Review: Manifesto at The Malthouse

Review by Stephanie Lee


Body and rhythm intertwined, Manifesto is an experimental dance piece posing the question what is needed for a group of dancers to move as one? The answer seems to be rhythm and a lot of it.


Consisting of nine dancers and nine drummers, who were choreographed by Stephanie Lake and composed for by Robin Fox, the piece was staged in the Malthouse Merlin Theatre and ran for an hour long. The dancers and drummers moved seamlessly from section to section, changing tempo and energy very quickly. Unlike a traditional dance work where the music is set and often played from a track, Manifesto held the live tension of listening to each other. It was often unclear whether drummer was cueing dancer or vice versa. In fact, there were often moments where the power dynamic changed, and this made the atmosphere all the more electrifying.


While some moments of the work felt sombre and tense, other moments were playful and humorous with the audience laughing at the physical comedy of the dancers in certain sections. The dancers were truly fantastic, bouncing with leaps of energy one minute and then moving with intense muscular restrain the next. Their timing was truly impeccable, which was fitting for a piece about rhythm and the body. The opening section of the work, where the dancers all lined up on chairs held still until a single loud drumbeat triggered a change in pose, was so tense that you it felt like even the silences were loud.


Throughout the piece, the texture of the dancers’ movements morphed with the evolving rhythms. A couple of sections of the work where the drummers used non-traditional parts of the drums to make sounds were matched by the dancers in very unique ways. One of my favourite one of those moments was where one dancer seemed to be led by their hand, the rhythm forcing the limb to take on a life of its own until the it was entirely embodied by the dancer.


Although the dancers were placed directly in front of the audience surrounded by the drummers on huge, raised platforms in a semi-circle shape behind, I was often captivated by the performativity of the drummers. There were beautiful moments of interaction and it never felt like the drummers were there for show, they felt well incorporated into the action of the piece. There was even a solo section where each drummer got to show off their skills, passing the beat back and forth until it got so fast that they broke into unison and the dancers joyously partied around the stage.


Truly the chorographical shape of the work was extraordinary, moving seamlessly through sections and playing with the dynamics of the space at every step of the way. The tension was so high that I was on the edge of my seat in some parts and others I was laughing along as the dancers and drummer played with bouncing, cheeky rhythms.


Manifesto was an incredible piece of music and dance that is one of those special works people will be talking about for years to come. Unfortunately tickets are all sold out but if you are lucky enough to catch it at Rising you will not regret!


Images Supplied