By Georgia Clark

WAAPA’s 2021 dance season commenced with the show Restart. The show began with a neoclassical piece called “Barroco,” choreographed by Kim McCarthy, and it concluded with a contemporary and physical theatre piece, “Are You Watching Me?” choreographed by Justin Rutzou.

In the beginning, the dancers donned black chokers and white corset style leotards with a gauzy tulle skirt. Adding a dramatic and ethereal flair to the piece, the skirts made the dancers appear as upside-down dandelions floating in the breeze. A costume change in the final movement brought white leotards featuring a deep V-neck back and white opaque skirts to the stage.

Image: Stephen Heath.

“Barroco” has three distinct movements. The theme of the piece was the Baroque dance era which connected music, theatre, and opera. In an almost comical way, grumpiness, happiness, and sleepiness were the main facial expressions and human emotions accentuated by the dancers, connecting to the theatre. A stark contrast to their movements which were precise and almost transcendental.

After a series of group dances to introduce the audience to “Barroco,” the second movement begins with dancer Elsi Auricht-Faulks ‘waking up’ in the middle of the stage and throwing a tantrum before storming off stage because she is alone. This sparks the beginning of the solos, trios, and quartets that the second movement consists of. Each delicate yet dramatic movement manages to match the escalating music of the second movement, which breathes life into what appear as ethereal creatures.

The set, constructed with a black brick wall and industrial-style pendant lights hanging from the ceiling, also featured eight musicians providing live music. A change in the third movement introduced a black backdrop accompanied by gold side lights to introduce Ciara Sudlow, the solo violinist playing among the third-year ballet students.

The third movement burst with a dark and mysterious ambience. Sudlow’s floor-length black dress makes her appear as Death surrounded by pure white beings whose bodies undulate in time with her violin, matching each note with movement. The side lights defined the strong, muscled bodies of the dancers and their solemn faces. Their sombre expressions were complete opposites to Sudlow’s face which conveyed the undiluted, raw emotion that you get while doing what you love.

The audience was completely still, utterly captivated by the final movement. The violin echoed across the entire theatre and all eyes were purely focused on the movements of the dancers.

“Barroco” ends with 11 of the dancers striding like queens off the right of the stage while just one solitary dancer exits towards the left. This left Ciara Sudlow standing centre stage, lowering her violin, and staring dramatically into the audience.

After a brief intermission, Justin Rutzou’s work began, featuring myriad art forms all merged into one. This piece began with a voiceover to state that the show is for entertainment purposes only and no offense is intended.

Following this disclaimer were eccentric multi-coloured lights flashing in time with the music, bathing the audience in rainbow light. Another voiceover began as the theatre was plunged back into darkness. All 11 dancers were voicing complaints about budget cuts to the arts creating a lack of costume, lighting team and performers showing up to work. Their loud voices echoed around the theatre, bouncing off the walls emphasising the artists’ predicament.

One striking scene is where dancer, Claudia Bolam, dances en pointe at the back of the stage, and another dancer moves at the front. In a white long-sleeve lace, tulle and feather covered flamboyant costume, the front dancer performs “Swan Lake”.

Then, the theatre filled with laughter as she verbally describes the inside of a ballerina’s head while they are dancing…the pain, the sheer number of steps and dramatic facial expressions influencing each movement. It was meant in a comedic way, the audience laughed along with her, however, what she recited is very real, dancers are put through mental as well as physical pain when preparing for a show.

Bolam then shoves the dancer out of the way to come forward and yell at the audience. She emphatically describes the injuries and pain inflicted due to pointe shoes and the demanding art form. One of the dancers from “Barroco,” Hope Keogh, then reappears to wink at Bolam as if agreeing with every word. Bolam grabs a pointe shoe and pretends to beat up the other dancer before dragging away her limp corpse.

The rest of “Are You Watching Me?” was filled with dancing peacocks, singing performances, sparkles, and skateboards. This cacophony of movement contained rainbow hula hoops, hot pink 80s leotards, fluoro green wigs, acrobats, scooters and Emma Andrews in an elephant costume complete with a pink tutu.

Ending the show to the song “Bad Reputation,” the third-year contemporary students certainly had the audience’s eyes trained on them while the multi-coloured lights returned, complete with smoke engulfing the stage and bubbles floating everywhere. In the end, we see a shiny disco ball hanging down from the ceiling, covering the dancers in sparkles as they each took their bows.

Restart 2021 was a success as it showcased every dancer individually and gave them each a chance to show off their creative talent to an audience. Emotion and life laced every movement and moved through the audience.

This performance engaged viewers not only in the beauty of ballet, music, theatre, and costumes, it highlighted the impacts of politics on the futures of these dedicated performers who have devoted years to honing their physical abilities to perform.

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