Dancers crash down ‘undemocratic’ walls of birth

Dancers crash down ‘undemocratic’ walls of birth

January 8, 2019

A seven-metre long wall cuts the set of the contemporary dance performance Dust in two, obscuring the view of some members of the audience, and not others. The monolith stands for only the first five to eight minutes but it's a deliberate device calling attention to what the creators regard as ''the lottery of birth''.

''The world is undemocratic, we can't pretend everyone has an equal opportunity or equally challenges and for us it was really important that from the beginning of the show that's quite established and explicit,'' says Dust co-creator Kyle Page.

The thematic motif of one versus many is enhanced by a solo dancer on one side of the wall and the rest of the six dancers on the other.

Amber Haines (left) and Kyle Page (right) co-directors of the Sydney Festival contemporary dance production, Dust.Credit:Kate Geraghty

''What's interesting for us is not only is [sight] restricted there are also moments [some audience members] get to see that no one else gets to see,'' Page says. ''So with the restriction comes opportunity; comes this privileged perspective unique to the few.''

Billed as an investigation of the architecture of personal, social, political and cultural inheritance, Dust is the work of Page and Amber Haines, partners in dance and life.

It was commissioned to tour major Australian festivals including the 19-day Sydney Festival which launches on Wednesday with an ambitious program of music, theatre, and visual arts, curated by Wesley Enoch.

This year's festival celebrates the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with free art installations at Darling Harbour, Barangaroo, and World Square, and features a collaboration Beware of Pity by Berlin's Schaubuhne and the UK's Complicite and this Page-Haines' Dancenorth production at Carriageworks.

The concept came about when Haines fell pregnant to son Jasper, now almost two years old. ''We were really curious about the world in which into which he would be born, and it got us thinking about the world into which we were born and all the systems and structures that shape and govern our experience of life, and how aware we are of its existence,'' Page said.

The couple spent three weeks teasing out ideas with the show's collaborators from the set designers to lighting technicians and dancers and then worked through improvised to choreographed movements, with no one person limited to their silo of expertise.

The wall is not meant to be the Berlin Wall or the Wailing Wall. ''The wall is symbolic of walls of all time, '' says  Haines. ''It's the tension between the ambiguous and the familiar. We're trying to make thought-provoking shows that are not just spoon-fed entertainment.''

Page, artistic director of Dancenorth, came to dance as an eight-year-old when he became ''the first white kid to join Jangarra'', an all-indigenous dance group led by Warren Mundine.

Haines, associate artistic director of Dancenorth, practiced ballet but she found it too stifling. ''I always wanted to be more creative and do more, and then when I was 19 I was introduced to contemporary dance and went to my first class and never went back.''

The couple met dancing at the Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide and started creating their own work including the acclaimed work Spectra which premiered in 2015 for Dancenorth, the company they help lead.

''For Amber and I there's something nice about creating entertainment that is not just for the audiences of today but for the citizens of tomorrow.''

Dust runs from January 9 to 13. 

Festival  Highlight:

January 9: La Passion de Simone

Festival kicks off today with the Australian premiere of this contemporary French opera about philosopher, activist, and mystic Simone Weil, who died at age 34 in 1943. The Sydney Chamber Opera performs music never before heard in Australia inspired by the tragic story of Weil, described by Albert Camus as "the only great spirit of our times".

Carriageworks, January 9-11

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