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