Ochre Contemporary Dance Company’s first public season is simply stunning.
This is the first public season by the Ochre Contemporary Dance Company, and it has been gestating for a long time! From its tentative beginnings in 2007 the company grew into performing at various government and corporate openings and gala functions in 2011. The experience spurred them to develop a creative brief for an inaugural public season. The company seeks to tell stories in a contemporary framework, to extend sharing of cultures and stories, and to be inclusive of Indigenous and non-Indigenous working together. The ethnic backgrounds of the performers include genes from many nations, Aboriginal, European and Asian all being represented. This bodes well for the promised sharing of cultures and stories.
In presenting Diaphanous: seeing through and beyond, the company has given birth to ideas that have developed over its formative years. The result is stunning.
Earlier this year, workshops were conducted in conjunction with Wongi Elders in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Region, engaging the community in the Seven Sisters Story from the region. This gave rise to Thoogoorba, the first work in the inaugural program, for which the Seven Sisters story provided the libretto. The second work, Orion’s Belt, drew on the Greek interpretation of the Pleiades story. The closing work, Yarnin’ is just what the title suggests – an exploration of ‘the transfer and trade of thoughts and knowledge, images, memories and scenarios’ that make up stories. This was apt, since the first two works shared yarns about the same constellation, and such sharing is very much part of Ochre’s brief. In all three works, there were subtle references to traditional movements, but overall the technique was firmly rooted in contemporary dance.
None of the pieces is narrative in the conventional sense, although the first two certainly draw on the traditional tales that provide the source material. For Thoogoorba, choreographer Tammi Gissell set scenes for male and female ensembles that depicted tribal life as well as presenting elements from the myth of the Seven Sisters who came down to earth, leaving one of their number behind to marry a mortal. Nicola Sabatino, as the one who stayed behind, was mesmerising. She has a stage presence that many more experienced artists might envy. Although she was featured much of the time, the ensemble nature of the work predominated. Suitable atmospheric music drawn from a variety of sources complemented Gissell’s flowing yet dramatic choreography.
Jacob Lehrer’s new work, Orion’s Belt, had slightly less impact, perhaps due to the fact that the costumes were very similar to those of Thoogoorba. Even so, some of the more acrobatic passages were highlights of the evening. Floeur Alder as Merope demonstrated athletic grace and daring in a passage representing her rape by Orion, who was played by three men, representing the stars on his belt. The timing of this section was impeccable, and just as well, since with one misstep someone might have got hurt! It must have taken many hours to perfect. Josh Hogan composed for Orion’s Belt a suitably atmospheric score that swept the action along.
The last work, Yarnin’, started with the dancers manipulating skeins of yarn, suggestive of the way traditional stories bind a community together. They also get stretched and altered and passed on, influencing individuals in various ways as they interact with our own personal ‘yarns’. Choreography for Yarnin’ was largely created by the dancers, under the direction of Gissell and Lehrer, yet despite the group nature of its creation the presentation was seamless. Once again, there were both lyrical and athletic passages supported by a workmanlike mixed score.
Congratulations to all eight dancers and the two choreographers, to say nothing of Maitland Schnaars, who appeared in Yarnin’ as a kind of MC or compere. His voice projects beautifully and his facial expressions added a lot to the presentation. Kudos also to Matthew McVeigh for some very effective sets and costumes; to Joseph Mercurio for wonderfully effective lighting; and to Josh Hogan for musical composition and sound design. Mention should also be made of the people behind the scenes who worked so hard to bring this season into being, notably Louise Howden Smith and Christine McGuiness. And, of course, Josie Wowolla Boyle and other Indigenous elders who helped steer the program toward fulfilment.
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5
Ochre Contemporary Dance Company presents
Diaphanous: seeing through and beyond
Artistic Project Director: Simon Stewart
Sound Design: Josh Hogan
Costume/Set Design: Matthew McVeigh
Lighting Design: Joseph Mercurio
Dancers: Floeur Alder, Perun Bonser, Ben Chapman, Joshua Pether, Anne-Janette Phillips, Nicola Sabatino, Justina Truscott, Matthew Tupper.
State Theatre Centre, Perth
22 – 24 November
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