Australian Dance Theatre: Be Your Self (redux)

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Friday 8 September 2017, 8pm at Frankston Arts Centre main theatre

Conceived, directed and choreographed by Garry Stuart

Images courtesy of Australian Dance Theatre

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Photo by Chris Herzfeld

If you could go on a journey inside your own body, what would it look like and what would it sound like?

Australian Dance Theatre’s production of Be Your Self sets the tone of this journey with a bare, white stage, white clothing and rumbling drones. A woman, actor Cathy Adamek, begins narrating an unbelievably detailed and unrelenting medical-book description of the slow motion of a single dancer’s leg. The audience cannot help but think, “How can so many complex processes and body parts be engaged in this one simple movement?” From here, the audience is taken from this cold, clinical space of the ‘operating theatre’ on the stage, and deep into the familiar, yet alien landscapes of the inner human body.

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Confronted with a soundscape to match, the dancers throw themselves into organised successions of movements emulating heartbeats, laboured breathing, squelching and squeezing of liquid, electrical impulses and stiff creaking noises. Many of the movements are rapid and sharp, followed by moments of stillness like the pulsing of blood or convulsing of cells deep within the body.

As the soundtrack begins to introduce coughing, muffled speech and traffic noises, the audience is made aware of distant happenings outside the body. There is a vague notion that the life within the body is separate from the life going on outside. The narrator returns to the stage with another impressive recitation of biological concepts and lists the inner parts that make an ‘I am’: “I am 6 trillion brain cells…I am my urine, my faeces, my sweat.” The recitation combined with the music suggests that the body has awareness of itself, and the dancers twist and contort on the stage floor in response.

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The rough, almost violent movement of the dancers at times, is enhanced by the use of cold blue light and the increasing variety of hard, digital pulsing sounds and metallic, industrial machine sounds. The human body is portrayed as having qualities of a machine with the sharp, angular dancing in this section. Violent coughing, gasping and choking become part of the pulsing dance. It is repulsive at times, but is somehow familiar and induces an overwhelming fascination of the body and the complex processes happening within it. It is mesmerising.

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The dance becomes increasingly hypnotic as it evolves into the biology of feelings and sexuality. Motion is made against the poetic recitation of biological chemicals that generate human feelings, and stilted, pulsing, ‘micro movement’ of the dancers induces a rhythmic, entrancing effect. This robotic motion loosens up as rave music becomes more melodic, and sexual pelvic thrusts change to fluid, emotional expressions of embrace and care. As the dance becomes an expression of social dynamics, cultural expression, looking, observing, fighting, dancing for joy and working together as a group, there is a sense of arriving at the ‘real’ qualities of the human being, not just the mechanics and chemicals of physiology. A spotlight then shines out into the crowd drawing the audience into the experience, merging mind and body in the medium of light.

The lighting and music in this production is simple, yet highly effective. It firmly grounds the brilliant performances of the dancers whose displays of strength, resilience and stamina are as engaging as their artistry and expression. Although the word ‘redux’ explains that this show has been distilled from the original dance theatre production, all seven of the dancers are of muscular body types suited to this incredibly demanding routine. Be Your Self is a 60 minute adrenaline ride, which clearly engaged the large proportion of young people in the audience who cheered and hooted in appreciation at the end.

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The abstract nature of the performance, Be Your Self and the marketing team at Frankston Arts Centre successfully drew in a high percentage of audience members, particularly new audiences, engaged in the immediacy of self-discovery. Naturally,  this theme of self-exploration, coupled with the vibrancy and youth of the dancers, caters to the interests of young people in the community, and generous ticket prices, enabled all to attend.

Why is it important to get young people interested in the arts? The arts provide a unique avenue for exploring what it means to be human. They allow people to witness complex artistic expression in which they can relate the difficulties and joys of their lived and felt experiences. Watching a master dancer or other artist can give someone a sense of shared emotional connection and a positive and creative outlet to place the feelings that nothing else can express. These qualities enable young people to develop balanced emotional states and resilience, engage in culture that connects them positively to others and fosters a pathway towards a successful life and a positive, creative contribution to society. The arts, especially performances like Australian Dance Theatre’s production of Be Your Self, provide an imaginative and engaging space for people of all ages, but also, particularly for the young, to explore who they are.

Copyright © 2017 Jade Barker