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Fragile Matter

Kath Melbourne

A sweaty, thumping collaboration between Tasmania’s Tasdance and Greece’s Jukstapoz for Ten Days on the Island.
Fragile Matter

Image: Dermot McElduff

Fragile Matter is a sweaty, thumping collaboration between Tasmania’s Tasdance and Greece’s Jukstapoz. The work, created by Christine Gouzelis and Paul Blackman of Jukstapoz, was first commissioned by the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts and has been performed in both Asia and Europe. Fragile Matter finds new life and an Australian premiere at Ten Days On The Island.

Fragile Matter deftly marries a mix of musical and movement influences ranging from industrial to body percussion, martial arts, puppetry and adagio. Pulsating, tight and snappy, the vibrant movement style and muscular soundtrack propels the work forward.  

Through generous ensemble work, the performers and creative team explore corruption, compliance, rebellion and the influence of populism. These are multi-layered and highly relevant themes in the current political climate.

Drawing on Charlie Chaplin’s characterization of Adolf Hitler in his role in the 1940’s film The Great Dictator, the central protagonist in Fragile Matter asks you to question your own role in popular movements. Fans of Chaplin will recognise dancer Gabe Comerford’s embodiment, particularly the garbled speech and his interaction with props on stage, such as the delightful sequence with a microphone. Comerford carries the pace of the work on the shoulders of his dictator. Some uncomfortable movement sequences exploring his dictatorial power elicit grimaces from the audience.

The strongest moments in the work are those in which the performers trust their bodies to tell the story and there is restraint in their characterisation, such as the subtle comic relationship between characters, all said in the deft raise of an eyebrow and adjustment of posture, from Olivia McPherson, Nikki Tarling and Isabella Stone; or in the subtle communication of status between dancers Robert Flehrand and Jack Riley.

Image: Dermot McElduff

At times the movement language feels dated, perhaps a consequence of a work first created in 2014, and the excessive use of flamboyant hand gestures, a strong marker in the dance language of the time, could be edited. On occasion the puppetry was distracting and would benefit from being sharpened and questioned for impact and relevance. A tightening of the ensemble’s spatial awareness would really make the group sequences pop, and as the show sits in their bodies this may well happen in subsequent seasons. However, the ensemble left the audience knowing that they held nothing back and the audience loved them for it.

The soundtrack to the work is a standout. A collaborative effort of surprising partnerships to punctuate and elevate the dynamic choreography; these surprising choices play well together and feed each other.

Some of the rawest moments are also the most engaging. In such an energetic piece of dance theatre they are the down times, the non-performed, such as the simple act of the ensemble collectively catching their breath on stage, steeling their bodies before their next sweaty sequence.

A special mention to Robert Tinning and Bec Jones who are a joy to watch in their duets; both bring a sense of intense focus and precision to their work. The dancers are at ease in the space, stretching, gliding, leaping and embodying the work. The individuality of the performers and their cultural and physical diversity provides rich choreographic inspiration.

Clearly, Tasdance has its casting right. An interesting, diverse mix of performers both being refreshed and working in continuity to develop a movement language under the leadership of Felicity Bott. The physicality is energetic, acrobatic and fluid. They are an ensemble enjoying working together and trusting each other to take risks.

3 ½ stars out of 5

Fragile Matter
Presented by Tasdance in association with Ten Days in the Island
Artistic Direction: Felicity Bott
Choreographers: Christine Gouzelis and Paul Blackman (Jukstapoz)
Dancers: Gabriel Comerford, Robert Flehr, Bec Jones, Olivia McPherson, Jack Riley, Isabella Stone, Nikki Tarling, Robert Tinning
Rehearsal Director: Carol Wellman Kelly
Production & Touring Manager: Darren Willmott
Sound Design/Music: Murcof, Ben Frost, Alessandro Scarlatti, Amon Tobin, Jozef Van Wissem, Devo
Lighting Design: Luca Sirviö recreated by Darren Willmott
Text: Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
Puppet Design: Dimitris Nassiakos

Moonah Arts Centre, Moonah: 17-18 March
Princess Theatre, Launceston: 24 March

Ten Days on the Island
March 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Kath Melbourne is a Tasmanian arts executive who has led multi art festivals, innovative government initiatives and produced large-scale dance, circus and theatre productions in Australia, Asia and Europe. She's worked in Aboriginal communities, outback towns and off the side of 20 storey buildings. Right now she's taking a well-earned year off, studying, gardening and reviewing for Arts Hub Australia. She does not tweet.