Dance Review: Archives of Humanity, Perth Festival

This moving ensemble work by WA’s flagship contemporary dance company, Co3 Contemporary Dance, reflects the heartbeats of humanity in uncertain times.

Descending the steep staircase of the State Theatre Centre’s Studio Underground feels a bit like entering a hidden cave. For this show, the darkened space is filled with hundreds of black bird sculptures which hang from the rafters, casting their silent shadows across the upstage area.

This installation is designed by artist Naoko Yoshimoto and is the result of Co3’s Bird Maker’s Project. When the world was first plunged into the darkness of COVID-19 lockdowns, Co3 made an international call-out for at-home bird-makers to unite in a sign of a collective triumph over individual adversity, isolation and grief.

This hauntingly beautiful set piece serves as a poetic centrepiece for this, Co3’s latest dance work, which itself pulses strongly with expressions of individual sorrows transformed by communal bonds.

‘The darkened space is filled with hundreds of black bird sculptures which hang from the rafters, casting their silent shadows across the upstage area.’

As the large ensemble of dancers enter their sand-pit stage, they first move in honeyed slow motion with determined intention. Dressed in black or beige draping costumes (by costume associates Nora Stelter & Bec Simpkins), some have cream-clown collars round their necks, with one single dancer is highlighted in bold red – in a palette reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s iconic work Rite of Spring, (1975). The cast appear as individuals, though as they begin to reach, lean and gather together they find their rhythm as a moving whole.

Read: Dance Review: Sydney Dance Company’s Impermanence

These 20 dancers unite and then disperse through the sand, rolling at differing speeds through various rhythmic cycles fuelled by upward extensions and controlled curve-releases. They pull, stretch and collapse, forming currents of gushing energy which momentarily splinter, scatter and then reform.

Their cyclic moves sometimes mirror that flock of black birds perched high over their heads. But what these bodies truly reveal is something uniquely human.

Raewyn Hill’s ARCHIVES OF HUMANITY, Co3 Contemporary Dance. Photo by Stefan Gosatti.

These bodies – working sometimes together, sometimes apart – take us closer to our shared humanity. It’s a highly physical and profoundly emotional journey which, whilst choreographically repetitive at times, is brilliantly designed in pace and rhythm.

This pace and timing is perhaps the work’s most impressive feature and can be attributed to its astonishing sound-score. Composer Eden Mullholland, working in collaboration with choreographer Raewyn Hill, has created an incredible, almost operatic aural experience by combining reverberating electronic beats and echoing choral vocals.

These sounds are the invisible hands leading the dancers’ continuously unfolding ebbs and flows. At times their bodies rage at 200 beats per minute, at other moments their musical heartbeat slows them almost to rest.

Overall, it’s a joy to be swept up with this beautiful ensemble who have no trouble working as one, despite their huge range in age and experience. As veteran WA dancers Claudia Alessi, David Mack and Matthew Morris glide seamlessly alongside recent WAAPA dance graduates and Co3 company dancers, we are reminded that as they move together, we too move closer together – as we stand together on shifting sands, longing for a united humanity.

‘Overall, it’s a joy to be swept up with this beautiful ensemble who have no trouble working as one.’

Archives of Humanity seems one of Co3’s most full-hearted works to date (since their formation in 2014). It’s a moving offering which is well worth it, and for those who can’t see it in the theatre, it will also be a streamed broadcast on Tuesday 23 February from 7pm Perth-time – don’t miss it!

4½ stars out of 5 ★★★

Archives of Humanity
Co3 Contemporary Dance
Perth Festival 2021
Studio Underground, Perth
19-27 February 2021


Jo Pickup
About the Author
ArtsHub's Arts Feature Writer Jo Pickup is based in Perth. An arts writer and manager, 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, STRUT dance, and the Aboriginal Arts Centre Hub of WA, as well as being a sessional arts lecturer at WAAPA.