Value for Money

Value for Money
GUTS Dance Central Australia. Concept and Choreography: Sara Black and Jasmin Sheppard. Collaborating Performers: Waangenga Blanco, Gabriel Comerford, Madeleine Krenek, Ashley McLellan and Frankie Snowdon. Sound Designer and Composer: Tom Snowdon. Lighting Designer: Chris Mercer. Research Assistant: Tessa Snowdon. Dramaturg: Jonny Rowden. Costume Designers: Lizzy Verstappen and Andrew Treloar. Brown’s Mart Theatre, Darwin. 21 August 2021. Darwin Festival.

Powered by unparalleled choreographic vision and invention, and Tom Snowdon’s scorching soundscape, Value for Money is, quite simply, the most outstanding piece of contemporary dance theatre I have ever seen. Performing with unmatched skill and artistry, the dancers’ faultless execution of this punishing journey was never anything less than absolutely riveting – matching the physical challenges of the work's luxurious, choreographic adventurousness to absolute perfection. Chris Mercer’s inspired lighting design matched Snowdon’s epic soundscape by creating an atmosphere of something like a dreamlike, dystopian wasteland – at turns warm, at others utterly chilling – but always with a beautifully considered pinpoint accuracy when it mattered most.

Beginning with Frankie Snowdon’s epic, contorted and razor-sharp isolated solo and ending with the ensemble’s pulsating, naked bodies eventually finding solace on the floor within an almost heart-breaking fade to black out, Value for Money explores the limits of our physical and emotional connectedness – our belonging – to the land, to each other (perhaps even selectively), and to ourselves. The performance explores a dazzling array of perceptions and permissions, at one point exploding into a virtuoso ‘rave’, where the unified ensemble diagonally traverses the full extent of the stage in fighting fits of flight and a raging athleticism that took my breath away.

Impossibly high levels of almost instinctive trust are required for works of such monumental creative ambition to succeed, and whether fully or partially clothed, but particularly in their nakedness, the dancers evoked the purity of truthful connection – the equaliser. A place where there is no longer anywhere to hide. The provocations included the circling, with aspects of almost predatory observation of a tentative individual taking first steps to dance and waiting for her to fail/fall … or the greedy devouring of an orange that, earlier, had been carefully, studiously peeled, revealing that what something may mean to you, may not necessarily serve the same purpose or have the same meaning for another.

Dressed by Lizzy Verstappen and Andrew Treloar, the costumes early appeared to represent straight-jacket inspired uniforms … a beige, linen, one-size-fits-all sameness. Later, flashes of colour, more contemporary cuts and fabric illuminated bright, intelligent but unexpected aspects of each dancer’s individual journey through the (anti) narrative. The attention to detail throughout the performance was breath-taking. The patient, slow, reflective folding of clothes … the liberating undoing of wound-up hair, and the considered placement of their feet, and the unfolding of their toes. Such stark, arch and careful consideration of each dancer’s journey – deeply connected to the floor – is something I have rarely witnessed in dance performance.

Often too, at some point (or points) in performance, contemporary dance capitulates to cliché … or there are the popular, but wearying, multimedia installations. Not here. Value for Money is all instinct, muscle, pulse, balance and pure, transformative performance magic.

If ever you have the opportunity to experience this performance, do it.

Geoffrey Williams

Pictured: Value for Money. Photography: Ivan Trigo via Facebook

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