19th – 23rd February 2020 at The Heath Ledger Centre – Studio Underground
Illuminated by a single bright light overhead, black clad dancers lie in a circle on a white stage. Feet touching, arms relaxed outward above their heads, they form a complex pattern reminiscent of a mandala or a many petalled flower. As the music begins to swell, this sinuous living sculpture comes to life. Movement ripples around the circle in waves—backs arch, arms lift and fall in precise rhythmic progression. The fluidity appears effortless, belying the sheer physicality required of each performer.
‘An exhilarating dance work that explores the beauty and ugliness of the collective experience’, Colossus has within it scope for the individual to relate to it in a deeply personal way. Stephanie Lake, the choreographer, recruited a local group of dancers from Perth who mastered this amazingly intricate work in just two weeks. Together they deliver an immersive, highly-charged experience. The audience engages at an emotional level without the distraction of dialogue. This freedom is part of the attraction of this type of contemporary dance.
The piece was segmented, the first part slower and more visually arresting. The pulsating nature of the dance mirrored the act of breathing. I found my own breath settling into the same rhythm and through this I was drawn in and linked viscerally with the multifaceted organism on stage. The tightness of the choreographed patterns was reminiscent of those created by a kaleidoscope.
The second part was more discordant, both visually and aurally. It questioned notions of leadership and belonging. One memorable sequence brought to mind the idea of the bystander effect. A dancer was singled out and excluded from the collective. The massed group stood and watched uncaring while he struggled alone; his movements dislocated, embodying the disabling nature of social isolation. In this second section, the soundscape was occasionally replaced with hisses and staccato hand clapping and foot stamping to provide the underpinning beat for the dance.
The set was entirely white, a slightly curved backcloth echoing the shape of the opening circle of bodies on the floor. Bosco Shaw’s powerful lighting design augmented the mood created by the performers, at times illuminating a claw handed mob from above, at others throwing multiple overlapping shadows of a single elegant dancer onto the backdrop. This contrasted with black costuming including uniform black fingernails. This last detail accentuated the beauty of collective hand movements and reinforced the visual creation of the whole. This monochromatic palette complemented the themes of the work, the light and dark sides of human nature.
It seems almost churlish to mention the turquoise hair, however, one bird of paradise bright head among the blending and balanced whole subverted the intoxicating symmetry for me. It may have been deliberate—asking us to consider whether our desire for individuality undermines the cohesiveness of society—though this particular dancer did not have one of the many individual roles in the piece. I found it disconcerting as it disrupted the elegance and simplicity of the design and constantly drew the eye.
This performance has left me contemplating all the ways we as humans embrace and reject one another. How we lead and how we often desire simply to follow. The piece truly was ‘colossal’, its imaginative scope bestriding global themes that are relevant to every society on earth. If you want to traverse the breadth of your emotional interiority in a breath-taking 50 minutes, this is for you. You will marvel at sublime beauty and cringe at the potential for cruelty in humankind.
Stephanie Lake’s career in dance and choreography began in Tasmania. She was a founding member of Launceston’s youth dance company, ‘Stompin’. She completed a traineeship with Tasdance, moving to the VCA at the age of 20 and graduating from there in 2000. She founded the Stephanie Lake Company in 2014 with the intention of creating and touring contemporary dance works. She has won numerous awards and toured internationally, collaborating across multiple arts disciplines including theatre, film, music video and sculpture.