It’s a high stakes game, being innovative in the performing arts. It’s expected but is often required to undertake an apprenticeship on the fringe, even in the progressive world it seeks to attract.
Natasha Sturgis, with her Clambake project, aptly tests the boundaries of dance, music and venue, offering a mix of gritty intimacy with voyeur undertones, saying “I really wanted to bring the joy of dancing together, inviting audiences back to live performances and to immerse them in our world with all the colour, energy and love that we have for our community and each other.”
Prior to this incarnation, Sturgis hoped to raise the performance at Sydney Fringe in 2021 (thwarted by COVID) with Clambake now moved from its intended venue of Newtown Performing Arts High School, to Redfern’s 107 Projects. Giant papier mache-looking parakeets greet guests in the first space, within what is little more than a warehouse demarcated into various “arenas”, properly exploited and dressed by Sturgis for this event.
We’re invited to follow performers as they move and dance through the spaces, but we’re definitely commanded that touching the performers is forbidden. There’s no stages, no seating. We're drawn to watch the dynamics of movement and character interaction, choreographed (and sometimes performed) by Sturgis.
In the open place entryway, the audience observes, drinks in hand, as two performers begin a silent introduction to each other set to music produced onsite by R-T-Fax. It's compelling, building as with characters joining in rhythmic embrace, leading to conflict, and then resolution. As the crowd moves on, this reviewer is left observing the remaining performer, bending and swirling, before they themselves move onto another space, this time a nightclub vibe with matching disco-ball and mirrored textiles, set to tunes by instrumentalist Joji Malani.
There are parts of this ‘event’ that are easy to miss. The intention is for guests to wander the space, separate, observe, contemplate, participate to an extent, and then meet-up with friends around the bar after the show to perhaps discuss the various elements they witnessed, each different from the other. There's scope here to attend the show more than once, with each view offering an alternative experience.
The audience is advised however, that towards the end of the show (at a round the 40-minute mark) it’s wise to head to the upstairs space. Here Lady Chika is working the decks, accompanied by projected video imagery created in real time by the artist Nina Schulenberg. The entire company joins the crowd at this point (numbering about 50 or so) undertaking a rehearsed and synchronised set of dance moves on a black and white checked floor, leading to the show’s culmination.
After the performers take their bow, the audience is invited to continue the vibe, joining all on the ‘dance floor’.
The various elements required to stage this performance make for a complex experience. Wherever this show is performed, the space is as unique as the concept. 107 Projects lends itself well to this. There’s something cool about moving between various themed rooms, climbing stairs with anticipation about what will unfold ahead of you, passing other patrons as they descend, bounding down with conversation, surrounded by music, clinking glasses in hand. It’s a social experience, vastly removed from sitting in a theatre and passively watching the show. It’s best viewed with friends.
Here is a project where Natasha Sturgis has considered dance, music, themes, and venue. There's an attempt to create a harmony to resonate between each of them. It’s a fine balancing act, where a compromise in one aspect can destroy the equilibrium.
It might be impossible to ever achieve this again, but one hopes that Natasha will certainly give it a try.
CLAMBAKE 2023 at 107 PROJECTS REDFERN
Choreographer: Natasha Sturgis
Dancers: Emma Harrison, Mitchell Christie, Romain Hassanin, Niki Verrall, Reina Takeuchi, Natasha Sturgis
Music: Joji Malani, R-T-Fax, Lady Chika
Video Artist: Nina Schulenberg
Production Design: Anna Gardiner
Lighting Design: Tim Hope
Costume Styling: Annie Villaltaburgett
(Top image: cast in rehearsal - Jasmin Simmons, performance - Christina Mishell)