Dance review: We Are Here

The Asian diaspora experience is captured in tumultuous dance.

We Are Here, choreographed and produced by Jennifer Ma, was a bold and intense exploration of the Asian diasporic experience. It blended costume, lighting, dialogue and physical theatre with dance to immerse audiences. There were moments where the dancers took on a mien and embodiment of absolute agony, in contrast with other moments of ecstasy. Audiences were invited into each dancer’s experiences, which were anything but neutral. It was a work to disturb, provoke and, as the program suggests, ‘place empathy at the forefront’. 

A continued motif in the production was the embrace, as the audience witnessed the dancers caressing their own bodies in the opening moments and enclosing each other before initiating their dancing. The costumes, designed by the dance-inspired Kitty Garry of Self-Perform, highlighted the vulnerability of the dancers, via a soft flesh-toned Lycra leotard and nude linen slacks.

The curved lines of the choreography, coming in and out of embrace, and its variance from slow, anti-gravity movement to explosive bursts of stamping and falling, drew the audience’s attention to each dancer’s internal and external struggle. The repeated phrase ‘I’m trying’ emphasised this.

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‘Half of us is always leaving… while the other half is coming home,’ also spoke deeply to the Asian diasporic experience and was an important moment in the piece, as we are told in voiceover: ‘There is a distance between shorelines where land and water meld together.’

As a dancer of diasporic heritage, I felt deep empathy through this piece for the experiences, both corporeal and emotional that each of the dancers shared. It was a physically confronting piece, with sweat flying, floorboards reverberating and screams echoing through the theatre. A brave and important piece.

As the dancers locked in embrace for the final section of the choreography, they let out hissing noises like pistons and steam, hinting at deflation and exhaustion. We Are Here was a incredibly demanding and heavy piece of dance. Jennifer Ma and collaborators have unflinchingly brought their own stories to the fore, in spaces where they need to be felt and heard. 

We Are Here
Dancehouse, Carlton
Choreographer & Producer: Jennifer Ma
Collaborators & Performers: David Prakash, Gabrielle Fallon, Jareen Wee, Kaitlin Malone, Nak Assa
Original cast members: Daisuke Benson, Alec Steelo
Sound Composer: ML Hall
Poets/Spoken Word Artists: Argo Theoharis, Jaymi-Lee
Lighting Designer: Rachel Lee
Costume Designer: Kitty Garry/Self Perform
Dramaturg: Ari Tampubolon 

We Are Here was performed from 24-27 March 2022

Leila Lois is a dancer and writer of Kurdish and Celtic heritage. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published in Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada by Southerly Journal, LA Review of Books, Honey Literary Journal, Right Now, Delving Into Dance and more.