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Review: Wayfinder at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

Review by Lisa Lanzi


Based in the regional centre of Townsville, Dancenorth’s debut performance was in April 1970.  In 1985 the company was officially designated ‘professional’ under inaugural Artistic Director Cheryl Stock and has maintained a strong presence in the national and international contemporary dance space under successive leaderships.  As a rule, I don’t tend to ‘read up’ on works before reviewing.  Wayfinder was no exception but the title intrigued me with its mystical/historical reference to navigation or concepts of leadership, roaming, and discovery.


Wayfinder is a rich collaboration featuring dance, visual art, music, and design.  The work takes place, for the most part, on a ‘stage’ that is a high tech inflatable platform (but strong and stable) enabling some breathtaking moves and allowing the dancers to fall, bounce, and leap with total abandon.  Various entrances and exits, plus a measured, sensory rolling sequence around the boundary of this stage, occur on the actual stage floor.  The dancers are undoubtedly the stars of this work amid the abundance of colour, design, and sound.  Marlo Benjamin, Sabine Crompton-Ward, Nelson Earl, Tiana Lung, Damian Meredith, Callum Mooney, Darci O'Rourke, Tara Jade Samaya, Felix Sampson, and Michael Smith are all exceptionally accomplished dancers and work together seamlessly as an ensemble.  There are many physical prop components for these performers to contend with in Wayfinder and these interactions too were flawlessly handled.


To begin, the group clothed in Hiromi Tango’s colourful costume designs indicating the colour spectrum inhabit the stage space and dance gleefully to high energy music from Bryon J. Scullin, in collaboration with Melbourne’s Hiatus Kaiyote, immediately setting an upbeat mood.  When so much contemporary dance presents a subdued colour palette, and often sombre themes, this joyful imagery is a radical departure and speaks to the youthful vitality and currency of the ensemble and the Company led by Kyle Page and Amber Haines since 2014.  Although Page and Haines are credited with concept, direction and choreography, the dancers too are listed as choreographers, all possessing and showcasing their own signature styles in the work.  Marlo Benjamin’s solo in particular was compelling as she writhed, twisted, extended, and gracefully eased through space in ways that made it seem as if her very bones were fluid.  


Choreographically the work is a catalogue of modern dance movement and procedure: improvisation, cannon, fall and recovery, balletic allusions, floor work, big level changes, graceful and percussive moves, spins, unison, and more.  There is an episodic feel to the whole punctuated by black outs and audience applause which to my mind interrupts the flow of this hour-long work.  However within each discrete section there are satisfying moments of transition and flow, plus distinct and varied moods.  The dancers interact with a huge pile of knitted yarn ‘ropes’ at different times (apparently brought into being by a team of volunteer knitters across Queensland); and there is a collection of plastic spheres, both on stage and within the audience (we are instructed about these upon entry), that are controlled remotely to light up or emit sound.  Within this performance event, the ‘chapters’ provide a sense of adventurers exploring and reacting to spaces and times that are subsequently organic and primitive, or futuristic and celebratory.  The dancers shift from representing individual entities to, in one case, a single caterpillar-like creature occupying the floor, perpendicular to the audience.  The lighting by Niklas Pajanti is integral to the work and ranges from bright, fun states to the darkly mysterious, including the shared spheres which, though superfluous, are quite fun and mildly inclusive.


Although Wayfinder presents an otherworldly adventure in episodic fashion, the overall tenor is one of joy, celebration, and wonder.  Both dancers and audience cannot help but smile during the more festive sections, and there is a visceral quality to the work that connects viewer and doer.  In the Space Theatre, the dancers were extremely close to the front rows and intense eye contact was made, so that with the addition of the shared light up spheres, a beautiful intimacy was possible.


In 2022, around the time Wayfinder premiered in Queensland, an English indie film of the same title was described as a ‘dream quest’.  Dancenorth’s Wayfinder certainly captures the spirit of traversing through time, space, and perhaps waking dreams of better things to come if all we humans might just cooperate and share a little more delight in our journey. 


Image Supplied

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