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The Dark Chorus

Kath Melbourne

Compelling and intricate, a knitting of exquisite sound and delicately controlled choreography.
The Dark Chorus

Image courtesy of the artist and Dark Mofo

Lucy Guerin Inc's The Dark Chorus is compelling and intricate, a knitting of exquisite sound and delicately controlled choreography. Dark, thought provoking and sensory – a perfect work for Creative Director Leigh Carmichael to program in a festival like Dark Mofo.

The work’s gothic other-worldliness finds itself a natural fit in the Theatre Royal and we are drawn into the work, and a journey further into depravity.

It’s not with a bang or a shout but with a whisper that this piece engages our senses – murmured words, the deliberated rhythmic breath, the rustle of costumes on the stage floor; complex, layered but confident enough not to need to be in your face. The delicate and intuitive hands of composer Robin Fox and choreographer Lucy Guerin have beautifully integrated soundscape and human generated sound. The bare stage, void of set or video, is filled by the movement of the dancers and chorus and layered by the impressive ability for Fox’s soundscape to seemingly stretch, distort, elevate and travel across the space.

Paul Lim’s use of light is subtle but clever, underlying the metaphors in the work. The use of shadow is beautifully exploited as the chorus disappears and emerges into the curtains.  The stark, cool light blue light singles out individuals within the mob. One of the most effective plays on light and shadow is one in which a dagger-like shadow pierces Hancock’s chest – highlighting his vulnerability, and signifying him as a target.

Guerin’s choreography is detailed yet restrained. We are mesmerized by haunting moments of ensemble work as the chorus writhes in unison, by fight duets between performers, by the diversity of bodies and physicality. Highlights are a comic duet between Tyrone Robinson and Lilian Steiner and the elevated, perhaps more sinister fight duet between Hancock and Robinson. Each performer is fascinating in their particular way. Stephanie Lake’s striking final moment is haunting, and Oshodi’s sensuality and Steiner’s regal command of the instruction are both intimidating and enthralling.

These are dancers beautiful instructed by Guerin and their personalities are evident in their contribution to the choreography.

Contemporary dance has that brilliant capacity to ask more questions of its audience than it answers. Its interpretation can be beautifully varied and meaning individual and personal.

This comes to the fore in a pivotal sequence in which the chorus requests dancer Hancock to perform for them, specifically with an inanimate cardboard box and specifically in a ridiculous costume. As the sequence progresses it becomes an ever more ridiculous, demanding and dark initiation rite for the pleasure, or displeasure, of the chorus. 

As an audience you may be compelled to ask, what is too depraved to ask of a human being? While others may be thinking, this is great, how sick are they going to get?

While one audience member may be beginning to empathise with an object as inanimate as a cardboard box, others may be internally calling for it to be tortured and destroyed.  

The Dark Chorus asks its audience – what is the breaking point of an individual? How far and how long does it take before the individual is broken down, until they are owned completely by the chorus, the mob? At what point can/does the individual question the increasing darkness, and what power do they have to resist?

You can’t help but walk away thinking that The Dark Chorus is somewhat also about the artistic process itself. The humiliation a performer sometimes endures in an audition process until they are left metaphorically naked on the floor, or the process of development and rehearsal where a director or choreographer continues to ask more and more of the performer until they are broken, and at that point rebuilt.  

I was left, not unclear or unresolved but pondering; a memorable and detailed work that will stay with me.

½ stars out of 5

Lucy Guerin Inc's The Dark Chorus
Director: Lucy Guerin
Choreographer: Lucy Guerin with the dancers
Dancers: Benjamin Hancock, Jessie Oshodi, Lilian Steiner, Stephanie Lake, Tyrone Robinson
Composer: Robin Fox
Costume Designer: Benjamin Hancock, Harriet Oxley, Jack Hancock
Dramaturge: Adena Jacobs
Lighting Designer: Paul Lim

Theatre Royal, Hobart as part of Dark Mofo
17 June 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.

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