The Melbourne Fringe Festival is a long – established, performing and visual arts celebration. For three weeks from September 14 – October 1, this year the program offers a veritable smorgasbord of entertainment choices including comedy, cabaret, dance, live art, music, and social events.

SELF is a sixty – minute dance piece, now playing for a strictly – limited season until October 1, at Chapel off Chapel in Prahran.

Narrative dance is potentially the most difficult sector of this performing arts medium. Meaning, a show’s success hinges entirely on viewers’ understanding its intent, without the aid of spoken dialogue or vocal accompaniment.

That being said, this experience is the perfect fusion of music, movement, costumes, lighting and sound. Which makes sense, given the production is a creative collaboration between Michael Ralph (responsible for direction and choreography), Jack Earle (composition and arrangement) and Rohan Browne (performance lead).

Browne is one of Australia’s best-known and beloved musical theatre artists. His impressive resume includes A Chorus Line, The Boy From Oz, Cats, The Drowsy Chaperone, Grease, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Pippin, The Producers, Singin’ In the Rain, The Tap Pack and West Side Story.

In this instance, the work is subtitled as ‘The Artist’s Journey To Find True Self’

Without giving too much of the story away, SELF is divided into seven powerful and distinct parts (Successful Self, Narcissistic Self, Sensual Self, Indulgent Self, Fearful Self, Inner Self, and True Self). Brought to exacting life, this is very much The Seven Deadly Sins meeting a Twelve Step Recovery Program, full – force and head – on.

In fronting the show, Browne gives one of his most personal, and potentially, career – defining performances, to date. Through this non – verbal journey, in communicating the vast range of emotions demanded by the piece, Browne’s fearless commitment to the character is electrifying.

Michael Ralph is one of Australia’s rising young choreographers.

His credits include Dusty, Georgy Girl, My Fair Lady, Ned, Pacific Overtures, and Pippin. With SELF, Ralph’s fresh and dynamic choreography also draws on the very best of Broadway. Perhaps, influenced by masters like Michael Bennett and Bob Fosse, as well as the famous extended sequences from An American In Paris and Singin’ In The Rain.

Ralph’s precise direction with Browne and the ensemble dancers (Loren Hunter, Sheridan Anderson, Romina Vilafranca, Alex Given, Max Patterson, Jordan Turner, and Jackson Rudge), grouping them together, in opposing formations, in pairs or solo, keeps interest for the entire hour maximized at all times. The team’s complex work together is effortless.

For a young man of twenty-one, Jack Earle’s composition is highly sophisticated and soulful. With allusions to the likes of Stephen Sondheim and John Coltrane combined, his mature sound is elegantly accessible. Further, that the music constantly informs the characters, movement and the narrative, timing between all four is always spot-on.

The show’s slick score is provided by a eight piece band, with Earle conducting and playing keyboard, Miles Izzo, Tom Sly and Chris Eury on trumpets, Stuart Byrne on reeds, Ash Richter on trombone, Patrick Schmidli on bass, and Kieran Rafferty on drums.

Lighting design by Tom Willis is imagined in vertical LED strip formation placed in front of the band, and as spotlights positioned above the stage area. Combined, his pulsing vision gives the piece a vivid, heartbeat undercurrent.

Marcello Lo Ricco’s sound design is also first rate, creating a solid balance between all of the sensory elements. Meanwhile, Gemma Kelly’s understated costuming (using various shades of grey) is cleverly streamlined, and highlights the dancers’ strength and line.

Justine Puy provides assistant direction, and Meg Deyell, seamless stage management.

It is shows like this which make my job as a reviewer both a delight and a privilege. SELF is one of the must – see experiences of this or any year.

Don’t miss it.

SELF is now playing at Chapel Off Chapel: