Dance Review: SILENCE, His Majesty’s Theatre, WA

SILENCE is a plea for treaty in dance form with drum-heavy soundscapes and a clever use of comedy.

SILENCE is a 60-minute plea for treaty in dance form, calling for sovereignty through physical storytelling, dynamic movement and powerful drum-heavy soundscapes. Written, choreographed and performed by Thomas E S Kelly, this innovative work combines humour, history and heart to carve itself space in ongoing conversations surrounding the post-colonisation stories and struggles of Blak communities.

Created by Karul Projects, an emerging First Nations professional contemporary dance company, SILENCE begins abruptly with a boomerang, some comic innuendo and audible audience amusement.

An engaging monologue and rhythmic tapping from percussion composer/performer, Jhindu-Pedro Lawrie, propels a tableau of dancers across the stage, engulfed by pulsating spotlights. The performance progresses from kinetic explorations of lore to sovereignty-themed rap songs, interspersed with occasional comedy, calls for treaty and a generous serving of drums.

Musically stripped back, yet anything but barren, Lawrie’s percussion and Sam Pankhurst’s sound design jointly carry the weight of a shape-shifting narrative. Hypnotic drumming, low-toned humming and varied vocalisations swim between converging spotlights.

Kelly’s choreography merges elements of traditional Indigenous and contemporary dance with aspects of the natural world and intangible attitudinal expressions. Mounds, trickles and clouds of sand feature prominently onstage, strengthening connections between bodies of land and the bodies of those who inhabit it.

Hands beat the stage like echoing heartbeats, framing old conversations in new ways. Beneath the sound of a single drum, performers bare their chests in a nod to iconic footballer, Nicky Winmar, and his 1993 display of defiance.

Dissonant tones create vague discomfort, underlining the disorientation inherent to circular issues and cyclical conversations, artfully expressed as dances of laborious frustration, with hints of hope and rebellion. In one memorable moment, seven dancers stand at the edge of the stage, silently sending their screams into the void above the audience. 

The jarring tone of a ringing phone signals the shifting of gears from dance to sketch comedy, as a landlord calls to collect on a few hundred years of back-debt. Drawing parallels between squatting and colonisation, this satirical exchange climaxes in the theatrical subversion of a specific slogan, ironically repurposed as an affirmation of reclamation. 

Words battle against a percussive cacophony to express raw sentiment, visually emphasised by frenetic movement, fog and dramatic shafts of coloured light. Karen Norris’ considered lighting complements the measured movement, raw physicality and expressive floorwork of the performers. Similarly, Selene Cochrane’s understated costume design favours layered streetwear, complete with backpacks and beanies, which transition through stages of textual symbolism before nestling into a sense of visual cohesion to subtly encapsulate a sense of triumphant unification during the final few moments. 

Structurally fragmentary and narratively fluid, this innovative work functions as an artistic journey of emotion, movement, music and meaning. Clear in its purpose, strong in its message and fierce in its delivery, SILENCE will be sure to leave its mark on ongoing conversations concerning sovereignty, power, recognition and Aboriginal voice.

Read: Exhibition review: Characters, Hayden’s Gallery

Irreverent but deadly serious, this provocative performance achieves every aim it sets out to accomplish.

Presented by Karul Projects
Produced by BlakDance

Choreographer/Writer: Thomas E S Kelly (Minjungbal-Yugambeh, Wiradjuri and Ni-Vanuatu)
Rehearsal Director: Taree Sansbury (Kaurna, Narrunga and Ngarrindjerri) 
Choreographic Dramaturg: Vicki Van Hout (Wiradjuri)
Dramaturg: Alethea Beetson (Kabi Kabi/Gubbi Gubbi and Wiradjuri)
Percussion Composer/Performer: Jhindu-Pedro Lawrie (Mirning and Wuthathi)
Music/Sound Designer: Sam Pankhurst
Lighting Designer: Karen Norris 
Costume Designer: Selene Cochrane
Performers: Thomas E S Kelly, Taree Sansbury, Jhindu-Pedro Lawrie, Benjin Maza (Yidindji, Birri Gubba, Meriam Mer and Tanna Island), Glory Tuohy-Daniell (Indjalandji-Dhidhanu and Alyewarre), Keia McGrady (Githabul Migunberri-Yugumbeh), Olivia Adams (Wulli Wulli), Tamara Bouman (Birpai)

SILENCE was performed in in Perth at His Majesty’s Theatre on 1-2 May 2024 and will be touring to the Sydney Opera House from 8-11 May 2024.

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.