Dance review: dissolving labels

Drill's young performers question illusion and reality in a beautifully staged new work.

I confess that, till seeing this show, I’d never really thought about the lyrics of Glenn Campbell’s hit ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. Humming along with the chorus and oblivious to the verses, if I thought about the song at all – I didn’t – I assumed it was about someone dressed up in a shimmering cowboy outfit. It isn’t. It’s about a cowboy performer for whom the bespangled outfit is a dream, a goal, the glittering prize toward which they struggle.

It’s hard to imagine a more surprising song with which to open a new work by a contemporary youth dance company. Yet in Drill Performance’s dissolving labels it proves apt in many ways. It proposes an illusion as a reality, an external as the mark of the internal, and questions how the one can lead to the other, or how the two may coexist.

These are knotty questions: questions art wrestles with endlessly, and questions with real world consequences. dissolving labels asks a lot of questions: about identity, labelling, the public and private self, change, illusion and reality, bodies and minds, self-identification and the labels others attach to each of us. It bristles with inquisitorial energy, and any answer begs another question.

It’s a brave work in which the 14 young performers put themselves – and their identities – on the line. There is a daring honesty, made possible by the strong mutual care which the performers bring to the work and to each other. This is one of the major achievements of the work: the sense of mutual support, of genuine empathetic ensemble, which the cast and the directorial team have attained. 

The work is as profligate with choreographic ideas as it is with questions. Sequences pile up, with few getting a thorough examination before being supplanted by another, then another. (Perhaps this is not such a bad thing: better having too much to say than too little or nothing at all!) Only late in the work, in a long and intricate trio, is the choreography given the space and time to expand and breathe. 

Read: Dance review: SandSong

The staging is beautiful. The space – a shed used to welcome tourists off visiting cruise ships – is a vast expanse of uninterrupted polished concrete. With a shimmering slash curtain as backdrop, a handful of lights, and a rich, though unobtrusive, soundscape, the production team have created a strikingly attractive presentation. (No costumier is listed in the credits, but the costuming too is noteworthy.)

The bridge of Rhinestone Cowboy goes:
‘There’ll be a load of compromisin’
On the road to my horizon
But I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me …’

Who knows what compromises may be demanded of these young performers as they continue on their journey as artists and humans? Thus far, they are bravely and proudly standing – or rather dancing – their ground. 

dissolving labels
Drill Performance Company
MAC02, Nipaluna/Hobart
Artistic Director: Isabella Stone
Choreographers/Directors: Isabella Stone, Billie Rankin, Davina Wright and all the performers
Sound Design/Music: Richie Cyngler
Lighting Designer: Chris Jackson
Lighting Operator: Steph Francis
Production: IO Performance
Producer: Cathryn Williams

dissolving labels was performed from 18-20 August 2022

Robert Jarman is a freelance director, performer, writer and designer based in Hobart, Tasmania.