Dust begins like a deep intake of breath: intentional and pure. And then, like breath, each movement is followed by another, each step a forward motion. It’s a chain of events in sequence that brings to mind history-building, myth-making and evolution of human life. These are difficult topics but in Dust they feel within reach and are seen, for once, with clarity. And then, above the clarity of ideas and loftiness of its goals, Dust will, in that ineffable, higher-power-of-art way, move you.
When it begins, the stage is split in two by a barrier wall. All but one of the dancers are on one side, awakening to their bodies; on the other, a woman feels her way through the space alone. Another dancer slides beyond the wall to her territory; a peaceful, or at least non-violent invasion. From there, this idea of who belongs in a space, and how you define that space, comes into full play. The wall changes shape, is taken apart and transformed. Each dancer must make a new relationship with their new reality, and it’s the story of every nation, community, social gathering: where do we end and something else begins? And why have we decided to separate or come together?
Created by Dancenorth, a contemporary dance company based in regional North Queensland and appearing in town as part of Sydney Festival, Dust is choreographed by its artistic and associate artistic directors Kyle Page and Amber Haines. Dust feels like a collaboration, but more than that it feels like this work could only be born out of collaboration; it’s a consideration of the influence those around us, and those who came before us, possess over our individual evolution, growth and direction. It asks questions of community, majority and minority, belonging and borders: how do these often arbitrary groupings determine the path of our lives? These questions are always better answered together.
The show’s dance vocabulary is also one of evolution and community – as well as the power of collaboration and exclusion. Space onstage is delineated by moving setpieces (designed by Liminal Studio); walls are built and taken down, joining some and separating others; the dancers cut through the space accordingly – the shape of their movement always and irrevocably altered by each new environment. And those movements begin with hesitation and repetition before extending and expanding, claiming new ground, making new and bigger shapes, exploring new spatial relationships.
From the beginning, the bulk of the ensemble of seven move as a unit, with brave leaders and less assured followers; it’s thrilling when an individual breaks out for a solo, or two dancers finally lock eyes and dance together – it feels like those moments we become aware of our auto-pilot, our compliance, or our difference. Those moments where you are conscious of your breathing.
With live violin by Jessica Moss, lighting that moves through the red of a sunset to the bald yellow of new mornings, and this generous, emotionally-led exploration of the ways we exclude and include each other, Dust is as much product of our modern and fractured world as it is a necessary salve for its conflicts, walls, and cruelty.