Review by Naomi Cardwell
It’s one thing to be notionally aware of the impact social forces have on our destinies and even our identities. It’s another thing entirely to see it play out in living, dancing colour.
Lion Heart Dance Company’s ebullient contemporary dance production Don’t Go stages a nineteen-fifties styled fantasy in which Jemma Craig dazzles in victory rolls and pinup dress, set against Andrew J Liu as the besuited, briefcased masculine archetype. At face value, the story is simple: boy meets girl, boy and girl settle down together, work crushes boy’s soul, girl becomes lonely and alienated - and then the arguing begins.
What’s special about this production is that it takes place in a world where psychology happens on the outside.
Commenting on the six embodied “aspects” featured in this performance, Melbourne choreographer Benjamin Curé remarks, “I wanted to take the experience of one couple and shine it through a prism”. The auteur’s prism refracts a spectrum of six jellybean-coloured dancers who whirl and tumble between the couple, follow Liu like absurd ducklings on his way to work, and fight like cats and dogs as the relationship begins to suffer.
Sometimes these entities work in the couple’s favour - shaking the tired male lead from his post-work stupor to pull his attention to his partner’s body as she bends flirtatiously.
Other times, the figures are mischievous, interrupting the couple’s lovemaking with a ringing telephone, or producing a bottle of liquor as the neglected housewife turns to drink.
Occasionally, they are downright hostile. They insert themselves between the couple, preventing their reconciliation, fluttering and shuddering to stir up whirlwinds of disorder.
In the lead roles, Craig and Liu are a dynamic force, and Liu’s effortless acrobatic style is a highlight of the piece. The ensemble – Amber Gommers, Caitlin Harvey, Lucy Mckenzie-Stripp, Meg Clohessy, Rachel Owens and Stefanie Grogan – share a magical, quirky repartee full of retro charm and arched-eyebrowed mischievousness.
The narrative itself, however, would benefit from a few additional shades. While the cycle of arguing and trying to reconcile is the messy reality of many awful breakups, it leaves the two leads boxed in during the second half with only a few options for facial expression, looping back and forth between grief and anger for several numbers.
The colourful costumes, handmade by Curé and Daniel Ham, are a delightful retrospective of heightened mid-century styling - there are shades of Rosie the Riveter, prim A-line dresses, a fabulous pantsuit and more, all of which shift beautifully under the lights. The lighting and sound design, in a word, is slick, with colours and music melting together and fizzing apart as the story’s temperament changes.
An especially captivating scene involving brightly coloured telephones (complete with curly cords!) is simply gorgeous to watch, and the clever inflection of those phone cords into a Cupid’s bow, a noose, and a halo respectively make for three fabulous tableaus.
An exciting bonus was the opening number presented by Lion Heart’s Company Training Program, showcasing emerging dance artists in a geometric, monochromatic performance accompanied by live song. These dancers could also be seen warming up before the show, clad in black behind a filmy screen of curtains in a balcony over the foyer – all contributing to the lively Juilliard-like atmosphere of the evening.
As a director and choreographer, Curé has developed a motif in his works meditating on the decline and fall of heteronormative relationships under crushing social pressure and highly gendered norms. Don’t Go is an evocative and visually spectacular addition to this body of work, and an excellent showcase for Lion Heart Dance Company as they continue to innovate and set the bar high for Melbourne’s contemporary dance scene.
Image Credit: Pride Productions