A Ground-breaking performance

Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan and Georgia Rudd in Dancenorth's 'Tectonic', showcasing at the Rock Pool every night this week at 6:30 and 7:30pm

My family has had a fit ball sitting unused in our spare room for a decade, and it’s only really brought out when we don’t have enough chairs for the dining table (I know, we’re the epitome of fitness inspiration). So the idea of having to make use of 180 fit balls seems extremely excessive.

But Dancenorth has created a performance piece that gives them new purpose, encourages discussion, and conveys an extremely powerful message. And the balls themselves continue to tell that story between shows.

The 180 cobalt bubbles swell out of the sand beside the Rock Pool, forming one of the most picturesque performance spaces in Townsville, and representing the 180 residents on Poruma Island.

Poruma, a 1.4km-long paradise, lays in the clutches of the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Papua New Guinea, in an environment that has remained largely untouched and unchanged for generations – or, not by its inhabitants at least. Impact of the outside world is reaching the island; fingers of ocean claw at its sandy flesh and tease the houses further up the shore, threatening to reach them one day. Sea levels are rising, and Poruma Island is seeing that firsthand.

Townsville’s Dancenorth and Poruma Island’s Urab Dancers portray the threat of rising sea levels beautifully in Tectonic, with performances every night until Friday at 6:30 and 7:30pm.

The performance space itself fits in so beautifully, with the blue orbs reflecting the sky and water of Cleveland Bay and complementing the surrounding sculptures that form part of the biennial Strand Ephemera. They have been there for several weeks now, generating interest and discussion, so when I arrived on the Strand last night, I wasn’t surprised to be overtaken by someone dragging her boyfriend along, chattering about ‘those Dancenorth balls that are finally lit up.’

On a Monday night, you don’t expect to fight traffic for a parking spot along the esplanade, but I was forced to park two streets back last night – not only were people there for the Ephemera itself, but a mass of people had gathered on the beach in front of the fit balls, ready for whatever was about to happen. I say a mass, and I mean it: there were easily more people there than would normally be found along the entire Strand on a Monday night, and would be safe to assume this Dancenorth production will see their highest local audience numbers ever.

As it hits half past the hour, darkness falls on the set. And then, Tectonic.

We have attended a few Dancenorth productions that featured Jenni, Ashley, Harrison, Mason and Georgia, but the inclusion of guest dancers Jack Ziesing and Samantha Hines was new to us – and they were welcome additions, with each member of the cast moving with precision and fluidity. Or, rather, fluidity when fluidity was required. It is a credit to professional dancers who have such complete control of their body that they can toe the line between relaxed and free movements and sharp rigid movements in the blink of an eye, which is on full display in Tectonic.

The backing track, as with the audio for all Dancenorth productions, was goosebump-inducing and monolithic on its own, and the choreography was such that the sounds could have been made by the dancers’ bodies themselves – every bass note and rise in rhythm fit perfectly with the performers’ movements.

The setting of the performance cannot be commended highly enough either; it would not have worked anywhere other than the beach. Which is quite perfect, when the beach plays such a large role in the story. The dancers’ interaction with the sand made for some spectacular moments, with bursts of light capturing it suspended in the air and adding to the interactivity of the space – it was not just the balls that enhanced the show, but the ground itself.

Okay, I don’t mean to be brash, but it’s time to talk about balls. Because they were used incredibly well. I sat down next to a group of kids that were excitedly asking each other if it would be a circus show full of nothing but flips – before their parents let them know that it probably wouldn’t be, because that’s not what Dancenorth does. Which is true. Dancenorth showcases incredibly refined, flowing pieces – so while you should expect interaction with the fit balls, don’t walk into the show waiting for two-storey somersaults. The balls enhance and emphasise movements that would be mundane without them, so really do add to the extravagance of the performance in what is quite possibly the only one of its kind anywhere in the world.

The performance ends in the exact way it should – with the ocean swallowing all. That is the message, and Dancenorth has conveyed it: we have had such an impact on the Earth, it may be too late to stop it from devouring entire communities like Poruma Island.

When I first heard about the collaboration with Poruma Island for Tectonic, I envisioned a single piece featuring both the Dancenorth and Urab dancers performing in-sync – but what they have created instead is something so much more powerful. Neither group needs the assistance of the other to tell their story – they are sharing a stage and a message, but tell stories in their own unique ways.

Poruma Island’s Urab Dancers performing in ‘Tectonic.’

As the lights and applause faded, Poruma’s Philemon Moseby stood up to introduce the second element of Tectonic: the Urab Dancers. The dancers’ performances vary throughout the week, with a range of dances and songs prepared for their time in Townsville. Last night we heard the story of the windmill and another about a boy from the Island graduating from the Navy and working on HMAS Glenelg. Once again, the ocean plays its part. The dancers emerge from among the blue of the fit balls to perform on the sand in front of them, before retreating back into the mass of blue afterwards.

The dances, while they have their contemporary elements, are still underpinned by the traditional performance styles of the Torres Strait, which stand as a contrast to the Dancenorth performance and are equally as enthralling. The rhythms and stomps are catchy, and I caught my own foot hovering off the ground more than once.

We cannot talk highly enough of the relationship Dancenorth Artistic Director Kyle Page has formed with Poruma Island: it has enhanced both communities for the better, and provided a larger platform for each group to share their messages, as well as collaborate and learn new ways of telling those stories.

Tectonic is a message that you need to hear. It’s a performance like none other. And is an experience that you won’t forget.

Experience Tectonic beside the Rock Pool at the Strand from now until Friday 4 August at 6:30pm and 7:30pm. Dancenorth’s 80s-inspired Sunrise Lycra Lifestyle aerobics session will be held tomorrow morning from 6:30-8am; the Urab Dancers will hold a workshop on Thursday 3 August at 11:30am; and there will be a final play session on the fit balls this Saturday from 11:30am-3pm.

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