Dancenorth returned this week with its third annual instalment of Tomorrow Makers, a program that encourages the company’s ensemble dancers to create, produce and perform their own short works.
Like everything in 2020, Tomorrow Makers 3, was not without some adjustments. Developed during Australia’s first COVID-19 wave, the Tomorrow Makers were forced out of their shared studio space and into isolation like the rest of us. It meant they had no choice but to create solo works and they were tasked by curator and mentor Amber Haines to reflect on their time in isolation through their work.
It also meant the audience experience was slightly different from usual. While we are fortunate in North Queensland to be able to attend the theatre again, audience numbers for the season have been limited to by-invitation only; and rather than the packed Dancenorth usually enjoys, there were many empty seats by necessity.
Nonetheless it was thrilling to return to a performance venue and sit in audience once again. As we were shown to our seats, we were asked to answer a series of questions on individual slips of paper: What material object do you desire? What is your most attractive feature? Name someone you find attractive? Why are they attractive? What meal would you cook to impress someone? It was signature Dancenorth enigma and as we handed responses back without explanation, the performances began:
CONSTRUCTION AND CONTEMPLATION
Georgia opened Tomorrow Makers 3 with an offering that made me delightfully uncomfortable. While she was centred in the performance space, just a handful of cement bricks stacked beside her, she somehow created the illusion of confinement. Georgia recreated a feeling that many of us would have felt during lockdown – that of being trapped within your own walls. Watching her lazily and complacently move the bricks around, I was reminded of being sent to my room as a child and the lines of enquiry bred by the ensuing boredom of an afternoon spent indoors when I would much rather be out. Seemingly, Georgia found a state of flow as she became engrossed in the mundane task of moving bricks around, experimenting with how she might move them and where she might place them, simply to pass her time. Adding to the sense of overwhelming monotony was a well-chosen soundscape and several false endings, which reflected the hope we often feel when we are desperate for a reprieve only to have our hopes dashed. The effect of this on the audience was palpable – I could feel them ready to applaud as the ticking soundtrack deceitfully faded, and the quiet disappointment as it would rise again. Construction and contemplation certainly capture the sense of isolation well.
PRINCE OF DARKNESS – BOOKS I & II
Jack’s piece picked up where Prince of Darkness: The Prologue – presented at last year’s Tomorrow Makers 2 – left off. It starts with the dying notes of Black Sabbath’s War Pig and a rock star left in quiet contemplation after the show has ended and the adoring crowd has disappeared. The stage is plunged into darkness before a pin-prick of a red light rises downstage, illuminating only Jack’s face in a sinister way. Book I is a monologue that begins “I have come to hate the sound of birds”. He speaks of departing from the default man, of forming new civilisations, of stepping up and setting out in search of more. It’s a poetic piece that Jack delivers with powerful vulnerability. His stillness, anchored in such tight lighting, is a stark contrast to last year’s manic prologue and to the lightening-fast movement the follows in Book II. As Jack begins to move, his spinning hands becomes a fleshy blur set against the darkness, which (to me) suggest various milestones in the rise of man – hunting, armour, battles, voyaging to new lands, the advent of the wheel. It’s a dizzying display of endless movement that has become somehow steeped not in pride of man’s success, but in pitiable exhaustion created in a world that demands progress, progress, progress. This itself is a work in progress that Jack says will continue to change shape as more pieces are added.
Ashley’s Laguna is perhaps the most literal offering in this instalment of Tomorrow Makers. It begins with a woman dancing like no one is watching, embracing uninterrupted time to herself in a world locked down. She is joyous, uninhibited. But as time passes and reality takes hold, she looks around her and sees all that she’s lost in the items that fill her room. Liberty. Exercise. Weddings. Funerals. Sporting events. Gatherings with friends. Each of the objects Ashley has woven into her work become more than themselves; they carry a memory of what was and the spirit of what should be. Ashley has artfully combined humour with a strange sense of new-nostalgia to create a montage of time in isolation that is sure to resonate with many.
An exaggerated spotlight fills the stage. Around it – not in the light nor in the darkness, but somewhere in the space between, walks a figure, baggage on his back. It’s a powerful image that Mason has crafted and as we watched him slowly circle the illuminated space, initially I thought quite literally of the travellers trapped in limbo during this pandemic. But as Mason moved into the light and began a slow, explorative series of movements, it seemed more likely that this piece came from a place of deep introspection; of reconnecting with something that lays sleepy and forgotten in the depths of us all. For a long while there was no movement in Mason’s feet. But his hands, his arms, his head, shoulders, waist, hips and legs explored as far as they could reach from their place of anchorage. As this dormant figure became more emboldened, those gentle testing movements became broad, sweeping, confident strokes that plucked Mason from his safe place of rest and freed him to move gloriously, fluidly around the space. This work is a captivating a poignant exploration of what lies within us, if only we dare to look.
Remember those slips of paper I mentioned? Here they come!
Samantha enters the stage with a basket full of answers and busies herself laying them in an arc around her. When she is done, she starts to read the responses aloud, assigning each an improvised movement as she does. Quickly and unfalteringly, Samantha moves between lasagne, Audrey Hepburn, Maserati, Porsche, my heart, his heart, diamonds, Woolworths mud cake. Often she’ll return to previous words and their movement, showcasing how extraordinarily fast she’s committed it all to her memory. It is frantic, funny and phenomenal to watch. After some time of this, Samantha leaves her makeshift nest and returns as a bird, to perform her courting dance, created entirely from the improvised movements she’s just developed from the audience’s slips of paper. Remarkably, what was so laughter-inducing just moments before has transformed into a thing of beauty. This piece is a testament to the talents of Samantha as a dancer and choreographer, and a credit to the creativity and ingenuity being fostered at Dancenorth.
THE THINGS THEY DON’T TEACH YOU WHEN YOU LEARN GUITAR
Felix enters the stage with a beat-up green guitar and addresses the audience. He’s not going to dance tonight, he tells us. Instead he’ll play a song. Dance hasn’t been speaking to him in the way it normally does, and rather than flog a dead horse trying to force himself to choreograph, Felix has instead turned his creative attention elsewhere. What follow is… well… interesting. I’m not quite sure how to explain Felix’s piece and I’d rather not spoil the surprise. However, I do think he makes some interesting observations about the creative struggle, particularly during isolation. No doubt many people felt the pressure to use their time in lockdown wisely. We were given a rare gift of quiet, undisrupted time where we literally couldn’t go anywhere or be with anyone, and could instead devote all that time so frequently over-scheduled to doing the things we always said we would: paint a portrait, write a novel, learn to tango. It was a lot of pressure, really. No doubt the source of some great creative blocks and I think Felix has created a piece that truly speaks to that. He raises some questions about the relationship between artist and artform, and whether one can exist without the other. While this appears a light, highly entertaining piece on the surface, it warrants some deeper thought to.
Together, the Tomorrow Makers have once again assembled a collage of work that is thought-provoking, emotive and sure to elicit a response for those fortunate enough to see it.
Tomorrow Makers is a Dancenorth initiative, supported by The Ian Potter Foundation.