Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
An abstract and poetic dance show
Still Frame is Lion Heart Dance Company's first major show of 2019, consisting of two works: Without Words choreographed by company director Benjamin Curé, and Your Story by rising company choreographer Debbie Keenan. It is an abstract and poetic show, and the two works within it are standalone pieces in every respect. Your Story is performed by Andrew J Liu, Debbie Keenan, Meg Clohessy and Nadia Vickery, and Without Words is performed by the same cast plus Rach Whelan.
The first work, Curé's Without Words, is set to instrumental music and is the more abstract of the two works. It is designed to express through dance those moments and experiences that words are inadequate to describe. It explores a variety of themes ranging from nature and the physical world, to emotional responses within ourselves, to the impact of our interactions with everything and everyone around us. Curé's choreography is masterful and poetic, and the cast of performers execute his vision with near-perfect skill and grace.
There are several sequences and moments within this work that make an impact. The opening sequence, synchronized and repetitive, reminiscent of nature and plants and growth and perhaps evolution, immediately draws the audience into a universe that transcends a human-centric perspective. The performers appear to be one with nature and display beautiful physical instincts that are anything but anthropomorphized. This sequence progresses into one which returns us into the human world, but without losing the context of the bigger picture. Andrew J Liu is seen labouring through slow and complex choreography, mostly in the background, while the other performers compete for attention in the foreground with simpler, more energetic, and more repetitive choreography. This was a mildly chaotic but thought-provoking sequence, prompting me to reflect on what is lost when we divert our attention away from our inner complexity towards the noise outside.
The choreography grows progressively more intricate and complex, involving finer exchanges between the dancers, peaking in an incredible moment where one dancer is seen gracefully reaching into the sky, her feet perched delicately upon another dancer's body, who supports her with impressive strength and balance. There is another sequence (one of my favourites) with Nadia Vickery in the lead, where the background is lit in a stunning ocean blue and the dancers create a magical underwater vibe, sometimes appearing as synchronized swimmers, sometimes depicting natural marine life, and sometimes portraying a human experience at the water's edge. The climactic sequence in Without Words makes beautiful use of an ordered-chaos effect, with the performers filling the space and playing dramatically off each other's energies and cues.
Keenan's work Your Story is a complete contrast, firmly grounded in human (young adult) experiences, and uses music, dance styles and a stage set up which appropriately reflects that. Where Without Words used costumes that were all black and stylized with asymmetrical cuts, Your Story uses white costumes which are very contemporary and real world. Where Without Words relied on dramatic background screen lighting and silhouette effects, instrumental music with nature sounds, and used no props, Your Story uses a black curtain background, much more standard lighting, contemporary mainstream-feel music with lyrics that inform the interpretation of the piece, and mirrors on stands which are often removed and creatively used as repeating props throughout the piece.
Your Story is a pleasant and entertaining piece, and while somewhat thought-provoking in its own way, is definitely the more fun of the two works. While it doesn't seem to have a coherent narrative that strings all its sequences together, it does have a relatable quality to it, including everyday scenarios and fun pop culture references, such as the floss dance. The audience is invited to see themselves in the performance, both metaphorically by the events and experiences depicted, and literally, by the dancers holding up mirrors that allow the audience to see themselves in the surfaces that also reflect the dancers' faces.
On the whole, Still Frame is a show with a lot to offer whether you're looking for an abstract and reflective experience, or an entertaining and relatable one. All the dancers' performances are skilful and emotive, with Andrew J Liu and Nadia Vickery's facial and bodily expressiveness being a particular highlight for me. Without Words is certainly the weightier of the two pieces, and I felt that perhaps the full impact of the beautiful choreography was held back a little by limitations in the music, but Your Story provided a refreshing "reset" in the second half, and brought balance to the work as a whole.