‘Halcyon’ was thrilling.
Jealous starlets, shady detectives, washed-up nightclub performers, gangsters and prime suspects. Old Hollywood glamour, murder and a theatre full of possibility. Think that sounds like a story you know well? Think again, as the Brisbane Powerhouse and Australiasian Dance Collective present ‘Halycon’, a subversive take on a classic Whodunit film.
Staged in the Powerhouse Theatre, the audience was welcomed into the expansive space, with standing room only around the perimeter of the performance arena, accented with the enshadowed bodies and voices of the performers. The choice to have the dancers roaming around the bare-bones space before the show commenced was instrumental in enrolling the audience as a part of the story, whether it be as innocent bystanders or complacent voices in injustice.
Jack Lister’s choreography (created in collaboration with the ADC dancers) was incredibly layered, full of wit and intellect. Cleverly placed moments of amalgamation in choreography, interspersed with new and repeated phrases grew into a sense of the familiar-made-unfamiliar. Taking hallmarks of 1920s jazz, ballroom and classic musical theatre choreography and giving them a contemporary twist kept each moment fresh. Small moments of unpredictable interaction with the audience electrified and intimately engaged with the characters. Yet, these moments never fell into the trap of being confrontational or uncomfortable as many immersive pieces tend to do.
Rich storytelling sits at the core of ‘Halcyon’, making it a compelling watch for contemporary dance lovers and newbies alike. An ensemble of dancers, including Harrison Elliot, Lilly King, Taiga Kita-Leong, Jack Lister, Siobhan Lynch, Gabrielle Nankivell and Lily Potger inhabited the space for the entire 75-minute performance and gave spirited performances of Lister’s choreography, each with unique verbal expressions and distinct characterisation.
A few of the many highlights of Lister’s choreography include Potger’s mobster skillfully dueting with a pack of cards, their showdown with King’s Maître d on the mezzanine level of the transformed Powerhouse Theatre and an explosively energetic ensemble piece against the glowing gold wall of the theatre. A soaring addition to the aural soundscape was Lynch’s rendition of a haunting ballad, played at the beginning and end of the show, with lyrics entirely transformed after being witness to the entire story. The final few frames, with Nankivell’s jaded actress reliving her violent death while the others looked on, left the end up to the audience’s imagination, and so many vast avenues to explore and draw our own conclusions based perhaps on who we naturally root for in stories such as these.
Another interesting device was the use of live cinematography. Playing the Director, Lister lurks in the shadows mostly unseen by other characters, filming their escapades which were projected live. Utilising dynamic video effects in conjunction with fierce and razor-sharp lighting design by Christine Felmingham, the film distorted what we could see in front of us, offering a shifted perspective on the onstage action. In conjunction with thrilling abstract video design by Ryan Renshaw projected on the entire right brick wall of the theatre, the piece explored the altered viewpoints and narratives of each character.
Costume realisation by Zoe Griffiths was simple, yet effective. Costumes took traditional old Hollywood styles and subverted expectations of gender and nature, allowing the audience to bring previously held assumptions to the story based on a single look.
An unseen character unto itself was the brilliant and hypnotic sound design and composition by Louis Frere-Harvey and Mick Trevisian. This composition was easily the most detailed, interesting and unique design I have experienced in a theatre before and served not just the rhythm and choreographic beats, but spoke to genre and emotion on a cerebral level.
Breathing new life into the golden-age Hollywood revisitation we’ve been experiencing across media over the past few years, ‘Halcyon’ provides a satisfying, immersive experience of a murder mystery with substance. All art lovers need to experience a piece like this to be reminded of the importance of multi-disciplinary art and community in performance. An eclectic collision of artists across disciplines, the work speaks deeply to the merit of ADC’s collaborative processes.
The show must be seen to be believed. I personally and sincerely hope they revive this work after its short season, so that more audiences might experience this creative feast.
‘Halcyon’ plays the BRISBANE POWERHOUSE until November 12th. For more visit the Australasian Dance Collective website.
Photos by David Kelly