Review: The Presence of Wool

REVIEW: The Presence of Wool

Brave New Works 26

Review Performance: 2 November 2019

By Carl Heslop

The Presence of Wool was remounted at Denmark Arts Brave New Works #26, allowing audiences the chance to see Sym Parr’s contemporary dance work one more time. Premiering earlier this year in a shearing shed, The Presence of Wool was adapted to the Denmark Civic Centre with a few line-up changes allowing some Denmark cameos. The Civic Centre lacks the atmospheric elements of its original setting, but this remount still provided an intriguing and engaging experience. The Presence of Wool was performed as the closing piece of the Motion Triptych trilogy of works alongside John Carberry’s film Ameliorer Resolve IV and Nari Lee’s Waterways.

The dance piece wove complex gestural patterns with machine-like characteristics together with a softness in costume and lighting and the signature complexity of James Gentle’s soundscapes. There was a worker-like intensity to the task at hand, from ensemble as the piece evolved from mundane workplace interactions and homages, to the rituals of the mill, to frenzied entanglement and then ghostly dream-like sequences.

Photo: Nic Duncan via Facebook

The Presence of Wool opened to a projection of the woollen mills on the backdrop screen and the echoes of the past provided by tales from workers of the mill, delicately entwined with Gentle’s exploratory sounds. The core ensemble, dressed in costumes nodding to the 1950’s, move across the stage organising, chatting, interacting with nonchalance and a lack of urgency, before forming into machine-like spooling and weaving. Jessica Hesford and Rita Bush are central within the ensemble through this early piece, with transfixing accuracy of movement and presence.

Pic: Tasty Beacon via Facebook

The youth contingent takes the stage to further highlight the presence of wool, from their beautiful patchwork costumes to the tangled spools of wool, the group collect and wrap around each other until one single dancer is wrapped, web-like in the wool. A dramatic and precarious solo of struggle with a soundscape of rising desperation. For the duration of the solo I was convinced one of these strands of wool would bring down the dancer, watching on with trepidation and hope until the choreographed exhaustion and struggle was what brought them down.

Pic: Tasty Beacon via Facebook

From the quiet dripping water and frogs in the soundscape, a cocoon emerges in front of us. Obscured in plain-sight by the proceeding action and intensity, this creature is suddenly alive and moving. Flexing and straining with a visceral quality, limbs appear and disappear until the quivering object releases a dancer who takes flight.

The intensity rises as this almost beautiful creature begins to rhythmically thrash. Encapsulating the incredibly talented Bush, the patterns and shapes this being was able to generate through its movement was thoroughly satisfying visually. Despite knowing there was only one dancer left inside, there were moments it took shape to suggest there were more; the combination of costume and movement tricking the brain.

Pic: Tasty Beacon via Facebook

The Civic Centre lacks a little in ambiance and atmosphere, and some technical difficulties popped up, but the cast were committed to doing the original season justice in this remount. The Presence of Wool was transfixing and intriguing. There were moments of uneasiness and uncertainty, wonderful interplays between the soundscape, choreography and the wool costumes. There was a sense of satisfaction in the experience and I left still thinking about that multi-limbed creature and its ability to hold ghost dancers within it.

This review was published in Denmark Bulletin No. 995 November 14 and is reproduced with permission. Thanks for the support Denmark Bulletin! You can check out their latest edition here

The Author of this review paid for their own ticket to the performance and was not paid to write this review.

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Review: Waterways

REVIEW: WATERWAYS

Brave New Works 26

Review Performance: 2 November 2019

By Carl Heslop

Waterways is a community contemporary dance work created by Nari Lees that was performed in the Denmark Civic Centre as part of the Denmark Arts Brave New Works #26. This work builds on Lee’s previous work on the Waterways project and Global Water Dance in June 2019, and developed choreography with community members. It was performed as the opening piece of the Motion Triptych trilogy of works alongside John Carberry’s film Ameliorer Resolve IV and Sym Parr’s remount of The Presence of Wool.

