CHAMPIONS is a stonkingly good dance work … with the common touch.
It’s a large scale work with 11 dancers filling a field of dreams inside the vast space and it begins like any large scale sporting event with the team captain interview. Sports presenter, Mel McLaughlin, well known to viewers as one of the anchors of Seven’s Olympic coverage, is on the screen wall which dominates the upstage area of the arena. She is interviewing Carlee Mellow and we get a team update on the selections for today’s match.
Pre-game, a suitably comic and silly swan mascot has entertained the large and vocal crowd to a pounding pizzicato on the soundtrack and the audience is ready for the action. At interval she reappears in a circular lake of light … I loved that! There are cheers and claps as the players wander on with their yoga mats to warm up. In the same way that everyone’s a sports fan during the Olympics, this work begins with expert coverage to inform and guide us. Mellow and McLaughlin go through each dancer stats, temperament and what they bring to the line-up while a manufactured playing, smiling, concentrating image of each woman fills the screen.
Our experts commentate on the individual’s personalities as well as their warm up splits and fankicks and planks. We might be looking at a grassed stadium of sporting endeavor but this is dance at its heart and words like Plié, Pirouette and Chassé sneak in. There’s emotional content too as we hear about a pregnant team member, sibling rivalry in the ranks and, of course, injuries. But … “She’s a competitor!”
It’s vaguely adversarial when, having gone back to the sheds after warmup; the dancers enter briskly from each side. However they huddle together downstage center of the playing area and the superb percussive electronica of the score focuses attention for the kickoff.
The show will sometimes run at breakneck speed with falling which would make Italian footballers proud in amongst the set plays, offence and defence, feints and cross steps (they even dab) but there are also quiet and reflective moments. A sequence of Olympic style pictograms where morphing from one sport to another can be just a small reach or lean or full-on level change allows time to appreciate the variety and power of sport.
Sporting allusions aside this is skilled, expressive and cohesive dancing with a concept which has the DNA to splice the art into a new audience. Form Dance Projects of Parramatta create innovative and accessible work but Director Martin del Amo and the performers have choreographed an evening which touches our primal instincts. There is victory and defeat, there are biomechanics and optimal physiology, but most importantly there are women. In one stunning sequence we hear them pant and puff with exertion as they move close enough for us to smell the sweat. In the stunning finale, the superb lighting allows them to watch us for entertainment. Exciting ideas abound in every movement.
Technically brilliant with blue booster and warm flesh gels from the side mixed with stadium style floodlight blocks upstage, it has pulsing, driving music counterpointed by stylish and evocative video images that support, not detract from the action. One lovely image has a music stave which lines up like a 100 metre track eventually becoming the squiggles of a playbook.
After an hilarious ‘stacks on’, our heroes confide their thoughts in the after-game ‘live’ cross to the locker room and we turn to the family, friends and strangers near us to delight in what we have just seen.
CHAMPIONS is a bringing together as intellectual, as it is physical, and gives an audience the vocabulary to consider how performance excellence in any context enriches us as humans. Go you good thing!!
Form Dance Projects production of CHAMPIONS continues at Carriageworks as part of the Sydney Festival until 22nd January.