Forget gliding gracefully down an elaborate staircase to make a stunning entrance at the ball. That’s old hat. To really catch everyone’s attention there’s no better way than to fly in and come careering down the wall.
Audiences will have the opportunity to enjoy such a spectacle during the Sydney Festival which kicks off today and will be delighting Sydney with artistic and creative works over 16 days from January 8 to 26.
The not-to-be-missed treat is Puncture, an exploration and celebration of dance through the ages by renowned physical theatre company Legs on the Wall at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres from January 21 to 25.
Under the direction of Patrick Nolan, Puncture traces the role of dance in the rituals of love and courtship in a world premiere performance that explores the nuances of play between a group of young people discovering each other through dance: the preening, the fighting and the flirting.
For centuries dance has been used to connect, seduce and play, from the Venetian masked balls to the modern mosh pit. This production will also invite the audience to embrace the risk of intimacy in a crowded room, from the restraint and formality of classical dance through to the sensuality of the tango and the rebellion of youth.
“Audiences stepping into the world of Puncture are invited to imagine how dance has allowed people to connect through time,” Nolan says. “We are completely rethinking the audience’s relationship to the performers. They will be free to move around the space; rather than watching the performance they will be immersed in it as it unfolds around them.”
The large-scale production includes an ensemble of 42 young performers, with some of the country’s best physical theatre artists and contemporary dancers working alongside the VOX, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs 30-voice young person’s choir accompanied by percussionist Bree Van Reyk. They will be playing Stefan Gregory’s score inspired by great composers from Monteverdi to Madonna.
Two of Australia’s finest contemporary dance artists, Kristina Chan and Joshua Thomson, will lead the dancers under the guidance of choreographer Kathryn Puie.
Speaking during rehearsal Thomson explains that the concept behind Puncture is to transcend time through dance styles over the ages: “The concept came out of a lot of discussion and research on the traditions of dance and how much of it was about courting, providing an opportunity and excuse to be in the same room and to engage. That’s what we’re trying to revive, the coming together through dance.”
The two dancers were still in the process of constructing the performance mid air. While Thomson is by now an old hand after nearly four years of working with Legs on the Wall, this is a new experience for Kristina Chan.
“This will the first time I’ll be airborne in a production, other than being lifted off the ground by gorgeous men like Joshua,” she said.
“I’m still concentrating on how do I do this without being uncomfortable. It’s pretty painful dealing with the whole apparatus but hopefully it’ll soon be second nature – then I’ll be able to concentrate on character and the scene, and it just happens that I’m coming down the wall in a harness.”
Yes, it is Chan who will not be elegantly floating down a staircase as in days of old but making a very dramatic aerial entrance.
“As an opening image it’s very impressive and sets up the overarching concept that this is not the old world, that there is an Alice in Wonderland dimension that takes the audience and us ‘down the rabbit hole’.”
Thomson counts himself lucky to be familiar with the aerial work of Legs on the Wall, which has performed to public and critical acclaim down the side of Customs House, the sails of the Opera House and in theatres across the country.
“Legs explores being off the ground. Essentially it’s known to put people in the air and on the wall, and to have all this apparatus to tell the story. That’s its repertoire signature.”
And he loves the fact that this time the performers will be airborne among the audience.
“There’s a risk of contact for the audience but the payoff will be great. People won’t be sitting in their seats in the dark; they’ll be among it, part of the show. The energy will be so much closer. There is room for the audience to dance and to participate. It’s about pulling you in and making you part of the show which is really what this is all about – dance joining people over time.
“Dance always has, and continues to, bring people together.”
This is especially so in this production, the result of a collaboration initiated by FORM Dance Projects in Western Sydney in 2012, where 10 young aspiring dancers will have the opportunity to see how it’s done, up close and personal.
“We’re giving them an experience from conception to production so they can have a thorough understanding of the industry and decide what part of it they want to be part of. We are mentoring; providing on the job training. This is a great opportunity for them to learn and to be inspired.”
Add to the mix the 30-member choir, a pianist and a percussionist, and this is indeed a big production.
“Beyond opera, this is probably one of the biggest productions in our career,” Thomson says. “Getting that many people on stage is not easy so it’s very exciting. This work will be very visceral for the audience, being so close and able to share the emotions of the artists. Yes, a bit scary with things flying around but you have the beautiful voices of the choir (like being in a church), and a little surprise at the end.”
Working with director Patrick Nolan is part of the attraction for Thomson.
“Patrick is fantastic, he really respects the artists and listens to what they have to say. Some directors just tell you what to do but Patrick is open and collaborative. He still has the final say but encourages you to express what you feel and allows for the scene to develop. I’m really excited about this work, it’s unique.”
Puncture is at the Riverside Theatres, Cnr of Church and Market Sts, Parramatta, from Wednesday 21 to Sunday 25 January. Promenade performance – limited seating. Book on www.sydneyfestival.org.au/puncture or 1300 856 876 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au or (02) 8839 3399.
Director: Patrick Nolan Composer: Stefan Gregory Music Director: Elizabeth Scott, VOX, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs Choreographer: Kathryn Puie Designer: Mel Page Video Designer: Mic Gruchy Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper Dancers: Kristina Chan & Joshua Thomson, Jay Bailey, Billy Keohavong, Cloé Fournier, Anna Healey, Kei Ishii, Rob McCredie, Hayley Raw, Michael Smith, Stephen Williams, Jess Wong.