Adelaide Fringe 2011
Tie is performed by a group of recently graduated contemporary dancers brought together by Jade Erlandsen, a young choreographer and educator with a mission to make contemporary dance accessible and entertaining. Hers is an admirable charter to lighten up contemporary dance without resorting to the sexed-up, dumbed-down approach we are seeing lately on ‘so-you-think’ primetime television. Tie is essentially a work for schools but, judging by this evening’s audience reaction, it would most certainly have wide appeal for any audience, dance educated or novice.
The program began with a ‘short’—a stylish work choreographed by the group’s male dancer Jay Mullan on dancer Emma Stokes. This solo was contained, with subtle lighting, to the front half of the space, a great decision as it brought the audience physically and attentively into an intimate relationship with the dancer. This work had a lovely abstract narrative, communicating a sense of an emotional experience as it wove small gestures and stillness into the more full-bodied choreography. Stokes executed the swirling and unfolding sequences with great control and a strong performance presence. At times I found the shifts into the more dynamic sequences a bit jarring, the balletic ‘attack’ edging toward the over-emotional. However, I think this says more about my Melburnian aesthetic of understatement because as the dancer exited slowly into the upstage darkness, the woman next to me whispered “That was absolutely beautiful!”
In contrast, the second and main work of the evening, Tie, followed a clear circular narrative formula. Jade Erlandsen plays the protagonist dozing off and later waking up in front of late night TV infomercials. Tempted by a ridiculous tie advertisement she finds herself literally lassoed by the delivery of the tie accompanied by four dancing product demonstrators in quirky suits and ties. Jay Mullan, Kate Skully, Allison Wilton and Adrianne Semmens, joining Erlandsen, are not only terrific dancers but they can all deliver lines easily and with a good sense of comic timing. They may be young but their professionalism is clear—this is a well-rehearsed piece with high production standards and a satisfying structure.
The choreography plays between funky slapstick and more complex turning and rolling sequences. The use of video projected graphics onto the bodies on the floor as a lighting source builds the illusion of being inside the television. The soundscape, also created by Erlandsen, is a tight and well-mixed collage of recognizable dance/film stings (West Side Story, Fame) and comic voice-over (“you’ve got a neck? You need a tie!”).
It is a rather corny “was it all a dream?” conclusion but the upfront playfulness of the evening, clearly articulated in the program notes, has the audience happily joining in the pretence. This may not be winning any innovation awards from the art elite but it does succeed as an entertaining, accessible and well-executed contemporary dance work.