REVIEW: Keir Choreographic Awards – Dance Australia

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Tra Mi Dinh received the $50,000 Jury Prize at this year’s Keir Choreographic Award, held last weekend, and Jenni Large is the recipient of the $10,000 Peoples Choice Award. Below, Rhys Ryan previews the Melbourne final.

As the pipeline of new shows dried up due to the pandemic, the Keir Choreographic Award burst onto our stages with a glut of new choreographic works. Now in its fifth edition, Australia’s biggest (and most lucrative) contemporary dance award seeks to showcase eight of the country’s most exciting artists whose primary medium is choreography. Unofficially, the competition serves as a biennial review of independent dance in Australia; a chance to see how the form has changed and where it might be heading.

The artists commissioned this year were Alan Schacher and WeiZen Ho (NSW), Alice WillCaroline (Vix), Jennie Grand (Heap), Joshua Peter (WASHINGTON), Lucky Lartey (NSW), Raghav Handa (NSW), Rebecca Jensen (vic) and Tra Mi Dinh (vic). While previous seasons saw only four artists qualify for the final, all artists this year had the chance to perform the same number of times at both Dancehouse in Melbourne and Carriageworks in Sydney.

Tasked with the tough call for the $50,000 prize, a five-person jury included the Australian Dance Theatre’s new artistic director, Daniel Riley (Wiradjuri/Australia), dancer and choreographer Eko Supriyanto (Indonesia ), festival producer Laurie Uprichard (Ireland), performance-creator and community artist Lemi Ponifasio (Aotearoa/New Zealand) and dance scholar and playwright Nanako Nakajima (Japan). A public prize of $10,000 was also up for grabs.

The KCA’s omnibus format is both its best and its worst feature. Limited to just 20 minutes, each piece is brimming with ideas. There’s a delicate balance to be found in offering just enough of a concept to impress, but also acknowledging the limitations of the short work format. Only some of this year’s shows achieved that; the others feeling undercooked or overdressed.

Likewise, this strain is what makes the competition so appealing. Eight different works of art all shooting in opposite directions, each serving as a flint for the others. Dissonance, patterns, dialogues – all output from the fast and furious setup. There is also a buttress effect, where each work seems to more precisely define the voices of the other artists.

The body politic has been the subject of several works for 2022. Lucky Lartey’s Exoticism used the embodied stories of two performers of color to both present and problematize the idea of ​​diversity in contemporary artistic discourse. Under the influence of Lartey’s West African dance lineage and co-performer Vishnu Arunasalam’s training in Indian Bharathanatyam, the movement’s vocabulary froze and then merged different styles. Clumsy voice-overs and unsubtle props made for a bit heavy work, but the dance lines – which covered a huge range from high jumps to tricky finger joints – offered enough interest.

The female body, precisely, was the concern of Jenni Large in her duo wet hard. Balancing on 8-inch heels, Large and fellow performer Amber McCartney performed a series of ultra-tough physical feats in an attempt to subvert societal expectations. With an exceptionally strong performance, this slick affair may not have used the most extensive choreographic language, but its composition and pacing delivered crisp visuals and a quietly powerful punch.

In Raghav Handa’s solo, Madness of God, the sacred text of the Bhagavad Gita has served as both a source and a vehicle for exploring the seduction of violence. Standing precariously atop a giant tire, the kathak-trained dancer gave a rousing call to arms before moving through sequences of rushing shuffles and looping arm phrases with shoulders rolled inward. It was intense work that evoked great themes.

Another common thread for 2022 was the exploration of performed realities. In Underwear, Rebecca Jensen used an on-stage Foley artist (Aviva Endean) to create, then distort, everyday scenes. Simple actions like eating chips and unzipping a bag have been recreated in real time with an uncanny resemblance. Gradually, movement and sound became dissociated, as looping phrases of swinging limbs played against hazy sound baths and eerie surges. Commenting on “intersecting temporalities” is a great subject and the work would no doubt have benefited from being longer.

Similar concerns about rewrite time played out in There ___ of Tra Mi Dinh, which sought to chop and re-sequence the linearity of a theatrical performance. Beginning with a curtain call, this tightly rehearsed duet (performed by Dinh and Claire Leske) unfolded in short phrases of soft, curving torsos punctuated by long lines of limbs, before finally descending into compositional chaos. With wonderfully disorienting sound design by Robert Downie (distorted applause and overly sustained crescendos), the subversion of the work’s natural rhythms was very enjoyable.

Melbourne collective Alice Will Caroline offered an even more abstract rendition of reality in their darkly comic and sweetly absurd What’s really going on. With vague themes of memory and death, the three dancers weaved their way through their own internal narratives, sometimes crossing each other’s kinespheres with gloved arms, dizzying pirouettes and bursts of improvisation. idiosyncratic. Those looking for logic would have been disappointed, but the piece was richly colored in both tone and texture.

To complete the program was Evaporative body/multiplier body – a collaboration between Alan Schacher and WeiZen Ho. With light projections and a long strip of reflective film, the two performers occupy an evolving landscape of surfaces and spaces. A straightforward affair, the work looked like an assemblage of ideas that warranted further investigation or at least more careful curation of content.

Overall, the KCA 2022 schedule offered its usual variety but, compared to previous years, it seemed tame. With the sharpness and contrast settings reduced, most works occupied a safe or familiar middle ground. No such boundary has been redefined. But for those looking to take the pulse of independent contemporary dance in Australia, they’ll be delighted to know that it’s still going strong.

Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, Joshua Pether’s work “As Below, So Above” was not performed on July 1 or 2 and therefore could not be included in this review.

The KCA Finals took place over two weeks at Carriageworks, Sydney, and Dancehouse, Melbourne, as well as online. Rys Ryan attended Dancehouse on June 25 (morning) and July 2 (morning). KCA’s full schedule was also recorded during the season and is available digitally on demand worldwide from July 3-17: HERE.

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