It is a brave move for a long-established artist to abandon his signature style in choreography and his standard mode of production and hand over a good deal of the responsibility for the timing and pace of the performance to the dancers. On the face of it, that is what Michael Parmenter has done with his latest production, Tent.
So if you go along expecting extended sequences of heroic partnering, and passages of driven, densely packed, high-energy, high-risk dancing, you may be disappointed. These have only a fragmentary presence in the new work.
On the other hand, the vitality, musicality and sensuousness we have come to expect from Parmenter productions is still fully present in the dancing, which has a more mellow pace than we have come to expect, and he has assembled some stellar performers to delight us with their artistry.
A rich score by Eden Mulholland provides the structure for the work and seems to cue the sequencing of events.
There is a wonderful array of sound ranging from plucked and bowed cellos, soughing violins, driving percussion, drum'n' bass, jazz standards, free jazz, horns, sampled sirens, a morepork, and crowd sounds, to interpolated excerpts - reggae from Fat Freddy's Drop (Ernie) and piano from Bach (Sonata in A Major).
John Verryt's mostly empty stage is lit beautifully by Nik Januriek as an arena for encounters, and Elizabeth Whiting's array of clothing - from sleek lycra to layered leisure gear to tidy shirts and pants for the men and "best" dresses for the women - provides continuing interest for the eyes.
The dancing is fluid, with a shifting combination of dancers - solos become duets or trios or quartets; men and women mix and match, or remain separated by gender groupings.
The sequencing is episodic, interleaving short, tightly choreographed and mostly unison sequences, movement-based rule games similar to those of American postmodern dance, longer passages of collaborative structured improvisation, sections where the dancers talk to each other inanely, and some wonderfully emblematic solos (Craig Bary, Sarah Foster, Christopher Tandy, Claire Lissaman) which are a joy to watch.
The pace is generally such that you can observe beautiful sculptural moments for longer than the blink of an eye, watch muscles and sinews working, faces responding to the action, and at times there's a "take time out to smell the flowers" feel. When faster bursts come, or tight ensemble work, they are too quickly gone, and there are duets between Foster and Bary you wish would be extended.
A beautiful, almost languorous sequence for the women (Foster, Lissaman, Victoria Colombus, Destiny Stein) lets us see what fine dancers they all are. A muscular series of interactions between the men (Bary, Justin Haiau, Adam Synott, Tandy) similarly lets us appreciate their skills.
One sequence brings dramatic tension and a sense of narrative which is at odds with the rest of the work - a slowly intensifying and aggressive encounter between Foster and three men turns from play to menace in a flash, leaving her trembling in the shadows. This nasty encounter soured the general aura of camaraderie, and was left unresolved.