Plunge – Contemporary Dance Theatre – a Review

On Saturday night, I went to another fabulous event of Frankston’s Anywhere Festival. The advertising blurb intrigued me as well as the venue, Yoga-MeStudios specialising in Yoga, Pilates and Barre.

What better place to view storytelling through contemporary dance!

Buddha's profile through the window of Yoga-Me Studio Frankston
Buddha’s profile through the window of Yoga-Me Studio Frankston

Yoga’s physical activities and movements can be challenging for many physiques, but it promotes a balance between mind and body with exercises geared to the individual.  I wondered how the artists would use the venue and if it would have a bearing on the work.

I soon discovered that the movements expertly performed by Joel Fenton and Jean Goodwin in Plunge are more than challenging to any ordinary person – the flexibility and control they demonstrated truly awe-inspiring. The polished boards and spartan lines of the studio perfect to showcase their performance!

I was green with envy – not just for their youth, but their talent.

A striking pose from Joel & Jean
A striking pose from Joel & Jean

The promise of the promotional advertising blurb:

“Playing out the many possibilities of the single moment when eyes meet, desires peak and you make a move, ‘Plunge’ examines the short and long term impacts of romantic advances that are reciprocated, rejected or unrequited.”

Intrigued, to say the least – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Warmly welcomed at the door, I joined a small group and listened while Darren Vizer, Director/choreographer of Devize Co introduced the show.  He requested members of the audience stay behind and give feedback to the performers and share their opinion about the show. This is one of the pluses of arts in the community – artists and audience conversing, discussing, sharing ideas and opinions – the constructed barriers of being ‘in the audience’ of a traditional theatre non-existent. Instead, up close and personal, genuine rapport can grow.

‘Plunge’ , developed from a workshop at La Mama where performers were given two words: sex and bullying and asked to develop an original piece of theatre merging contemporary dance with narrative. The result, a  story told through movement and words exploring attraction, lust, love, pleasurable and unpleasant and/or unwanted touch.

Darren explained there were several variations on what we would see, the work organic and continually developing.  The performers would be featured at the up-and-coming Fringe Festival, therefore our feedback welcomed.

The show began with appropriate mood music and for the next 45 minutes we watched two young adults (Joel and Jean) enter the uncertain world of romance the way most of us do – an initial physical attraction or desire.

We stayed engaged as Joel and Jean put on a riveting performance with a seamless action replay showing different reactions to a young man’s attempt to ‘hook up’ with a girl.  The first scenario showed acceptance of the advance, then switching stage position, we saw the rejection. The prop switch a clever way of making the audience change the physical focus as well as the alternate scenario.

Joel Fenton (Australia’s Got Talent, Grand Finalist 2012) revealed his acrobatic as well as dance abilities with some moves breathtaking. Without words he illustrated a range of emotions from shyness, reluctance, fear of rejection, joy, frustration and desire, anger, sorrow, despair, defeat and pride. At times almost flying across the floor or letting his upper body and facial expressions display whatever emotion or attitude Joel wanted.

Actor Jean Goodwin (ANZACs Victoria’s road to remembrance) the perfect companion, believable as the willing partner and stunning as the angry long-suffering woman dealing with body image issues and unwanted male attention. For many women it begins in adolescence, continues through womanhood and can result in damaged self-esteem, injury and even death. Jean manages to evoke the full gamut of emotions, moving her body with flexibility and ease.

The Victorian Royal Commission into Domestic Violence and a spate of high profile rapes and murders has focused attention on inappropriate male behaviour: from minor harassment, through to stalking, violence, and persistent misogyny. The home and workplace dangerous places for women, as well as jogging through the park, or walking home late at night. In fact women  can be targeted anywhere!

Plunge dives into the many realities of  sexual attraction, declarations of love or desire, ‘hooking up,’ fleeting or permanent romantic encounters, appreciating and enjoying time with that special someone, and how quickly the ugly flip side appears to become an abuse of power.  The body language and timing of Joel and Jean exceptional, evocative, explicit, entertaining.

We are told so much without words and it’s impressive, especially for someone like me who deals in words. Writers know all about the senses, the sensual, and also the importance of silence, but dance, like film, expresses all of this instantly and effectively!

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Different interpretations or motivations shown right at the beginning. Is Joel, the shy suitor or obsessed stalker penning a note declaring his admiration and dropping it into Jean’s handbag. She sits absorbed, unaware reading her kindle or is she really unaware of her attraction, and of Joel’s attention?

This opening scene interesting – what does the digital age mean for relationships juxtaposed with the handwritten note and traditional ‘rules’ about boy/girl approaches?

Physical attraction or revulsion? Devotion or obsession? Bargaining love or lust?When does no mean no?  Some of the story subtle; your interpretation, emotional engagement determined perhaps by life experience or prejudice. A man can be just as devastated and hurt as a woman, have similar body image issues.

Unwanted advances can take some effort to reject, a tirade of abuse or a physical attack can explode from either the giver or the recipient.

When Jean must cope with unwanted advances: hand on shoulder, hand on hand, attempt at footsies, hand on knee, too close a hug… the shrugs, the pushing away, the attempt to walk away, the grabbing and escalating violence of unnerving embrace… movements so aesthetically calculated and cleverly executed they pack a punch.

A heartfelt confession of dissatisfaction because of body image issues and how it can damn both males and females into a spiral of self-hate and unsatisfactory relationships or loneliness is a very powerful ending.

Plunge a memorable performance doing what all good art does – touching an emotional core, confronting important issues, provoking deep thought and leaving the audience in awe at the talent of the artists!

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I sincerely hope they get the audiences and adulation they deserve for the remainder of the festival and at The Melbourne Fringe.

And to think the innovative exploration was sparked by two words: Sex and Bullying. Two words with traumatic implications regarding relationships.

Yoga-Me, Frankston host to Plunge
Other guests leaving Yoga-Me, Frankston after experiencing Plunge – a bright spot in a dark and dreary night!

Go along to Yoga-MeStudios, Crn Beach Street & Olsen Street, Frankston – and catch a performance of  Plunge and see how great Joel and Jean are for yourself:

Sept 3-5 at 7:00pm.

You won’t be disappointed – and remember they welcome feedback – young artists honing their talent and craft. Fabulous!

8 thoughts on “Plunge – Contemporary Dance Theatre – a Review

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