Riverside Theatre, Parramatta
Season: 13 - 16 May
Bookings: http://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/rotunda/ or 8839 3399
From across the ditch, 8 dancers of the New Zealand Dance Company have travelled to Sydney to tell a story through contemporary dance inspired by the ANZACs, in the form of Rotunda. This is fitting considering the relationship shared during WWI and thus the interlinked national stories to be told. The artists incorporate excitement, humour, devastation and grief into the performance to create an all-encompassing work reflecting emotions of those involved in WWI.
The audience enters the theatre to see a strip of fabric hanging from the ceiling, with names of those who fought projected onto it in red. This introduction sets a tone for the performance before it even begins. Once the music commences and a dancer enters the stage, the fabric drops from the ceiling and a host of industrial fans scattered around the stage power on. The fabric delicately billows across the stage, the dancer interacting with the unpredictable movements of the material. The audience could sense that the dancer was responding and reacting to the fabric, unable to anticipate where or how it would move next. I was engrossed by the rawness of the performer and the fragility of the fabric’s motion.
The Dance Company was paired with the City of Holroyd Brass Band, a traditional form of music characteristic of WWI, an unusual coupling of the past and the present. I have never seen contemporary dance performed with brass music before, so this was a novel feature of the performance. Synergy between the dancers, the conductor and the band percussionist added an interesting dynamic and good-spirited humour.
The Brass Band did not play for the entirety of the performance, however. Some dances were performed in silence, only broken by breath and mutterings from the dancers. This directorial decision exhibits boldness and a confidence in the dancers to carry the performance without reliance on music, a confidence that was well warranted. I was intrigued by the way the dancer’s personalities shone through, not only utilising their physicalisation and musicality to tell a story, but also facial expression and occasionally voice, primarily in the form of sound effects. This took shape in a lovely dance with the four male dancers, where they stole the conductor’s mace and proceeded to play out a myriad of imaginary uses for the mace, mimicking actions of warfare. The light-hearted perception of war was communicated before the soldiers actually set out to the war front.
A strong New Zealand flair permeated the production, in its incorporation of humour to communicate a devastating story, as well as in its cultural heritage. As yet another example of the dancers utilising other methods to communicate the story, one female dancer led the chorus in a Waiata without music to rely on, producing a single voice resonating throughout the theatre, later joined by all of the performers. The male dancers performed a war haka as the soldiers prepared for warfare, which was a chilling addition to the performance and appropriate considering cultural traditions.
Considering tonight is Rotunda’s final performance at the Riverside Theatre, it would be well worthwhile to attend. Whether you are a regular contemporary dance patron or a contemporary dance newbie, Rotunda presents a story that is highly accessible and understandable. This production invites emotional exploration regarding the ANZAC experience through an innovative medium, as the performance ignites a deep sense of empathy within those who take part.