Theatre review: Evangeline at the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre

Theatre review: Evangeline at the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre

Evangeline. Devised and directed by Chenoeh Miller. Little Dove Theatre. The Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre. Until December 5. See:

Shafts of blue and red light beam through the gently rising haze before a curtain of silver foil. Seated on wooden crates or standing by tables with glasses in hand, the audience intently watch the two dancers that move in contrasting rhythm to the loud music that fills the Courtyard Studio of the Canberra Theatre Centre. One, with her back to the audience sways before the curtain of silver. The other convulses with an incessant pulsating rhythm. Such is the mesmerising power of Butoh, the Japanese dance of darkness, releasing the force that exists between flesh and bone, at times gentle and trance-like, at others violent and spasmodic, contorted by the lightning bolt of sheer anguish, seeking release, craving meaning and longing for identity.

Erica Field in "Evangeline".

Erica Field in "Evangeline". Credit:Martin Ollman

In its latest performance, Evangeline, Little Dove Theatre confirms its place as one of the foremost exponents of Butoh in the country. Evangeline explores the devastating impact of grief and the desperate search for comfort and release from the pain. Under director Chenoeh Miller's passionate and tightly focused direction the work is powerful, riveting, and ultimately cathartic for performers and audience alike. Two more dancers enter through the audience, trapped, a mind and body possessed, an empty shell, haltingly moving into the light.

In a climactic explosion of sound, dancers and stage are plunged into darkness. Time passes. They rise into the white light, released from the torment of broken hearts and shattered dreams, and yet unfulfilled. The stillness echoes with the silent sound of longing. An audience is transfixed. Miller's carefully and deliberately charted emotional trajectory weaves its spell. It is now that the audience is invited to interact. Please Go And Touch is projected upon the wall, inviting audiences to share the connection. The dancers invite, reaching out, grimacing still with the private pain, longing for connection. And it comes, without persuasion or expectation. Some audience members spontaneously move into the space, driven by the desire to comfort, to heal and to share. Time passes. The grief remains, but the pain passes and the dancers slowly, with measured movement, leave the stage and slide into the darkness.

Applause is spontaneous, rapturous in response to an experience that has touched and moved some, intrigued others and for 40 minutes lured an audience into Little Dove's intense and deeply personal investigation of private grief and the restorative power of time. For a deeper understanding of the healing power of Butoh and the intense commitment and control of dancers Peta Ward, Alicia Jones, Erica Field and Ruby Rowat, don't miss this very short season of Evangeline.