Orb, Sydney Dance Company @ Canberra Theatre Centre, Thu–Sat May 25–27

A long time ago I read a line in a book that I can’t recall. It referred to the “rhizome of humankind”. Do you know that word? I didn’t. It’s a gardening term. It’s Japanese. It means root-system – ‘The root-system of humankind’. I love that.

It makes me think that humanity may have a root system that through all its tangles, connects us all. Music and dance tap in to that place. And I love it when show makers and music makers tap in to that universal connection. Dance, combined with wicked good sound is the most direct route.

Lights up on eight dancers for part one of Orb entitled ‘New Moon’ and choreographed by Cheng Tsung-Lung. In his program note Tsung-Lung says: “I often have a feeling deep in my heart, difficult to express in words. I hope to convey this feeling through dance, through the myth and the moon.”

The movement of two of the dancers reminds me of wild animals running free, and of flickering flames under a full moon. At times convulsing, stomping feet and shaking manes of big hair. Another spins like a jewellery box doll for so long that I forget she’s there, and marvel at her duration some time later. Another pair prance like flamingos wrapping themselves around each other. Others make shapes like Balinese puppets. At times the dancers seem separate and unaware of each other and then suddenly they come together with flow and joy. The mixed tempos are exquisite as each individual or duo takes alternative focus. I feel like I’ve been invited in to a dream, a celebration, a ritual.

My favourite thing about ‘New Moon’ is the costume design by Fan Huai-Chih – a beautiful palate of silver, black, red, white, gold. Long flowing skirts, big bold stripes and lots of skin. It mixes beautifully with Damien Cooper’s lighting design that creates deep shadows over the dancers glistening bodies.

After interval is ‘Ocho’, which is an exploration of the significance of the number eight – power, ego and the infinite.

Eight dancers are revealed inside a glass box. One by one they exit the box to perform a solo piece while the others look on. It seems there are stories and relationships happening inside the glass box. We don’t need to know what they are but they seem to reveal some strong personalities and passionate dynamics. Albeit one dancer leaves the box and she stands alone in fluorescence, lit like a Bill Henson photograph. It’s an exquisite theatre moment before she opens the sliding door and dances on the stage.

The light coming through cracks in the walls reminds me of the stripes from the piece before. Rafael Bonachela has painted the show beautifully. It’s a generous gesture for a choreographer to allow the space to celebrate the uniqueness of individual dancers as he has chosen to do with the solos.

The highlight is the finale though as the dancers, wearing their training gear, walk slowly toward the seeming sunlight that pours through imagined cracks in the walls, to the spiritual strains of song man Rrawun Maymuru – a very impressive choice from composer Nick Wales, and perhaps a comment on the rhizome of humanity.

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