Two Crews. Pic: Victor Frankowski

Dance, Festivals

Frontera and Two Crews review (Sydney Festival)

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January 8 and 9, 2020

A crazed rush of refugees entrapped by borders of light and a joyous outburst of French and Australian hip hoppers have opened the Sydney Festival 2020. 

Two Crews is the more uplifting dance work, as two teams of four dancers jostle, challenge and tease each other, expanding with an infectious lyricism and detail the street games of hip hop.

Both shows sit perfectly in the huge, former industrial bays of Carriageworks in Redfern.

Frontera, from Canadian choreographer Dana Gingras and the ten eclectic dancers of her Animals of Distinction, is the more ambitious and highly produced. And with its wrenching images of refugees trapped by formidable bars and jabbing beams of light, it answers those of us who often hope for some meaning or relevance in contemporary dance.   

Frontera. Pic: Victor Frakowski.

Sadly though, beyond its constant running and the anxious huddling of dancers, the choreographic imagination tires and – despite having a dramaturge – slides to repetition. 

It begins powerfully with the voices of real refugees who have risked all to cross borders and find a new life. Dressed (unimaginatively) in runners and plain streetwear, the dancers queue uncertainly in squares and lines, but are soon leaping, crashing and falling through beams of light splicing across the gloomy stage.

Figures bend, struggle and aid each other through barriers of light, others huddle in groups slowly unravelling and, at one point, as though on a raft, extend their arms into sculptural forms reaching for freedom. Then they’re off again and running.

The real star of this multimedia dance installation is the lighting team from United Visual Artists and, elevated behind, the thrashing electro score from the quartet of keyboard, drums, percussion and biting guitar, Fly Pan Am.  Frontera leaves you with some startling images of a dystopian inhumane world without kindness or care, and already upon us.

Two Crews is happier fare. It begins though with cheeky danger, as two teams confront each other across the empty stage, goading the other to make the first move. It’s the all-girl team from Paris, Lady Rocks, against the three Sydney blokes and girl who make up Riddim Nation. The gestures, once they all get moving, are proud, cocky and wickedly taunting. Lots of kicking, spinning, knee drops and arm waving. 

The hour-long set is divided into chapters, with Australia’s Gabriela Quinsacara beginning one with a slow solo of isolated limb movements quintessential to hip hop – later nicely matched in statuesque, partly flirtatious reply by one of the Lady Rockers.

But it’s the chorus line enthusiasm when all eight dancers pound the stage and thrust their arms high that really lifts the ceiling and takes hip hop from the streets to the musical stage.

Two Crews is happier fare. It begins though with cheeky danger, as two teams confront each other across the empty stage, goading the other to make the first move.

Jack Prest’s score spans widely across quiet percussion, crashing symbols and melodic beat, and Matthew Marshall’s lighting bathes the stage in simple shifts of colour.

With such support, Australian choreographer Nick Power is masterful in shifting moods, extracting character detail from his diverse dancers and inventively stretching the language of hip hop. Still though we stay essentially on the street, with the audience banked on either side of the stage and the dancers prowling the side pavements.

Power’s last show, Between Tiny Cities at the Opera House, took that authenticity yet further with the audience standing like street pedestrians in a circle around his performers.   He’s extending that popular dance theme over the last few decades of celebrating dancing by “normal people”.  Like those blokes back in the 1990’s in Tap Dogs and Steel City, banging rubbish bins and other industrial grunge.

Produced by Harley Strum, Two Crews is an inclusive delight well housed in Carriageworks and appropriate to the long popular tradition of the Sydney Festival.

Two Crews: 4 out of 5 stars
Frontera: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Frontera and Two Crews played Carriageworks, Sydney January 8-12.

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