Dance review: Nocturnal, Subiaco Arts Centre

Four performers plumb the depths of mind and body through states of darkness in this contemporary dance work.
A darkened stage with four performers dressed in black in a simple formation, some are on the floor, others are standing.

Four dancers enter the room and stand alone in separate corners of the darkened stage. Their hands are busied in work as they pore over small objects before them. As one grasps a small potted plant upstage, another, seated just inches away from the audience, carefully sorts sewing needles into perfectly aligned rows. Another arranges a Japanese tea set on a small table, while the fourth handles a gardener’s trowel like it’s the most precious thing on earth.

As we watch these performers fixate on their everyday objects, we see, with great intimacy, the ways we seek to control our lives to overcome anxieties and achieve inner peace.

In Perth/Boorloo-based choreographer Brooke Leeder’s latest work, Nocturnal, her four performers (Nadia Priolo, Natassija Morrow, Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson and Scott Elstermann) take us beyond these everyday routines and psychological rituals, and lead us through darkened states in the still of the night – where our conscious realities are submerged by the shadows, and where entirely different, often transcendent, sensations arise.

The dance (by Leeder) and its sound score – a mesmerising original composition by Louis Frere-Harvey – is rich in detail and varied in form. At times, we see the four dancers moving fluidly in unison to Frere-Harvey’s pulsing, cyclical beats. Then suddenly, they disperse and begin moving slowly with great pathos as the score becomes highly operatic (an excerpt from La Traviata performed by Maria Callas is a recurring motif).

Performer Nadia Priolo in ‘Nocturnal’ by Brooke Leeder & Dancers. Photo: Hannah Bethany Laurent.

These shifts in tone and pace are quite beautiful, but at times, also confusing. Do these intermittent operatic scenes signal a change to these characters’ waking daylight lives? Or are they also part of their interior journeys?

These moments are among the work’s ambiguous elements, but they do not detract from the strong pull of its dynamic score overall. When Frere-Harvey’s rhythmic electronic beats are blended with the opera’s rousing notes they are exquisite and very moving.

The same goes for Leeder’s direction of the work, where her sense of timing, sequencing and rhythmic variations are among its highlights. Especially compelling are a series of looping “dialogues” between the dancers that occurs towards the end of the work. The dancers’ bodies seem to “talk” with each other as they interact – sometimes one on one, sometimes several at a time. They sweep across the stage and cut through the air with expert control, creating mellifluous patterns as they go.

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The final highlight is the lighting design by Kristie Smith. The lighting states assume an important and commanding presence in many parts of this piece, and Smith’s vision thoroughly immerses us in its deep, interior places.

Overall, Nocturnal, like the word itself, has a quiet and slightly mysterious presence. And, just like the night, there are many hidden layers within its kingdom well-worth exploring.

Brooke Leeder & Dancers
PerformersScott Elstermann, Nadia Priolo, Tyrone Earl Lrae Robinson and Natassija Morrow
Dramaturgy: Bernadette Lewis
Original Composition: Louis Frere-Harvey
Choreography: Brooke Leeder & Dancers
Lighting Design: Kristie Smith
Stage Manager: Charley Newton

Until 15 June 2024 at Subiaco Arts Centre, Perth

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).