Reviewed by Revelly Robinson

An audacious collaboration testing the limits of human physical form.

Split into two halves, Sydney Dance Company’s collaboration with Taiwan’s Cloud Gate 2 is a tour de force of complex manoeuvres and moody music that does its utmost to demonstrate the extremes of human physicality. In two distinct pieces, Orb flummoxes, thrashes and connives its way into the human consciousness leaving a unique impression on each individual. Notwithstanding its idiosyncrasies, the opening night of the production at Canberra Theatre on 25 May was greeted with rapturous applause, a resounding affirmation of the city’s appreciation of theatrical entertainment that veers on the more experimental side. Featuring eight dancers apiece, the challenging choreography highlights the exceptional talent of all members of the Sydney Dance Company, as each performs the most excruciating moves with amazing agility and ease.

Opening with an eclectic composition by Lim Giong, the first dance, Full Moon, is a sparsely staged piece that seems intent on distinguishing independent movements of each of the dancers, rather than binding them to a coherent theme. The moves are fast paced and frantic. Accompanied by staccato rhythms, a duo desperately giving chase to each other amongst the midst of other dancers herald the first few scenes. As the spotlight rotates to each of the other dancers, however, the novelty of the performance fades as it becomes difficult to appreciate any cohesion between the various solos. The costume design accentuates the lack of uniformity with each player dressed in a distinct outfit bearing little resemblance to the next, the most incongruous costume being the bright red plumage dress, a standout among the other grey and blue garbs. Drawing on spiritual influences, choreographer Cheng Tsung-Lung draws on the ethereal in piecing together disparate elements for the production. Two dancers hanging their heads down like mops, one dancer walking duck-like around the stage, a dancer spinning to no end in the background. At one stage the black backdrop rises revealing a framed white rectangle of light, perhaps foreshadowing ascendance to a higher frame. Combined with the at times less than melodic ringing of bells and grating sound of an object dropping on a hard floor, the result is a bewildering experience that leaves one to question whether modern dance can really be appreciated by the mainstream audience.

For the second set, Ocho, Sydney Dance Theatre Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela choreographs another avant-garde piece in a post-industrial setting. Opening with pulses of light exposing a bleak concrete set, piercing electronic beats set the tone for a confronting performance. The eight dancers are revealed in a glass box, contained together but mesmerised in their own world. Dressed sparely in variations of sports gear, the street theme of the production preludes each performer’s dislocation in a more contemporary setting. One by one each dancer leaves the box, starting with an impressive solo performance by an underwear and jacket clad man. As all the dancers bar one congregate outside the box, one woman is left behind, peering out forlornly as the music gradually takes charge of her body. Eventually she remains as the sole performer and delivers an exquisite and captivating performance, wrenching herself to and fro in the box in perfect unison to the music. Towards the end of the piece, the music by Nick Wales shifts from electronica to traditional Indigenous chanting as the final curtain descends on the troupe moving as one to the words of Rrawun Maymuru. It’s a fitting finale to a solemn but enchanting performance.

Orb does not hesitate to push the boundaries of contemporary dance. The show boasts an impressive repertoire of dance moves that will leave the audience in awe of the dancers’ skills. Although the provocative nature of the production will not suit everyone’s taste, witnessing the vibrancy and nimbleness of the dancers is nonetheless a rewarding experience.

Performed at Canberra Theatre, 25 to 27 May

Image credit: Pedro Greig

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