Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Heart is a Hall

Emma Porteus: Concept, direction and choreography
Finegan Kruckemeyer: Concept and writer
By Wendy Newton 

I make my way towards the Mole Creek Memorial Hall under a full autumn moon for the second site-specific performance of Stompin’s My Heart is a Hall.

The Art Deco building is spotlighted like a Hollywood starlet at her premiere and people spill around and into it from the cold.  I’m handed my ‘admit one’ ticket and enter the wood-panelled hall, self-consciously solo.  But in the true spirit of community, I don’t have to vie for a seat for too long.  Strangers sense my predicament and slide along the wooden bench seat that skirts the walls, and I am invited to sit and join them. 

Dancers wait at the foot of the stage, motionless and barefooted, half-circled by hundreds of shuttlecocks that glow with blue and purple led lights.  We wait, like wallflowers at a community dance.  The hall waits, too, for another story to be etched into a living history where people meet, fall in love, play, compete, survive the elements and grow old, but mostly celebrate and share the rituals that create a sense of belonging and kinship.

A lo-fi ambient score sets the dancers in motion as a young man narrates the fantastical tale of an unending rainstorm that dislodges a town hall from its foundations.  Dancers spill with the tide, languid movements that mimic the water as it rises and peaks.  Memories swirl with the waves, bodies are objects that rock and collide and are contained in the hall.  It becomes impossible to separate one from the other: they are the hall, the church spire that pokes out from the flood, the rowers that row the hall across the ocean until they can build a new town around the old hall. 

Solo dancer Megan Denne's sublime performance as the spirit of the hall captivates as she uses movement and voice to translate the hall's connection to place.  Through her, we hear the histories, glimpse the lives before, we feel the elements, the dust that holds her foundations, as birds call and the wind rises.  She is the moment, the passage of time, and it is an intimately executed vision of character and perfect grace.

My Heart is a Hall is a triumphant collaboration between two master storytellers: locally loved and internationally awarded playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer and Stompin, who continually prove how diverse, creative and exciting they are as a contemporary youth dance ensemble.

Emma Porteus’ creative and artistic vision and direction are at their strongest yet, and the triumph is in the dancers’ charming performances as they contribute to the strength of the narrative and natural coherence of the contemporary piece. The hall is set and prop, the character at the heart of each story.  Shuttlecocks rearrange as the hall is built, moved, filled and emptied.  Lighting is minimal: four sets of floor spotlights that colour the hall in a sequence of pink, blue, green, yellow.  Music ranges from thumping, driving drumbeats, a moody Thom Yorke piece, the 1960's classic, Then he kissed me, and finally to an up-tempo foot-tapping reel.  The elements are layered, lush, idiosyncratic, and it all makes sense. It all makes for heart.

Kruckemeyer’s voice as a writer is quintessentially Australian, sublimely poetic, and universally heartfelt.  It crosses generations, time, experience.  It is a story that runs through us, because it is the story of place.  Our place.  We recognise it immediately. Myth, storytelling, theatre and poetry weave together like a dream that imprints and stays with us. 

An older woman recounts a youthful and heart-rending memory of waiting to be asked to dance at a local ball.  Braver dancers spin to the nostalgic tune, together, alone, in harmony with the moment they find themselves in.  A clock ticks louder and louder while she waits, intolerably, and she feels time flattening out her curls.  When she's finally asked to dance by someone who likes her hair, we are as elated as she is and moved close to tears. It is a lyrical moment, rich with feeling.  Kruckemeyer has taken us on a journey that has mesmerised and meandered its gentle way deep into our hearts.

Stompin’s strength as a contemporary dance troupe is in creating transformative experiences for dancers and audiences alike, and My Heart is a Hall is no exception.  At the finale, shy dancers invite us to dance, to leave our own imprint on the floorboards, the hall, and the performance experience.  The inspired element is in the way Stompin continues to create unforgettable performances in extraordinary sites without becoming formulaic.  Every performance is unique, surprising and uplifting, full of emotion that you can’t help but feel.  And we all leave a little changed because of it.

The drive home is one that might be an echo of many before, across time and purpose. A clear night, a joyful encounter, a chat with strangers over a cup of tea with homemade cake (compliments of the CWA) to give breadth to the encounter…and I have the comforting sense of sharing something with people that I may never see again, but that has surprisingly bonded me in a new way to a place full of heart.