Review: VALUE FOR MONEY at Odeon Theatre

Breathtakingly beautiful.

By: Apr. 30, 2023
Review: VALUE FOR MONEY at Odeon Theatre
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Reviewed by Ray Smith, Friday 28th April 2023.

As my guest and I took our seats amongst the tiers overlooking the open performance space of the Odeon Theatre to witness a production of Value for Money by the central Australian dance company GUTS Dance, I was disappointed to see empty seats around us.

I had hoped for a full house for this show, which has attracted rave reviews since its 2021 premiere, but perhaps dance performance audiences read different publications to me, or perhaps Adelaide is still reeling from 'Mad March'. Either way, I am very sorry that those empty seats represented people who missed a stunning performance.

The space was open and bare, save for rows of simple, skeletal lighting rigs lined up from front to back on each side of the stage, undisguised, indifferent, and soulless in their industrial and utilitarian readiness.

The house lights dimmed and a single spotlight defined the prone form of a naked woman lying patiently on her side, looking for all the world like a distant range of hills in bright sunlight. She moved very slowly, languidly morphing the lonely and empty landscape from one organic form to another in the way that a vista shifts and changes in the eyes of a passenger on a speeding train cutting mercilessly through the countryside.

Three dancers enter dressed in buttoned and stark uniforms. They lift the prone figure, hold her high in the air and dress her from head to foot in a uniform as bland and beige as their own. While that sounds like a relatively simple task, the actual process was impossibly seamless and fluid as each item of clothing, from underwear, to pants, and shirt were each fitted in one superbly choreographed movement. This was a testament to the skills of the performers and the careful and deliberate choreography of Sara Black and Jasmin Sheppard.

It was utterly beguiling, unhurried, gentle, and caring until, suddenly, the distant hills had become another uniformed figure.

What followed looked very much like a Kata performed by Karate students in the Dojo, mirroring their movements with that of the Sensei, following his lead and guttural grunts, while the pulsing, driving soundscape by Tom Snowdon filled the air around them.

The uniforms and the movements spoke loudly of ritual, of discipline, concentration, and obedience as another figure entered the space, almost casually, talking quietly and almost inaudibly, depositing articles of clothing and pieces of fruit in small piles around the edges of the performance space beneath the watching lighting towers, unconcerned and aloof in their gaze.

The two male dancers retreated to a corner, and sat together in still, silent, and nurturing companionship while the three female dancers began to dance, Snowdon's soundscape turning from rhythmic insistence to a soft chorus of high-pitched male voices, reminiscent of a cathedral choir of boy sopranos. It was a meltingly beautiful sound, and I learned later that the voices were made up of recordings of Snowdon himself, line upon line grafted together into a shimmering, auditory haze.

One dancer moved as a classical Indian dancer might, her hands leading her body as it oozed after them, surrounded by the other performers watching in apparent adoration as hidden forces led her serpentine movements.

There was so much to take in, and the changes in mood were fast and dramatic. I saw birth, death, isolation and companionship, adoration and dismissal, pain, joy, nurture and rejection, quasi-religious frenzy, and reverence; the Human Condition in fact.

This is an exploration of all that makes us human, from our confidence to our uncertainty and everything in between. We all seek to find our place in the World, but the World is not uniform, and the differences between one group of humans and another can be subtle or dramatic, and we have to negotiate that uncertain and untrodden path ourselves as individuals in a gamut of societies of individuals.

The performers: Frankie Snowdon, Gabriel Comerford, Chandler Connell, Tara Robertson, and Samakshi Sidhu, offered a Q and A after the show, along with choreographers Sara Black and Jasmin Sheppard.

It was well worth attending, and not only for the insights it offered to the company's vision, process, and methodology, but also to hear from seven very independent people and how they have merged their individuality so successfully into a common purpose.

The ending of the piece was breathtakingly beautiful and served to bookend a complex and thoroughly engaging work, and I strongly advise you to witness it for yourself at the earliest opportunity.



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