Performance: Darkness and Light in Co3 Australia’s THE ZONE

Performance: Darkness and Light in Co3 Australia’s THE ZONE

This past week the Ausdance WA team had the pleasure of seeing the opening performance of Co3 Australia’s newest production THE ZONE. Kat Italiano responds.

Since my introduction to contemporary dance a few years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing several of Raewyn Hill’s works. I’ve always enjoyed her adept handling of often darker themes and images. Her newest creation for Co3 Australia, THE ZONE is, however, both a work of darkness and light.

Speaking at opening night, Hill drew a line from a time in Paris when she was first drawn to surrealist art, to her later experiences of natural disasters in New Zealand and Queensland. She saw surrealism come to life as earthquakes and cyclones twisted and fragmented both the environment around her and those she saw in media images. First and foremost though, THE ZONE is concerned with the unique way that communities, forgetting their everyday differences, come together under such trying circumstances. THE ZONE is her “tribute to the power of humanity to come together.”

Across a brightly lit, minimalist set designed by renowned Japanese architect Satoshi Okada, THE ZONE swung from moments of disarray, of flailing limbs, battered bodies and anguished faces, through to moments of composure and strength, through to communal moments of utter joy and elation.

The dancers were clad in long black robes, the ankle length skirts floating across the floor. Though the large group, the costuming, the bare expanse of the stage could have lent itself to a lot of unison and repetition, the choreography was light on this. Instead it tended towards unpredictability, striking solos and relentless action throughout. When they did, the dancers would slip into unison seamlessly and only briefly before a one would spin out in another direction and launch into their own sequence. These moments where the dancers came together were often tenuous and fraught but also beautiful, perhaps much in the same way Hill saw communities come together under the pressures of natural disaster.

In contrast to the dancers’ swirling black robes was Otaka’s clean, ethereal set. The Japanese architect’s minimalist lines played with illusions of perspective – the white walls and ceiling sloped inwards to a vanishing point that served as one of several emergence and disappearance points for the dancers. A favourite moment of illusion of mine was when towering dancer Mitch Harvey came to the front of the stage for a solo. Stretching onto his toes, while the remainder of the company shrunk into the rear of stage, he was even more a giant than ever.

The dancers engaged with the set to create intrigue, surprise and memorable imagery. First we see them emerge from behind a low wall – a writhing mass of terrified and desperate souls. Then next, and many times throughout the performance, the feet and legs of dancers would emerge and hang lifelessly down the opposite wall, before they would suddenly fall and land firmly on stage, launching into action. The disembodied legs and the absurdity of dancers dropping from an unseen space above the sloping ceiling became another surreal image in the production.

Lighting designer Mark Howett must have done very well to light such enclosed set, though the technical aspects are beyond me. The space seemed lit from within, we only saw a dancer’s silhouette when it was intended. The lighting so deftly supported the work and the stage that the role it played only occurred to me in retrospect.

Eden Mulholland’s live score layered syncopated, textured rhythms and electric guitars drenched in reverb, while at times the more organic strains of violin or the clean, solidness of a piano cut through (the latter which Mulholland played live). His exploration of gypsy, flamenco, and other world music influences were effortlessly intertwined with his soundscape. While I may be biased – Mulholland’s music is right up my alley – any new music fans would do well to hear Mulholland perform live with THE ZONE, an exceptional bonus to the production.

Ultimately THE ZONE takes the audience on a journey of emotional and experiential extremes. Dance, music and design come together to immerse us in the terror, trepidation, joy, strength and sense of resolve experienced by communities drawn together when Mother Nature lashes out.

THE ZONE runs until 16 September at Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA. Bookings via Ticketek

Kat Italiano

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