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BWW Review: OF ALL THINGS at Odeon Theatre, Norwood

This is a totally compelling work.

BWW Review: OF ALL THINGS at Odeon Theatre, NorwoodReviewed by Ray Smith, Wednesday 2nd December 2020.

Audiences have come to expect unusual procedures and lower attendance numbers during these troubling times of COVID-19, and the relatively small group, being carefully gathered by theatre staff in the foyer of the Odeon Theatre, seemed quite prepared and unfazed by the complimentary hand sanitiser and masks. Having been checked in, electronically or in writing for contact tracing purposes, we were all offered glasses of wine or water before being quietly ushered into the theatre itself.

We were all gathered to witness the premiere of Alison Currie's latest work, Of All Things, performed by the world-renowned Australian Dance Theatre on their home ground, the Odeon Theatre in Norwood.

The seating was in the round, carefully spaced chairs facing what appeared to be a half-deflated hot air balloon filling the centre of the space, which we quietly skirted in search of our preferred vantage points.

The space was dimly lit in the deepest red and the air was filled with the sound of waves rolling over stones, as we crept in the semi darkness towards our seats, each of which was adorned with a beautifully printed card programme, a black serviette and a plump pack of chocolate spheres.
"How very civilised", I thought to myself as I took my seat, glass of sparkling wine in one hand, luscious confectionary in the other, before it dawned on me that wearing a face mask rendered the delicious consumables redundant. Once people were seated, however, we were suitably distant from each other and fixed in our positions and our masks could be removed.

The dome of cloth that dominated the space was slowly deflating further, until I could see over its horizon to my counterparts across the theatre, masked and seated, silent and still, stained blood-red in the soft glow of the lights. Other witnesses staring back at me. A feeling of ritual, of gathering for purpose, of foreboding crept over me as the solemn sound of a distant, reverberating drum punctured the air ominously through the wash of the waves rolling small round stones in their wake.

Three soft, white pillars of cloth hung from the darkened ceiling, falling short of the collapsing form beneath them, surrounded by dark and still ambiguous forms that could have been bushes, or black clouds, or clumps of floating seaweed. It became apparent that there were forms under the slowly settling cloth, some large and rounded, others smaller and angular, reminiscent of mist falling over an arid and brutal landscape in a crimson and indifferent dawn.

The sound shifts and pulses like a machine of unknown purpose as the angular forms twitch and writhe beneath their shroud until, suddenly, a sprawling figure is violently spat out at our feet. He tries to re-enter his erstwhile sanctuary, only to be lifted and thrown by its angry dismissal of him, raised high, only to fall back and be consumed in its folds, like a shipwrecked mariner, alone and thrown in a stormy and unforgiving sea.

Other figures are thrown out of the boiling, turbulent mass, tossing and turning as if caught in a rip, twitching and jerking like a sleeper trapped in a nightmare, hopeless and helpless their bodies pleading for release, until they rise and sway like strands of seaweed in an ebbing tide.

The arrhythmic soundtrack is pitiless as a lone figure climbs inside one of the hanging, white pillars that reveals itself to be a translucent cocoon, and seems to finally relax and settle, like a foetus, serene and still in an amniotic sack.

Slowly, he reaches out and begins to haul in the cloth that had covered his world, a lone fisherman bringing in an enormous net, fog sliding from the land as the dull red light brightens to white, revealing large, glistening silver pillows, shining like wet stones.

The silver objects fight and crash, as if angry at being uncovered, while a lone figure emerges from the chaos and gently plucks the body from the floating cocoon, delivering him with the gentle strength of a midwife.

The other figures retreat under their pillows, like startled crabs scurrying beneath the stones in a rock pool that has been deserted by a retreating sea, and now a playground for children's feet, or like ants in a disturbed nest, rushing to safety with their egg sacs.

A complex pas de deux ensues. A silver pillow held between the dancers creaks and rustles, like the rigging of a sailing ship becalmed on a sea of glass. They hunt and escape, like lovers playing a chasing game or perhaps relentless predator and panicked prey in a dance of death.

Strips of blue lights descend and begin to slowly tilt, casting sliding shadows over dancers and landscape as the figures stand and sway in a gentle, invisible breeze until they are violently thrown, moving in unison, tossed by an unknown but relentless force that hurls them all this way and then another. I was reminded of waves crashing onto a shore, before they withdraw again, scraping the sand in their retreat before rallying to crash again.

In the calm that follows, a single red dot, bright as a ruby, appears on a dancer's hand as she stares in adoration and wonders at it, her body rolling and squirming, all the while being careful not to drop this precious thing before gently handing it on to another. Then dozens of red lights appear, their origins become apparent as a soft mist reveals parallel rows of laser beams crossing the floor from every quadrant.

Slowly the beams of light angle upwards, tracing the forms of the dancers, cutting the air into striped sheets of impossible red,, until, finally, forming a four-sided, sloping roof over the entire performance space.

Darkness.

This is a totally compelling work and while, to me, it all seemed to be about the ocean, the relentless power of water, the spawning of coral, the life and death struggles of marine life, I overheard others talking afterward about desert landscapes, or city rat-races, or alien worlds.

I think that we were all correct.

I urge as many people as possible to experience it for themselves and form their own interpretation.

Photo: Sam Roberts Photography




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