Dance review: AGE, Theatre Royal Studio, Hobart

A youth dance troupe in Tasmania offered a tender and energetic performance.

A sparkler crossed the stage, carried by one of DRILL Performance Company Inc’s youngest members. She danced, pivoting and waltzing to an inaudible tune, before exiting the stage as the sparkler faded and the 21-strong cast of AGE was revealed. Standing solemnly upstage in the Theatre Royal’s Studio Theatre, backlit in maroon through Chris Jackson’s lighting design, the line of figures struck a powerful presence.

Investigating what age means to young people, AGE braided vivid scenes together like a highlight reel or clips on a roll of film. Jonathan Dieckfoss’ (Electrolyte Orchestra) original composition for this work was segmented and saturated the world of AGE. The young dancers moved from their static line through expressions of joy, shame, determination and confusion, prefacing the myriad emotions the audience traversed throughout the performance.

From the tender quietness of young feet navigating a living forest of limbs, to an electro-funk fuelled dance party, the journey of AGE revealed the multiplicity of experiences associated with the passage of adolescence.

The young people of DRILL (aged 9 to 21) deftly executed neatly layered choreography, created by the dancers themselves in collaboration with Elle Evangelista, Risa Muramatsu Ray, Bec Dundas (current Artistic Director) and Isabella Stone (former Artistic Director).

Intimate duos were scattered throughout, interrupting segments of structured and dynamic unison. As is
consistent with DRILL, all structured and improvised choreography was underpinned by an interpretation unique to each dancer, emblematic of the ownership and individuality DRILL affords each of its young members. Each dancer was costumed in a unique outfit in shades of green, blue, pink or red.

In AGE’s most poignant moment, the youngest of the group shuffled boisterously in line along two trestle tables. They repeated the words: “not”, “listen”, “ignored”, “purpose”, “ideas”, “don’t”, “matter”. Through the finely tuned balance of comedic banter and sincerity of intention, this reviewer came to the question, ‘What is age to prohibit these young people from being decision-makers in their own futures?’

Following directly after this, a highly energetic “fight” broke out, filling the space with noise as dancers slid and tumbled, catching clothes with their arms, faces, anything. A dancer yelled out ‘war’, throwing new light on the preceding scene, the gravity of the implication struck a chord as we reflected on how words spoken around a table unravelled into chaos.

A sparkler appeared five times throughout the choreography, marking the passage of time. AGE leaned heavily on aligning abstract vignettes that, when placed alongside one another like picture frames on a mantlepiece, revealed themes of ageing, celebration and ritual.

For loyal audiences, the maturation in the young dancers since their last performance in this space (Leviathan, 2021) was notable. Witnessing this transformation spoke to the metanarrative of nurture through periods of change present in every sinew of the work, and reflective of the support and guidance from the DRILL creative team. It also reflected on the unique purpose of youth dance in the Australian dance landscape.

Over the course of the 55-minute work, the dancers became sculptures of space by carving angular pathways and soft curves. Motifs of heaviness and manipulation of individual expression punctuated throughout an otherwise uplifting work. As the work came to a close, we saw a touching image on which the audience could have rested for longer.

A figure walked through the forest of limbs again; however, this time the figure was older, leaving a strong sense of the continuous cycles of life. A wash of applause ensued as the audience was left with memories of an energetic, colourful, tender and undoubtedly fun performance.

Read: Theatre review: Ladies Who Wait, Subiaco Arts Centre, WA

DRILL is also to be commended for not only providing space for the diverse expression of young people, but for taking significant steps to improve the accessibility of dance performance for d/Deaf and Blind/Vision impaired audience members, leading the charge in Tasmania for a foundational shift in standard theatre practice and performance.
DRILL Performance
Theatre Royal Studio
Choreographer: Elle Evangelista in collaboration with the dancers.

AGE was performed 17-19 August 2023.

Bethany is a contemporary dance artist born in lutruwita/Tasmania. Bethany trained at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and with the Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA), graduating with First Class Honours and the Palisade award for ‘most outstanding graduate’. Throughout her studies Bethany had the opportunity to travel and perform across Europe, China and Taiwan, working under the creative direction of a multitude of choreographers. Since completing her training Bethany has worked with Co:3 Australia, Circa, Stephanie Lake Company, DRILL, Tasdance, Second Echo Ensemble, Rachel Arianna Ogle, and MONA as a professional contemporary dance artist. Bethany is a Regional Arts Fellow and is developing an independent practice in nipaluna/Hobart. Bethany enjoys working with a diverse range of artists, and hopes to be involved in works that challenge and promote positive social change.