Dance review: Tomorrow Makers 5, Dancenorth

An impressive season of four short dance works presented by Dancenorth.

I have seen and reviewed most of Dancenorth’s Tomorrow Makers seasons over the past five years, and this season of four short works clearly outshines its predecessors.

In the past, Tomorrow Makers works have perhaps shown great promise from individual choreographers – and indeed some Dancenorth dancers such as Jenni Large – who have gone on to pursue successful choreographic careers. But while those works have varied greatly in subject matter, quality and potential, the most important factor is that the program overall gives dancers an opportunity to measure their possibilities in an encouraging creative environment – whether through the work of a single dancer or a collaboration.

What is evident in the program for Tomorrow Makers 5 is that these particular works reflect the definitive Dancenorth style, and by being accorded the appropriate production values, are raised to another level. This is particularly true of the impressive lighting design by Yoshie Kenny, a prominent feature of all four works.

Dancenorth’s Associate Artistic Director, Amber Haines, has again curated these four pieces created by six dancers: Damian Meredith, Tiana Lung, Issy Estrella, Felix Sampson, Nelson Earl and Michael Smith. Haines describes the four works as ‘beautifully occupy[ing] fantasy and truth, employing elements of surrealism, post-comedy, mythology and pop culture’.

Consequently, the four works contrast significantly in intention, style, content and mode of delivery. While it’s not possible to discern a particular emergent theme from the quartet, it is evident that the creative techniques – particularly in improvisation – are clear not only in the creative process but also in the performances.

Damian Meredith’s amusing piece Polymorphic Utopia begins the program. This is an exploration of how we make sense of the world and, in doing so, find ‘a plethora of contradicting theories depicting what existence is’.

Delivered in an offbeat and humorous manner, the piece is characterised not only by use of repetitive movement, but also in the creative use of props and extensive use of language and voice. Using humour to make a point is probably one of the most powerful tools at a creator’s disposal, and here Meredith tickles many funny bones – particularly through the use of repeating fatuous everyday words in multiple ways, set to a simpatico techno music score.

The second piece – entitled roach. – is a collaborative piece that has been worked on for some time by Dancenorth’s Tiana Lung, joined by guest Sydney collaborator Issy Estrella, whose presence is supported by Create NSW.

Clearly these two dancers have worked together for a considerable period of time, evidenced by the creative trust and performance ease apparent throughout this duet, which they describe as ‘a solo for two’.

The work begins with powerful cinematic imagery using quick blackouts, showing the dancers in quick successive poses before moving into a fluid and graceful work, which is not without its sense of fun and joy.

The bane of contemporary life is probably the mobile phone and Felix Sampson explores this mundane aspect of pop culture with a tongue-in-cheek piece, Life Gets in the Way. Having a satirical ‘go’ at our habit of being available (and being interrupted) all the time on the phone, he pokes fun at society during the entire piece. 

Life Gets in the Way begins with the dancers moving in graceful unison before a phone rings – and one of the dancers answers it! As each dancer answers a phone – finding them hidden in ever stranger parts of the body – the satire increases as we witness each pointless conversation filled with meaningless words as the dance continues.

Read: Circus review: From Old Things, Circa Cairns

The final piece is a powerful and interesting collaboration between Nelson Earl and Michael Smith, Same Story: Dead, looking at ‘the tents of mythology entwined in the connections between human and god’.

This bizarre and effective piece almost reaches the realms of science fiction, and begins with the two dancers wearing weird latex masks and writhing about half-shadowed, making it difficult to discern their bodies.

Using a soundscape featuring an almost disco beat, the piece employs an eclectic combination of lighting, stage effect, machinery, nudity and grotesque ancient Greek masks to deliver a piece that is oddly dominant.

At least two of the works showcased here could quite easily be included in a touring Dancenorth program, a tribute to the standard on offer.

Tomorrow Makers 5
Presented by Dancenorth
Curator: Amber Haines
Choreography collaborators: Damian Meredith, Tiana Lung, Issy Estrella, Felix Sampson, Nelson Earl and Michael Smith
Dancers: Mario Benjamin, Sabine Crompton-Ward, Nelson Earl, Issy Estrella, Tiana Lung, Damian Meredith, Felix Sampson and Michael Smith
Lighting Design: Yoshie Kenny

Dancenorth Theatre, Townsville QLD

10-12 November 2022

Trevor Keeling has been involved in the arts and creative industries for 40 years in Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. He has been an actor, theatre director, journalist and critic, publisher, broadcaster, music festival director, event manager and arts administrator. Since coming to Australia in 1991, he appeared in numerous productions in Adelaide, and was Festival Director of the Glenelg Jazz Festival for six years. He was General Manager of Dancenorth in Townsville (2005-2006 and 2011-2014) and for three years was CEO of Mirndiyan Gunana Aboriginal Corporation, which included managing the world-renowned Indigenous Mornington Island Dancers. He has worked in urban, regional and remote environments in Australia and has a particular focus on regional arts and the connection to community.