What a bumper way to start the first act of RESTORATION. After some very impressive warm ups in the large space, the dancers spread out around the stage, some at the barre in the centre of the arena. What hits the speakers? Big Spender from Sweet Charity and they look great! It will be a first act of surprises and a second act of certainty and culture.
NAISDA is a dance school providing world class expertise in cultural and creative training. The college is graduating elite dancers who have culture as a bedrock for their arts practice. The graduating artists whose work is showcased in RESTORATION are Lillian Banks, Shana O’Brien, Bradley Smith, Mendia Kermond and Jye Uren. Remember those names. These are the stars of the very, very near future.
The work is directed by Frances Rings with guest choreographers. Sani Towson, Taiaroa Royal and Raymond D Blanco.
As Act 1 continues we are enveloped in exciting choices of head bobbing music and a display of foot tapping moves which have real street and funk about them. Disco and grunge presented with precision and form. And serious skill. There is not a foot wrong, a head tilt astray or a dancer left behind in the whole 2 hours.
SHAPESHIFT, in several sequences, takes up the rest of the pre-interval program. It is an “exploration of energy as it shifts between the ancestral and contemporary space.”
The sequences begin with a pure white light from upstage on a single figure in statis. Water, flute, birdsong on the audio as figures move in to join the first. They reach up and as the audio morphs into a syncopated, synergistic rhythm to match these splendid dancers as they square across the stage to reform in a phalanx. The diaphony of their costume trousers matches the uniformity of the dancing. All of Act 1 is stunning in its use of white light and black and grey costuming.
There are moments when the front and side lighting gives way to allow just silhouettes and here the dancers lower and reach high with intent as they turn their faces up to the light in a stunning visual that brings the shadow dancers alive.
There is a male solo that is lithe and sensuous and emotional. In the finale of this sequence the phalanx masses again before the dancers run across the massive area to leave the single figure.
It is then that words appear on the scrim which takes the whole width and height of the upstage. There is an urgent klaxon-like sound effect as light travels across a prone figure like a lighthouse warning and the bass travels into the audiences’ feet. The graphics continue as we are treated to a superb sequence of contemporary dance with unmistakable indigenous shapings and travel: emu strength and kangaroo bending. In the haze, the dancers use gestures such as hands to mouths to force whole body movement.
The images change and dots begin to cover the 3 walls in a redolent and exciting display worthy of the brilliance of the work. Images continue toward the climax of the act as soloists are hemmed in and opened out by huge blackboards gently aligned with pre-recorded visual images of the principals. There are native words, spit and hand painting and lovely chalk drawn images. Then a hit of sunset orange, the first colour, earth colour.
This sequence ends as it began, with a single figure.
As a line of energy pulses horizontally and fades out, there is a sensory delight of aurora-edged squiggles, heart and infinity, to an electro punk score as the whole company rolls and stretches in a whirl of partner work, lifts and hand turns. Until the geometry of the choreo takes over and this extraordinary ensemble vocalise to a climax.
Stunning just stunning … such a range of skills. Modern, contemporary, classic ballet. Transitions unforced, organic changes, create a fluid cohesion. Act 2 is different but still an wholistic eye oversees the drive and impact and significance of RESTORATION.
After interval we are delighted to see island flowered dresses hanging around the space. There is colour here but the monochromatic palette continues to delight in sections. The real joy of this act is the faces. With a changed emphasis on cultural representation more than mood we can fully appreciate the love these young artists exclude in every movement, every smile is joyous.
Tradition, sharing, respect are everywhere here as the CULTURAL DANCES OF THE TORRES STRAIT provide a focus. It’s there in the costuming and head gear and in the live music presented by a quartet of guitar and percussion, supplemented by whistles and ululated vocals from cast and audience. There is also a pounding, regimented feel in the creation of lines and blocks as feet collide with the resonant black floor.
There is a pulsing solo of vibrant beauty in form and shape in a rich blue light and another solo which twists and writhes the male dancer backwards towards us in a display of slow, detailed stability, rhythm and supreme floor work.
There are also my two favourite sequences of RESTORATION. A tropical storm begins and the male dancers are athletic and lofted as they leap and rise with the birds and insects warning of the deluge. Eventually only one is left to walk into the blue of the distance. I loved the delicate, occasional use of blue. In my other favourite, the women’s costumes were edged with peacock blue around the black … such a beautiful adjunct to five female dancers whose classicism soothed with the simplicity of the strings and a very evocative animation in blue and orange above them.
And that is what I took away from RESTORATION. This show is an elegant and grounded, lyrical and evocative, mix of a classic repertoire blended seamlessly with modernism. The echoing expression of history and culture timely and relevant to all who experience the work.
It is almost irrelevant that this is an opportunity to see stars of the future because RESTORATION is standalone work from artists with drive and focus in a production that quietly massages the amygdala with its skill and passion. Do not miss it under any circumstances.
RESTORATION has a very short season at Carriageworks until 25th November.