“Performance art is so gauche!”
The above quote is from an ironic sound bite that accompanies the double bill contemporary dance work, DEIFIED. This audio snippet was met with a rapturous laughter from the audience, as the cast performed on a sold-out opening night.
Exploring ideas of significance, meaning and transcendentalism, DEIFIED is an energetic and thought-provoking contemporary dance work showing from the 6th to the 8th of October as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. DEIFIED is composed of two works from VCA third-year students; “Imbued”, choreographed by Patrick O’Luanaigh, and “Oh My __”, choreographed by Aimee Raitman. An installation piece titled “Genziah: a movement” by Tamar Chaya Gordon welcomes the audience into the DEIFIED world in the foyer of St Martin’s theatre. Responding to the ideas explored in DEIFIED, Gordon’s genius combination of projection and poetry invites the audience from the outset into themes of idols and meaning.
The audience trickles in and settles into their seats. The light dims. Up first, is O'Luanaigh’s “Imbued”.
O’Luanaigh’s choreography has already garnered recognition, as his piece 3 Liminal Avenue won the Next Platform Award at UMSU’s Mudfest in 2021. In “Imbued” he curiously explores the attachment of significance to objects that otherwise have no innate meaning, allowing these objects to transcend beyond material reality. With formidable stage presence, the eight dancers of “Imbued” shift from fluidity to staticism with practised mastery. O'Luanaigh’s choreography demands constant shifts between the maddening and the calm, and each dancer moves through these paradoxical states with ease. O’Luanaigh was initially inspired by the golden McDonald’s arches and how it is one of the most recognisable symbols in the modern day. Thus, the dance work explores ideas of celebrity and capitalism, and the profitable merger of the two that culminates in the power of being a recognisable symbol.
A further inspiration for “Imbued” was tattoos, and all eight dancers in the work are covered in fake tattoos. Exploring motivations of etching permanent images onto their skin, O’Luanaigh casts a spotlight onto the (real) tattoos of two dancers in the work, Cora Hughes and Zoe Brown. Hughes and Brown perform their solos that commemorate their tattoos with a breath-taking, and confident beauty, exposing and celebrating images that are otherwise covered by clothing, O’Luanaigh explores why people get tattooed, interrogating choices that are made either meticulously or impulsively.
After interval, Raitman’s work follows. “Oh My __” addresses similar themes of idols and legacy. In a duet performed by Freya Humphery and Kat Hegeman, Raitman explores cultural practices of memorialisation as tokens of death for the living. Pianist and composer Ango Zhu plays live piano on stage with wit and exactitude. Raitman isn’t afraid to push the boundaries: her piece is semi-participatory, as the final act of the duet requires the audience to place a print-out copy of eulogies for the dancers onto their moveless bodies.
The piece begins with a haunting choir of the two dancers. “Oh My__” then evolves into an almost vaudevillian performance that basks in the absurd. Attempting to make sense of the nonsensical, Raitman explores the interplay between mortal people in their physical state and how their legacy transforms them into spiritual idols. Dancers Humphery and Hegeman lean into unadulterated clownery with unwavering and courageous commitment, carrying the audience through a dazzling display. They skilfully play between states of tenderness and performative dramaticism.
In their first professional work, Raitman and O’Luanaigh both present works that poke fun of themselves, the dancers, and the dance industry at large. Refusing to take themselves too seriously, they prod at the self-imposed and self-defined grandeur of the dance industry at large. Indeed, a highlight of “Imbued” in particular is when the eight dancers relinquish their stony, serious expressions classic to most contemporary works, and expose a simple, but authentic joy just to be dancing.
Wonderful and refreshing, DEIFIED demonstrates the emerging talent of Melbourne’s dance scene. In a Western capitalist society that defines itself as secular, what is made sacred are symbols, objects, celebrities, rituals and practices that promote profit and hierarchy. By unpacking what is assumed to be mundane, O’Luanaigh and Raitman explore what symbols and rituals we take for granted, and what they really mean. O’Luanaigh and Raitman bring us clever and relevant ideas, prodding us to question our individual and collective practices; all and everything that surrounds us.