Adelaide Fringe. Karul Projects. Ngunyawayiti Space (Tandanya Theatre). 5 Mar 2020
Let’s begin this slowly… four dancers are onstage for this exploration of what it means to be Aboriginal in the present day. The man enters first, tribal, dappled light, back to the audience, and gets dressed. The women join in, one by one. T-shirts and stretch wear is the dress code. The audience, very modest in size, are lightly framed by the haze of the smoke machine and are silenced by the music; rich and textured and tonal.
Composition and choreography is by Thomas E.S. Kelly, who is also a dancer. This is, in a very real way, his story and his performance. As the dance unfolds, singular expression coalesces into ensemble work, then slides back to the individual form. The four move together, and against each other, waves of motion which beguile, occasionally set against each other in the tidal movement of the piece.
This is dance work of the highest quality; the narrative is clear and yet the simple components of the piece require some teasing out. We can follow the story without understanding each and every motion. If a rigid forefinger and cocked thumb indicate a pistol, then this becomes a dance of incursion and violence.
The music pulsates with the energy of the dancers’ physicality, sometimes too much so. This is hybrid dance, neither tribal nor western. Brolga dance steps are incorporated into a more contemporary hip-hop motif, effortlessly. It is not flawless, far from it, but it is the most assured and beautifully realised piece of contemporary dance I have seen in many years.
Kelly has cut his designs in the dance as if with a knife, paring away superfluous movement almost completely. This is assured choreography, the result reinforces the narrative, the school scene is easily deciphered. For me the signature moment came with a harsh light bisecting the stage diagonally, silhouetting three sets of bare feet, perfectly poised for a brief second or two. It made me think of footsteps being laid down upon the land for the first time.
(Mis)Conceive is simply magnificent.
When: 5 to 14 Mar
Where: Ngunyawayiti Space (Tandanya Theatre)