Communal Table, Dancenorth/Brisbane Festival (QLD)

A uniquely personal and immersive experience that gently strips away barriers to communication.

Georgia Rudd in Communal Table. Image: Amber Haines.

We may think in that in this era of mega technology that we are good communicators. After all, hasn’t everyone got a Facebook account and doesn’t everyone send daily messages to their myriad friends? Well, perhaps – but somewhere in this mix of smartphones and Instagram, have we lost the art of meaningful communication? And what, precisely, does that mean, and what are the barriers to meaningful communication between human beings?

This is the strong but subtle message in Dancenorth’s latest offering, Communal Table, seen during its preview season in the company’s home of Townsville before it opens at Brisbane Festival on 18 September.

If you expect a dance piece where you can passively sit in the audience, then think again. This does not mean that in you are in for a confrontational night where you’ll be beaten over the head with a political statement. No, far from it – there is no antagonism. Instead, it is an all-embracing, intimate and consummately sensory experience that has you involved to a degree you could not have imagined.

There is no big flashy presentation. In fact, there is nothing in this piece which even remotely resembles anything I have ever experienced in any theatre before – ever. And therein lies its mystery, beauty and intrigue. It is part theatre, part dance, part dining, part conversation, and it cannot be categorised in any genre. Instead, we have an extraordinary, thoughtful piece which gently strips away barriers to communication, whether verbal or physical, because a meal is part of the experience – though it, too, is just one of many devices used to convey the central message about communication.

It would be remiss of me to give too much away, other than to say that the immersion begins with your actual entry into the theatre. You will give over to the experience in a calming, peaceful and altogether unfamiliar way. When one is so used to the hustle and bustle of daily life and deadlines, it takes minutes to leave that world of dubious reality behind.

This is a piece built in the true spirit of collaboration, which is at the core of the company’s philosophy. Artistic directors Kyle Page and Amber Haines have worked with a team of pan-Australian co-creators. With overall guidance from philosopher John Armstrong, the creative team includes choreographers Kristina Chan, Thomas ES Kelly, Melanie Lane, Jo Lloyd, Gabrielle Nankivell, Daniel Riley and Lee Serle alongside Nik Pajanti (lighting design), Kelly Ryall (music), Andrew Treloar (set and costume), Tom Roach (lighting), Peta Heffernan, Elvio Brianese and Hillary Coyne.

Each choreographer works individually with a dancer. It’s no mean feat to combine style and interpretation under the banner of a central theme, but don’t expect to see it all – you won’t. What is guaranteed is that you will encounter the dancer in a way that you would perhaps never envision.

What is evident for this entire experience (and it is better to describe it as that rather than as a production or a dance work) is that a great deal of thought and clear communication has gone into creating something which converts what is essentially a cerebral consideration on the theme of meaningful communication into a form of tangible and sensory entertainment.  

In essence: expect the unexpected. You will not be disappointed. And remember – there is not the threat of a single ringtone in the auditorium, and when you attend you will know why.

Note on rating: It is difficult to rate this on a normal yardstick of theatrical entertainment, so my rating is based on my estimation of its innovation and creation of a uniquely personal theatrical experience.

5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★

Communal Table
 Kyle Page, Amber Haines
Global Philosopher in Chief, School of Life: John Armstrong
Music: Kelly Ryall
Lighting Design: Niklas Pajanti
Set and Costume Design: Andrew Treloar
Tables Design: Liminal Spaces

Dramaturgy: Lee Serle
Assistant Lighting Designer: Thomas Roach
Kristina Chan in collaboration with Mason Kelly
Thomas E.S. Kelly in collaboration with Felix Sampson
Melanie Lane in collaboration with Georgia Rudd
Jo Lloyd in collaboration Jenni Large
Gabrielle Nankivell in collaboration with Samantha Hines
Kyle Page in collaboration with Amber Haines
Daniel Riley in collaboration with Jack Ziesing
Lee Serle in collaboration with Ashley McLellan
Cast: Amber Haines, Samantha Hines, Mason Kelly, Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan, Georgia Rudd, Felix Sampson and Jack Ziesing
Previews: 10-13 September, Townsville
World premiere: 18-21 September, Brisbane Festival
Tickets $90-$100

Trevor Keeling
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 in 1991, he appeared in numerous productions in Adelaide, and was Festival Director of the Glenelg Jazz Festival for six years. He was General Manager of Dancenorth in Townsville (2005-2006 and 2011-2014) 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.