‘White Matter’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by November 19, 2015

‘White Matter’ is a stunning new dance piece from choreographer Shona Erskine, mentored by one of Australia’s foremost dance makers, Sue Healey. You can catch this 50 minute show at 8.30 pm nightly at the studio theatre within The Blue Room Theatre, 53 James Street, Northbridge until Saturday 28th November. There are two sets of cast, male and female, that alternate.
This project was originally supported through a STRUT Dance SEED residency.

Multiple sclerosis is a disability that is brought about by poor nerve signal transmission to the muscles. This makes the muscles unreliable in supporting the skeletal frame. Signals travel along the nerves but if the myelin sheath – a soft fatty insulation around the nerve (the white matter in question?) – has blockages or breaks in it, then short circuits take place and the signal does not reach the muscle and so the muscle does not work smoothly.

I saw the exceptional female cast of Isabella Stone and Zoe Wozniak. The male cast I believe was also superb, consisting of Harrison Elliott and Scott Elstermann.

         Two sisters are walking together when one wobbles and falls over. She has waves of neurological changes passing over her body. We see the able sister help her home. Like many people with MS the sick sister tries various ‘cures’ such as reiki and exercises.
         The patient tries various foods only find that some upset her digestion, especially when the swallow reflex is not working properly. The siblings practise exercises to aid co-ordination, but the nerve synapses (junctions between nerves) still don’t work too well. We see the doctor check eye movements for faults in the tracking ability.

The choreographer has added many more points that MS suffers struggle with every day. Shona’s observation and understanding of the condition is outstanding. With clever lighting from Chris Donnelly, she shows vividly how the vision can fade and how colours can change from day to day.
Designer Chloe Flockart stark black surroundings add to the picture of the struggle taking place. The tintinnabulations of sound designer Chris Cobilis, and the backing sounds suggest the instability in the patient’s mind; this is followed by the heavy heartbeat of the struggle. The show is stage managed by Georgia Smith / Meabh Walton.
Shona Erskine and her wonderful contemporary dancers, who danced and flexed for 50 minutes, managed in an abstract way to portray an experience of living with multiple sclerosis.
This is not a depressing show, but rather an informative lesson about the condition and the intense love and support that two siblings have for each other.
Thank you to all concerned for bringing this sad and only too common condition to the stage in such a clever and moving way. Amazing.