Wayfinder review – playful, colorful and immersive dance lights up with joy and hope

Wayfinder review – playful, colorful and immersive dance lights up with joy and hope

Wayfinder review – playful, colorful and immersive dance lights up with joy and hope

Contemporary dance company Dancenorth, forged over 52 years by the geographical and cultural isolation of its base in Townsville, Queensland, is a masterclass in the necessity of connecting with an audience. It takes a tailor-made creativity for art to break through in this remote regional industrial and military hub, where the North Queensland Cowboys are the pride of the town, but since spouses Kyle Page and Amber Haines took the reins in 2014, the company has explored cerebral themes with a sensory immediacy that brings the often esoteric genre of contemporary dance to the people.

Their latest production for this year’s Brisbane Festival, Wayfinder, is no exception: an antidote to the recent gloom as we try to find our way forward – or, as Page describes it, “a tonic for our times”.

Set on a custom-made inflatable stage, the heart of the production is two symbolic centerpieces historically associated with hope: the lighthouse and the rainbow. The work’s title explains the former – represented in the form of 100 coconut-sized “pearls” used on stage and throughout the auditorium – while the latter serves as a recurring motif, developed in collaboration with visual artist Hiromi Tango.

Taken together, along with movement, music, costumes, set design and lighting, the aesthetic is one of wonder, awe and joy, with a playful energy so infectious that new dance goers will be swept away too.

For Japanese-born, Tweed Heads-based Tango, healing goes hand in hand with the hope that rainbows inspire. The artist’s Rainbow Dream: Moon Rainbow saw long queues at Hobart’s Dark Mofo festival earlier this year, and she coined the term “brain arc” to describe the uplifting effect seeing them has on our psyche.

Wayfinder’s immersive pearls and rainbows evoke both nature and novelty, offering a surprising interactive treat. They create community among the seated strangers watching who share spontaneous exchanges, and also among the 150 volunteer finger knitters, who collected 70 km of salvaged wool creations for the show.

These form a deluge of rainbow cords that turn a dancer into a “Cousin Itt”, then gather into a giant roll. A towering textile sculpture created by Tango can be a creature, or coral, or a lighthouse at various times during the performance, while another lively backdrop evokes a magic carpet ride that goes from cool to exciting. Each cast member’s patchwork tracksuit represents a shade of the color spectrum, with a surprise celebratory costume change in the finale.

The sound design is another inspired collaboration between Bryon J Scullin, Grammy-nominated Australian four-piece band Hiatus Kaiyote and its Melbourne-based lead singer, Nai Palm. It weaves together six tracks (Atari, Prince Minikid, Shaolin Monk, Motherfunk, Rose Water, Canopic Jar and Get Sun are interwoven) with Nai Palm’s siren song of tailored ethereal vocalizations.

Often contemporary dance is set to mechanical sounds that can seem alienating; this soundtrack is a welcome change. The languid atmosphere, warm melodies and hip grooves are enchanting, in contrast to energetic percussive sections mirrored in hyperkinetic dance moves. Natural organic sounds inspire simple yet sumptuous images that ignite the imagination: the dancers, lying in a collapsed domino formation, use their arms to conjure up bird wings, multi-limbed insects and weightless sea creatures.

The inflatable stage allows for gravity-defying dancing, widening the angles of fluid movement and adding extra spins in the air. The choreography does this without simply becoming acrobatic “party tricks” borrowed from other sports such as gymnastics or tumbling.

The lighting, designed by Niklas Pajanti, is another stroke of genius. Strobe lights used at different speeds add excitement – ​​most potently in a mesmerizing sequence where the dancers whip a rainbow of rope into a pattern of colorful waves that roll from the back of the stage to the front.

The only drawback is the audience’s sight lines, which are obstructed from various positions when the cast is performing offstage work. Marlo Benjamin’s accompanying solo, and duet with Michael Smith, seem far too long as a result, despite their skill. The pair, like the rest of the ensemble, are wonderful dancers with individuality and presence who also work closely as a group with crucial trust and timing.

It is rewarding to see a collaboration of such diverse talents achieve such a unity of purpose. Wayfinder is a rare offering that excites, entertains and enriches.

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