Waterways brought large numbers of community dancers of all ages together to explore their connection with water the frictions and energy within that interaction.

The work captured lived experiences of performers and built a multilayered performance that incorporated high quality video, an original audio score, voice and song, and a multitude of movements to offer a rich and immersive environment. The complex soundscape created by Jeremy Hick and Marlu Harris changed and progressed through the performance; melodic at times, discordant at others, but always intricate and layered.

Anne Sorenson. Photo: Shoon Arts

The performance opened with the wide sand plains of a dry Denmark Inlet projected onto the background screen accompanied by Anne Sorenson sliding down the specially constructed wooden ramp, plunging us into the experience.

Lees used complex, yet subtle staging techniques within Waterways and played with the established stage and set design by augmenting it with reflective materials, a projector screen that doubled as a shadow screen, hanging and loose fabrics. The wooden ramp cleverly connected the raised stage and floor and was used regularly through the performance to transition dancers.

Groups of families with small children delivered individual scores that spoke to the water theme, coming onto the stage to briefly deliver a vignette or snapshot of a memory, before flowing off stage and being replaced by the next wave of performers. There were moments I yearned for a family group to linger longer but would be endeared to the next group as they appeared.

A combination of performers, a community, parents and children. Photo: Shoon Arts

The main ensemble worked through various movement scores, walking patterns and echoes of the family scores that showed clear connection and flow to the watery theme. There were moments of synchronicity and moments of syncopation that were clearly reminiscent of the relationships between ripples, waves and swells.

The ensemble was a collection of new and familiar faces to the Denmark dance scene, with all displaying a strong commitment to the task at hand within their own talents. Marie Kerr provided a strong stage presence within the ensemble with equal parts technical ability and charisma, while Tanya Garvin’s monologue was powerful and moving.

A youth ensemble that has worked with Lees for several years delivered a tender and engaged score utilising a large sheet of fabric that rippled and fluttered with their movement. This section highlighted the group’s development and demonstrated a bold step away from familiar bombastic movement languages and into a more considered dance style.

Waterways worked its way through the multitude of scores before winding down from swirling walking patterns, to movements showing the vulnerability of the ritual of washing, before a tinkering and melancholic soundscape brought the ensemble together in a touching embrace.  

Main ensemble. Photo: Shoon Arts

Waterways was a brave and immersive experience. Melding complex ideas, images and components together in a single community dance performance with such a diverse cast certainly constitutes a brave new work, and Lee’s commitment to inclusivity is a strength of her practice.

Vulnerability, power, playfulness and connection were on show throughout and Lees should be proud of the production quality of the performance and its dancers.   

This review was published in Denmark Bulletin No. 995 November 14 and is reproduced with permission. Thanks for the support Denmark Bulletin! You can check out their latest edition here

The Author of this review paid for their own ticket to the performance and was not paid to write this review.

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The original publication in the Denmark Bulletin

Exploring your comfort zone: a thing of Beauty

I stared in to the night sky, allowing deep breaths to enter my lungs, fill me with energy and leave my body as clouds of steam. I stood still and strong in front of my family, my friends, my community. I felt their gaze on me, I enjoyed their attention, their focus. The lights slowly became brighter and our names became distorted. This night was the final night of The Beauty Index, a project I joined to get out of my comfort zone. What shocked me, as I watched another breath of steam rise above me, was how comfortable I felt.

Way back in December I attended a workshop that was a taster to becoming more involved in a men’s dance project. As I’d previously overcommitted in a car park (follow the link to my SeeSawMag interview) as an enthusiastic spouse at Annette Carmichael’s Creation of Now; I felt I had to rock up and see what this whole thing was about. I was terrified walking in to the Civic Centre. Some of the men here could already dance, already move well. I felt awkward and uncoordinated. Self-conscious and stiff. It isn’t like I never danced or moved – I loved mucking around at concerts and festivals, I was fit from running and football – but keeping in time and having awareness of my body? I was lost.

