Dance review: Arkadia, RISING Festival, The Substation

An imaginative dance opera by choreographer Melanie Lane.
A dancer stands posed, arms outstretched and slightly crouched. She holds an arrow in her teeth. Behind her is a dramatic, green-tinted photograph of the sun depicting several solar flares.

Arkadia is an imaginative, mythic exploration of a garden of paradise and the creatures that inhabit it through different times. Melanie Lane’s ambitious dance opera explores many themes and features some beautiful performances from the dancers. It does suffer from some issues at the beginning and the end that prevent it from fulfilling its full potential. When things come together, however, there are some memorably choreographed sequences that are well worth seeing.

The show gets off to a slow start, but improves significantly in the second half. The audience is welcomed to an atmospheric beginning of time with a blazing sun projected on the background of the stage. The mood is set but the first few sequences are unengaging, feeling like a warm-up for what is to come. The action picks up as the show develops and the second half has some beautifully choreographed and performed sequences. The ensemble is very good and when they work together in pairs or as a group the dancing is mesmerising. When they are split apart across the large stage the show loses focus and it is harder to follow. The use of props such as swords, bows and high heeled boots work well, and it is when these start to come in that the show increases intensity and quality.

The accompanying soundtrack by Clark is a highlight of the production and an excellent accompaniment to the performers on stage. The set is imaginative and makes good use of the space. There is a pool of water set at the back of the stage, which provides for some of the more memorable imagery when the performers interact with it. Setting the pool so far back, however, does make it harder for the audience to see; it may have been better to have it more in the foreground. The lighting and sound design really add to the atmosphere of the garden paradise. The futuristic costumes are well designed and give an alien-like atmosphere to the dancers.

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The video projections at the back of the stage also work well when there is a steady object to focus on, such as the sun at the beginning of the work. The projections at times have seemingly random objects slowly moving closer and these are quite distracting, drawing attention away from the action on stage. These may have been intended to add some humour to the show, but they don’t work.

The ending, when it comes, is quite abrupt and catches the audience by surprise. The conclusion does make logical sense narratively, but could perhaps be done in a way that signals it more successfully to the audience. There are some beautifully choreographed sequences, and the dancers are excellent. A more engaging start and a clearer ending would help this show reach its potential.

Choreographer and Director: Melanie Lane
Performers: Rachel Coulson, Tyrel Dulvarie, Benjamin Hancock, Samuel Harnett-Welk and Georgia Rudd
Set and Costume Designer: Eugyeene Teh
Video Design and Animation: Kim Laughton
Lighting Designer: Bosco Shaw
Composer: Clark
Original Set Design Concept: Marg Horwell
Production Manager: Cecily Raby
Video Technician: Yandell Walton
Producer: Freya Waterson
Producing Assistant: Chelsea Byrne
Costume Design Intern: Oliver Hall

Tickets: $45-$50

Arkadia will be performed until 8 June 2024 at The Substation, Newport.

Kim Hitchcock is a freelance writer based in Melbourne who has an interest in all art forms and enjoys exploring them locally and abroad. He has completed a Master of Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne and can be reached at