Next Wave Festival presents a strong dance debut that suggests a brilliant future.
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Image: Thomas E.S. Kelly in [MIS]CONCEIVE; Photograph by Amanda James.

[MIS]CONCEIVE is a dance-theatre work by Thomas E.S. Kelly that challenges the idea that knowledge automatically translates to comprehension.

Dancers move in the dark, individually then in unison. In repetition then seemingly at random. For the first quarter of this performance the viewer is left to interpret not only the meaning of the movements but the reason for the lack of light. This is a risky beginning but Kelly’s dynamic phrasing, which combines rhythmic and fluid elements of modern style with intimate movements of traditional Aboriginal dance keep the audience captivated.

Minimal lighting and a bare stage again set up a challenging task for Kelly and his three dancers over the next 45 minutes. The electronic score is penetrating and suits the visual style. But at times it becomes leaden and drones a little too long in places. And so it came as quick relief when Kelly addressed the audience, leaping from dancer to lecturer in one loose movement.

Reflecting on nationalistic word associations, in particular ‘Chinese Whispers’, Kelly delved into the multiply origin stories of the phrase before the audience was set a task to complete a round of the ‘gossip’ game. But the interaction fell short of expectations and the purpose of the exercise unfortunately got lost in translation.

Notwithstanding the blip and acknowledgement that ‘it’s only the second time we’ve done this’ the quartet thrust back to what they do best. Dance.

Swooping, diving, slapping and thumping the entire stage is used well drawing the audience into the struggle of placement that Kelly’s performers relate so well. The inclusion of the single prop grey hoodie is used to brilliant effect allowing multiple interpretations. In mass media, youth, and in this specific instance Aboriginal youth, are often depicted in a hoodie and categorised as delinquents. Kelly’s intelligent prop offers a double-edged sword here. Are they wearing it to hide? Or are they forced to wear it? Is it a symbol of inclusion or division, empowerment or destruction?

Once again the dancers speak. The challenge of contemporary dance to clearly transmit the meaning of a performance has of late seen the increased introduction of spoken segments. This dialogue can be welcomed and provide new dimensions and clarity or it can just get in the way. In this case, the “over-speak” is too literal and perhaps not required.

In saying that, a voiceover of Kelly speaks of the misconception of his cultural background via his overseas travels. He uses humour to great effect and underscores people’s ingrained concept of class hierarchy. When asked his background he is meet with outright disbelief. ‘You’re not!’ And a hope for anything better than Aboriginal is blindly vomited from traveller’s mouths. It’s thought provoking and challenges society’s internal racism.

[MIS]CONCEIVE delivers on arguing that ‘knowledge does not equal comprehension’ but the few times spent away from dance fell away a little bit. But this can be developed. Overall, [MIS]CONCEIVE’s power is in the riveting choreography and dance performance. Fierce and exciting, I’m eager to see what Kelly will do next.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5 


Choreographer, Performer & Composer: Thomas E.S. Kelly
Performers & Collaborators: Taree Sansbury, Natalie Pelarek and Caleena Sansbury

Next Wave Festival
Northcote Town Hall, 189 High St, Northcote
17 – 22 May



Anthony Rebelo
About the Author
Anthony Rebelo is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. He has studied at RMIT University and is currently working on a novel. 
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