The inaugural FRAME Dance Festival stayed true to its aims of representing dance performers from a variety of practices and genders, offering a diversity of performance styles and forms at venues in Melbourne and beyond.
The program included shows, films and workshops in venues ranging from courtyards to galleries to dance studios.
Some offerings were political and academic, others were celebratory. Some told us personal or cultural stories; some had 100 dancers, some had one.
FRAME felt like a community coming together after three very difficult pandemic years for dance and dancers in Melbourne. These are my highlights from the festival.
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In a mesmerizing strange retelling of Lord Vishnu’s transformation into the sorceress MohiniRaina Peterson – a Fijian Indian and English dancer/choreographer – draws us into their sensual, deep-rooted world where they shift from transgender storyteller to demon to Hindu goddess.
True to the classical Indian idiom, their wide-open unblinking eyes, bouncing brows and long articulated fingers guide the story, which opens on a dimly lit stage covered with low billowing clouds.
Peterson is joined by Marco Cher-Gibard, who hits long, loud notes on electric guitar against a background of tinkling chimes.
As the story climaxes with Mohini’s recovery of the elixir of life, there is a visual metamorphosis on stage from quiet monochromatic intimacy to explosive psychedelic rainbow celebration with the projection of a spinning vortex around Peterson’s ecstatic silhouette form.
It is an intense and captivating experience.
In Slip, dancer Rebecca Jensen dresses up as the enigmatic one woman with a pearl earringexposes the illusions created by technology in our daily lives.
The bare stage resembles a workspace with only a sound desk and a scattering of everyday objects. The performance begins with a demonstration of the sound effect technique Foley from Jensen’s collaborator Aviva Endean.
Upon entering, Jensen sits center stage and eats, drinks, and reads a newspaper while Endean makes noises to match her actions. When Jensen eats chips, live and dubbed Endean amusingly crunches on a celery stalk.
This measured synchronicity creates a comforting rhythm – until it gradually begins to slip.
The sound and the action are out of sync. The creaking is accompanied by walking. Walking sounds like water being poured. The artificiality of the sound’s relationship to the action is disturbingly exposed.
The tempo picks up as Jensen and Endean interact with the objects, each other and as animated dancers projected on the back screen.
Slip, an energetic and intellectual work, holds the audience by a thread, never letting go or settling.
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We and all this
In our era of social dysfunction, environmental disasters, pandemics and war, Us and All of This is choreographer Liesel Zink’s meditation on human connectivity.
The sound of loud humming white noise accompanies the 100 very slow moving silent bodies as they fill the forecourt of Arts Center Melbourne one by one.
They stand apart, motionless, looking in different directions and staring into the distance. They represent the breadth of our society: all ages, races, genders and abilities.
A few begin to gently and slowly breathe their arms up and down like wings. They are joined by a few more until everyone is breathing together. Changes in movement begin with a few and gradually ripple through the entire 100 dancers.
As momentum builds, synchronicity breaks down.
Several intense movements are now distributed randomly through the crowd: a very energetic arm wrap, a desperate curl, a twirl with arms fully extended, and a hard push down to the ground. The dancers are engrossed.
Sometimes they move closer together, sometimes further apart. And while they don’t acknowledge each other until the very end, we as audiences are sucked into this immersive experience from the start, feeling like we’re all in it together.
Directed by Michelle Ryan, the diverse dancers of Restless Dance Theater take us on an exploration of the physical, mental and emotional fragility exposed in the face of global turmoil.
A huge screen turns translucent and we see the seven dancers behind it scattered across the stage as they slowly get dressed.
They start to look up as if there’s something they can’t see but they’re afraid of; something invisible but menacing. They start spinning slowly. The screen turns into a lung breathing above their heads. Only now do they begin to see each other.
They are nervous, afraid of each other and of other things we cannot see. This fear develops into emotional despair in some. Others become violent. Still others show signs of physical suffering.
They start trying to help each other.
The screen moves one more time to become a background. The dancers now move with each other, connect, smile, learn to care and accept. The motifs of breathing and physical twisting and rolling throughout the work, together with a serene and repetitive score, create a sense of continuation and inevitability, of a human condition that insists on struggling, that has no choice.
This tender work ends as it began, the dancers parting and turning back in as they undress slowly and silently.
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Somewhere in the beginning
Known as the mother of modern African dance, Senegalese French dancer Germaine Acogny takes us through the constant recurrence of inescapable pasts in a terrifying post-colonial epic.
Directed by Mikael Serre, this multimedia bricolage shifts from the intimate physicality of the weight of a stone on a foot to the museological objective formality of 20th-century film footage and documentary voice-over.
A beaded curtain dividing the stage into a front and back is criss-crossed throughout, representing the movement between different worlds, past and present, African and European.
In a long, gray dress, Acogny moves purposefully and heavily with only a book, a rock, a pillow and a chair to accompany her. We are confronted with a variety of stories: some deeply personal, some culturally shared, and some highly academic.
Themes of identity relentlessly recur in the work, imitating the persistence of the colonial legacy they exemplify. The same story of powder used to whiten faces manifests itself at different times in projection, voice and in scattering it across the stage.
Without lightness or relief, Somewhere at the Beginning demands that we bear witness to the account of tragedy and the persistence of cultural and colonial trauma.
The three-hour marathon celebration of Lucy Guerin’s 21st birthday is a director’s cut of 21 works, re-enacted by 21 dancers moving in and out of all four galleries of the Australian Center for Contemporary Art, along with their audience.
In this shift from obscured theater to white cube, Guerin shows us a version of her work that we have not seen before. We meet the dancers on and off stage: close-up, sweaty and raw. As an audience, we not only see, we are also seen.
The larger main gallery shows a constructed remix of vocabularies with different groups of dancers simultaneously performing excerpts clearly taken from various Guerin works. The movement is at times hyper-energetic, pounding with unexpected growls and screams, and at other times minimal, silent and pedestrian.
The more intimate and dark corner gallery has a program of five duets, while the other two galleries show original footage of all 21 works and a demonstration of the process undertaken by the dancers working with footage to learn the choreography.
With a cast of some of Melbourne’s best-loved dancers including Lilian Steiner, Deanne Butterworth and Melanie Lane, NEWRETRO is a milestone in commemoration of a local female choreographer who has not only produced 21 works in 21 years, but has many supported and guided. others as both dancers and choreographers.
It felt like a very satisfying way to end my FRAME journey.
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