoops in with an unexpected kink of choreography or design. At one point, an opera singer solos silhouetted against the back of the set – only to find herself gradually overwhelmed by a rising gust of wind and an onslaught of black plastic fabrics. 

Conversely, when Hill’s dancers risk getting lost in some of the process-driven choreography of contemporary dance, Hume’s sense of drama, narrative and musicality come to the rescue. When you start wondering why James Crabb and cellist Teije Hylkema are performing on stage, they get up from their corner and start chasing dancers around. It’s fantastic.The interactions with Bruce McKinwen’s set are a great example of where it all comes together.

Initially appearing to consist solely of three towering walls of cardboard boxes, McKinwen’s set lends itself well to the process-driven choreography of contemporary dance – and Hill makes appropriate use of it, in that regard. Boxes are shuffled, removed, placed elsewhere, restructured in frenetic rhythm to fascinating effect. However, when viewed in conjunction with the gothic romance of Crabb’s score and the work’s costumes, McKinwen’s set takes on new resonances.

In addition to referencing contemporary dance work, it also recalls gothic archetypes and classical architecture. Through McKinwen’s set, it becomes obvious that these interactions between aesthetics – Hill guarding Hume and vice versa – don’t simply divert audience interest when necessary – they fundamentally enhance the work. Simultaneously, Abandon resonates as both a daring contemporary work and a classical piece of performance.

This is largely why Abandon is, above all else, an intelligent work. There is great depth and beauty to Hill, Hume and Crabb’s work, make no mistake. However, it’s even more subjective than most art. While inspired by a specific compositional structure (da capo aria) and seemingly driven to explore the concept of grief and loss (or, being literal, abandonment); Opera Queensland’s own notes warn against looking for any logical narrative. 

No, what’s compelling about the work is watching three world-class creatives interact with such precision, invention and, frankly, joy. It’s a truly, superbly crafted work. An utter delight. 

WTF Festival 2014
OperaQ Studio and Dancenorth

Venue: Powerhouse Theatre | Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates: 21 – 23 February, 2014
Tickets: $55 – $49
Bookings: brisbanepowerhouse.org

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