When it comes to dance, Townsville’s talent pool runs deeper than I’d realised.
Looking back at last night’s opening performance of Red by Ulysses Dancers, this is glaringly obvious. I was delighted to spot many familiar faces amidst last night’s performance, most of whom I’d recognised from various musical and theatrical productions which, while all incredible, hadn’t given these talented dancers true scope to show-off their athleticism and artistry. Red quickly righted that!
The calibre of imaginative choreography and dance – equal parts delicate and powerful – was exceptional. Jane Pirani and her team at Ulysses deserve to be incredibly proud of the talent they’re nurturing and the platform they’ve created for dancers to continue pursuing their passion beyond their high school years. Every single dancer who took the stage held their own, and I couldn’t detect a single misplaced pointe shoe within the large ensemble.
And large it was, with 48 dancers in all! Though the moments that really shone for me were those with fewer dancers on stage, gifting the audience the chance to give their full focus to each carefully executed movement. Stand out pieces, included Shaughn Pegoraro’s desperate fight against a powerful force of gravity; Katie-anne Grice, Grace Khong and Lauren Crosby’s graceful and intimate piece performed with wash bowls; and an irresistibly endearing ode to thongs (the footwear, not the underwear) performed by the male ensemble members.
There were many moments of light and shade throughout the two Acts and, in my opinion, this made some of the show hard to follow. While the artistic team had told us in a pre-show interview that they were enjoying the freedom of not being bound to a linear narrative as they have with previous shows; the fact that I couldn’t quite determine whether this piece was driven by narrative or not, made my brain boggle. I would have been content one way or the other, but recurring characters and motifs suggested a story was at play but lacked the development it deserved.
The opening number, set to a heart beat, was rich and emotive, though I did feel it descended into silliness for much of the first Act, with the musical choice particularly jarring – powerful pieces like the afore mentioned heart beat and the iconic 99 Red Balloons were rare – with many pieces feeling like slap-stick comedy set to a royalty-free jazz CD. I suspect that for more regular attendees of dance than I, this would have been a nice break from the solemn and serious, but for me it was over the top.
Act 2 did well to rein in much of the chaos and confusion of Act 1; and it was nice to see many of the separate visual elements from the first Act tied together. I was reminded of the climactic scene in the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is revisited by many of the strange and intriguing obstacles she’s encountered during her adventure, and I suspect this is what Ulysses had set out to achieve here. The whimsy was really brought to life by Melissa Prince’s sensational Red Queen-esque character, who danced flawlessly about on one shoe, trying to retrieve the other from Jeremiah Pau’s mischievous jester.
Red is a beautiful and baffling performance and one that is sure to win over young audiences, if the wide grins and excited chatter of little girls on the way out are anything to go by. Its refusal to adhere to typical storytelling structure is playful and, for those who can let go of the need to have everything ‘make sense’, this is a fun show that re-imagines everyday objects and most certainly the colour red in some interesting ways.
The Ulysses Dancers will perform Red again at 7pm nightly on 23 and 24 June. Fore more information, and tickets visit What’s On Townsville.