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Review: Frontera at Carriageworks

Review By Helena Parker

Okay so, I don’t know much about dance. Am I an ex-dancer with a career-ending injury forced into review writing to vicariously live out my crushed dreams through DANCE critique? Not really. But I am here for you. A review for those who are definitively NOT DANCERS...I did ballet when I was five. 

The first thing I heard about Frontera was from an usher friend working at the venue who told me that Frontera is very cool and quite loud. Both of these things are very true. Frontera is very cool. Maybe because dancers and especially experimental dancing sort of oozes coolness (they’re Canadian!) but also because this is quite a hard hitting show. 

The show began in darkness and as the audience filed in we could hear recorded interviews with a wide array of individuals. Some of the audio was crackly, like an old radio, others were as if they were standing next to you. It was hard to understand some of it, the voices overlapped into a soothing ambience, but you could catch phrases such as ‘Checkpoint Charlie’, ’bombs’ and ‘shotguns’. These seemed to be the testaments of those who had fled their countries, perhaps war zones and had experienced first hand the world’s regimented and unyielding approach to borders and boundaries. One man whispered “I had no ideas about the risk or danger only about the idea to go”. 

Frontera deals remorselessly with the concept of boundaries - something that to many is fixed to the point of entrapment or exclusion, but is really invisible and ever shifting. I picked up the phrase ‘Frontera Elastica’, which google tells me is Catalan for ‘Elastic Borders’. This really does sum up the show. 

Brilliant director and choreographer Dana Gringas who is also the Artistic Director of Animals of Distinction, uses light so inventively to carry forth this concept into the show. Throughout the performance a stream of lights like jail-bars strike down onto the stage, dividing it in half, separating the dancers from each other as they furiously pound against this invisible divider. Then suddenly, the border disappears and those on either side are separated no longer, they look just like each other, there is no differentiation. 

But borders are like that aren’t they? So often used to separate and segregate humans from each other, to maintain division, heritage and difference. Not all bad things; border’s denote nations and culture and language. But audio of Trump explaining his ‘wall’ makes us think differently. While this audio plays a wall of light grows from the bottom of the stage, and in front of it a line of women stand, flexing, pointing, guarding with hands on hips, an evocation of macho manliness, highlighting the masculinity that is inherent in systems of power and control. Border’s force us to forget we share more similarities than differences and when the border comes down in Frontera, we see that we are all the same.

At other times in the show, a light like a scanner ominously scans the stage and the dancers melt and freeze beneath it. They are constantly being surveilled by some unknown, inhuman presence watching them at the other end of this machine. Their movements watched, their faces scanned for data. A dystopian idea of course, but a reality for much of the planet - those fleeing their homelands, those living under dictatorships. 

The performance of these dancers meets the high stakes of Gringas’ show. They are powerful and frenetic, but always controlled. In short, from someone who knows nothing of dance, they are mesmerising.

As to the second charge against Frontera (“quite loud”) - this is undeniably true. I, the smart girl in row G wearing my prescription sunglasses instead of my real glasses (left them at home) put my fingers in my ears for 87% of the show like a grandma - due to my friend’s tip off. But those most grievously less informed and cool than myself suffered. I heard some grumblings at the end of the show, so maybe bring ear plugs if you are noise sensitive. There is a heavy metal band in the show, a highly ~ cool ~ addition but some ear drums may be harmed in the process. 

At the end of the Frontera a man’s voice reaches us in a silent moment and he says ‘My God, I am free, I crossed the border. Paradise, you know!’ But the show ends in the same way it began, dancers walking staccato like in a square, trapped, going nowhere, with no end in sight. 

Image Supplied

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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