Adelaide Festival director David Sefton, thank goodness, has redeemed himself after this year’s meagre dance offering by producing a varied, engaging program of dance and dance theatre for the 2016 festival.
When he was training at the Australian Ballet School in 1985, Garry Stewart suggested there should be a season of student choreography. Speaking many years later, he considered his own contribution, Conversation with an Ironing Board – there was no ironing board in it – “a dreadful little piece … a bit DaDa-ist”. But maybe a seed was sown that is flowering in time for the 2016 Adelaide Festival. Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre since 1999, Stewart is producing Habitus, a work for nine company dancers exploring the relationship between humans, items of the domestic world and relationships between human bodies and what he calls “the topographies of nature”. So there are sofas, books, and, yes, at least one ironing board. Stewart’s associate, Elizabeth Old, explains that when we view objects out of context, “we give them different qualities”. “They are imbued with a different kind of status … we reanimate them, I suppose,” she says. “Toward the end of the piece, it morphs into looking at no matter what we have done to tame nature, in the end, untamed nature will reclaim what is left so that no matter what we surround ourselves with in a built environment with all these domestic objects, nature will always come in and take over. There’s some kind of a narrative with it.” While the first part is structured, chaos grows, showing the power nature has over us. There is more furniture in a dance work when a large upholstered lounge chair lumbers clumsily on to the stage to begin Body of Work, Atlanta Eke’s intriguing excursion into relationships between live humanity and technology, between the body and images of the body. The chair soon moves off, replaced by Eke herself in silvery, closefitting long pants and top. A camera and two large screens onstage show images of her movements, some in real time, others out of synch, or with still images on one screen and not the other. Time ceases to be linear, loops over itself, becomes warped, as different versions of the dancer appear simultaneously on the screens. She is multiplied into infinity as the images mirror one another. On the darkened stage, in projection, the body appears to be swimming in space. Later, it morphs into grotesque shapes, one composed of four legs, two upside down on top of the usual two. In 2014, this experimentation with dance and the digital world won Eke the inaugural $30,000 Keir choreographic award, founded by philanthropist Phillip Keir, who called it a “dynamic work that shows references ranging widely from Boris Karloff to the rock band Devo and from Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast to 1970s US performance art”. Body of Work is less than two years old. Canadian company the Holy Body Tattoo is making its Australian debut with Monumental, which premiered to great acclaim in 2005, after which the company, founded in 1993, had a 10-year recess. Its co-founders and choreographers Dana Gingras and Noam Gagnon have been described as creating extreme dance, the movement “relentless, physical to the point of brutality” – comments that have been applied at times to Garry Stewart’s work. The Edmonton Journal describes the work as “an intense, exciting and nerve-wracking interpretation of contemporary urban life”, given in a “stunning explosive performance”. The Toronto Globe and Mail lauds the nine dancers who “move at breakneck speed” but at the end “find some calm, albeit a blighted one”. For the first half, the dancers are standing and moving on top of square pillars of varying heights. Sound, image, lighting, text and movement are combined to express the madness of urban life, how anxiety, fear and power animate individuals and groups. The music looks more than merely interesting, being performed live on stage by Montréal’s post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The company and its work have won several awards in England, Europe and Canada. Be prepared for a wild, exhilarating, thought-provoking ride. If their previous work is anything to go by, it is very likely that Australian group Stone/ Castro’s staging of Martin Crimp’s thriller The Country will be infused with well-choreographed movement. And then of course there is the Pina Bausch Company, with Nelken, marking their return to Adelaide after bringing three unforgettable works – Bluebeard, Kontaktof and 1980 – to Jim Sharman’s 1982 Festival. That visit has had an enduring influence on Australian modern dance. Habitus Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Friday, February 26 (preview), Saturday, February 27, Monday, February 29 to Saturday, March 5 Body of Work Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Thursday, March 10 to Saturday, March 12 Monumental Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Friday, March 4 to Saturday, March 5 The Country State Opera Studio, 216 Marion Road, Netley, Monday March 7 (Preview), Tuesday, March 8 to Sunday, March 13 adelaidefestival.com.au