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ADT dances with domesticity

Adelaide Festival

Ironing boards, books, sofas and tables become almost like animated objects in Australian Dance Theatre’s latest work, part of a new nature series that will also see the Adelaide company venture into the world of virtual reality.

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Habitus, which will have its world premiere at the Adelaide Festival on February 26, features nine dancers and has been choreographed by Larissa McGowan and ADT artistic director Garry Stewart.

It begins by exploring the relationship between humans and domestic objects.

“In the work, we examine that through inventively and ingeniously examining how we operate and function with the objects,” Stewart says.

“Eventually, the stage becomes covered in domestic objects; there’s an enormous pile of stuff.

“Then this fabric set comes out, a piece of fabric that covers the whole thing and acts like topographies of nature … it’s this concept that everything is reclaimed by nature eventually.”

There is a sense of humour and whimsy in Habitus, with the objects seeming almost like giant puppets being manipulated by the dancers; at times, the dancers themselves also seem like puppets.

The company visited thrift stores to amass hundreds of blue books for the show. The sofas came from Ikea, but had to be specially reinforced to make them heavier and more robust than ordinary couches.

“Now the dancers can hurl themselves at them,” Stewart says. “They get very physical with them and drag them all over the stage in lots of different configurations.

“The kinds of things we do in the show, you can’t really try them at home.”

The ironing boards also get swung around and used as weapons.

Dancing with ironing boards in Habitus. Photo: Chris Herzfeld / Camlight Productions

Dancing with ironing boards in Habitus. Photo: Chris Herzfeld / Camlight Productions

“There’s something really old-school about ironing boards … they’re almost nostalgic. But they’re a wonderful object to work with choreographically; with the legs and hinges, they can in a way stand in for the human body.”

The score is eclectic, ranging from Baroque music and live performance by dancer Tom Fonua, who is also a classical harpist, to original compositions by Brendon Woithe. Soundscapes are based on ambient sounds from a built environment, such a dripping water, creaking floors, and doors opening and closing, which are then amplified and used to create rhythms.

Habitus is the first of a series of planned Australian Dance Theatre works based on ideas surrounding nature, with another – 40-minute dance and music performance The Beginning of Nature ­– to premiere at this year’s WOMADelaide.

Woithe has also created the music for The Beginning of Nature, which will be presented with The Zephyr Quartet and two Indigenous vocalists. The score incorporates aspects of Kaurna language, and the ADT has consulted with Kaurna elders, artists and language specialists.

Stewart says The Beginning of Nature is about the “symphony of over-lapping rhythms” found in nature, such as tidal patterns, migration, hibernation and weather patterns.

“The concepts explored in this work align with the ethos and spirit of the WOMADelaide Festival.”

In recent years, ADT has presented a number of productions that incorporate cutting-edge technology, including last year’s international touring work Multiverse, which combined live dance with 3D graphics and was viewed by audiences through 3D glasses.

Stewart says while technology offers new opportunities for dance, it is time-consuming, expensive and risky, because the outcomes are less predictable.

Less technology also means the focus is more firmly on the dancers.

“That’s the feedback we get from the technology: some people totally love that kind of work and really love the technology and the confluence between the two, and other people really prefer the other works from the company that are much more located in just the dancers on stage.

“I’m certainly enjoying making that as well, without the time-consuming hindrance of technology.

“Technology, when it works well, can be draw-dropping and stunning and can really create a new language for dance on stage, but it’s certainly something that you really have to deal with – it’s not a benign force in the work.”

But ADT certainly hasn’t turned its back on technology. It is now working with local company Jumpgate (which has also collaborated with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra) to create a virtual-reality project based on The Beginning of Nature.

People will be able to download a smartphone app with footage of the dance filmed in different natural locations, such as beaches and national parks. This can then be viewed wearing virtual-reality glasses for a 360-degree experience.

A prototype is being prepared to coincide with the WOMADelaide performance.

“Later on we will turn it into a much bigger project,” Stewart says.

“We’ll probably film in the Flinders Ranges and other parts of South Australia … basically locating a piece made for theatre in natural locations around the state.”

Australian Dance Theatre will present Habitus at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre from February 26 to March 5 as part of the Adelaide Festival. The Beginning of Nature can be seen at WOMADelaide in Botanic Park on March 12 and 14.

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