Wayfinder review: Playful, colorful and immersive dance lights up with joy and hope

Forged over 52 years in the geographical and cultural isolation of its base in Townsville, Queensland, Dancenorth contemporary dance company is a masterclass in the imperative of connecting with an audience. It takes custom creativity for the arts to break through in this remote regional military and industrial 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 The company has explored cerebral themes with a sensory immediacy that brings audiences closer to the often esoteric genre of contemporary dance.

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

Set on a custom-built inflatable stage, the heart of the production is two symbolic centerpieces historically associated with hope: the lighthouse and the rainbow. The title of the work 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, devised in collaboration with visual artist Hiromi Tango. .

Taken together, along with the movement, music, costumes, scenery and lighting, the aesthetic is one of wonder, wonder and joy, with a playful energy that is so contagious that new dance-goers will get carried away too.

For Tango, born in Japan and based on Tweed Heads, healing goes hand in hand with the hope that rainbows inspire. Artist’s Rainbow Dream: Moon Rainbow saw long lines at Hobart’s Dark Mofo festival earlier this year, and she coined the term “brainbow” to describe the uplifting effect watching them has on our psyche.

Wayfinder’s immersive rainbows and pearls evoke both nature and novelty, and offer a surprising interactive gift. They build community among the seated strangers who watch and share spontaneous exchanges, and also among the 150 volunteer finger weavers, who gathered 70km of reclaimed wool creations for the show.

These form an avalanche of rainbow strings that turn a dancer into a “Cousin Itt”, and then come together in a giant coil. A towering textile sculpture created by Tango could be a creature, coral or lighthouse at different times during the performance, while another vibrant piece evokes a magic carpet ride that oscillates between chill and thrill. Each cast member’s patchwork tracksuit represents a shade of the color spectrum, with a surprise celebratory costume change at the end.

The sound design is another inspired collaboration, between Bryon J Scullin, the Australian Grammy-nominated quartet Hiatus Kaiyote, and their 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 intertwined) along with Nai Palm’s siren song of bespoke ethereal vocalizations.

Contemporary dance is often set to mechanical sounds that can be alienating; this soundtrack is a welcome change. The languid atmosphere, warm melodies and modern rhythms are mesmerizing, contrasting with energized percussion sections reflected in hyperkinetic dance moves. Natural organic sounds inspire simple yet fragrant imagery that ignites the imagination: 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 makes the dance defy gravity, expanding the angles of the flowing movements and adding additional revolutions in the air. The choreography does this without simply becoming acrobatic “party tricks” borrowed from other sports like gymnastics or tumbling.

The lighting, designed by Niklas Pajanti, is another stroke of genius. Strobes used at different speeds add excitement, most powerfully in a mesmerizing sequence in which dancers whip a rainbow of strings in a pattern of colorful waves moving from the back of the stage to the front.

The only drawback is the audience’s sightlines, which are impeded from various positions as the cast go about their business offstage. Marlo Benjamin’s backing solo and duet with Michael Smith seem too long as a result, despite their skill. The pair are, like the rest of the ensemble, impressive dancers with individuality and presence who also work closely as a group with crucial trust and timing.

It’s gratifying to see a collaboration between such diverse talents achieve such a unity of purpose. Wayfinder is an exceptional offering that excites, entertains and enriches.

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