Friday, April 5, 2013

IN WONDERLAND


Dance and multimedia installation by James Batchelor.

Choreography and cinematography – James Batchelor.

Creative Associate – Emma Batchelor

Courtyard Studio – Canberra Theatre Centre until 13th April.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Initiated in 2010 by an Australia Council JUMP grant, and an Arts ACT Start Up grant, “In Wonderland” has evolved from its original 10 minute film and living statues format, first seen during the QL2 – On Course season in 2011, into a 35 minute multi-media presentation involving 3 dancers (Emma Batchelor, Chloe Chignell and Amber McCartney), digital projections and a variety of other elements. It has toured to various arts centres and galleries as a festival event and this current short season of free performances in the Courtyard Studios provides Canberra audiences with the opportunity to see how this work has developed.
For these performances, The Courtyard Studio has been stripped of all seating. On entering the auditorium, the audience is offered the choice of a gallery stool, a chair, or to simply walk around, view the various installations at close range, and stand for the performance. The installations include a large spot-lit circle on the floor surrounded by dozens of small rabbits, a large gold-framed screen, a wall of fleece in front of which is an up-turned chair. Taking up the entire back wall, a long table, surrounded by chairs and laden with delicious party food, brightly coloured tea-pots and crockery.
The lights dim, a dancer in a long blue dress begins to twirl in the circle of rabbits, to the accompaniment of an electronic soundscape. Is she “Alice” falling down the rabbit hole?  At one point she looks horrified and begins to pick at her dress and back. Is she being attacked by ants or bees?  Is she suffering from some sort of delusion? 
The lights fade and the gold frame screen flickers to life with purposely over-exposed film of another girl, similarly dressed, who appears to be trying to escape something. What ? Then attention moves to a brightly coloured film, projected onto the fleece, depicting this same young girl experiencing a series of encounters in a green hedge maze. The meaning of these encounters also is left to the imagination of the audience.

Attention moves to the long party table, above which excerpts from “In Wonderland” are projected onto a white screen hanging over the table. In a series of pantomime episodes the three dancers, in bright costumes, move around the table.

The effect is surreal, slightly disturbing, but constantly engaging. Questions arise constantly. Most of the dancing is abstract and fairly unintelligible and no synopsis is provided, so each member of the audience is left to respond to the episodes as they will, and draw their own conclusions as to the intent and meaning of the piece.
 More performance art than dance theatre, “In Wonderland” is a delightfully surreal, diverting and playful experience for those willing to exercise their imaginations  and take the plunge down the rabbit hole.

By the way, if you want to exercise your taste-buds, partake of the delicious home-cooked goodies on offer at the “In Wonderland Tea Shop” before and after the show.   

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