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Dancers channel their inner aliens


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Watching films in the Alien and Predator sci-fi franchises was required research for performers in contemporary dance piece Fanatic.

After all, how else could they learn how extra-terrestrials move?

Fanatic – created by Adelaide choreographer Larissa McGowan and described as an “inter-stellar showdown” between Alien and Predator – is part of Sydney Dance Company triple bill De Novo, currently touring South Australia.

“You’ve got to watch the movies to embody the characters,” Sydney Dance Company (SDC) member Jesse Scales, formerly of Adelaide, says of the piece.

“I think all the dancers that dance it know the soundtrack off by heart now.”

While the two other works in De Novo – SDC artistic director Rafael Bonachela’s Emergence and Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman’s Cacti – feature the full 16-member ensemble, there are just three dancers in Fanatic.

Company members alternate in the roles, some of which involve miming soundbites from the Alien and Predator films, and the piece is set in the lounge-room of a disillusioned movie fan

“It’s pop culture, so it’s not so modern ‘dancy artsy’ … and it’s based on a film, which is really quite different to do,” says Scales, who portrays both an alien and Sigourney Weaver’s tough astronaut character Ellen Ripley.

She says Fanatic employs a different type of movement to many contemporary dance works – very “hands-on” with lots of tumbling. But it’s one with which she is familiar, having worked with McGowan at Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) when she was a teenager.

Scales, who started dancing at just three years old, had her first professional stage experience with the ADT at the age of six after successfully auditioning with a friend for a Meryl Tankard work.

“We put on our ballet shoes and pranced around as little flowers.

“I knew I wanted to be on stage and performing things from then on, because it was such an amazing feeling … to hear the audience take a breath in when the curtain came up.”

She later trained with Terry Simpson in Adelaide, had her desire to be a professional dancer cemented when she won an Adelaide Festival Centre Green Room grant to study in New York with the Complexions Dance Company, then went on to major in classical ballet at the New Zealand School of Dance.

“I started out wanting to be a ballerina, but when I started doing contemporary dance I found I could express myself a lot more through that … I liked the opportunities I had with choreography as well,” she says.

Scales is now in her third year with the Sydney Dance Company. She was nominated for a Helpmann Award for best female dancer for her performance in Quintett, and last danced in Adelaide during the company’s tour of 2 One Another.

She relishes the fact that Bonachela encourages his dancers to share their ideas and have an input into creating new works such as Emergence.

One of the challenges he set them for Emergence was exploring fractals – complex and ever-evolving patterns such as those found in snowflakes. In a video about the piece, Bonachela says it is “about patterns, about chaos, about complexity and how there is an elegance about complexity”.

Emergence was also born of his desire to collaborate with composer Nick Wales and singer-songerwriter Sarah Blasko, who have created an original soundtrack for the work, as well as with Australian fashion designer Dion Lee, who designed the costumes.

““It’s really beautiful,” Scales says of the music. “Even though I dance to it for about six hours every day, I can’t stop listening to it.”

Music is also integral to the third work in De Novo, Cacti, which is accompanied by a live string quartet with whom the dancers interact. Incorporating a potted cacti and a cat called Fluffy, this highly physical and humorous work is described as a “subversive commentary on the pretentions of contemporary dance”.

“They are all very different,” Scales says of the three works that make up De Novo. “It keeps the audience on their toes.”

The Sydney Dance Company is currently touring De Novo through regional South Australia, with performances in Renmark tomorrow (Wednesday) and Mt Gambier on Saturday, then at the Adelaide Festival Centre from August 6-8.


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