Combining traditional and contemporary dance theatre with live music, son et lumière, and aerial acrobatics this devastatingly beautiful and terrifying production depicts the through-line of events that have led to the effects of climate change that are upon us. Not as accidental occurrences, but as systematic methods inflicted by an out-of-control capitalist system of extraction, production and consumerism.
The gardens of the Fremantle Arts Centre have been transformed to allow the scenes of ceremony, protest, danger and destruction to emerge. The dancers perform against the backdrop of the splendid gum trees, stunningly lit for the aerial acrobatics by Isha Sharvani, while Aboriginal dancer, Ian Wilkes, emerges wearing kangaroo skins. Wilkes’ striking performance evokes the idea of both man and animal as present in the one being. Kate Harman is the third dancer who joins Sharvani and Wilkes as they take to the stage.
At first, each dancer has their own character: they move independently and have their own style and rhythm, however, this changes after they are captured and forced to conform for fear of persecution. The dancers move in unison, looking the same and behaving the same. All the while, images of the causes and effects of the gradual destruction of Earth are projected onto the huge screen behind.
Wilkes, Ochre’s principal Nyoongar dancer and one of the co-creators says, “We nurtured this land for over 50,000 years, and now, after only 200 years, it faces ruin.” It is a profound statement that rings true to the mainly white, middle class audience attending the performance.
“Kwongkan” is not a night of escapism, rather, it is a presentiment of impending apocalypse and expression of anger at the futility of it all. As noted in the program synopsis: “Kwongkan means “sand” in Nyoongar language and this indestructible element is used in dance ceremonies in both Indian and Indigenous Australian cultures. The title is also a reference to what most of us are doing about addressing the tsunami of climate catastrophes engulfing our planet – putting our heads in the sand.”
“Kwongkan” is asking us to look at the history and look at what is happening now, and to not look away in shame or suffocate from the sheer enormity of the problem, but to look forward with hope, resilience and activism to change the system. The simple yet profound statements that are repeated remind us that “We can’t eat money” and ask us to choose “System change or climate change?”.
Director Mark Howett, with associate director and composer Tao Issaro and the ensemble of dancers, musicians, choreographers, composers and designers including Michael Carmody, Dale Couper, Tyler Hill, Dev Issaro, Aarti Jado, Mand Marky, Daksha Sheth, Phil Thomson, and Levi Widnall. have created one of the most powerful and passionate physical performances that Perth has seen. This production pulls no punches to use performance as activism. Don’t miss it!
Audiences are invited to arrive early to experience the magic of pre-performance rituals, warm-ups, set preparation, costuming and body painting, and perhaps to play a role in the unfolding narrative.
“Kwongkan” is showing at Fremantle Arts Centre until Wednesday 20 February, 7.30pm. Duration: 60 minutes. Pre show experience from 5pm.
Tickets: $45, $42 (concession) $25 (Full-time student). Transaction fees may apply. Available at www.perthfestival.com.au