REVIEW: Tomorrow Makers 2 by Dancenorth

Jack Zeising performing his contribution to Dancenorth's Tomorrow Makers 2. PHOTO: Amber Haines

Can we predict the future?
Can we shape it?
Change it?

Dancenorth’s latest offering, Tomorrow Makers 2, explores the possibilities of tomorrow’s contemporary dance by offering the next generation of choreographers and dancers the chance to present their own imaginings in short, fully-produced works.

Guided by prompts from Curator Amber Haines, the five choreographers – Mason Kelly, Georgia Rudd, Sam Hines, Jack Zeising and Jenni Large – have developed innovative works that explore concepts they were interested in fleshing out, while considering the unique lens through which individual audience members perceive a performance and how that contributes to their personal experience.

The result is five highly-engaging, exquisitely different works that – like tarot cards, tea leaves, or any form of divination – reveal just as much about the viewer as they do the creator. With that in mind, I must preface the following reflections with my customary warning: What I have inferred from these works is entirely subjective. My understanding of each piece differed from my neighbour’s, as it will likely differ from yours. And that is OK. That is the beauty of contemporary dance.

And Here We Are by Mason Kelly.

Mason Kelly performing his solo piece And Here We Are. PHOTO: Amber Haines

Tomorrow Makers 2 opened with a beautifully sustained and wonderfully present solo devised and performed by Mason Kelly. In the Q&A at the end of the evening, Mason revealed that this work is heavily improvised in the moment, with his performance shaped in response to the present space, audience, and his own mind and body.

The work carried a thick sense of inevitability, with each moment leading to the next regardless of the pace at which change took place. It reminded me that we are all in a constant state of flux, drawn by in invisible, intangible, irresistible force. Time appeared to be a recurring theme in this work, with the performance set in the round and Mason seeming to represent hands on a clock at one point. In other moments, he was guided by various limbs, often the left hand which may suggest being pulled along by a wristwatch. Movement seemed easier for the dancer when he accepted the external force, ultimately and quite literally picking it up and running with it. Of course, the fact that this piece will undoubtedly alter significantly from performance to performance is further proof that change is the only constant in our lives.

Mason’s is a mesmerising and oddly comforting work that invites the viewer to let go and accept what is about to unfold.

Sifting Through All the Forgets by Georgia Rudd

Felix Sampson performing Georgia Rudd’s Sifting Through All the Forgets. PHOTO: Amber Haines

In her work, Georgia Rudd sought to explore the idea of reimagining how the body works if we were to forget everything we know.

For me, it also spoke to the unreliability and shifting nature of memories. Early in the piece, Georgia’s three dancers occupied a space on the fringe of the lit performance space – they weren’t in darkness, but they weren’t in clear focus either; as though they were a vague memory knocking about in the back of the brain, just beyond grasp. At times the dancers were explicitly human: natural, easy, organic; but at others they seemed like painfully mutated imitations of humans: warped and twisted through layers of guesswork and reimagining. There is a hint that these figures  may have shared in some disaster and that their recollections of the true events are muddied by their trauma.

Georgia has created a strangely moving and intriguing piece that also contrasts the natural and the mechanical. I’m still unsure whether I liked it because I liked it, or liked it because I didn’t.

Beyond the Marrow by Sam Hines

Jack Ziesing and Mason Kelly in Beyond the Marrow, created by Sam Hines. PHOTO: Amber Haines

In this flooringly beautiful piece, Sam seeks to balance the trending conversation of toxic masculinity with a work that celebrates the vulnerable, gentle and fragile. Performed by three male dancers, the piece is set within a faceless man who represents every man. We get a glimpse inside him and, as a heartbreakingly ambiguous duet plays out, it’s not clear whether we’re witnessing combat and conflict or passion and intimacy.

The piece encourages us to think about the duality of man in multiple ways and how the two sides are necessary for the coin. Sam’s concept gives rise to many thoughts around masculinity:

  • How do we demand that men prioritise brawn, brain and heart?
  • What role does competition play in fostering male relationships?
  • Are our greatest internal struggles borne from the things about which we’re most passionate?

This is an intimate and evocative piece that I do hope will give rise to more positive discussions about masculinity.

Prince of Darkness: Prologue by Jack Ziesing

Jack Ziesing in his solo piece, Prince of Darkness: Prologue. PHOTO: Amber Haines

Every piece in Tomorrow Makers 2 in tonally different, but I think the shift is most apparent as the opening chords of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs shatters the silence in a darkened auditorium and a spotlight rises on a cloaked figure.

Jack spoke of the role fandom plays in his work and how the things we are most passionate about can cause us almost to shapeshift – like a shrinking violet hearing their favourite song at a karaoke bar.

For me, this work was laden with pop culture refences – quite possibly a product of my own fandom: I saw strong parallels to Bob Geldof’s Pink from The Wall, moments of strangely placed joy reminiscent of every Tarantino dance scene ever, and even Disney’s the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Jack’s work presents a loose narrative of a Rock god who, in rising to such stature, must pay a price. It prompts the audience to think about the pursuit of happiness and whether in striving to be better, more successful and more popular than others; do we in fact become lonelier, more isolated, overwhelmed and miserable?

This is highly impactful, physically demanding, visually stirring work that elicited audible joy from the audience for its fabulous staging and powerful finale.

Oh, How My Soul Flares Up in a Minute by Jenni Large

Georgia Rudd in Oh, How My Soul Flares Up in a Minute, created by Jenni Large. PHOTO: Amber Haines

The final work in Tomorrow Makers 2 is hugely unexpected and outrageously fun. In her piece, Jenni encourages us to think about form and context, and whether the two combine to imply meaning, or if one is more influential than the other. Do we take something seriously because we are told it is Art regardless of how it appears; or do we ignore circumstance and take something purely at face value? Additionally, when we do interpret Art, is it the Art itself that’s under scrutiny or the interpreter? (Believe me, the irony of that question is not lost on me as a reviewer!)

This piece works so well because there is so much about it that suggests its seriousness:

  • We have just witnessed four very serious contemporary dance pieces.
  • We are viewing this work in a very serious, traditional theatre setting.
  • The work is presented by five serious professional dancers from a serious professional dance company.
  • The performance is set to a piece of operatic music, which of course is another very serious artform.
  • Some of the movement suggests these dancers belong on a pedestal as artworks or Olympians – revered, dedicated champions; and
  • The dancers’ deadpan expressions suggest that they certainly take themselves very seriously.

 There is one red flag that this might not be so serious – each of the dancers is dressed in a brightly coloured morphsuit.

There is a delicious shift in audience response to this work. We begin silent and pensive, working hard to connect the dots and find meaning as its unfolding before us, but as the unexpected becomes more absurd, stifled giggles begin to rise among the audience and build into joyous ripples of unbridled laughter. Within the frivolity, Jenni has embedded a moment that flips the gaze on the audience, reminding us that Art and meaning do not exist in a vacuum.

This is a terrific, humorous piece that I’m sure left the audience with some food for thought. Once they stopped laughing.

In all, Tomorrow Makers 2 is a rewarding evening of performance. Each of the five works is built on fascinating enquiries into what it means to be human and how we process information. Dancenorth’s ensemble dancers, along with guest dancer Sophie Gargan, have done great justice to their own work and that of their peers; and the production, particularly lighting by Jamie Schmidt, amplifies the impact of each piece tremendously.

Have I interpreted these works the same way others have? Or as the Makers intended?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But I’m sure we can all agree, the future of contemporary dance is in good hands.

Dancenorth will present Tomorrow Makers 2 until 9 November 2019.

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