Dance review: Leviathan, Drill Performance, Hobart

Grace and control in abundance but an ultimately uneven performance.

Drill Performance is Hobart’s youth dance company, and Leviathan has been developed by the young dancers in collaboration with three choreographers: Isabella Stone, Drill’s Artistic Director, with Angela Barnard and Bethany Reece.

Leviathan is abstract, the pleasure laying in its emotional suggestiveness. The first half is controlled, and mesmerising. The young dancers make subtle shifts between brittleness and supple ease. They are sinuous and sculptural; molten and marble. 

Now fast-flowing, now sluggish, the work pulses in lapping, tidal movement. Like a frieze on an antique vase, bodies stretch and entwine in elegant lines … fold origami-like into twisting clumps … unravel in sinuous cascades. 

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The dispersion of the many dancers across the stage is finely judged. The punctuating solos/duos are confidently and classily executed. This is complex, sophisticated, and very attractive work.

Admirably supporting the entire show, but particularly effective in this first half, is the lighting of Chris Jackson. Playing with exaggerated chiaroscuro, he draws out the sculptural elegance of these graceful bodies in empty space. Jonathan Dieckfoss’s music supports the ebbing, flowing rhythms of the work, carrying it on auditory waves of expressiveness.

The first half segues neatly into a brief interlude of filmed images which culminate in projected flames – suggestive of climate change? Bush fires? This gives way to a second half that contrasts glaringly with the preceding. Where the first half is elusive, suggestive and beautiful, the second half of Leviathan is didactic, and in need of editing.

Plastic detritus is scattered across the stage; the dancers themselves are adorned, robed and in some cases thoroughly encased in plastic. This could be read as a statement on our plastic-logged oceans and polluted lands, or a horrific vision of (to quote the programme) ‘what the world might feel and look like well after we’ve all left.’ The idea is underdeveloped; once established, there is no progression. The contributions of lighting and music are more passive, even if the crackling of bubble-wrap under foot does add interesting aural texture.

A few minutes from the end, the company’s energy is channelled into highly choreographed body-pumping dance: a stark and over-processed contrast with the free-flowing inventiveness of the first half. 

Leviathan brings together 23 members of the Drill junior and senior companies. The ensemble members range in age from early teens to early 20s. The work showcases the impact Drill has on these young dancers’ development as artists. Even the youngest self-assuredly occupy the limelight in both ensembles and solos, whilst the older dancers demonstrate grace and sustained control. All 23 perform with joy, own the stage and, most importantly, own the work: that, ultimately, is the strength of Leviathan and, surely, the proudest accomplishment of Drill.

Leviathan, Drill Performance
The Studio, Theatre Royal, Hobart
Artistic Director: Isabella Stone
Choreographers: Isabella Stone, Angela Barnard, Bethany Reece, and the performers

Composer: Jonathan Dieckfoss / Electrolyte Orchestra
Lighting Designer: Chris Jackson
Animation: Sarah Sim and Phoebe Zoe Ho

Leviathan was performed from 26-28 August 2021

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