Eighteen dynamos of dance and drums dazzle and delight at Arts Centre Melbourne. They are truly mesmerising in an energetic display of artistic brilliance. Let me set the scene. The curtain goes up to reveal two tiers. At ground level are nine dancers seated, ostensibly dressed in white with black highlights and taupe-coloured socks. Behind them, on a higher plane, are nine drummers tiered towards the middle of the stage and then down again (think parabolic arc). In front of them are nine drum kits. The backdrop to each level is striking, watermelon-coloured curtaining.
The first impression is most favourable. The set designer is Charles Davis. The feeling is that we are in for something special … and mighty special it turns out to be. We await the action. At first, it is only a single, hard-hitting drum beat from each of the nine drummers … and then another and another, well spaced out. The bodies at ground level move in unison to the sound. They writhe and contort. Already they make quite a statement, but as the drumbeats gain intensity and the black chairs are discarded, the bodies’ athletic pursuits broaden.
I can’t say I have seen anything quite like this before – a powerful synergy of percussion and movement – and I was immediately hooked. The variation is enormous. The drummers are soft, loud, gentle and frenzied, but always in total control, individually and collectively. They are in the zone. Often, as they ply their craft, there are broad smiles on their faces … for these are artisans par excellence that appear to be having a ball. So, too, the dancers who shimmy and shake, turn and tumble, leap and lift, balance and flip, letting out the occasional exclamation or exultation. They pull faces. They are dramatic and, on occasions, highly amusing.
During the 60-minute show they change costuming, always with white as the principal hue. The costume designer is Paula Levis. Lighting design from Bosco Shaw helps set and change the mood. With choreography by Stephanie Lake and composition from Robin Fox, Manifesto is a stunning showcase of creativity and human endeavour. It is exhilarating. It is perfection. Bravo. Bravo. Bravo. What a magical and uplifting production!
Manifesto is on at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until 5th November, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Identity (The Australian Ballet) – ballet and dance review
- Celtic Illusion Reimagined (touring) – theatre review
- Kaleidoscope (Arts Centre Melbourne forecourt) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.