Review: One Infinity, Perth Festival

Jo Pickup

One Infinity is a reminder of our place within this ever-expanding, infinite universe.
Review: One Infinity, Perth Festival

One Infinity. Photo by Amber Haines.

One Infinity is a work rich in harmonies and dualities. As an Australian/Chinese collaboration involving interplays between traditional Chinese instrumentation and contemporary dance, it’s an unusual mix of the ancient past and the present.

The piece is also the culmination of various artistic relationships between Australian choreographer Gideon Obarzanek and musicians and composers Genevieve Lacey (Aust), Max de Wardener (UK) and Wang Peng (China). Across several years and various continents, these artists worked together to explore connections between the sounds of age-old China and the movements of the modern body.

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Executed by an ensemble of 11 dancers (five from Beijing Dance Theater and six from Dancenorth), and five musicians (the Jun Tian Feng Music Ensemble, with Wang Peng and Genevieve Lacey), the work allows dance and music to share the same space to create moments of reflection and meditative allure.

Interestingly, the audience is an important part of these exchanges. As we sit under downlights on either side of the stage, facing each other over a darken floor space, we are first given instructions that this performance involves more than just our watching and listening. We are active participants in this show.

As a warm-up, we are guided through a movement-mirroring exercise in which we copy the simple flowing hand gestures of our dancer-instructor. A strange sense of duality is already palpable as we move together, yet in opposition across the darkened space.

Then the music begins. Genevieve Lacey quietly enters and plays her recorder (in fact a Chinese Flute). It’s haunting and beautiful. Her slow, mellifluous sounds seep into us in a way that feels spiritual.

Soon, the vibrational tones of Wang Peng and the Jun Tian Fang Music Ensemble (Xiao Gang, Zhang Lu and Zhuo Ran) are threaded into this soundscape as they play their flutes and guquins (which are seven stringed instruments that look a bit like horizontal harps). Their playing reveals not only their skill, but their meditative devotion to their craft, and each is graceful in presence.

Intriguingly, they play whilst sitting in a distinctive four cornered shape (excluding Wang Peng who is positioned almost offstage). Again, we witness a kind of mirroring effect, with each artist playing facing a partner across the divide.

When the dancers enter the scene, they too face each other. The five Beijing dancers are grouped within one audience bank, moving as one in a series of undulating sculptural sequences. Then the energy shifts to the other side, and the six Dancenorth dancers appear among their audience group, embodying the music through flowing, circular movements. It’s quiet, yet mesmerising.

One Infinity. Photo by Amber Haines. 

As their bodies continue to surge a wonderful energy pours over the space. They often move as a group to create their gushing formations, but it’s a shame these dancers weren’t individually profiled in the programme notes so that particular performers could be mentioned here.

As the show moves on, and as the dancers join the musicians on stage, we are taken through various states of being – from moments of stillness to high speed. Each scene builds up and repeats with its own distinct rhythms, which often rely on the unity of the dancers as an ensemble to succeed. On the opening night performance they sometimes fell short here – not quite hitting the mark in those synchronised choreographic sequences.

Regardless, the performance proved a stirring (but slow) journey that offered some powerful moments of contemplation and connection. At times we moved as one – unified and whole. At other times we faced reflections and oppositions of ourselves that illuminated everything in between us and beyond us – a reminder of our place within this ever-expanding, infinite universe.

Rating: 3 ½ stars ★★★☆

One Infinity
A Perth Festival Co-Commission 
Produced by Playking Productions & Jun Tian Fang
Director & Choregrapher: Gideon Obarzanek
Composers: Max de Wardener, Genevieve Lacey, Wang Peng
Associate Choreographer: Amber Haines
Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper
Sound Designer: Jim Atkins
Costume Designer: Harriet Oxley
Set Designers: Gideon Obarzanek & Damien Cooper
Musicians: Jun Tian Fang, Wang Peng, Genevieve Lacey
Dancers: Beijing Dance Theater & Dancenorth Australia

His Majesty's Theatre, Perth
7-10 February 2019

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

Jo Pickup is an arts writer & manager based in Perth. She has worked as a journalist and broadcaster for media such as the ABC, RTRFM and The West Australian Newspaper, contributing media content and commentary on art, culture and design. She has also worked for WA arts organisations such as Fremantle Arts Centre and STRUT dance, in roles such as Producer, Program Manager & Communications Manager.