2012 Melbourne Festival Reports

Catharsis in motion

Write:FAULT LINES   Time:2012/10/15   Hits:288


Catharsis in motion
. BY:EAMONN KELLY

Members of Leshan Song & Dance Troupe perform in Fault Lines, a dance work that commemorates the victims and survivors of earthquakes in China and New Zealand. Picture: Leah RobertsonSource: Supplied
. DANCE
Fault Lines
Leshan Song & Dance Troupe. Choreography by Sara Brodie & Ross McCormack. Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, October 12.
A LAUDABLE cross-cultural collaboration between earthquake-affected artists, Fault Lines is a work of ritualised mourning that pairs brief samples of Chinese folk and classical dance with an expanse of contemporary Western choreography that is literal and figurative, but rarely abstract, exceedingly earnest and, ultimately, emotionally underwhelming.
The work owes its genesis to the 2008 earthquake that struck China's Sichuan Province, resulting in immense loss of life and infrastructure. Within a fortnight of the quake, the Leshan Song & Dance Troupe had formulated Hands: Rebirth, a seven-minute response to the disaster that spoke not only to collective grief but also the resolve and solidarity such hardship inspires.
After encountering this raw and spontaneous local outpouring, Melbourne Festival director Brett Sheehy asked New Zealand choreographer Sara Brodie -- touched by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in her hometown of Christchurch -- to create a substantial new work in collaboration with the Leshan troupe, transliterated for international audiences.
Brodie's reponse has been to monumentalise the earthquake survivor's experience: muscular, collectivised ensemble sequences dwarf individual expression, modest dramatic ideas are overworked, overextended and delivered with slow-moving gravitas, and symbolic elements are laid on with a trowel of lavish sentimentality. Fault Lines presents as a gruelling 70-minute documentary of horrific struggle, with little sense of redemption or transcendence: dance's cathartic power is reserved for the dancers -- as victims and survivors -- rather than audience members blessedly inexperienced in such tragedy. Hence, despite essentially sincere attempts at cultural transliteration, the experience itself remains sadly lost in translation.
Gareth Farr's score and Paul Lim's lighting design imbue the work with cinematographic effect and capture something of the emotional undertow the choreography fails to convey. The recorded orchestral accompaniment -- stylistically akin to epic Hollywood scores such as those of Hans Zimmer -- ranges from hazy string washes to moments of daunting, throbbing intensity, including a finale that builds desperately to provide some sort of climax for the work.
Similarly, Lim's design is charged with psychological intensity and remarkable effect, the projection of bilingual text, intricately timed sequences, and beautifully crafted focuses and hazes all serving as crucial supplement to representations of clamouring victims and earth ripples, rises and falls.
Most striking, however, is the technical precision and absolute commitment of the 16 dancers. Handling the challenges of unfamiliar contemporary dance vocabulary with commendable assurance, the troupe excelled in expression, the dancers' obvious emotional connection deeply affecting even as the work itself failed to move.
DANCE
Fault Lines
Leshan Song & Dance Troupe. Choreography by Sara Brodie & Ross McCormack. Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, October 12.