Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bright Spark

Created by Amelia McQueen and Joshua Lowe
Aurora-Tasdance Education Program
Earl Arts Centre

By Wendy Newton

Do you ever feel already buried deep?  Six feet under screams, but no one seems to hear a thing.  Do you know that there's still a chance for you?  'Cause there's a spark in you.

There's a young female dancer on a darkened stage and she's singly quietly to herself.  The words are stilted, hesitant, felt but not quite believed.  She's surrounded by other dancers who join in with the singing, but not with her; they're self-contained and isolated.  Sharing the experience but not the comfort that should come with it.  Singing to believe. 

It's a poignant moment in Tasdance's Bright Spark, a highly improvised dance fusion by fifteen young Tasmanians, some trained, some self-taught, all gifted in expressing their own individuality in using movement to tell a story.  And it's the story of what it's like to be young.

You remember, don't you?

The awkwardness.  The alienation.  The self-consciousness.  The desperate need to conform, to be liked, to be beyond it.  To find something uniquely special about yourself so you can like yourself.

You forget, don't you?

I can only imagine the choreographic challenge of working with an ensemble of young dancers with varying experience and only a four-day rehearsal period.  Yet choreographers Joshua Lowe and Amelia McQueen have empathetically translated what could almost be the dancers' own experiences of feeling lost and then finding themselves into a highly physical, cohesive and moving performance. 

Androgynous dancers in homogenous, dark hoodies and track-pants stand barefooted and zombie-like in front of a static video screen.  A simple piano score starts their movement as they begin to swagger, stretch and box the air like Rocky hopefuls.  It's the language of the street, of conformity, homeboys on their own turf whose sense of self comes from belonging to the collective.  But their movements are slow, full of weight and an all-too-young disconnected weariness.

Other dancers join the stage, colourful and uplifting in contrast.  A ballerina glides onto the stage in an adagio of fluid, graceful movement.  A male dancer weaves within the group, hip-hopping and break-dancing his way through the pack as the other dancers turn their backs on him.  He turns off the video and suddenly the dancers are free to break away, removing their drab gear and revealing the colourful characters trapped individually inside.

In a largely improvised performance that incorporates dance, theatre and a rock eisteddfod-esque event, it is the individual creative strengths of the dancers that Lowe and McQueen have harnessed, together with their sensitive and inspired artistic choices that drive the narrative and make Bright Spark such a joy to watch.  Lighting is minimal but amplifies the emotion, first with spotlights that bound performances in almost claustrophobic isolation, then with led lights that unite the dancers and light up the stage like sparklers.  Music underscores movement, eclectic and running the gamut of youthful energy.  With it, the dancers shine.  We hear their insecure thoughts amplified as they worry about "getting it right" or being judged.  We see the dancers writhe together like a live charge snapped from the main, jolted, exhausted and then recharged.  We feel the quiet joy as a dancer partners with led lights that move with and around her as a living and loved thing might; it is a moment of pure creative intention that is exquisite in its execution by Elie Roe Daniel.  Other standout performances from Rory Matthews and Damien Xiong who, surprisingly, are two of the self-taught dancers, prove that art might imitate life, but it also gives it shape.

Bright Spark is the story of a generation that needs fostering to find itself.  And while they might be the lyrics of Katy Perry's song "Firework" that we hear so movingly performed, it could just as easily be the mantra for the Aurora-Tasdance Education Program and the creative partnership that has kindled a beautiful autobiographical dance piece from a soulful residency in finding yourself through dance. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

In Memoriam Projection – Mt. Lyell Mine Disaster 1912 Painting

Nothing demonstrates the fragility of life more than the unexpected loss of it. When lives are interrupted, the human capacity for sympathising with tragedy reaches across the ages as generations remember and retell the histories of those affected by sudden and devastating disasters. These events fracture families and communities changing them forever. The lives no longer lived continue to be sustained through the narratives of those who recount what a life stood for, who a person was, how they died. In a death is a lesson, is a purpose, and a place. A combination of elements that construct a history peppered with prosperity and hardship, spoils and irreversible misfortune, Queenstown in Tasmania’s west is one place that yields a tinderbox of excesses that make and break, leaving behind scars that are both symbolic of its future and of its past.