Dance Review: S/WORDS and Unfolding (Adelaide Festival)

Both bills are captivating, revelling in the experimentation and skill that contemporary dance demands.

Lewis Major Projects brings an inventive double bill dance show, Unfolding and S/WORDS to Adelaide Festival. Unfolding shines above S/WORDS with its blend of dance, lighting, visual design and creative coding. S/WORDS has much to be proud of with its immersion of story but pulls back to more traditional use of lighting in comparison to Unfolding. Both bills are captivating, revelling in the experimentation and skill that contemporary dance demands.

Unfolding is a dance that was formed as a lockdown project and so it explores the restriction of space through visual design and movement. It provides subtle commentary on what it means to be trapped in a space and compares it against being part of the space.  Meanwhile, S/WORDS is more forward with its ideas and uses the structure of story to introduce fighting with words and how caring for one another is a rebellious action to aggression. Having the two dances explore ideas differently, keeps the performances interesting and unique from one another.

‘Having the two dances explore ideas differently, keeps the performances interesting and unique from one another.’ 

Unfolding just wouldn’t work without the lighting unlike S/WORDS that could still deliver its message in a bright room. Fausto Brusamolino designs and programs the lights for Unfolding to create moving visual art that the dancers perform inside of.

For instance, one dancer balances a long a beam of light, that with the haze around makes it seems like a bridge. The light shines different patterns and shapes, evolving with the tone of the music while determining the space that the dancers have to move in.  It’s impressive to see visual art made just through light blend and support the dance to the point that neither can exist without the other. The dance is often informed by the shapes that the lights are creating and are the key to understanding the commentary about space.

Read: Dance Review: Structural Dependency by Brooke Leeder (Perth Festival)

S/WORDS lighting is more traditional. Brusamolino balances the mixture of light and dark on stage to create shifting atmosphere of comfort and conflict. This traditional approach works well as it connects with the almost physical theatre style of storytelling that the dancers are using in their choreography. The lighting design does attempt to add so additional interest with a strobe during a lighting design that turns the dancers to silhouettes. Unfortunately, its distracting and feels unnecessary.

Lewis Major’s S/WORDS. Photo by Andrew Beveridge.

The music for Unfolding is electronic at the start and as the ideas evolve from exploring being trapped in the space to being one with the space, it shifts to a traditional gentle piano. It’s perfect for the movements and ideas occurring on stage however, there is a moment where the choreography doesn’t feel connected to it. Loud static blasts from the speakers and even the lighting starts to rapidly change, the dancers’ motions remain at the same pace and style as when the music was calmer. It feels out of place and breaks the connection that has been made between sound, lighting and dance for a moment. Perhaps, this disconnection is the point but it wasn’t pronounced enough to not feel like a mistake.

S/WORDS is bookended with narration that is hard to hear and easily forgotten. It tries to set up the value of words but letting the dance reveal this idea alone may have been more effective as the sense of story is so strong in the performance. The music for this bill is more percussion based and feeds off of battle music, which is perfect for supporting this dance.

Lewis Major’s S/WORDS. Photo by Andrew Beveridge.

Unfolding only features four dancers and each one of them are magnificent. Unfolding uses flowing and precise movements to work with the visual art and music. The dancers feel so connected to each other and the space that they become a complete beautiful moving painting. They are truly dancers at the peak of their craft.

S/WORDS brings a dance troupe to stage to support the sharp, almost militaristic movements that the choreography and ideas demand. The troupe have a mixture of success being so pointed; some are not as sharp as others and instead have a sense of flow. This detail could almost be missed and certainly doesn’t hold back the overall performance as the dance is about the group doing that action rather than the individual.

‘The creativity being used to explore the power of words and space make it a festival highlight.’

Unfolding and S/WORDS borders on perfection with few small details detracting from the performance. However, the creativity being used to explore the power of words and space make it a festival highlight. Contemporary dance should always be pushing at its boundaries and the dancers and creative team have not shied away from this. Unfolding will be remembered for a long time for its exceptional use of programmed lighting and visual art with dance. However, S/WORDS is a strong but a quieter delight as it is more traditional in its storytelling and use of technology.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

S/WORDS and Unfolding
A Double Bill by Lewis Major
Director/Choreographer Lewis Major 

Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

11-14 March 2021


Anita Sanders
About the Author
Anita Sanders is a writer based in South Australia. She has written for radio, print and stage including The City street magazine, Radio Adelaide and South Australian Youth Arts Company. She is a graduate of Flinders University’s Bachelor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) and Deakin University’s Graduate Certificate of Business (Arts & Cultural Management).