Dance Review: Wayfinder, Perth Festival

A dance work where colour and sound collide to spark both contemplative and euphoric energies.
A female dancer in white and grey costume stands in front of a colourful stringy sculpture against a black background.

Dancenorth Artistic Director Kyle Page has previously described the company’s uber-exuberant dance work Wayfinder, which premiered in 2022 and which he choreographed with Dancenorth’s Associate Artistic Director Amber Haines, as ‘a tonic for our times’.

After its 2024 Perth Festival season opening night (29 February), it was clear that most, if not all, of the audience did indeed feel hugely revitalised and on emotional highs as a result of the work’s generous energies.

To a certain extent I was one of those happy people, but these feelings were tempered by some doubts I was left with about the work’s structure, which seems patchy in parts, and occasionally, lacking in purpose.

Those quibbles aside, Wayfinder has a great number of strengths, thanks in large part to the superpowers of its cohesive and articulate cast of nine dancers who show us the luminance of the living world over time, and remind us of the beauty and interconnectedness of all beings within this fabric.

As the dancers journey across eons of time and space, they often move as one organism, like a new breed of break-dancers being swayed by invisible forces. But the suppleness of their bodies means they never jerk or twitch. Rather they slither, slide and bend their way across the open stage (which is brightly lit by Niklas Pajanti).

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Occasionally, they burst into smiles (a rare thing in the normally blank-faced genre of contemporary dance but, in this case, it’s a welcome sign of how exhilarating dancing can be).

All performers are costumed according to different colours on the light spectrum and, on opening night, Wayfinder’s “white light” figure was dancer Marlo Benjamin. When under the solo spotlight she did not disappoint, but the whole cast (comprising Benjamin alongside Sabine Crompton-Ward, Tiana Lung, Damian Meredith, Callum Mooney, Darci O’Rourke, Felix Sampson, Tara Jade Samaya and Michael Smith) were incredible, and all gave the show its resonant force.

The set and costumes are by visual artist Hiromi Tango (in collaboration with countless knitting volunteers from across Queensland who lovingly stitched miles of wool). Layered onto Tango’s rainbows of colour is Byron J Scullion’s intricate sound design, which draws on music composed by Australian electronic neo-soul band Hiatus Kaiyote. These audioscapes add complexity and otherworldliness to key moments, and are definitely another highlight of the piece.

But structurally, and somewhat ironically for a work that involves so much stitching, some of its scenes aren’t threaded together so well. Parts of it feel like short “best of” dance clips that are placed together for no reason – a conceptual ambiguity that wouldn’t be an issue if there was greater connective flow between each of these sequences.

That said, Wayfinder’s desires to enliven our senses and help centre our spirits in what can feel like a dark world is well-delivered, and it’s easy to become immersed in its ever-changing landscapes and lively combustions of colour and form.

Wayfinder at Perth Festival.
Concept, Director and Choreography: Amber Haines and Kyle Page
Performers and Choreographers: Marlo Benjamin, Sabine Crompton-Ward, Tiana Lung, Damian Meredith, Callum Mooney, Darci O’Rourke, Felix Sampson, Tara Jade Samaya, Michael Smith
Lighting Designer: Niklas Pajanti
Composer: Hiatus Kaiyote
Sound Artist and Designer: Byron J Scullin
Sound Sculpture Design, Construction and Implementation: Robert Larsen and Nicholas Roux
Visual Designer: Hiromi Tango
Design Associate: Chloe Greaves
Design Assistant: Jeanette Hutchinson
Polyrhythmic Consultant: Naomi Jean

Season runs until Sunday 3 March 2023

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).