Sometimes there is a shortage of superlatives in the English language to adequately describe an experience or performance. Perhaps The Other Side is beyond description. Being the final performance commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre’s former Director Michael Dagostino prior to taking his new role at the University of Sydney, this performance plays for a very short season, and for good reason.
Dancer and choreographer Brianna Kell’s energetic exploration is physically demanding. The statuesque physique of Kell is exploited by means of immersive live sound and associated visuals, to the extent where the audience wonders whether the musicians are leading the dance, or the dancer is motivating the soundtrack.
It’s an explosive piece, literally. The offer of earplugs at the entrance to the auditorium is telling. Warned that the event includes smoke, strobes, and high-decibel audio, the seated audience is first blinded by lighting to hide the performers taking to the stage. Henceforth the performance then becomes an experience for the next 60 minutes. A cacophony of sound by duo Party Dozen nearly lifts the audience out of their seats, as the low frequencies rumble through the structure. It’s an instantly overpowering overture. Typical of Party Dozen, sounds are created by unconventional means. Kirsty Tickle uses the bell of a sax to capture the vocals, twisted and echoed by modulating technology, as Jonathan Boulet works the percussion in a similar fashion. It’s mind-bending stuff, and definitely not to be experienced while on a meth or acid bender (not in public, anyway).
All this is accompanied by Brianna Kell’s mesmerising and intriguing movement. Kell is a choreographer with much to share. In fact, so much is packed into the hour performance, there might be room to extend each particular movement, rather than propel the show along at such a pace.
It’s an enthralling performance complemented by a lighting rig that is almost certainly choreographed in the same vein.
There’s exquisite control of movement in Kell’s freestyle motion, likened to an athlete in top form. It’s astonishing to watch, beyond avante-garde, and perfectly headquartered in an arts establishment.
During one movement, Kell takes the microphone from the drum kit, and ruffles it against her clothing and skin as part of the dance. This is enough to make a seasoned audio engineer cringe, as the sounds include all those such a professional tries to avoid. But here, this connects the audience intimately with the performer. We hear first-hand the rustle of the fabric, the sound of technology directly against skin. It’s a profound way of touching the performer from the bleachers.
Now we wonder about the linear method of authoring such a production. Is this a show where the artist devised the palette, and then sourced technology to reveal the result, or the other way around? Either way, there’s an immersion of stagecraft that is painstakingly detailed across all aspects.
At one point the stage is awash in red, and a river of fog spews from backstage. The performer then finds herself within this gushing torrent, tossed by the imaginary pressure into forms as if fighting against the tide, or perhaps succumbing to a strength beyond defeat.
At another point, the accompaniment falls into a recognisable foot-tapping rhythm, but Kell resists playing this as an opportunity to fall into clichéd Hip Hop Krumping or Locking. Instead, the freestyle continues.
There’s a change of pace preceding the finale. A costume change sees Kell adorned in a golden gown, flowing with a stillness as harmonic vocals are again hummed into the bell of the saxophone. Goddess-like, the performer leads the eye in a slow and deliberate fashion, before being frozen against a projection of multilayered transitions, created by artist Jodie Whalen. It’s metaphysical and full of spiritual possibilities.
Finally, an almost heavy metal-driven soundscape carries Kell into a virtual ritualistic frenzy, silently screaming her dance pedigree with a mix of pirouettes and high kicks, ending atop of plinth before a crescendo resolves with a total blackout to close the show.
It’s a very quick 60 minutes, and reflects the absolute compelling urge that artists experience when it’s impossible to rest until the work is complete.
In the program notes, Brianna Kell describes the work as dystopian, a love letter to our future selves. The work however is so exploratory, there can be as many interpretations as there are members of the audience.
LIMITED PERFORMANCES: 24, 25 February, 7.30pm
Campbelltown Arts Centre
(images: supplied, Kate Disher-Quill)