Prime: Orderly

Lynne Lancaster

An enthralling program combining dance and science, which raised major concerns about the preservation of the marine environment.
Prime: Orderly

Two visually exciting, compelling and challenging works by Dean Walsh were recently presented under the umbrella title of Prime: Orderly as part of Dance Bites, presented by FORM at Parramatta.

Both were inspired by Walsh’s love of scuba diving and concern for the environment, and distil two years of research by the Australia Council Dance Fellow into a choreographic study of marine environments. This research has also led Walsh to develop a new choreographic scoring system.

First came the sensational An Enemy, featuring the use of the Sensory Dive Memory Suit (SMDS), its ‘body’ suspended on a series of wires, as if in a spider’s web. The suit examined possibilities on the various stages of descent, neutral buoyancy, trimming and pivoting. Most of the work involved a mysterious underwater creature in a totally masking suit of purple or blue velvet-like material, and thrashing, twisting floor work.

Eventually the SMDS is cut free and then dragged and dumped like sea rubbish and netting. The masked sea creature gives a short podium speech about sharks. Then suddenly, to a strange pulsating soundtrack, he is caught and lifted – like a fish – by two mysterious humans in yellow rain ponchos. Flopping and flapping, the creature is then stripped and re-dressed by the two humans, and is left in black trousers with his head heavily wrapped and masked in black. Next comes a powerful, shaky, angular solo with balloons partly filled with ‘blood’ where the choreographic emphasis is on the shoulders and arm isolation movements and the creature dies, entangled in fishing nets.

There was stunned, appreciative silence but no chance for applause as Judith McDonald of Scuba Warehouse Parramatta was hurriedly introduced and she gave a short inspiring speech.

Under Pressure after interval reflected the timeline of a dive. In this work the three performers are all miked up, resulting in a (sometimes over-amplified) soundscape of breathing. The soundscape for this work also features beeps, hums, whistles, snaps, taps etc, again as if experienced on a dive.

Under Pressure begins almost without the audience realizing, as the three cast members, all in casual blue outfits, ‘flipped overboard’ one at a time and began to ‘dive’. Walsh’s choreography especially at the beginning, uses lots of rolling floor work. There are off balance poses and some fabulous sculptural pas de deux and pas de trois. Diving hand signals are also incorporated.

Sometimes the dancers seem like floating, rippling jellyfish. There is considerable use of straight outstretched arms and Walsh’s choreography demands at times an almost impossibly flexible back.

The set is dominated by three crumpled sculptural heaps of silver foil which turn out to also include lots of silver inflatable balloons. Walsh makes a comment on human destruction of the environment and disposability as the balloons are inflated, tossed, collected up and eventually thrown into the huge fishing net. Other large balloons are also inflated and used to symbolise both the lungs of the diver and diving equipment .Speech is also included as the cast towards the end talk about various exciting dives and the marine environment.

For both works the lighting was eerie and ominous, glowing with the occasional flash of light, as if we were sinking underwater.

An enthralling program combining dance and science, which raised major concerns about the preservation of the marine environment.

4 stars out of 5


Prime: Orderly
Choreographer: Dean Walsh
Performers: Dean Walsh, Natalie Aytobn, Kathryn Puie
Lighting: Mikey Rice
Music: ‘Indigo’ by Henke Roberty; ‘Skodde’ by Dahl G/Sagevik R; ‘Module 4’, ‘Module 10’ by Alva Noto; ‘Gulf Night’ by Nicolai Carsten
Set design, sound recorder and mixer: Dean Walsh

 1. An Enemy – quartet performance. Dean Walsh with two faceless beings and an environmental entity known as SDMS
2. Under Pressure – trio: Dean Walsh, Natalie Ayton and Kathyrn Puie

Running time: one hour 40 minutes (approx) including interval

Parramatta Riverside Theatre
25 - 27 October

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

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.