Dance review: I am Carisma

A playful and improvisational tribute to a lost friend.

I Am Carisma by Jonathan Homsey was a wild ride of a dance performance. Elements of staginess blended with emotional vulnerability made for a surprising and provocative show that set out to probe our relationship with the most levelling of all human experiences, death.

The inspiration for the production was the death of Homsey’s friend and Melbourne urban dance luminary, Carisma – an homage to the ways in which she touched lives. 

Homsey chose nine different ‘non-dancer’ community members to come into a spotlight, framed by dancers responding to their monologues with movement. These monologues were autocued on a TV screen and projected onto the back of the stage, game show-style. A capricious script of directions that saw the performers/participants engage with a random medley of objects in a black box kept the pace of the performance, which was ‘expect the unexpected’.

Many of the directions involved using the objects to make ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) sounds in a microphone, or talking to the objects as if they were sentient beings.

While each of the nine speakers were on the podium, an elaborate yet random choreography was undertaken by the dancers: Marnie Newton, MaggZ and Kerttu Luik (aka Keke). The dancers received instructions in their earpieces as they moved to the rhythm of the ASMR sounds, rarely synchronised yet capturing a panoply of moods and emotions. This, Homsey said in an interview, is a kind of ‘choreographic failure’ that he hopes will give audiences and the community permission to be messy and imperfect in their emotions and lives. 

The concept of failure is a tough nut to crack artistically. Yet in failure, a most human of experiences, lies authenticity. Pina Bausch’s assertion ‘I don’t care how you move, I care what moves you’ seemed apt here, as Homsey’s dancers/participants were invited to feel into their bodies with open-ended directions as a guide.

The performance questioned ideas surrounding vulnerability and what we are permitted to share in the space of the stage and, by extension, the arena of life. The audience was challenged to lean into Carisma’s ‘mischievous meditation’, allowing us to feel as well as observe. Cues for the audience – such as ‘audience waits in suspense’ – allowed just the right balance of manipulation and permission to engage in the work in ways that were quite novel for a dance piece.

Humour was used to great effect, as a variety of reminisced scenarios were detailed, from a naked dance battle as a teen to learning Michael Jackson choreography as a child. The dancers did a great job of illustrating the chaos and moments of beauty with their smooth waacking and turning. 

We were left with an address from one of the dancers at the finale, which resounded around the auditorium like the most truthful words ever uttered: ‘Shared happiness is double happiness and shared sadness is half the sadness.’

Read: Dance review: Monsters

A thought-provoking, stirring performance with so much to say about what it is to be human, yet also so much to invite and encourage.

I Am Carisma
Choreographer: Jonathan Homsey
Footscray Community Arts
Dancers: Maggz, Marnie Newton, Kerttu Luik

I am Carisma was performed from 24-27 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.