Colossus. Pic: Yaya Stempler

Dance, Festivals

Colossus Review (Sydney Festival)

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How humans perform in or outside the group herd is a powerful theme ideal for dance.

With Colossus at the Sydney Festival, Melbourne choreographer Stephanie Lake turns up the impact, the critical mass, by assembling 50 dancers moving as one across the bare white stage of Carriageworks.

They begin lying in a huge cycle, feet pointing in, each in their slim black costume like a petal of a dark flower, before spellbinding ripples, flutters and arches of movement unfold through their bodies. An individual breaking out is soon surrounded by a swarm of figures, who, as they peel off, zombie-like copy her form. This is as much an image of nature at work as human society.

Astonishing is the level of organic, unified action which Lake draws from her group.

The show’s pattern is set of individuals, duos or small groups breaking from the pack, provoking it into new directions or, sometimes, violent reactions. Backed by Robin Fox’s elemental, rumbling or drumming score, Lake skillfully drives the intensity of Colossus ever higher.  

Voices and gasps are added, shimmering like the movement through the group. At one point screams fill the darkness, with lights then revealing the surprise of all 50 in neat rows like a class photo.

Colossus, produced by Lake’s own six year old company in Melbourne, has been acclaimed at two showings in her home city. Astonishing is the level of organic, unified action which Lake draws from her group, dance students which in this production come from Ev & Bow, NAISDA, New Zealand School of Dance and Sydney Dance Company’s Pre-Professional Year. Almost all are women.  

Pic: Yaya Stempler

Their movement is both animalistic and automotive, defined by the mass but with tweaks of individuality. They are constantly unfolding an action, decoding and reassigning another input, churning, hair flying, through each other or freezing into stillness. And so they move on the floor, arms high, a sea of wavering reeds, to then marching as intersecting regiments, perfectly in step, slapping, shouting and banging the floor. 

This beautiful pack organism it seems can also be dangerous, but these ideas are generalised.

Bosco Shaw’s lights give Colossus a warm glow and adds dimension with artful shadows of the group thrown on the white backdrop. What’s missing, upstaged by the wonder and power of this pack, is a choreography which lifts the individuals into greater exception, to give more meaning, more idiosyncrasy, to their difference and their drive.

As the 50-minute show unfolds, the pack movements become looser, their exclamations louder, until they look like performers gathering excitedly at an after-show party! Most brutally, an individual is thrown from this party and chased and taunted. It’s an individual that’s finally left in the emptiness.

Colossus is at Carriageworks until January 19

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