Proximity at the Melbourne Playhouse
The rationale behind creator Garry Stewart’s powerful fusion of contemporary dance with real-time video effects is the exploration of connectivity, and Stewart has achieved something very special in his concept. Structured around three themes – the nature of seeing and perception; the self; and our senses – the performance is unrelenting in the most positive way, full of surprises, and performed by nine incredible dancers from the Australian Dance Theatre. Inspired by street dance but underpinned by classical training, the show is a truly successful product of today’s technology and culture dovetailed with the intensity of contemporary dance.
An additional cast member is spot-lit onstage as the audience arrive – the video camera – subtly announcing the key role it is to have in the piece. The dancers begin by manipulating the display of their performance on the large screens behind them using the camera live on stage, before the additional live off-stage technical trickery begins to seep in.
Aerial views of dancers moving flat on stage are illuminated with something like thermal imagery, burning as the performers interact and giving whole new depths and dimensions to the dance. Like musicians with loop pedals, the dancers create looped scenes on the screens behind them, which unfold into stories with impressive precision. Having the cinematic experience on the screen and the sudden jolt of remembering that it’s being created by real people in front of you in real time is a disconcerting and utterly engaging experience – 70 minutes passes very quickly and the performance is completely absorbing. Particularly brilliant is the mesmerising use of an electronic “cats-cradle”, where dancers appear to manipulate each other like puppeteers with a virtual web on screen.
The master puppeteer, however, is Paris-based video engineer Thomas Pachoud, the visionary behind the special effects which work in perfect tandem with the dancers’ storytelling. Effects are not over-used and are well balanced with the dance.
The final third of the show really ratchets up the intensity, commencing with a stunning and emotionally charged dance duet depicting two souls inextricably connected by an invisible force, fighting and feeding off each other and beautifully melting into each other with a palpable frisson until one departs, leaving the other lifeless and the watcher bereft.
First performed 12 years ago and already a success around Europe, the show is back in Melbourne for four nights only and is a spellbinding experience not to be missed.
Proximity is at the Playhouse at Melbourne’s Arts Centre until 18th August. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for Proximity here: