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Trevor Keeling

Dancenorth's latest work features the most effective curtain drop ever.

Dancenorth's Tectonic. Dancers Georgia Rudd, Mason Kelly, Jenni Large, Jack Ziesing, Harrison Hall, Ashley McLellan. Photo by Amber Haines. 

Picture the setting… you are on a beach… it is a tranquil tropical winter’s evening in North Queensland and you are facing the ocean with the lights of the port and Magnetic Island visible across the water.

But there is something that odd about this idyll. There are 180 pale blue pilates balls half-submerged in the sand. Well, this is not so strange given that there is an event on called Strand Ephemera – a celebration of contemporary art – and there are installation artworks up and down the stretch of Townsville coastline called The Strand.

Then the lights go down for something really different. There is a dance work on this installation. It is by Dancenorth and it is called Tectonic. It can only be described as a combination of art installation and dance work, but underlying it all is an important message on climate change.

This dance work is by Kyle Page. And in his customary fashion, it is yet another example of this young Artistic Director’s admirable penchant for creative collaboration – which in itself led to the company’s recent triumph at the Helpmanns with two awards – a first in the company’s 32-year history.

Swathed in a dark green gown which sparkles in the light, a single dancer (Samantha Hines) appears. She appears to be some sort of goddess summoning the elements. The six members of the Dancenorth ensemble then appear – all costumed in sand-coloured designs. They occupy the large space, bringing the balls, the sand and eventually the ocean itself into the equation. In what has become the custom at Dancenorth, the dancers work as a solid, fluid and united ensemble which highlights their abilities as a cohesive whole rather than pointing to the abilities of a single dancer. This is the company’s strength and what it has become renowned for.

So much happens in this expansive arena of play that sometimes it is difficult to know what exactly to watch, but the performance remained fascinating and magnetic, culminating in a climax which sees the dancers enter the ocean devoid of the costumes in what one audience member was heard to describe as the 'most effective curtain drop ever'.

The creative choreography was assisted by the haunting and evocative original music by long-time creative collaborator, dancer/composer Alasdair Macindoe. The lighting – difficult to do in such a space – was simple and effective, with the terrain speaking for itself.

The work that Dancenorth is producing now is fascinating and diverse, assisted no end by the creative collaboration between the company and the dancers from Urab Island in the Torres Strait. This particular work is a response to the beginning of a ten-year commitment to work with the Urab dancers. Tectonic is a direct and sustained response to the “seagull” notion of many people who operate on a fly-in fly-out arrangement and believe that two days in the remote Melanesian community has made a difference.

The dancers have visited the island on four occasions in recent times, and the result is a work responding to the plight of climate change for some of the low-lying islands in the Torres Strait which are being affected by rising ocean levels. The 180 half-submerged pilates balls each represent a resident of Poruma Island which is one of those affected.

The challenge facing Dancenorth will be to find a way to combine its contemporary dance world with the traditional dance of the Urab dancers – something that is ultimately a future goal. The Urab troupe performed after Tectonic, and their slow traditional rhythms were in direct contrast to the high energy of Dancenorth dancers. What was refreshing to discover about the Urab dancers is that their dances not only highlight the past but also present new dances inspired by current events and happenings in their community.

But the production itself is only half the story. Underpinning the performances are numerous workshops with the Urab dancers and Dancenorth for schools, even open public sessions which see participants working on the set.

A mesmerising production which is a splendid departure from the confines of four walls and a roof. It introduces contemporary dance in a unique way. Make no mistake, it could be mounted anywhere on our coastline – crocodiles, stingers and other sea borne dangers taken into account!. (Bleach Festival, take note!)

4 ½ stars out of 5

Dancenorth’s Tectonic
Created and directed by Kyle Page and the Urab dancers of Poruma Island
Featuring seven Dancenorth dancers and 16 Urab dancers

29 July – 5 August 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

Trevor Keeling has been involved in the arts and creative industries for 40 years in Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.  He has been an actor, theatre director, journalist and critic, publisher, broadcaster, music festival director, event manager and arts administrator.

Since coming to Australia 25 years ago, he appeared in numerous productions in Adelaide, and was Festival Director of the Glenelg Jazz Festival for six years. Most recently he was General Manager of Dancenorth in Townsville for a total of six years and for three years was CEO of Mirndiyan Gunana Aboriginal Corporation, which included managing the world renowned indigenous Mornington Island Dancers.

He has worked in urban, regional and remote environments in Australia and has a particular focus on regional arts and the connection to community.