Fuelled by the punk-neotribal rhythms of Javanese duo Senyawa, Attractor’s dance builds to a trancelike frenzy.
Performer Kyle Page, artistic director of Australia’s Dancenorth company, says its convulsive choreography is every bit as pummelling as you might expect. The trick is to click into your higher gear.
“The biggest challenge is the unrelenting physical demands this piece places on the dancers,” the affable artist says over the line from the 33-year-old company’s remote home in North Queensland, a scenic spot perched between the Great Barrier Reef and the tropical forest. “It makes huge demands. But it is incredibly cathartic and you step into a place where that energy can generate and cultivate itself.
“One of the key drivers is absolutely the live music and the interplay between the performers and musicians,” he explains. “It’s almost like centrifugal force.”
Twenty Vancouver volunteers from the audience will have the chance to get a sense of what that force feels like, joining the hourlong, atavistic fervour for the last 20 minutes of each performance in its visit to the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
In their culture-crossing collaboration with the company, choreographers Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek drew inspiration from Obarzanek’s experiences in Indonesia, where he took part in traditional Javanese rituals that lead participants into deep trances. With Attractor, they sought to create a similar effect in a secular way.
“From the outset we were quite confident that we couldn’t re-create what Gideon did in Indonesia, and we’re not attempting to have a sincere trance state,” says Page. “We’re using some of the constructs, like durational practice, but we’re not inducing a trance in the dancers or the audience. That said, the dancers do enter quite a heightened state. It’s such a profoundly total experience as a performer.”
Senyawa brings its own, unique take on Javanese folk music to the party, using handmade, electrified stringed instruments crafted from salvaged bamboo and timber, and adding vocals that build like opera-meets-metal.
With very little preparation, the volunteer guests propel themselves into the ecstatic release of the show—and it’s infectious enough that other audience members often can’t stay seated either. The piece breaks down walls between cultures and between spectators and performers. And, for Page, it is what dance, and Dancenorth, is all about.
“We’re so far away from the dance community that we have this sense of agency and freedom,” he suggests. “We’re interested in asking something of the audience. And it’s a beautiful thing: because random people from every city we visit take part, every night is so different.”
The PuSh International Performing Arts Festival presents Attractor at the Vancouver Playhouse on Friday and Saturday (January 18 and 19).