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I enjoyed the day, and felt like I should commit to the project – but this was not coming from a place of confidence. I was desperate to push my boundaries and get myself out of my comfort zone. I really wanted a new challenge, and the way I had felt on that first day – this whole “becoming a dancer” thing was going to be that challenge. When the call came out in April to put up or shut up – I dove in to the main group of the project. A group of men with varying physical abilities, fitness, age and experience.

What followed was months of rehearsals. There were times I questioned how wise this whole thing was. There were times we couldn’t walk in a straight line, or keep basic three pattern movements in time – how the hell were we going to be part of a big performance. We ground away, getting better every few weeks – before putting in some utter shit-show of a rehearsal that would have everyone, including Annette, second guessing us. Then, things would click, timing would improve. We developed a sense of ownership over the project and the process. We could do the rehearsals – now, could we perform it?

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Rehearsals – Photo courtesy of Nic Duncan

I had no performance experience – dance or otherwise before this project. In fact, my first time on a real stage was the Wednesday before the start of the Country Arts WA Regional Arts Summit when we had the chance to wander about ManPAC as part of our “bump-in”. We were in Mandurah to be the living, breathing proof of effective community engagement and were there to work alongside delegates to put on a show on the final day of the conference. It was invaluable experience – the bunkered in rehearsing for hours; the joy of sharing a house with five other men; the late night partying and frivolity of a world far from responsibility; the hangovers; and on the final day – getting on-stage in front of an audience to perform. It was unifying. It was exhilarating. It was the chrysalis of the ManPack.

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The ManPack performing at ManPAC – Photo Country Arts WA

Suddenly, we were back in Denmark and back with the wider group. Hard in to rehearsals. On site. Dealing with dancing on slippery clay in the rain when we’d spent months rehearsing on floorboards, in doors. I slipped and fell hard moving in a way I had previously had no second thoughts doing. I wasn’t hurt but I was rattled. We were in hoods for our costume. Another adjustment. The floor of the shed was high pressure hosed to get rid of the slippery clay. We were rehearsing under lights. Suddenly it was dress rehearsals. Suddenly – there was no more time. Suddenly, I was going to find out a lot more about my comfort zone.

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Our youngest member – shredding his solo on rehearsal

Our Tech Rehearsal night, from my own perspective, had been a debacle. I was late, or early, or just out of time. My body was not right. My back felt sore and I felt heavy and unstable. I went home in what at best could be described as a funk. At worst – abject terror. Had I not been driving a couple of fellow community dancers home that night – I would’ve burst in to tears. Had my windscreen not been so difficult to see out of, I would’ve still done in in front of them. Dress rehearsal came about and I was stressed. We had a handful of VIPs in to watch and this was a full run through. The stakes were much higher than ever before, even higher than Mandurah.

Dress rehearsal went ok. We weren’t great. We weren’t bad. I was ok. I felt the nerves that had rocked me the day before became slightly placated. Things were going to be different on opening night in front of 140 people – but at least I wasn’t about to burst in to tears. Hopefully. As a group we were happy with how it had gone – the mistakes that are inevitable in a performance weren’t big enough to cause trouble in the run – and the manner in which we either recovered from them, or covered them was a tribute to our preparation. I went home ready to take on the real thing the next night and ready to let the world see what we’d been playing around with for months.

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Our pros – Scott Elstermann and Sam le Breton Photo by Nic Duncan

Our first two nights of the season were fantastic. There was a buzz amongst us and a buzz in the crowd. People had come with a forgiving mindset and a careful curiosity – I mean, seriously, how well could a bunch of blokes from the community really dance? It was good of us for having a go. What no one had counted on was our desire to be more than a curiosity. We went for it both nights and put on solid performances. The buzz around town was fantastic. People were clamouring for extra tickets to the sold out Saturday night show. People willing to stand. People who had heard that we were actually pretty good. Even some of the art snobs who didn’t want to watch men plod around stage.

