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Online e-dition 30 October, 2013

Swept up by an emotional storm

Bernadette Ashley, Dancenorth, Abandon

Abandon, Opera Queensland & Dancenorth Abandon, Opera Queensland & Dancenorth
photo Bottlebrush Studios
The very title, Abandon, suggests the necessity to forsake any expectation of a cohesive narrative in Opera Queensland and Dancenorth's recent collaboration in Townsville. The sensual elements of music, song, movement, lighting, costume and set conspired to take the viewer somewhere ancient and otherworldly; to ply them with a sequence of potent, if inexplicable, experiences; to risk whatever response might be incurred by such an open offering. Few were unmoved. My companion was in tears.

Abandon, though it courts an internal, emotional storm in its absence of narrative structure, has a finely honed aesthetic nonetheless. Dancenorth artistic director Raewyn Hill's trademark richness-by-understatement was further enhanced by the deceptive plainness of the box-walled set, papered floor and restrained lighting—all orderly at the outset. The exquisite Baroque symmetry of the score, comprising arias by George Frideric Händel, provided an ordered aural underpinning to the movement, even as it lifted and dropped the audience's collective heart rate. Fleeting references to mythical scenes during Abandon were distilled from the characters of the operas Tolomeo, Alcina, Orlando and Hercules and the cantata Acis, Galatea e Polifemo.

Abandon, Opera Queensland & Dancenorth Abandon, Opera Queensland & Dancenorth
photo Bottlebrush Studios
All of the cast, including the two musicians (classical accordion, cello) wore black and wine-coloured goth-clerical garments by Alistair Trung. Like other elements of this production, the apparent austerity later gave way to some unexpectedly lush transformations. The integration of dancers and singers in the first wall to wall dance movements, disturbing the paper floor and adding a layer of rushing sound, was testament to Hill's choreographic range, in that the four (previously non-dancing) singers were initially indistinguishable from the five dancers.

The musicians also moved around the set, becoming involved in the action at various points, most notably when accordionist James Crabb faced off, stamping counter rhythms while continuously playing, against Bradley Chatfield's belligerent pugilist. Chatfield's angry, feisty boxer, trying to corrall the rest of the cast, provided a comic contrast to Alice Hinde's earlier heartrending solo; France Herve's remarkable partnering with her own cascade of hair, as if it were another dancer; Erynne Mulholland's fearful and imperious ten foot tall harpy; and Andrew Searle forcing the female cast into gaps which appeared in the box walls, as though playing a human Tetrus game.

Abandon, Opera Queensland & Dancenorth Abandon, Opera Queensland & Dancenorth
photo Bottlebrush Studios
The creators' own description of Abandon notes that, “Unlike most baroque operas which travel from chaos to order, our trajectory seems to travel in the opposite direction.” Indeed, the emotional extremes were reflected in the gradual disintegration of the physical set, as high apertures and low drains opened up in the walls; the paper was flung, piled in corners, used for burial and dispersed again; and costumes were undone, let out, ballooned, removed and reassumed.

The lighting supported the changing sense of internal and external space perfectly, sometimes replicating the dramatic chiaroscuro of a Flemish painting in rare moments of relative physical and musical repose.

A journey sometimes defies explication, cannot always be recounted sequentially or logically, especially when much of it involves ephemeral sensations rapidly displacing one another, and intense connections made and lost. As if to emphasise this, in the final moments the walls are dismantled and rebuilt downstage to separate cast from audience, and we are abandoned to make of it what we will.

Abandon will be performed at the Brisbane Powerhouse, 21-23 February, 2014

Opera Queensland & Dancenorth, Abandon, co creators James Crabb, Raewyn Hill, Lindy Hume, music director James Crab, design Bruce McKinven, lighting Bosco Shaw, costumes Alistair Trung, School of Arts Theatre, Townsville, 24 July-1 Aug

RealTime issue #117 Oct-Nov 2013 pg. web

© Bernadette Ashley; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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