Omer Backley-Astrachan is an Israeli-born Australian choreographer, noted for his original works amongst New Castle and Sydney. He now debuts Terrarium as a part of the emerging dance festival Dance MarchPresented under a double bill with choreographer and dancer Patricia Wood’s solo, Backley-Astrachan’s Terrarium is described as a series of short stories exploring various elements of life.

Hosted by East Sydney Community and Arts Centre, though the venue felt small in size, it created an intimate atmosphere. With a cast of four women dressed in earthy tones, their close encounters were encapsulated through a feminine lens. Backley-Astrachan’s movement shifted between elegance and collapsing images. The four twisted themselves through angles, often pausing as if allowing the audience to gaze. It fell and rose between emotion, from a loving caress of the face mid-duet to hands curled into fists.

The cast of Terrarium (Photo by Natalia Cartney – Rolling Media Productions)

The wave of synths was brought by composer Kieran Warner-Hunt, carrying the piece to a climactic moment before that story dissolved. Each section of Terrarium was intermitted by a piece of baroque harpsichord. As it played the cast paused their movements and stood in a line, placid, with a hand on their hip. It served as a pronounced motif of the piece, driven by the use of chandeliers as a part of the lighting scheme. It felt particularly regal in contrast to other moments of the piece, such as the self-made soundscape of the cast gasping for breath before falling to the ground repetitively. One could interpret Terrarium as a feminist statement. The women were forced to move between love and pain, all the while returning to a state of composition – much like the expectations of women today, fearing ever showing hysteria for they would not be taken seriously.  

The cast of Terrarium (Photo by Natalia Cartney – Rolling Media Productions)

Backley-Astrachan provides an exciting multicultural perspective on contemporary dance. His work provides a sophisticated series of ideas and movement with evident references to a more European pattern of movement. With works like Terrarium, Sydney’s contemporary dance scene proves it is in an exciting time.

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