REVIEW: Gray Rhino & Yung Lung

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gray rhinoceros
Charmene Yap & Cass Mortimer Eipper
Bay 20, Carriageworks
Opinion filed on January 20, 2022

Lung Yung
big move
Bay 17, Carriageworks 20th
Opinion filed on January 20, 2022

The 2022 Sydney Festival featured a slew of dance performances and physical theatre. So, in a way, it wasn’t so much a coincidence as gray rhinoceros and Lung Yung both had their world premieres at the same location (Carriageworks) and on the same night. But the similarities don’t end there. Both are approximately hour-long contemporary dance works with a cast of seven dancers; both have large sets that play a crucial role; and both have an apocalyptic/end of days theme – although these are tackled very differently by the respective works.

Co-choreographed by Charmene Yap and Cass Mortimer Eipper (and produced by Performing Lines) the title gray rhinoceros is a metaphor for an impending high-impact threat that we collectively fail to prepare for and deal with. The work focuses more on the psychology of why and how people don’t act, rather than the specifics of the impending threat itself. Reading the digital program for this work before seeing it, I had doubts about the ability to express this theme through dance. . . how to dance on inaction when movement is by its very nature – action? But after seeing gray rhinoceros I have to say it exceeded my expectations.

gray rhinoceros features combined set/lighting design by Damien Cooper and an atmospheric soundscape/musical score by Alyx Dennison, both of which are as crucial as the choreography in communicating the ideas of this work to the audience. Damien Cooper’s large square lighting fixture illuminates and frames the work, providing an outward “threat” from above as it tilts sharply here and there, gradually approaching the dancers. It creates what I can only describe as a “square sandwich of light” that frames and contains the dancers, as they rarely move outside of its brightly lit edge. Dennison’s soundscape is ever-changing, a hodgepodge of fragmented sounds (both natural and mechanical), vocals and musical themes that gradually become more urgent and alarming.

gray rhinoceros is very cleverly put together. Choreographically, it alternates sections of slow motion with others that become increasingly frantic, while the dancers’ movement often seems to lose momentum and rhythm as they come together in groups. I concluded after looking at this work that just because movement is an action doesn’t mean, unfortunately, those actions are necessarily productive or useful.

There are breathtaking solos and duets, including a duet danced by Samantha Hines and Zachary Lopez, which was outstanding. Despite some technical difficulties on the opening night (the central round lighting beam was supposed to come down on the dancers in the last moments failed to come down), the performance was very successful and the seven dancers of the cast performed magnificently.

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