Ochre Contemporary Dance Company‘s latest suite of works challenge the status quo, uplift the spirit, and feed the soul. It begins with Beyond, a new work performed by the talented Floeur Alder and choreographed by Chrissie Parrott. Alder steps into a beam of light that leads to a bush grove projected onto the floor in the centre of the room. The atmosphere is charged – the pool of light enticing Alder to enter a spiritual world, perhaps one of her ancestors. The natural yet discordant soundscape oppresses the audience as Alder makes her agonisingly slow journey to the centre of the light.
Alder is primal and connected to the very land she seeks, clad in white ochre and earthy tones, her hair matted to her skull. Every step she takes is considered – it’s a deliberately slow start that highlights the power and intelligence behind every single move within a dance piece. As Alder reaches the light, her body twists and turns into sometimes grotesque configurations, and stretches to the sky – all the while her strength is rooted in the ground. Alder portrays the connection to land as reverent in her slow and elegant motions, her fear of becoming too wild as the land pulls and tugs at her in sharp, jerky, inhuman movements, and her sense of tradition in her animalistic movements – at times representing the Ochre logo itself.
It’s a truly beautiful performance, we are witnessing something incredibly pure and untainted by modern Eurocentric ideals. Alder is a remarkable talent.
Next is a brief interlude consisting of a ten minute film, Kwongkan (Sand) a beautiful piece that charts the residency Ochre attended in India. It’s a spiritual representation of ritual and love of the land – even if that land is in another country.
3.3 questions what it is to be a young Aboriginal male in contemporary white society. It is the brainchild of renowned classical dancer, Michael Leslie who questions the idea that young black males now have their right of passage in prison. It sees young dancer Ian Wilkes literally caged in a cell with perspex in front allowing us to look in, but keeping him inside. Wilkes is an incredibly visceral performer – he launches himself violently against the bars that cage him in. It’s a powerful statement about masculinity, youth, race and rage and is brought home as Wilkes lashes out against the perspex, spitting, sweating, and swearing in protest.
All the while, Leslie sits close by, calmly observing Wilkes work out his aggression. When Wilkes is ready, Leslie talks to him about the systems in place that keep Aboriginal people down. 3.3 refers to the percentage of people in Australia who identify as Aboriginal – yet there is an over-representation in the prison population – 28% to be exact. During their dialogue, and as Wilkes futilely fights against the system, it is important to note that not all prisons are literal – there’s the system of colonialism, deaths in custody, fences around farms, curfews, obstruction of voting, missions, and discrimination.
Leslie’s firm but fair teaching is played out for us, and we see Wilkes learn the lost language of Leslie’s ancestors through 100 dance moves. By breaking each word down, a barrier is also broken between performer and audience, and we begin to appreciate each move with more understanding – after all, knowledge is power. When Wilkes is left alone again to contemplate his situation, he begins the cycle again, this time with art in the forefront of his mind. Wilkes’ sheer athleticism is tremendous – he pours every part of him into the performance, providing lasting imagery that will endure long after the show ends.
These pieces, 3.3 and Beyond are some of the most important and poignant performances to take place this year. They reflect the pressing need to address these issues – Aboriginality, connection (or disconnect) to the land, violence, discrimination, and anger. Yet, both of these works serve to bridge the gap between contemporary and traditional dance. What does it mean to be a young Aboriginal dancer in the twenty-first century? Must they forsake their ancestral traditional moves for contemporary, classical training? Both 3.3 and Beyond spark that conversation and are the perfect fusion of both forms of dance. After all, isn’t dance all about expression and meaning?
Review | Laura Money
WHEN: 26 May – 3 June | 7:30pm (5:30pm Sundays)
WHERE: Subiaco Arts Centre
INFO: Tickets $25 – $40 | Duration 110 mins including interval | Contains coarse language, adult themes, haze and strobe effects | Wheelchair accessible