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Sydney review: Rotunda

Physical comedy in the dance. Photo by John McDermott


New Zealand Dance Company

Riverside Theatre, Parramatta

Season: 13 - 16 May

From across the ditch, eight dancers of the New Zealand Dance Company travelled to Sydney to tell a story, Rotunda, inspired by the ANZACs. through contemporary dance. This is fitting considering the relationship shared during WWI and thus the interlinked national stories to be told. The artists incorporate excitement, humour, devastation and grief into the performance to create an all-encompassing work reflecting emotions of those involved in the war.

The audience entered the theatre to see a strip of fabric hanging from the ceiling, with names of those who fought projected onto it in red. This introduction set a tone for the performance before it even began.

When the music started and a dancer entered the stage, the fabric dropped from the ceiling and a host of industrial fans scattered around the stage powered on. The fabric delicately billowed across the stage, the dancer interacting with the unpredictable movements of the material. The audience could sense that the dancer was responding and reacting to the fabric, unable to anticipate where or how it would move next. I was engrossed by the rawness of the performer and the fragility of the fabric’s motion.

The Dance Company was paired with the City of Holroyd Brass Band, which played a form of music characteristic of WWI. It was an unusual coupling of the past and the present. I have never seen contemporary dance performed to brass music before, so this was a novel feature of the performance. Synergy between the dancers, the conductor, and the band percussionist added an interesting dynamic and good-spirited humour.

The Brass Band did not play for the entirety of the performance, however. Some dances were performed in silence, only broken by breath and mutterings from the dancers.

This directorial decision exhibits boldness and a confidence in the dancers to carry the performance without reliance on music, a confidence that was well warranted. I was intrigued by the way the dancers’ personalities shone through, not only utilising their physicality and musicality to tell a story, but also facial expression and occasionally voice, primarily in the form of sound effects.

This took shape in a lovely dance with the four male dancers, where they stole the conductor’s mace and proceeded to play out a myriad of imaginary uses for the mace, mimicking actions of warfare. The light-hearted perception of war was communicated before the soldiers actually set out to the war front.

A strong New Zealand flair permeated the production, in its incorporation of humour to communicate a devastating story, as well as in its cultural heritage. As yet another example of the dancers utilising other methods to communicate the story, one female dancer led the chorus in a Waiata without music to rely on, producing a single voice resonating throughout the theatre, later joined by all of the performers. The male dancers performed a war haka as the soldiers prepared for warfare, which was a chilling addition to the performance and appropriate considering cultural traditions.

Considering tonight is Rotunda’s final performance at the Riverside Theatre, it would be well worthwhile to attend. Whether you are a regular contemporary dance patron or a contemporary dance newbie, Rotunda presents a story that is highly accessible and understandable. This production invites emotional exploration regarding the ANZAC experience through an innovative medium, as the performance ignites a deep sense of empathy within those who take part.

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