Tuesday, January 31, 2023

CULTURE CRUISE - Australian Dance Party.


Yolanda Lowatta at Reconciliation Place

 Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

AN invitation from Australian Dance Party to spend half a day “a spectacular art tour and cruise to make your senses dance” on Lake Burley Griffin was too good to refuse.

The  ADP is an  innovative activist dance company which specialises in creating site-specific performances around Canberra and its environs.

I’ve enjoyed performances by ADP at Mt. Majura Solar Farm (freezing), Mt. Stromlo Observatory (charming), a secret warehouse in Fyshwick (sublime) and the Australian National Botanic Gardens (memorable).

The company’s newest venture, “Culture Cruise” is the brainchild of its leader and director, Alison Plevey, who together with her co-director, Sara Black, developed the concept in which, although dance is integral to the concept, the cruise is not strictly a dance work but rather  an innovative attempt to create a unique experience weaving together elements of the city’s visual art, architecture, live performance, food and wine.

Stefani Lekkas welcomes guest on to the Gull

After being checked off and issued with bright orange identity badges, our group was greeted by host and storyteller, Stefanie Lekkas, who ushered us on to The Gull and introduced us to the skipper, Captain Jim, who  explained that the Gull had been originally built by its first owner as a fishing vessel, circa 1921 then been converted to a comfortable 28 seat passenger vessel, powered by electric motors.

Lekkas, in mystical story-teller mode, focussed attention on the beauty of the  surroundings while Captain Jim proffered additional prosaic and entertaining details about the national institutions we encounter along the journey, including  the Braille tiles on the walls of the National Museum, the renovations to the Captain Cook water fountain, and those additional bells installed in the National Carillon.

Once on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin we disembarked to begin a short stroll to Reconciliation Place, where the first performance artist, former Bangarra dancer Yolanda Lowatta, costumed in dazzling orange, focussed attention on the significance and purpose of Reconciliation Place then  beckoned us to follow her through the series of artworks depicting significant events in First Nations history which surround the central mound.

On arrival at the National Portrait Gallery, we were treated to an abstract performance by sound artist, Liam Budge, and dancers Ryan Douglas Stone and Lowatta, this time clad in subtle costume designs by Aislinn King. This simple but effective design device neatly connected all the participants. Remember your badge?

Ryan Stone and Stefanie Lekkas outside the High Court.

After a 40-minute viewing of the portrait exhibition “Who Are You”, Stone again captivated with his athletic dance interpretations, firstly of the High Court and later of the  National Gallery’s Calder sculpture, before leading us into with one more dance performance to the Water’s Edge Restaurant for a leisurely lunch.

Back at the Gull, Captain Jim welcomed us on board before ferrying us back to the National Museum where Budge was waiting to serenade us. Following some final farewell remarks from   Lekkas, we headed into the museum for an  exploration of the “Great Southern Land” exhibition.

Liam Budge entertains guest at the National Museum

So does the Cultural Cruise live up to its promise?   Judging on my own experience, it does. Memorable features included the meticulous attention to detail,  providing chairs at the performance points, and allowing sufficient time to savour the exhibitions.

The performances themselves were skilful and varied as were the narrations by Lekkas which were informative, uncluttered, often poetical, and promoting a sense of inquiry rather than providing answers.

Australian Dance Party has cleverly subverted a familiar activity into a unique and satisfying artistic experience perfect for savouring as a personal indulgence, or as something to share with a friend or fastidious visitor.    

             More tours scheduled : 25th Feb - 4th Mar.- 11th Mar.-18th Mar. Visit website.

                                                         Images Bill Stephens

      This review first published in CITY NEWS digital edition of 30th January 2023.