Dance review: GLORIA

Ten dancers draw us closer to life’s most essential and magical elements.

GLORIA is a highly-celebrated dance work by the late Aotearoa New Zealand choreographer Douglas Wright, created in 1990. Set to Vivaldi’s most sacred score, it is as much a celebration of life as it is an ode to forces larger than our own existence.

In the hands of Western Australia’s flagship contemporary dance company Co3, who are joined by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) and the St George’s Cathedral Consort, this production is a triumph.

Vivaldi’s enchanting Gloria (1715) was the choreographer’s starting point for the piece, though in previous performances an orchestral recording of the score has always been used. 

In Co3’s remount, the music is played live by members of WASO’s string section and the 16 singers of the St George’s Cathedral Consort. Between them, they bring Vivaldi’s melodies alive in ways that fittingly echo the themes the dancers embody onstage.

The musicians’ presence also brings a visceral human energy to the room. They sing and play just a few metres from parts of the audience, allowing rare and intimate connection with artists who usually perform beyond reach. Their contribution, led by conductor Dr Joseph Nolan, allowed an exquisite verve to infuse the theatre, and was, to my ears, impeccably achieved.

Wright’s choreography is truly worthy of the acclaim it has received. Its expression of human instincts towards joy, pleasure and delight, and revelation of complex human struggles around emotional dependence, attachment and loss remains timeless.

There are points at the music directs the movement in ways that reference Christian worship. Elsewhere, the dance take us gracefully (and often playfully) through human experiences that speak directly of our connections with each other.

A duet between dancers Sean McDonald (an ex-Wright company dancer and one of the work’s original cast members) and Scott Galbraith presents an exquisite emotional crescendo as the pair grapple with a simultaneity of love/hate feelings for one another. It’s a wonderfully baroque moment enacted beautifully through their bodies.

GLORIA‘s 10 performers give their all to this demanding work. Francesca Fenton performs a particularly enigmatic solo, her arms and legs outstretched, her fingers rippling and toes curling in sensuous style. 

In other scenes the ensemble cycles through states of elevation and depth. Their legs scissor in split-jetés with arms reaching for the sky, upper bodies lunging forward, heads diving rapidly before shooting back through their air. They reach impressive height in their many leaps through the space.

Also of note is the work’s lighting. Presumably designer Mark Haslam takes his cues from the work’s original design, and his effects show the performers moving as if they are candle lights – gloriously cast in warm-yellow hues.

A great deal more could be said about this beautifully nuanced production (including the fact that it includes a curtain raiser, Trio by Raewyn Hill and Michael Whaites, also quite lovely). 

Read: Theatre review: The Tempest

The main message overall is that this is an astounding achievement by a small, yet mighty dance company. Douglas Wright and Co3 deliver a full, wholehearted experience that draws us closer to some of life’s most essential and magical elements.

GLORIA, by Douglas Wright after Vivaldi, presented by Co3
Heath Ledger Theatre
Conductor: Dr Joseph Nolan
Choreographer: Douglas Wright
Stager: Megan Adams
Artistic Advisor: Ann Dewey

Costume Designer: Elizabeth Whiting
Costume Maker: Nora Stelter
Production Manager and Lighting Designer: Mark Haslam
Stage Manager: Nadia Shaun
Dancers: Claudia Alessi, Francesca Fenton, Scott Galbraith, Storm Helmore, Alex Kay, Sean Macdonald, Macon Riley, Russell Thorpe, Zachary Wilson, Georgia Van Gils

GLORIA was performed from 14-18 September 2022

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 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 The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).