REVIEW: Decadance Perth 2016 | STRUT Dance



Decadance Perth 2016

Review by Cicely Binford


STRUT Dance‘s Paul Selwyn Norton has brought Deca Dance to Perth again, two years on from Batsheva Dance Company‘s appearance at Perth International Arts Festival in 2014. This time around, Deca Dance, now Decadance Perth 2016, is performed by 16 independent dancers from all around Australia who have been training in the unique dance language developed by Decadance creator Ohad Naharin called Gaga. The piece comes to The State Theatre Centre of WA as part of MoveMe Festival 2016 with a unique edit of the original work for STRUT.

The evening begins with a single dancer on stage while the audience trickles into the theatre; he’s moving about in a manner that doesn’t immediately demand attention – the audience chats amongst themselves, checks in on social media, takes phone calls. After all, the house lights are up, so there’s no reason to rush into spectator mode; however, the dancer is certainly putting in a lot of effort, and one wonders if he’s worn himself out before the show even begins. Then the house lights come down, the music changes, and one by one, the rest of the company enters the stage to some kitschy lounge music. They each twitch and gyrate in contained fashion, like a coterie of socially awkward individuals with a secret desire to dance in public.

strut-decadanceA series of eclectic pieces follows, performed to an often dizzying multi-national soundtrack full of surprises and juxtapositions when paired with the choreography. Goldfrapp’s “Train” backs a tight-formation group dance; a happy hardcore cover version of “Over the Rainbow” that sees the company drift one by one into the audience to pull participants onto stage for one of the show’s highlights. At first, the participants dance timidly to the manic techno beat, but eventually one audience member gets right into the spirit, mirroring the company dancers who are flailing, kicking and bouncing about with abandon. The audience erupts with cheers, and those left behind to watch were probably wishing there was room for them up on stage too. The mood changes slightly, and we’re in for a tango with Dean Martin, some of it two-left-footed due to the range of talents seen onstage, but nevertheless sultry, sassy and a little bit sexy. One particular audience member is singled out by one of the dancers, and he treats her to her own ‘private’ dance as the rest of the audience participants move back to their seats. She plays the part beautifully, gets right into the mood, and practically steals the show. The curtain drops, and the audience is left energised, full of joy, laughter and anticipation for what’s to come.

The curtain rises again to another of Decadance’s feature works: “Echad Mi Yodea.” The traditional Passover song covered by Israeli band Nikmat HaTraktor (or Tractor’s Revenge in English) serves as the soundtrack to this engrossing piece which sees the company using chairs set in an arc formation across the stage as the base for this distinct dance. The song is cumulative, with each verse building on the last, and so is the dance. As each round of the dance proceeds, the dancers lose another item of clothing by flinging them centre stage. At the end of each verse, they join in the chorus, their bodies heaving as they sing. The last dancer on the row, instead of flinging his clothing, prostrates himself, then crawls backward to his seat for the next sequence.

The final main work sees the whole company again on stage in their alternative costumes (which consist of trousers and tees or camisoles in earthy, autumnal colours), queued up in three juxtaposed lines. The center line begins by each of the dancers coming forward, one by one, raising their shirts to show us their ribcage, and moving to the back of the line, as if they’re in an army physical exam. Slowly, as each line of dancers starts to participate, things become more and more exaggerated, each dancer filing through with increasingly more extreme, grotesque and no-holds-barred movement. It becomes impossible to keep track of everyone as they file through, and perhaps this is symbolic, depending on one’s interpretation.

In any case, the piece has an enormous effect on the audience, and the standing ovations and cheers go on for several minutes. Decadance’s power to draw in the audience stands unique in the world; its Gaga language establishes a direct circuit between the dancers and the audience. Through Naharin’s technique of self-research, the dancers go within themselves to find intention, which in turn makes them more open and immediate in performance. And for this reason, STRUT certainly has the opportunity to open up contemporary dance performance in Perth to new audiences with works in a similar vein, rich with complexity, vitality, humour and the pure joy of dance. Here’s hoping they keep it going.