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Review: Australian Dance Theatre’s Ignition


The talents of a new breed of Adelaide choreographers are on display in this showcase of works inspired by history – from the “human zoos” of the 18th and 19th century to the excesses of the aristocracy in 1700s France.

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Australian Dance Theatre artistic director Garry Stewart suggested “history” as the theme for this series of new dance works by young choreographers, the intention being to present personal and human responses to history rather than academic analyses.

Five choreographers – Matte Roffe, Thomas Fonua, Erin Fowler, Katrina Lazaroff and Lina Limosani – are fortunate to be able to work with very talented dancers from the ADT ensemble.

In Woolf!,   Roffe has the dancers capture the spirit of the film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? through a smoky haze before a large tiled mirror, as snippets of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor play. The dancing is passionate, inventive and engaging.

Lazaroff’s Caught in Past Tense is a fantasy of the reversal of time, and it beautifully displays miscommunication, misunderstanding, conflict and contradictions in memory.

Epoch, by Fowler, explores history being constructed through memory. The dancers are dressed in black in a line upstage, with their subtle movements reminiscent of old-time still photography that recorded one individual’s sequence of movement frame by frame. Each dancer progresses forward as shafts of light illuminate their way; the dancers perform solo, in duets with variations on a theme, and in unison as an ensemble.

The company is energetic and exciting as the music reaches a crescendo, and are finally grouped in one spot as the lights dim and they reach to the sky. Epoch is a magnificent and memorable piece.

The Village, by Fonua, is an insight into 18th and 19th-century “human zoos”. It is staggering, almost inconceivable, to think that former colonial masters used to take indigenous people to Europe and put them on display; one disgusting exhibit had Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy, in an enclosure with chimpanzees and apes. Australian indigenous people were taken to England for similar displays.

Felix Sampson and Thomas Fonua in The Village. Photo: Tony Lewis

Felix Sampson and Thomas Fonua in The Village. Photo: Tony Lewis

The dancers in The Village convey the fear of people removed from their environment, the humiliation of being displayed for the entertainment of others, and the desperation for freedom. They use their long hair to good purpose in an emotional and moving piece.

In One’s Wicked Ways, Limosani manages to retell the story of the French Revolution in 30 minutes. What better way to demonstrate the excesses and the indulgent nature of high society with a propensity towards perverse pleasure and gluttony than through 18th-century aristocratic France?

Outrageous oversized wigs, mini-skirt hoop petticoats, panniers, breeches and embroidered coats in white, against white faces, present a comical, absurd and obnoxious image. The dancers’ athletic antics – including simulated sex, ribald minuets and ridiculous parlour games – are simultaneously entertaining and repulsive.

In contrast, a lone citizen, humbly dressed, speaks political polemic in fragmented French, Italian and Australian until he is able to ultimately destroy the courtly figures. One’s Wicked Ways is much more than an historical image of a bygone era; it also is a salient reminder that any political group that becomes too removed from the people will itself be removed.

This production marks a welcome the return of the Ignition program after a five-year hiatus. It also celebrates a new collaboration between ADT and the Adelaide College of the Arts, where professional dancers are able to mentor those in training.

Ignition: History displays the skills of a wonderful ensemble of dancers and showcases the talents of a new breed of choreographers who have shown themselves to be insightful, compassionate, intelligent. In the near future, we should continue to witness more works that are visually beautiful and that stimulate the intelligence and all the senses.

Australian Dance Theatre is presenting Ignition: History at the Adelaide College of the Arts, Light Square, until July 16.

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