‘Valentine’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by November 15, 2017

‘Valentine’ is an adult, dance production choreographed by WAAPA’s post-graduate, Kynan Hughes. In 2000, Kynan went over east to travel internationally with dozens of Australia’s most admired choreographers, dancers, and dance companies. After three years with the Sydney Dance Company, and having mastered the standards internationally required in all aspects of dance production, Kynan returned to Perth.

Kynan also teaches at the nationally admired organisation, STRUT Dance, which offers choreographers and dance practitioners huge opportunities. The students chose from one of three levels of skill to develop, and then go on to work with some of Perth’s very best. Kynan has now choreographed routines for WAAPA students, and advised at his old haunt of John Curtin College of the Arts.

This 60-minute production can be seen at The Blue Room Theatre, at 53 James Street, Northbridge each evening at 7.00 until the 2nd December. In this piece, Kynan is joined by three, superb STRUT students.

The room has black walls and floor. The stage is central with seating on three sides. On the floor is a three-metre carpeted square, with a checkerboard effect of black and scarlet velveteen 40 cms carpet tiles. To the side is a table with a silk tablecloth to match the Venetian floor covering.

Needless to say, lighting designer Joe Lui did a magnificent job, employing the scarlet tone of the carpet and ensuring a perfect mood for this drama. The sooth lighting and sound operation was by stage manager Jessie Atkins.

 

        As the audience enter the auditorium, the dancers are doing their warmup stretches on the floor. The room lights dim, and the show begins, it is modern day, with the obsequious dancing teacher (Kynan Hughes) asking the performers to leave, and prepare for their rehearsal. The teacher then goes on to perform a lengthy routine of leaps, spirals, stretches that in a leotard would have been exhausting, but he danced the sequence with a heavy warm coat.

      His students enter the stage, and the teacher explains how he is going back 300 years, to the days of Commedia dell’arte, and one of the main characters, Columbina. He explains that the masks they will wear is the character of the performer, not simply a disguise, and that they should be able to fully display their emotions without the audience seeing their faces.

      A pregnant woman (Rachel Arianne Ogle) staggers onto the stage, and within seconds, her baby is delivered by a man in a Scaramouche mask. The baby is whisked away from the poor mother by two large raven masked servants, and given to the local Lord. The baby is called Columbina, and we see her progress as she grows from a newly born (glove puppet), to a young adult (with more advanced puppetry).

      As a lonely adult, Columbina (David Mack) is searching for love, and the care of an affectionate partner. However, love never runs smoothly and a great deal of heartbreak lies ahead. Another lover (Natalie Allen) finds the worst kind of affection, and the performer playing the part registers her objection to the bullying teacher, and leaves him in no doubt as to her feelings.

 

The team have gone right back to the early 16th century in northern Italy, and some of the first professional theatre – the colourful, romantic Commedia dell’arte – with its improvised dialogue (Dramaturg by Joe Lui). It is thought that ‘the Commedia’ could have been the devisor of the love triangle storyline.

It is easy to see the huge amount of thought and physical work that this director / choreographer, Kynan Hughes has put into his show. With some dance productions, it can be hard to comprehend the storyline, and the dancing often considered an incidental. In this production, there is a powerful, clear theme running throughout, and the imaginatively choreographed movements actually build to a strong dramatic climax. Despite the masks, your heart really went out to poor Columbina on several occasions in the production. Mixing today’s actors with a performance from the past was a stroke of genius. The four performers moved AND acted brilliantly.

The composer, Tristen Parr, has produced a glorious, pre-recoded, musical accompaniment. With Parr playing the cello, and Dan Russell adding tension to the scenes on violin, the atmosphere was terrific.

Professional mask designer, Steve Wintercroft most generously helped Kynan with the basic mask template design; and then Hughes went on to make a dozen masks himself, ranging from the classic, white Columbina mask, with its pale blue eyes, to the threatening horned Ram’s façade. For many scenes the cast wore masks on top of masks, which must have been suffocating to wear, and impossible to see through when cartwheeling around.

The costumes were hooded black cassocks. Hughes was full-length, flowing and of quite heavy material. The other dancers’ cloaks were knee-length, with a bodice-like fastening above the waist. The beautiful tailoring was constructed by Barbara Hughes. The baggy white, adult costume for Columbina – held two actors! – was inspired.

A most enjoyable, high energy, entertaining production, highly recommended.