Friday September 5th 2014
Bangarra Dance Studio, Sydney
Seven performers stand downstage-centre in a line, breathing their spectators in. Still, silent, almost exposed in their passivity, they confront us, yet offer themselves to us. In their contemplative state, they acknowledge us with their gaze, seeming to thank us for coming, for being present. This moment is powerful for its genuine unspoken appreciation and honouring of their audience, themselves and the space around them. The moment seems to hover in the space before us, a poignant reminder that we are simply human beings sharing our time, a piece of our lives, together.
Mother Tongue unites performers of various cultural backgrounds in an engaging interplay of energies – a fusion of eclectic traditional and contemporary movement styles, and powerful musical rhythms. Annalouise Paul’s accomplished work – seven years in the making – aside from being a compassionate affirmation of harmony across languages, ethnicities and cultures, was rather unique. It was invigorating in its detailed attention to human expression and in its fluid interrelationships between disparate yet familiar movement, music and energy. One of the most delightful aspects of the work was the synergistic interweaving of various rhythmic, choreographic and bodily languages which combined to create a flow of powerful spiritual auras. Presented with an attitude of light, youthful and showy competitiveness, the performers danced in a game of who can impress the best. These “play” scenes underscored by a sense of individualism and pride in one’s own culture, were interspersed with others where the cast came together united by cumulative patterns created by voice, body percussion and spirited interaction. This sway between individual and group work was reflective of finding a place for one’s cultural background in a foreign land. The visual spectacle unravelled in dialogue with musician Tim Foley who, providing the beating heart of the work, spoke through percussive instruments including the tabla drums and cymbals, and chanted: At several points, he literally voiced the sacred language of a Hindu God, often orally conversing with the Bharatanatyam dancer.
The assortment of movement styles was captivating. From the gravity-defying, fluid jumps of Patrick “Lucky” Lartey, a traditional West African and contemporary Ghanaian dancer, to the striking flamenco footsteps of Hispanic dancer Geraldine Balcazar, the sinuous strength and control of contemporary-capoeira dancer Gregory Lorunzetti, the intricate precision and expressionist virtuosity of Bharatanatyam (interestingly) male dancer Govind Pillai, the sharp stomps and wild head and eye movements of Torres Strait Islander dancer Andrea Adidi, and the graceful earthy poses and eye gestures of the West Sumatran dancer Aletta Fauzi, it was a joy to watch the communication on stage. With unpretentious costume by Tobhiyah Feller and rich projected imagery (including a rather effective chess board pattern, whose geometric structure was perhaps a subtle reference to the rhythmic framework of life in which we are all bound) by Saranjit Birdi that interacted with mystical lighting by Toby Knyvett, the piece resulted in a reflection of how our shared ancestral knowledges from all corners of the world interrelate, joined in a mutual understanding of mother earth’s rhythm. A contemporaneous interpretation might suggest that it served as a perceptive comment on ethnic identity and a call to focus on our human sameness, rather than an all-too-common fear of the unknown.