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Review: Halcyon at Brisbane Powerhouse

Review by Gemma Keliher

From conception to performance, Jack Lister’s Halcyon pushes contemporary dance into new areas. A collaboration of talent between Lister and the Australasian Dance Collective, Halcyon takes an abstract approach to narrative form with a classic ‘whodunnit’ at its core, blending elements of film noir with contemporary dance to create something that feels completely new and yet familiar at the same time. It takes its audience back in time to a heightened reality of the golden age of the silver screen, usually an era heavily which is romanticised, but in this show taking us to a darker underbelly full of suspicion, envy, and murder.

I will admit that upon learning that the show is not seated and the audience will be standing for 80 minutes, I was apprehensive as to what the experience would be. Entering the space washed away these concerns, welcomed into the hazy room by one of the characters and seeing the two large platforms in the centre of the space with a crime scene body outline on the floor between them. It felt more like entering into an immersive theatre experience, and the line between dance and immersive theatre continued to blur the entirety of the show. I loved the otherworldly feel to the show, almost as if walking into the space had taken us to a fragmented reality and were only thinly veiled from the action – aided by the performers wandering through the audience during the duration of the performance and having to duck around the action at various points.

The space itself was set up promenade style, but aside from the two raised platforms the audience had free range to move around and adjust positions to catch a glimpse of it all. The whole space was utilised in the performance, with pieces set on and around the platforms, tucked away in a side wall, and above the audience on the second level balconies. I thought the projection of media and live camera feed was an excellent choice to blend stage and screen and was well utilised and highly effective. Ryan Renshaw’s video design greatly added to the themes and mood, with the imagery and symbolism of various birds, and the fractured and jolting effects both used during the video designs and the live camera feed. Lighting, designed by Christine Felmingham, was kept low and moody with brighter spotlights illuminating the current focus, but still able to glimpse other characters as they moved around in their trancelike states. Adding another layer was the stellar soundtrack to the evening, thanks to Louis Frere-Harvey’s music composition and sound design with Mick Trevisan, with haunting music, archival soundbites, and singing adding to the surreal experience.

Before progressing too far into the narrative, the audience was given the chance to meet the characters through solo pieces and learn about how they fit into this plot before the story continued to take shape right up to the dramatic climax. Zoe Griffiths’ costuming made it evident who each dancer was representing and captured the era with a nice touch of simplicity. With a cast of seven made up of Harrison Elliott as the detective, Lilly King as the showgirl/audience maître d, Taiga Kita-Leong as the main suspect in the murder, Jack Lister as the director, Siobhan Lynch as the envious starlet, Gabrielle Nankivell as the leading lady, and Lily Potger as the mobster type, we were able to witness different interactions and groupings. While my favourite characters were Lilly King’s wild and unhinged showgirl and Lily Potger’s sleek card playing gangster, each dancer was a standout performer in their own way, with impressive specificity and control throughout the choreography. I especially loved the ensemble moments, which maintained unique characterisations and personalisations of the choreography but still all fitting within the same world. The cast fit so well that it seemed like the characters were crafted for the dancers themselves. Every movement was captivating, and it was a beautiful demonstration of skill and artistry.

I love the opportunity to see new Australian works, and Halcyon was an exciting, immersive experience like no other. The story, the dance, the effects were all so gripping that time flew by and by the end I found myself wishing for it to continue. For lovers of the weird and twisted, Halcyon certainly hit the mark.

Image Credit: David Kelly


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