Dance review: Dance X part 3

Dance as reflection and provocation in the last of the commissioned series.

Dance X part 3 was the third and last iteration of the Australian Ballet’s commissioning series of dance pieces from a selection of companies and performers.

The evening opened with a performance of Daniel Riley’s The Third, by Australian Dance Theatre, a rare offering in Melbourne’s dance scene, and they electrified the stage. Wearing earthy coloured shirts and loose pants, this dancers wove and collided in this abstract work, performing exceptionally natural floor work to music by composer, Sascha Budimski. The connectivity between the dancers, as they set out to explore the relationship between the Western archive and a First Nations archive, was distinct. They rolled and glided across each other’s bodies to a transfixing glowing backlight (kudos to lighting designer, Lucy Mitchell) as if weaving their stories and working these out in the process. They relived memories as individuals and as a collective.

Riley’s creation was first shown at this year’s RISING festival in Melbourne, and made a welcome return for the night’s celebration of national dance companies, facilitated by The Australian Ballet. Dance X really has been an opportunity for the Australian dance scene to celebrate its diversity and luminosity. 

The second part of the evening was a new commission, extending Antony Hamilton’s 2019 work, Token Armies, which explores dialogue between human and non-human (mechanical) beings. Kyall Shanks was superb as the controller of an otherworldly robotic structure, with long tendril-like arms. The surprise, when Shanks emerged from the machine, was like a moment in futuristic cinema – the blinding lights revealing the human behind the mechanised structure. Extreme lighting, clinical white costumes and tight formation gave this piece impact. 

The third offering was Alice Topp’s new choreography, Solstice. Resident choreographer at the Australian Ballet, Topp has been prolific in her intricate creations for the ballet’s contemporary bill the past year or so, showing exceptional originality and affectivity. Solstice, a duet for Samara Merrick and Jake Mangakahia, was inspired by the concept in physics, where the sun is furthest away or closest to the earth, and, by implication, what draws us together and pulls us apart in human connection.

The expression of this was seen in the graceful wrapping and embracing of Merrick around Mangakahia’s body, in unique ways, requiring great flexibility and synergy.

Following on was Imposter, a piece choreographed by Lucas Jervies to Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, which saw a quartet of violinists Sophia Kirsanova , Zoe Black, Jenny Khafagi and Sulki Yu enter the stage, with the dancers emulating the drive and tension of their strings impressively, or dancing like marionettes controlled by a master.

The final offering of the evening, Gudirr Guddirr, brought to new audiences a piece that was first performed by Marrugeku at Dance Massive festival in 2013. It was a startling creation exploring the embodied experience of dancer Dalisa Pigram in collaboration with director and dramaturg Rachael Swain. The piece artfully oscillated between tragedy and comedy as Pigram related, through her voice and body, the painful, complex challenges of growing up with racism in Australia as an Asian-Indigenous woman.

The aerial skills she displayed while hanging from fishing net on stage, swooping down into a near nosedive, were breath-taking, describing also the elliptical movement of the wading bird whose Indigenous name is the title of the piece. The terrible experiences her people continue to endure were relayed in her soliloquy as she rolled across the stage, her repeated refrain ‘the time is now’ reminding us that colonialism is a project, not an event, and stirring us to consider our complicities in such abject inhumanity – timely, given the tragic news of the killing of Cassius Turvey coming out of Western Australia recently.  

The standing ovation, after this ending, showed the power of dance to be a reflection of what is going on in society, and a welcome provocation to change that.  

Dance X Part 3
Arts Centre Melbourne
Australian Dance Theatre: The Third
Chunky Move: AB_TA_Response*
The Australian Ballet: Alice Topp Solstice and Lucas Jervies Imposter
Marrugeku: Gudirr Gudirr

Dance X part 3 was performed from 29 October to 1 November 2022.

Leila Lois is a dancer and writer of Kurdish and Celtic heritage. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published in Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada by Southerly Journal, LA Review of Books, Honey Literary Journal, Right Now, Delving Into Dance and more.