Dance review: SITU-8:CITY

Unusual site-specific dance works that respond to a key element from a film.

In what has become a benchmark season of new short works by independent artists, choreographic development centre STRUT Dance, in partnership with contemporary music organisation Tura has, for some years now, invited dance and music artists to work together to develop new in-situ performance works in unexpected places.

These ‘SITU-8’ seasons are built on a strong foundation – offering medley-style annual seasons of diverse works by independent artists in changing locations. It’s an intriguing drawcard for audiences, but it’s also an important opportunity for dance artists and contemporary music makers to be part of a high-calibre mixed-bill show where they can, potentially for the first time, extend their practice into site-specific, responsive works.

For SITU-8’s 2022 season (entitled SITU-8:CITY) curators Sofie Burgoyne (a STRUT co-director), Timothy Green and Ashleigh White have chosen an abandoned mid-century cinema space, hiding down a Perth CBD laneway, as the site for the show.

The dusty, graffiti-strewn old Liberty Theatre is a cavernous multi-level space that has been utilised with great skill by the eight artist teams on the bill. Some of them have created highly compelling, sometimes playful and occasionally bitingly sharp, new dance theatre works.

One standout piece is by Melbourne choreographer Sarah Aiken, who worked with independent composer Alice Humphries to create Demake/Demaster. It’s a solo performance that pairs a mélange of Aiken’s astutely chosen Hollywood film imagery projections with her beautiful movements in real time. 

Aiken’s gestures weave seamlessly in and around her filmed imagery, which is shown on two small screens on the stage. As she moves, the piece raises questions around screen icon worship and our desires to connect with and ultimately embody our superhuman, celebrity heroes. It’s a clever, thought-provoking work that is meticulously delivered.

Performer Sarah Aiken in her work ‘Demake/Demaster‘. Photo: Jed Steele.

Choreographer Tom Mullane’s SITU-8 work Pretty Purgatory also provides well-considered and engaging moments. He performs with accomplices Izzy Leclezio and Estelle Brown, and this trio’s enigmatic moves and inventive use of what was once the cinema’s candy bar reawakens that space in a cheeky new-wave nautical adventure that is never overdone. Instead, it’s witty and delightful, and a fitting score by Em Burrows adds whimsy to this poetic work with its range of synthy beats and percussive melodies.

There is also a sharp script and immaculate performance given by artists Antonio Rinaldi and Celina Hage with their work The Melody Haunts My Reverie. Yet in some other works, the ideas are blurrier – as in Mercury Bones by Olivia Hendy and Kimberley Parkin, and Public Solitude by Bobby Russell. While interesting, the thread of these works is harder to perceive.

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For this reviewer, the most successful offering arrived after a long climb up a steep staircase, with the appearance of two intergalactic space warriors (Georgia Van Gils and Zendra Giraudo), whose large helmets, dark spacesuits and huge black space boots beam with flashlights as they signal and ‘talk’ to each other in a series of mesmerising duets. 

Van Gils and Giraudo sometimes move in sync, sometimes individually, and each routine includes finely crafted movements that bristle with verve and reveal a wry smile underneath. It’s hard not to feel magnetically pulled towards these twin astronauts as they progress their interplanetary missions in earnest. This work, by Sam Coren, is an imaginative and sophisticated take on the history of sci-fi on screen. It’s a winner.

All in all, SITU-8 is (once again) a triumph, and delivers as many surprises as delights. The old halls of the Liberty Theatre are certainly coming alive again thanks to the new freedoms brought into its many spaces by this plethora of adept independent artists.

Strut Dance

The Liberty Theatre, Perth
Tickets: $20-$45

SITU-8:CITY will be performed until 11 November 2022.

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).