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Three for the road

Kate Fletcher sees Murphy, Koltai and Obarzanek works in Tasdance’s Vital Expression

Kate Fletcher is a Hobart-based teacher of drama and dance.

Michael O’Donoghue and Wendy McPhee in The Fragile Garden Michael O’Donoghue and Wendy McPhee in The Fragile Garden
The Hobart Theatre Royal Dance Subscription Season Made to Move has been a boon for Tasmanian dance enthusiasts and it is both exciting and appropriate that the home-grown company Tasdance has been included in the 1998 series. Vital Expression, a broad mix of contemporary styles, is an innovative, high quality, triple bill featuring leading Australian choreographers.

In The Fragile Garden the curtain rises on a haunting, gloomy set, dancers languidly reposing on chairs against a rich black velvet backdrop, the set simultaneously electrifying and chilling with its striking crimson velvet central couch and a huge slash of vibrant red cascading from the heavens. The work, created for Tasdance by Sydney choreographer Chrissie Koltai in collaboration with the dancers, is no ordinary narrative work but a fascinating “picture book of emotional landscapes” performed to a variety of music from soul-melting classical and atmospheric harmonies to the confronting discordance of Jeff Buckley. The audience is taken on an emotional joyride, alternately entrancing, jarring, sensual and aggressive. We journey through myriad responses overlain with a confusion of personal entanglements, as the dancers variously become lover, mother, father, brother, sister…

Whilst the work was not entirely captivating, there were moments of great poignancy—the playfully provocative floor work between Jay Watson and Michael O’Donoghue and a powerful “pas de trois” featuring Wendy McPhee, O’Donoghue and an armchair…a dance fragment which aptly represents “love that hurts”, rejection and desire rolled into one. Experience and a long, successful working relationship between O’Donoghue and McPhee is evident in this segment—power in motion. One of the most striking images is of O’Donoghue apparently melding into the chair (it has a personality of its own) to become a kind of mythical headless creature.

The eclectic emotional content of The Fragile Garden is in stark contrast to the ‘pure’ dance of Graeme Murphy’s Sequenza VII named after the accompanying Luciano Berio score. Created in 1977, this vintage Murphy offering was received with appreciative chuckles from the audience. Performing in the original 1977-style costumes—white sleeveless bodysuits taking full advantage of bodylines were quite revolutionary at that time—Watson, McPhee, and O’Donoghue weave their way as one through an array of shapes and patterns, evoking kangaroos, horses, flautists and other instrumentalists emerging and re-configuring with split-second timing. Leaving nothing to chance, this fast-paced, exacting and tightly structured work is playful, witty, and thoroughly engaging.

The final piece, Gideon Obarznek’s 1994 work While You’re Down There, with music by Joey Baron and Melt, opens with some startling, body percussion involving work boots, caterpillar movements and singing by the performers. A quirky mix of solos, duos and trios, this fast, physical and funky work further explores Tasdance’s individual and collective versatilities.

The company took Vital Expressions to Canberra as part of Ausdance’s 21st birthday celebrations. It is very apt that they included Sequenza VII which was created 21 years ago.

Vital Expression, Tasdance, artistic director Annie Grieg; The Fragile Garden, choreographed Chrissie Koltai; Sequenza VII, choreography Graeme Murphy; While You’re Down There, choreography Gideon Obarzanek, Theatre Royal, Hobart, August 12 - 15; toured to Launceston, Queenstown, Ulverstone and Deloraine in August and The Choreographic Centre, Canberra in September.

Kate Fletcher is a Hobart-based teacher of drama and dance.

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 13

© Kate Fletcher; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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