Dance review: The Other Side, Campbelltown Arts Centre

What's on the other side and how do we get there?

The Other Side is the latest contemporary dance work commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre. Created by choreographer and performer Brianna Kell in collaboration with Sydney noise band Party Dozen and visual artist Jodie Whalen, The Other Side combines epic and minimalist aesthetics to genuinely explore the possibilities of live performance.

Kell is frank in her program notes about the collaboration’s interest in using improvisation to generate experiences of connection and transcendence – to get to the other side. The question lingers though – to the other side of what? To the other side of normality, restricted ways of being, numbness? There was a tangible sense of struggle throughout the work, of being up against something, which the impressive force of Kell’s presence and the surges of sound conjured by Party Dozen seemed to organise against – and definite moments where their effort glistened with the possibility of something ‘other’ – something other beyond the sum of the parts.

The work began with an immense wall of sound. Its physicality was invigorating. Kell stood atop a speaker seeming to absorb its energy. Kirsty Tickle and Jonathan Boulet of Party Dozen were stationed upstage producing the penetrating and enveloping sound.

This set-up, in which Party Dozen offered a sonic world that Kell physically responded to, introduced the structure of the work and it played out in an almost concert-like experience with brief ruptures as the performers reset between songs. 

In what feels like the second track – or world – the trio took a more gradual approach in their attempts to journey to the other side. Kell accumulated movements, looping back through gestures, deepening her connection to Tickle and Boulet. This restraint paid off and gave rise to an affecting moment in which Kell seemed genuinely moved by the same force driving the sound. Kell’s movements here were effortless, lightning quick and delightful.

Numerous tracks followed, each coloured with evolving visual elements and choreographic focuses. In one the stage was flooded with red light and thick haze, while Kell furled and unfurled on a low plane. In another, a somewhat nostalgic tune emanated from Tickle’s saxophone as she and Kell attempted to align the rhythm of their breath. Later, Kell emerged in a queenlike gown and, gesturing toward the installation inhabiting one corner of the theatre, momentarily merged with this cascade of similarly shimmery surfaces. 

These visual elements had the feeling of a tightly reined in penchant for glam. The reflective exterior of the installation was reproduced briefly on different walls using projection. The surfaces, which reflected rather than permitted the passage of light, offered a possible metaphor for the resistant thresholds that Kell and Party Dozen aimed to transgress. 

In the final act, the repetition of the format began to feel a little stretched, but fortunately something subtle shifted in Kell’s performance (possibly a product of the structure’s repetition) and I found myself unexpectedly moved. A self-reflexiveness emerged and, as she executed some classic big dance moves in her attempt to meet the massiveness of Party Dozen’s sound, there was a glance and knowingness that communicated her sensation of physical satisfaction – and weariness too.

Somehow this slightly more nuanced mode of performing, which looped the audience in to the effort of the undertaking, allowed me to feel my own kind of embodied shift. I guess this was part of the magic and challenge of working with improvisation. The process of attunement and decision-making was played out before the audience. 

Read: Dance review: Progress Report, The Substation

At all moments throughout The Other Side, Kell was a joy to watch and commandingly negotiated the challenge set for herself. However, the vulnerability that emerged in the final section offered a more permeable surface and I realised we too were invited not just to witness, but to experience the possibilities of the other side. 

The Other Side
Created by Brianna Kell, Party Dozen and Jodie Whalen
Campbelltown Arts Centre, NSW

The Other Side was performed from 23-25 February 2023

Rhiannon is an Australian dancer and choreographer who grew up on Dunghutti Land on the Mid-North Coast of NSW. Working from Gadigal Land (Sydney), Rhiannon makes contributions to community and culture through choreography, performance, teaching, research and curation. She has developed her choreographic practice through residency, commission and presentation opportunities throughout Australia, South-East Asia, Europe and North America and has presented her work in contexts such as Sydney Festival, Dance Massive, Dancehouse, Baltic Circle International Theatre Festival (Helsinki), Dance Nucleus (Singapore), and Movement Research at The Judson Church (New York City) among others. Rhiannon recently completed a Masters of Philosophy in Creative Arts researching the idea of Embodied Ecological Awareness; continues to co-curate the performance-lecture series Talking Bodies; and is a part-time lecturer in dance at the Australian College of Physical Education.