As the eight dancers and two musicians who perform in Attractor take to the stage, they sit on stools in a semi-circle facing the audience, gathered around a small pile of stringed and reed instruments.
Slowly the dancers start to shrug shoulders, shift spines and sway. Rising from their seats, they fan out across the stage in jerky movements. Then sudden thrashing chords on one of the rather extraordinary looking hand-made stringed instruments launch them into a mesmeric performance that gradually builds to a hypnotic climax with some of the audience on stage with them.
Attractor. Photograph © Gregory Lorenzutti
Attractor premiered at Asia TOPA in Melbourne in February and won two 2017 Helpmann Awards for Best Dance Production and Best Choreography in a Ballet, Dance or Physical Theatre Production. Now it has a short season as part of Brisbane Festival.
Co-directed and co-choreographed by Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek, the work brings together Melbourne’s Lucy Guerin Inc. and Townsville’s Dance North with Indonesian music duo Senyawa, featuring musician Rully Shabara and vocalist Wukir Suryadi.
According to the programme notes, “Senyawa interprets the Javanese tradition of entering trance through dance and music as a powerful, secular, present-day ritual. Their unusual sound borrows from the metal bands they listened to as teenagers – Black Sabbath, Metallica, Iron Maiden – and Indonesian ritual and folk idioms.”
The production was developed as a result of “a shared interest to construct rituals for non-believers”, says Obarzanek, created to reflect “the desire for individuals to become a part of something bigger than themselves”.
Senyawa’s score is utterly visceral. Suryadi’s vocals range from almost operatic melodies to wild banshee-like shrieks to guttural growls. The sounds emanating from Shabara’s stringed instruments – which he plucks, strums and plays with a long bow – are equally eclectic, with percussive rhythms powering the work.
There is a tangible rapport between the dancers and the musicians. At times the dancers almost seem possessed by the percussive beats as their bodies respond to the ebb and flow of the music, shaking and flying across the stage. In one section the dancers drag the musicians into the performance, quite literally.
The dancers (Kylie Page, Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan, Georgia Rudd, Mason Kelly, Samantha Hines, Jack Ziesing and Josh Mu or Felix Sampson) are stunning. In tight unison sections, they seem to meld into a single unit, gliding as one across the stage. Often one dancer will be highlighted, standing still in the middle of the crowd or moving differently, before the group breaks up into pairings or smaller units. The dancers are all fierce yet loose-limbed, whether moving on the ground or through space. In a couple of evocative sequences, they create shapes with their hands around the eyes and head of a dancer (or musician) in front of them.
At each performance, 20 audience members volunteer to join the dancers on stage for the final 15 minutes of the piece and perform prompted by instructions through an ear piece. What’s more, they are asked to do a lot more than simply run around, but it works wonderfully well, with the volunteers integrated with great success at last night’s performance and throwing themselves into all that was asked of them with fervour.
The effect is to draw the rest of us into the performance in a different kind of way as the production builds to its climax. I hate audience participation usually but I have to admit I wished I was up there with them.
Attractor plays at the Brisbane Powerhouse until September 23.