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sydney festival : wayfinder : a new language of dance

Wayfinder. Pic by David Kelly

Dancenorth’s WAYFINDER recontextualises contemporary dance. It presents a visceral argument and affirmation for the human condition, both generally and in the apparently current strife torn times. Born in the constraints of Covid, the choreographic couple Amber Haines and Kyle Page, with designer Hiromi Tango, lighting by Niklas Pajanti, and arresting compositions by Hiatus Kaiyote, barely dwell on the negatives instead reaching out for connection with nature that will transcend historical or personal frailty. In doing so they remap the dominant commitment of contemporary or modern dance to abstraction, as it liberated the human body from narrative constraints of classical dance or dance in music theatre. Suddenly colour is back. Along with happiness, connection, joy. Dance is to be enjoyed, in a profoundly produced form only possible by the rigour, insights and sheer hard work of regional Townsville based Dancenorth and its superb performing team.

The result is not romanticism, not a celebration of nature out there. It is the embodiment of natural form, a rich tapestry of images, movements and effects. What a generous gift to its audiences. Gift is the word used by Kyle Page. So much is unexpected, indeed a shock. The team explode at the start in hyper party dance which is suddenly cut short and black as long strings of what are multi coloured knitted wool rope (to be a key prop in the work) cascade from the ceiling. The dancers are all in multi coloured attire, the stage is suddenly bathed in a rainbow spectrum as humans explore the forested beauty of nature in a primal (re)connection to elemental signposts of their humanity. 

As is the case throughout the work lighting kicks off – it is a pleasure to see a rich lighting score being used to meaningful effect. The dance is on an inflatable floor. I suspect this and several other staging techniques are actually original. It is only lightly inflated at the start – this gives a slight buoyancy to the jouissance of the opening sequence (which drew spontaneous applause). The floor also inflates during the course of the show, as does a rear cyclorama! And balls are distributed in the audience which light and sing like stars in the black sky of the auditorium. 

Dimensions are exploded – very low like a river, high like trees, the fully inflated floor liberates the bodies in space, while the cyc becomes a magic screen for revealing bodies within a forest floor. Extended ribbons flutter under the control of one dancer, the heart beat that started the show is constant and firm as the whole stage becomes a radiant pulse. The row of inert flat dances slowly, fitfully, curling sit up reaching out to one light on the other side of the stage – seedlings or resurrection. The image has power, the connotation rich, we are taken out of ourselves in imagined states actually occurring on stage.

There are some magnificent solos – one, stage left in a spot, seems to beguile and lead us into these discovered spaces. The last scenes, of bodies disappearing into a forest floor or field (remember what Greenaway did in love’s lyricism in ‘Prospero’s Book’, but this was done on stage) was breathtaking – a few tears would be triggered in the darkened audience.

The rich environment – in nature and in the work – stimulates a busy spectrum of dance technique. Some very distinctive transitions, altered states and pace, solos, as well as rich gestural and postural sequences, provide an entertaining and satisfying choreographic score. 

It is not only the human condition that is liberated – it is the colourless, abstracted bodies of contemporary dance, forever solipsistically confined to the space that is the stage. In WAYFINDER the stage quite literally reaches beyond itself. Joy and hope are essential conditions of art, one reason we make and see it. Here it was given in abundance. Thank you Dancenorth.

There is one more opportunity to catch this outstanding performance. WAYFINDER’S final performance is tonight at 7.30pm at the Pavilion Performing Arts Centre, 30 Eton Street, Sutherland.

Production photography by David Kelly

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