Dance review: Progress Report, The Substation

A solo performance that interrogates consumerism and waste in society.

The Melbourne premiere of Progress Report was a long time coming, but the wait was well worth it. It was a perfectly executed work that interrogated, at its heart, humans’ love of consumption and the ugly side to our consumerist addiction. 

Created by Adelaide-based artists and long-term collaborators Alison Currie and Alasdair Macindoe, the work began its development in 2017. But, like most performance projects devised in recent years, it had its premiere delayed by COVID. Though eventually presented in 2021 in Adelaide, no one could predict it would take a further two years for its planned presentation in Melbourne to come to fruition.

The choreography worked with the body and, in extension, an ever-growing amount of polystyrene. At first the interaction between body and object was playful – innocent almost. But as the performance continued, the tone shifted and, as the piles of refuse grew ever larger, the tone grew ever more sinister. 

The movement throughout was sharp and precise, yet fluid and emotive. Performed on opening night by dancer Rachel Coulson, the piece presented an apocalyptic world into which it was hard not to be drawn. Progress Report was as much an exercise in voyeurism as it was a study of our own demise. Moments when the fourth wall was broken further endeared this work to its audience. 

As far as calling Progress Report a purely ‘dance work’ goes, this would be reductive. As Progress Report’s lone performer, Coulson delivered with whip-smart, comic timing a monologue that emerged from garbled words, beginning as something akin to a monster from a childhood dream. But this too quickly shattered and moved from the absurd into reality. 

In its own delicately crafted way Progress Report had a clear narrative, which took its audience from past to future tense – detailing the discovery of polystyrene in 1839, to now, when microplastics fill the seas, before moving to a nightmarish future, where trash piles high around us.

A particular highlight of the work saw the performance space devoid of Coulson, when industrial fans kicked in and, in a moment reminiscent of American Beauty, a single plastic bag took centre stage, blowing across the performance space, its rhythmic and random movements caught in the wind and offering a moment of cathartic pause. 

Technically the work as a whole was successful in its deliberate choice of minimal lighting. This made the one moment when projection and black light were incorporated really pop. The sound design created by Sascha Budimski and Alisdair Macindoe, was filled with menacing, rumbling sound, which built with ferocity as the work gravitated toward its crescendo. 

If there’s any criticism, it would be that sound levels towards the end of the performance needed greater attention to detail as some of the monologue became lost under the soundtrack. 

Read: Theatre review: Made in China 2.0, Malthouse

Progress Report may stand out to local audience members, simply due to the fact that it did not quite emulate the style or delivery commonly chosen by those in the Melbourne dance scene. Prior to COVID this difference may have not been so apparent. But as art is always influenced by its surrounds, through the starkly different experiences of COVID that were determined by one’s location, these aesthetic differences are now very much present.

An exceptional and challenging performance, Progress Report was truly magnificent.

Progress Report
Concept/direction/choreography/writing: Alison Currie and Alisdair Macindoe
Soloist: Cazna Brass (2 and 4 March) and Rachel Coulson (1 and 3 March)
Sound design: Sascha Budimski and Alisdair Macindoe
Set, lighting and costume design: Meg Wilson
Producers: Penelope Leishman, Jason Cross and Insite Arts
Choreographic development artists: Lewis Rankin and Kialea-Nadine Williams
Lighting consultant: Matthew Adey
Video and photography: Sam Rober

Progress Report was performed from 1-4 March 2023.

Jessi Ryan (they/them) has been creating performance and exhibitions for the past 20 years, both locally, nationally and abroad- in this time collaborating with a huge number of artists from a broad cross section of cultural backgrounds. As a journalist they have written for and been published by some of Australia’s leading arts and news editorial across the last 10 years-and was recognised as a finalist for Globe Community Media Award in 2021. Ryan has also taken photos for a number of print and online publications.