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Underworld at Northcote Town Hall

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by Samsara (subscribe)
I am a director, playwright, and theatre critic with a Masters in Writing for Performance. You can check out my my portfolio and musings at
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Tomorrow bites back
Photo credit: Gregory Lorenzutti

Underworld is the prequel to the 2014 collaboration by Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jensen called Overworld. Underworld has premiered with Darebin Speakeasy at Northcote Town Hall and is on until 9 September.

Overworld was a huge success for this choreographic duo and Underworld seems to continue a conversation for them. Both shows claim inspiration from the Australian 1978 film Long Weekend, which is about a couple who go camping. Their complete disregard of nature sees the animals and environment turn against them. Underworld explores this connection much more closely than its progenitor.

Photo credit: Gregory Lorenzutti

I first came across Sarah Aiken at Dance House where she staged the show Set. I loved everything about this show. In particular, I thought she demonstrated an incredible understanding of objects on stage and concepts of perspective and spatial relationship. Her enjoyment of working with props in space has evidently continued and there is no shortage of non-human elements in Underworld.

Photo credit: Gregory Lorenzutti

This creative duo have recently returned from an intensive creative research program in Europe. During their time there they explored rave dance styles and this research is also present in Underworld.

As they did in Overworld, two other dancers have been invited to work in Underworld. Joined by Louella Hogan and Claire Leske, there is a symmetry constantly explored both through the staging and the choreography. There is a fun correspondence of intention and result as Hogan and Leske enter the performance as shadows/apprentices to Jensen and Aiken. Paralleling this literality is the meta-commentary that we learn our behaviours from each other but aping is not necessarily a good thing.

Photo credit: Gregory Lorenzutti

Underworld is rich in the themes of the movie which inspired it and explores how disconnected humanity has become from nature. Unlike the film though, it is not nature which threatens their existence - it is the unnatural elements such as the plastics and the aerosols. The beautiful commentary of a camping trip to get back to nature in which they bring all their cosmopolitan elements including tents, cooktops, chicken from a supermarket, and bug spray (!) is absolutely irresistible. It is no wonder the tent spawns its own young. And is that cooking chicken I smell or the roasting of human flesh as Jensen tans her way to disaster?

The dance has been constructed as broken narrative and for me this is the biggest weakness. The segues are clunky and I am not convinced you can call a string of related ideas a narrative as such. Underworld is a strong idea and very on point with the environmental concerns dominating humankind right now. There is a bit too much going on but the stylistic and thematic connections to Overworld are clear and this is an important conversation to have with the community.

3 Stars

Photo credit: Gregory Lorenzutti
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Why? See what the future holds if we don't change our ways.
When: 31 August - 9 September 2017
Where: Northcote Town Hall
Cost: From $22
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