The cast of BE YOURSELF. Pic Chris Herzfield

This very exciting, rather futuristic work is an enquiry by Garry Stewart, artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre, into the nature of the ‘I’ and the various blurred relationships between the concept of the self in our minds as well as being defined in our physical bodies .With Buddhist philosophy ,feminist discourse and medical texts as part of the work it examines what it means to be human . Stewart places the body right in the middle of his query and discovers that despite our civilizing cultural encoding the human body itself is still a dramatic, very athletic force to be considered.

All is clean, cold and clinical hospital white and the dancers wear white costumes – skirts for the women, kilts for the men. After the first section the dancers also wear an overlapping apron like photo of themselves in underpants, so the line of the leg is continued. That sort of works, but I would have preferred just the plain white throughout.

The ENERGY of the cast of fabulous dancers is phenomenal. Technically the dancing was more than superb. Stewart’s choreography is at times very athletic, demanding and dangerous. Sometimes the choreography is sculptural and rippling, at others controlled and angular, or in other sections frieze like across the stage.

There are some wonderful unusual off-kilter pas de deux or trios and intriguing partnering. Special mention must be made of the spectacular performance by Kimball Wong, who at times seems to ferociously defy gravity, particularly with his flying martial arts like barrel rolls in his featured solos.

The amazing Paul White is creamily luminous and I also especially noticed the red haired Sylvie Guillem like Jessica Hesketh. In the first half especially some of the choreography is robotic, the dancers are like computer avatars.

In the second half, which is more dreamlike and floating , at times the work is possibly reminiscent of Murphy’s ‘Poppy’ .There is an extraordinary sequence towards the end of headless ,fluid linking arms in various configurations combined with a mesmerizing use of fluid CGIS.

There are some extended monologues delivered by Annabel Giles. The difficult spoken text , presented in almost Beckettian style, ( and sometimes quite hurriedly) is sourced from medical and neurobiological texts and used to further explore and interpret the idea of ‘self’ . Gile,s by the way, is the only person to wear shoes, – in her case light white ones. There is a wonderful section with Wong, observing balance and the placement of a foot.

The looming set design by architects Diller, Scofidio and Renfro dominates. There is a huge tilted white fabric wall that the dancers clamber over/slide down/insert body parts through/emerge from and on which various images are projected .

The work’s electronic soundtrack by Brendan Woithe has been described as ‘cartoonic’ , especially for the first half. It roars, pops, crashes, sizzles ,throbs and includes creaks and computer noises .At times big and over exaggerated, it includes the sounds of cracking bones, tendons snapping and straining, the sounds of the digestive tract and perspiration , breathing , robotic screams and the heart beating .

I was most impressed by Damien Cooper’s quite dramatic yet lyrical lighting. A whole ceiling of fluorescent lights with precision spotlighting and blackouts are used to highlight some of the stop/start movement phrases A word of warning however that some people might be affected by the pulsating , flashing strobe lighting.

Some of the work was quite funny, some of it almost lyrical but for me there was no real sense of involvement between the dancers and the audience. Instead there was a great sense of detachment .And what was the significance of the white alien mannequin like figure, and the use of reversing heads and masks?

It has been five years since Australian Dance Theatre visited Sydney .Hopefully they will return much sooner with another very exciting work.

The Australian Dance Theatre’s production of ‘Be Yourself’, ran 1 hour and 15 minutes without interval and played the Sydney Theatre between May 31- June 3, 2012.

© Lynne Lancaster

3rd June, 2012

Tags: Sydney Dance Reviews- BE YOURSELF, Australian Dance Theatre, Sydney Theatre, Sydney Arts Guide, Lynne Lancaster.