Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Contemporary and jazz dance with universal human themes
Lion Heart Dance Company's latest show Clash is playing at Chapel off Chapel from September 6-8. It consists of two distinct works, Clash and Alight, both choreographed by company director Benjamin Cure, and featuring a talented cast of dancers (Benjamin Cure, Darcy Goodall, Debbie Keenan, Gabby Camerlengo, Jemma Craig, Jodie Toogood, Meg Clohessy, Nadia Vickery, Olivia Lucas, Rachel Whelan, Rachel Owens and Stephanie Grogan). Both works run for approximately 25 minutes each, separated by a 20 minute interval.
The titular work, Clash, is a playful, high contrast, somewhat retro-style piece which depicts an abstract yet universal story of polarized groups attempting to share space. Think West Side Story, but happier. In matching turtleneck tank tops and pants, the cast start out as one big group, filling the stage with energetic dance moves, complemented by dynamic, dramatic lighting. It soon becomes evident that there are two distinct groups within this cast, in colour-inverted costumes, dancing in two distinct styles. The group wearing white tops are contemporary dancers, emotive, expressive, seemingly intoxicated with the freedom and fluidity of their style, which also seems to mark their identity. The group in black tops are jazz dancers, equally emotive and expressive, yet with a focus on sharpness and technique, holding every position of their bodies with precision and pride. The clash between styles spills into a clash between groups, and the work escalates into a very human drama where first a wall is assembled to decisively separate the two groups, and then breaches are made in the wall to facilitate renewed contact, ultimately ending in a spirited reconciliation.
The premise of this work is simple and universal, yet its execution is far from unoriginal. There are moments of real curiosity and suspense, especially when both groups are dancing in their own divided spaces, yet unable to turn their faces away from the wall, clearly fixated with what might be happening on the other side. When one contemporary dancer decides to (quite literally) push boundaries and wander into the other side, the music changes pace and tone, and there's a moment of uncertainty, a fear of hostility. However, this one act of reaching out creates a ripple effect that enables others to respond and reach out in their own ways, until both groups come to a place of sharing what they've got with each other, and yet without compromising their individuality.
The second work, Alight, while completely different in structure, feel, and form, shares a common thread with the first work - the theme of reaching out and finding meaning in connection. Alight is a touching work, slower-paced and more emotionally intense than Clash. It is built on the theme of loneliness, and comes from Cure's own struggles with loneliness, as he reveals in his Director's Note. The choreography in this piece exquisitely encapsulates the experiences of someone who is surrounded by other people, and yet unable to break into a group, unable to fit in. The weight and vulnerability of this work is beautifully expressed through the use of minimal yet impactful lighting - for most of this work, the stage is in darkness and the only lights in use are hand-held props. The dancers begin with small hand-held lights of different colours, which illuminate different parts of their graceful bodies and faces as the protagonist wanders among them with his own distinct but non-conforming light, wondering where it fits in. The small lights make way for larger ones, and the subtle exclusion becomes more pronounced, manifesting as rejection. However, as in Clash, one act of reaching out facilitates pathways to acceptance and inclusion within the wider group, and the illusion of "perfect lives" falls away to reveal that everyone's reaching for light in their own way.
Clash is a beautifully choreographed show that is simultaneously simple and layered, and combines aesthetic beauty with human authenticity. The dancers (and in particular Cure as the lead in Alight) express a unique dichotomy of the performer and the person, which allows the audience to connect with the performance not only visually but also emotionally. What we see on stage is an honest and emotive expression of the human experience which, despite being crafted and rehearsed, is laid bare and not concealed behind a mask. Lion Heart Dance Company's stated mission is to "create art that moves the heart", and with this show they certainly succeed.