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Photo courtesy of Nic Duncan

Suddenly the final night was here. The night were this post began. We’d had our now traditional warm up to the Game of Thrones intro. We’d a brief sing-along of the Lion Sleeps Tonight. We mucked around in the dressing room together. We’d told a few more dodgy jokes, done our warm up games and had our hugs. There was a feeling that tonight was going to be a big one. I was feeling good. The aches and pains weren’t too bad. The energy in the group was great. Our unity was forged.

We hit that final night with another level of focus and intensity. Standing in front of my family, my friends and my community. Some of my family had travelled from Perth to come and watch. As I gazed out towards the moon, peaking out from behind the trees; just over the heads of the audience; I readied myself to go as hard as I could one last night for them. You have to meet commitment with commitment. I stood and enjoyed sensation, audited my body in my mind and relaxed.

That was the most amazing thing about this process – that moment of relaxation, of enjoyment, of comfort. At key moments in the show I had the chance to take in the audience, enjoy their gaze and attention. Make myself to take up more space and feel larger than I truly was. We were performing in an old saw mill – a huge industrial space, a place of masculinity, blood and sweat; where trees came to die. There was no fear of overwhelming the stage with presence. We had to fight for the audience’s attention over our setting – it challenged us to be bigger and demand more respect as our confidence grew in each show.

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The hinge – Photo courtesy of Nic Duncan

After the second show, Annette asked me what I was going to do on the final night – what was going to come out in my performance. I think the both of us had been pretty shocked how far I’d come along in the process. I’d trusted her fully in preparing us to perform; and had unlocked part of myself along the way. That final night, as I challenged myself to go harder and harder through the show to take up more space, stretch further, embody the work more than the night before. I wanted to move with more air, more grace, more intensity, more purpose. I felt fantastic. I felt alive. I felt comfortable.

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Photo courtesy of Nic Duncan

Sure, my dancing still has its moments; I’m very much untrained – but this project was about getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new. About putting my trust in others and seeing where it would lead. About giving part of myself to the creative process. About forcing myself to take in the gaze of an audience and enjoy it. I’d talked about taking a running leap from my comfort zone, away from running and football and taking the piss out of myself.

I had never expected to so comfortable on-stage (well, on-concrete). To feel so comfortable performing, especially in front of my community. To find a new comfort zone. One I never new existed. One I am so grateful to Annette, the crew and the ManPack for unearthing. One that I’m not keen to lose track of again. Now, I’m not packing my bags for WAAPA – but what I have done, is added dancer to my identity.

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Photo courtesy of Nic Duncan

The Manpack:

Leader, mentor and force of nature: Annette Carmichael http://annettecarmichael.com.au/Home/Home.html

Our Incredible Community Performers: Don Anderson, Adrian Baer, Brad  Black, Dennis Buffart, Alexander Grace, Carl Heslop, Alex  Pyke, Todd Anderson, Rick  Bentink, Emil Davey, The Mountain Nigel Levinson, Phillip G Light, Martin Sulkowski
Professional Performers: The incredibly gracious and supportive Scott Elstermann, the capoeira king Zak Launay, the quiet intensity of Sam Le Breton, and Peter Fares (research phase)

Epic sound designer: James Gentle

Design gurus: Kevin Draper and Indra Geidans

Costume designer, stage manager and general support legend: Symantha Parr

Lighting designer: Kevin Blyth http://www.allevents.net.au/AllEvents.html

Photographic genius: Nic Duncan www.nicduncan.com

Tear inducing filmographer: Rob Castiglione http://www.robcastiglione.com/

Producer and Jingle-jangle lookout: Sandi Woo https://sandiwoo.com.au/

Co-ordinator of everything: Anna Boaden

The Beauty Index is supported by Denmark Arts; the WA Government through Departments of Cultural Industries and Regional Development; Country Arts WA; the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts and the Regional Arts Fund; Lotterywest.

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Monochromatic trees by Kevin Draper and Indra Geidens – photo Carl