Monday, February 29, 2016

HABITUS - Adelaide Festival of Arts 2016



 Conceived, choreographed and directed by Garry Stewart. Australian Dance Theatre. The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre February 28 – March 5 2016

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Matte Roffe, Thomas Fonua,Michael Ramsay, Thomas Bradley (Back)
Samantha Hines(right middle),Zoe Dunwoodie (right floor)
in ADT's Habitus. Photo: Chis Herzfeld - Camlight Productions

Habitus is the first in a proposed series of works, titled The Nature Series . The first work by Australian Dance Theatre examines our relationship to domestic objects, to the environment and to our relationship to Nature. Inventive, imaginative and expressive in its social commentary, Habitus confronts us with the notion of impermanence. Artistic director, Garry Stewart is concerned with the wanton wastefulness of a consumerist society, with scant regard for the environment and prone to creating a disposable society. “All this will become landfill” a dancer says.
Matte Roffe, Zoe Dunwoodie, Thomas Bradley, Samantha Hines
Kimball Wong in Habitus. Photo by Chris Herzfeld - Camlight Productions

Thematically, Stewart’s choreography is ideally suited to an ensemble, skilled in the physical demands of contemporary dance. Lithe, agile and versatile, the dancers transition with fluid skill from figuration to athletic interaction with sofas, chairs and ironing boards to the grace and elegance of deportment with books on heads and a rhythmic routine that consigns books to a passing routine that has little bearing on their function as sources of knowledge and understanding.

The Australian Dance Theatre’s ensemble embraces the theme with exciting vigour and athleticism. Obscurity is avoided by occasional narrative, explaining the significance of the couches as objects of memory, relics of a life lived and unworthy of being discarded. As objects are neglected and discarded, so too is the natural environment defiled. Dancer Lonii Garnons-Williams appears daubed with green, and despoiled by human neglect and the destruction of Nature.
Michael Ramsay, Zoe Dunwoodie,Samantha Hines,Matte Roffe
in Habitus. Photo: Chris Herzfeld-Camlight Productions

Stewart’s work appeals and the dancers are skilled and striking in their physical strength and contortion. However, the sequences are too long, the choreography repetitive and the theme is sacrificed to impulsive imagination rather than emotional connection with the issue. I couldn’t help feeling that Habitus had the potential to be far more powerful, to challenge dancers to engage more expressively with the serious intent of Stewart’s theme. The festival programme advertised the running time at one hour and ten minutes. The performance ran for an hour and a half.

There were moments that caught my attention. I was impressed by the Butoh-like obsession of Samantha Hines’ contorted struggle. Garnons-Williams’ controlled separation and powerful stillness captured the focus of the moment and compelled attention. Here were dancers committed to the challenges of Stewart’s physically demanding choreography. I would have hoped for a greater appreciation of the emotional consequence of their movement.
Thomas Fonua, Lonii Garnons-Williams,Zoe Dunwoodie
and Michael Ramsay. Phot: Chris Herzfeld.
Visually and technically, Habitus triumphed in the Space.   From the opening blue wash, complemented by the blue costumes to the artistically colour-coordinated objects and the sweeping nature of a cloth created landscape, Habitus is a visual feat. Lighting designer, Damien Cooper makes full use of the Space’s lighting, shifting tone and atmosphere with his carefully plotted design. Composer, Brendan Woithe, smoothly segues from contemporary music to soundscape to classical music, offering Stewart and his dancers the opportunity for shifting moods. Too often the opportunity to extend the range is unfulfilled, and I looked for greater variation in each sequence.

Thomas Bradley, Samatha Hines,Kimball Wong
Zoe Dunwoodie, Thomas Fonua, Michael Ramsay in
Habitus, directed and choreographed by Garry Stewart
Photo by Chris Herzfeld - Camlight Productions
Nonetheless, this is a work, pleasing to the eye, imaginative in concept, talented in its execution, but still in need of tightening. Greater variety in its choreography and intensity of emotional connection with the theme would improve the impact of a performance that contains an important sociological message.. Perhaps this will find balance and focus as the future works are developed.