Monday, May 19, 2008

REVIEW: Paradise City

This article was originally published here on Vibewire.

The interplay between people and the urban environment has been the focus of Arts House’s excellent Urbanology series. Branch Nebula’s Paradise City is a fitting end to the series, exploring the physical relationship between six artists and the unforgiving concrete landscape of the city with breathtaking grace. A dancer, a BMX rider, a skater, a break-dancer, an acrobat and a “fallen diva” all collide (literally) with one another in this dream-like fusion of movement styles.

The opening sequences have a ritualistic air. The performers cautiously feel out the possibilities of the space: skateboarder Petera Hona slowly works his board’s wheels over the stark floor of the set; dancer Kathryn Puie lets her body slide down one of the two ramps. Singer Inga Liljeström’s haunting, abstract compositions seem to call the performers to the sacred site. The piece slowly builds momentum – the performers chase each other in a circle – forming a centrifuge that illustrates the power they possess as well as the force that draws them to the space.

The performers ‘dance’ with one another, seeking out each other’s skills and styles. Acrobat Alexandra Harrison flirts cheekily with biker Simon O’Brien, repeatedly trying to bring him unstuck with her own athletic tricks. In another instance, Harrison and Puie attempt to mimic break-dancer Anthony Lawang’s moves, but the physicality of their preferred art forms still permeates their imitation. In many ways, each of the performers become part of the landscape themselves – sometimes obstacles to avoid, sometimes objects to play with. At times the group will gang up on one performer – Anthony Lawang is buried during a dance routine by roadblocks hurled at him by the five other artists.

Paradise City is a mesmerising examination of identity. It suggests that to interact with another being you must interact also with their culture, their self-expression. In one pivotal sequence, acrobat Harrison skilfully finesses the evening dress and high heels off the diva and attempts to mimic her gestures. While Liljeström sings “I’m held by a thread that starts at my heart”, Harrison stumbles around in her shoes – unable to recapture her own fluent style, let alone become the diva she desires to be. The performers continue to define themselves the more they fight against, instigate, terminate, play with, antagonise, and mimic one another. The music soundtrack also has separate, distinct styles and personalities – from electronica to classical – each time changing the way we view the action on stage.

Creators Lee Wilson & Mirabelle Wouters have put together a group of extremely talented individuals from disparate movement forms to create a work that toys with the boundaries between them. The clarity of the images is such that some motifs are repeated that do not need to be reinforced, with the momentum suffering somewhat as a result. While at times the pacing is a little too gradual, when all the elements are at work it is a riveting experience. As with the rest of the Urbanology series, Paradise City asserts that the stark and lifeless façades of the city streets is no match for the creative souls moving through them.

Branch Nebula

Dates: Wednesday 14 May – Saturday 17 May 2008
Times: 7:30pm Wed-Sat; 7:30pm & 2pm Sat
Theatre, Address: Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Prices: $25 / $18
Bookings: 03 9639 0096 /

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