CARRIAGEWORKS: Dean Walsh explored questions of extinction, sustainability and biodiversity in this aquatic-themed dance work.
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Dean Walsh is the current Australia Council Dance Fellow. Predominantly Sydney based, since 1991 he has been an integral part of the Australian independent dance community. (You might remember my rave review of his Mirror Mirror at Parramatta Riverside in conjunction with David Clarkson and Stalker Theatre Company last year).

In this new work, a series of short vignettes are drawn together by Walsh’s concern about the environment. His distinct movement style is partly based on the physiology and behaviour of marine species, drawing on scientific research into marine habitats and climate change. The influence of Walsh’s scuba diving training and experience is evident, as well as his explorations into human genetic memory, conservation movements, and major environmental change.

The show opens with a masked fisherman in bright yellow wet weather gear emerging from a bucket and ‘fishing’ for stuff caught in a plastic bag. The entire stage is taped off; the mysterious fisherman cuts a few of the tapes, slightly enlarging and reconfiguring the performance area. As in Gideon Obarzanek’s Connected, tensions in the space are developed and released, as wires (fishing line) connected both to the set and to the fisherman, by a harness, are cut and removed.

The entire small space of Track 8 is used in this production, even the back door. Various statements are projected into the space to help guide our thoughts and understanding of the work and the environmental issues it evokes.

For most of the show, Walsh is masked in various forms, textures and colours; his various sea costumes. Only sometimes do we see his face, see him breathe. Interesting use is made elsewhere of a deep sea diver’s helmet (quite stylized, like a Nolan Ned Kelly) that Walsh dons.

Mysterious deep sea creatures emerge for various sections of the performance and float, growl or roar past us as if observed from a submarine. At times Walsh is like a Frankenstein monster erupting into the audience and challenging them, like a shark viewed up close.

Trim, taught and terrific, he gives an extraordinary performance. His choreography at times involves a lot of floor work; at other times it concentrates particularly on his hands and feet in repeated sculptural phrases of movement. Some of his work is very demanding and angular; in another section he rolls like a floppy puppet or exhausted, acrobatic jellyfish.

There is an extraordinary section where Walsh is wearing a beautiful green dress and performs strong feminine choreography. Challenging, entrancing and mesmerizing, it breaks down imposed gender barriers.

A Butoh influence is evident at times, and therefore also possible links to the De Quincy company and Bodyweather, especially given the work’s concern for the environment.

Kingsley Reeve’s hypnotic, powerful, pulsating score includes sonar submarine beeps and whale calls. Almost all the costumes by Rebecca Bethan Jones and others include full face masks – to increase the sense of alienation and otherness? Interesting use is made of a hoodie top tie as dangling antennae.

There is wonderful atmospheric lighting by Clytie Smith; sometimes an eerie half light, at others like ominous flickering torches as if deep underwater.

Towards the end a creature is trapped in a net and cries. There is paint slowly dripping in a circle from a pierced plastic bag, and Walsh becomes a bird or sea creature caught in an oil spill and unable to move – very sad and brilliantly done.

This work however still has a ‘work in progress’ feel. While there are some amazing, visually fantastic sections, and brilliant dancing, it is strange, unsettling and somehow a trifle unsatisfying.

Choreographed and performed by Dean Walsh
Performance Space
May 19 – 22
Season concluded
Running time: one hour


Sydney Morning Herald: “Sometimes the scenario is as obvious as a pinstripe suit and aggressive mime. More often it is a matter of going with the flow and giving your own interpretations to what you see.”

Lynne Lancaster
About the Author
Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.