Deep Sea Dances takes the colours, the sounds, the wetness of the ocean and constructs a moving aquatic landscape from the human form.
The ensemble enters the space in single file, draped in dripping silvery fabric. It is a fashion show and a stream of fish and an exploration of the large expanse of space. Interesting in that it introduces us to the different bodies and movements of the performers, this trickling in is frustrating in its slowness of build-up. The use of the Meat Market space is exciting however, with the shutter door to the street ceremoniously raised to permit the circling of the venue by the performers.
The possibilities of the space continue to be explored by Rebecca Jenson and ensemble as the performers fold into different formations – expanding and reducing the hall through their interaction with it. As a large ensemble in a large space, they have scope to form and collapse large scale shapes in a way rarely able to be played with. This extended pattern work calls to mind schools of fish and gives the impression of an abundance of activity. Running shoes rubbed against a squidgy yellow floor produce a sound reminiscent of swimming pools and wet skin, which interplays with the soundscape designed by Jensen and Marco Cher-Gibard.
The piece is satisfyingly honest about its use of stagecraft. Jensen is seen creating and controlling sound in the corner of the space as well as operating the roller door and lighting. At one point the house lights are turned on, exposing the performers to the harsh fluorescence of the Meat market. This frankness regarding the show’s technicalities is interwoven with the creation of an alien deep sea world. Costume in particular highlights this juxtaposing of the illusionary with the pragmatic, with the caressing flow of semitransparent sparkling fabric coupled with everyday clothing in garish block colours. Clothes are taken off or changed throughout the piece in a way that showcases a variety of coral reef colours and patterns while being at times visually and thematically jarring. The movement itself transitions between the fully embodied and a colloquial rehearsal-like energy, with the performers in parts explicitly ‘teaching’ each other the movements of the piece.
The disharmony and inexactness of movement staged creates a strange effect. Sometimes frustrating in its lack of coherence or commitment, it at other times evolves into an organism-like articulation of underwater ecosystems. Particularly notable in this regard is the last sequence of the piece in which several performers roll, intertwined, throughout the space. Limbs are flailed in a way that is both idiosyncratic and united and the entire movement seems distorted by the effects of an invisible body of water. The other performers, moving about the space in a variety of different rhythms and modes, seem to be connected to the rolling mass, driven by the same energy and force. The separate bodies combine as an organism, a living landscape mindlessly asserting its own complex dynamism. The performers’ ability to evoke the bottom of the ocean is striking and uncanny.
Thus, Deep Sea Dances seems to waver or glitch, darting between different modes of performance and craft. It repeatedly complicates the experience it is giving its audience, asking them to shift in the way they are viewing or understanding the piece. At times the work required of the audience is tedious or confusing, necessitating a recalibration of the mode of spectatorship and thus inhibiting easy enjoyment or connection with the piece. However, the associations and representations embodied are often extremely accessible and amusing to watch. In this way Deep Sea Dances conjures a fantastic, otherworldly domain while never allowing its audience to forget that they are watching a piece of rehearsed dance.