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Escalation

The inaugural season of “Escalator,” presented by Stephanie Lake Company in association with Abbotsford Convent, begins with the slow traction of Kady Mansour dressed head to toe in white as a tampon, replete with two strings around each ankle, and concludes with two dancers dressed as mirrored disco balls, declaring to the audience that they are “strong enough / to live without [us]” as they rewind and rotate on the dancefloor to Cher’s “Strong Enough.” “Prepare to be moved, surprised, delighted, and devastated,” chimes the opening night event program, and in the accelerated span of an hour or so, this “Escalator” proves true. Be extended. Be challenged. Be magnified. Be wigged. Be intensified.

Performance

“Escalator” presented by Stephanie Lake Company

Place

Magdalen Laundry & Industrial School, Abbotsford Convent, Abbotsford, Victoria, August 16, 2023

Words

Gracia Haby

Harrison Ritchie-Jones' “Big Wig Small Gig” at “Escalator,” presented by Stephanie Lake Company. Photograph by Marc Gambino

Five short dance pieces assume various shapes in the Magdalen Laundry & Industrial School, of the Abbotsford Convent, choreographed by “five of Naarm’s (Melbourne) freshest choreographic talents,” who are, as Lake describes, “independent and at the beginning of their choreographic journey.” Mansour brings “Menstruation the Musical,” the opening “rollercoaster of PMS, mood swings, physical pain and fatigue” as Dolly Parton sings “Got those moods a swingin’, tears a slingin’”; followed by Melissa Pham and Jayden Wall with “Sense Now”; Luke Currie-Richardson, “Gedovait”; Kayla Douglas, “Hysterics”; and Harrison Ritchie-Jones, “Big Wig Small Gig” in recycled, ruched and ballooned, hooped and brocaded costumes supplied by the Malthouse Theatre. 

Kady Mansour's “Menstruation the Musical” at “Escalator,” presented by Stephanie Lake Company. Photograph by Marc Gambino

From the bodily resistance of the floor as Mansour drags her ‘heavy’ costumed form, to Pham and Wall’s “Sense Now,” which also throws into relief their connection to the floor, I had not expected it to be the floor which caught my attention over the vaulted ceiling and clerestory windows of the historically loaded former laundry. Pham and Wall move in unison as if their lives depend upon it. As if, if one of them makes a mistake and collides with the other, they will break and things will fall apart. Their arms slice through the air, and Pham’s long plait too, propeller-style. Sound accompanies action and I hear the deep, mechanical swoosh of the blades with each rotation. In “Hysterics,” Kayla Douglas, too, anchors dancers Jareen Wee and Sarah McCrorie, only this time, the dancers are equipped with knee guards so that they may withstand the buffeting winds that have pushed them to the floor. Where Pham and Wall move like two precision-cut cogs in a machine that are designed to fit and work together, Wee and McCrorie take their feet off the pedals, to make themselves furiously spin.

Melissa Pham and Jayden Wall with “Sense Now,” at “Escalator” presented by Stephanie Lake Company. Photograph by Marc Gambino

Moving into the dark room to the side for Luke Currie-Richardson’s “Gedovait,” which comes with a trigger warning to First Nations community that the “piece contains racial slurs, names of mob who are no longer with us, and news segments by racist bigots that may upset you,” I find a spot on one of several blankets on the floor. The familiar strains of Rolf Harris’s offensive hit song from the 1960s, “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” plays. This deeply personal work is about listening, looking, feeling, facing up to how things are, as Currie-Richardson not only disproves the prejudiced remarks of right-wing social commentator Andrew Bolt’s “idea we are a fundamentally racist country . . . You gotta get over some of this stuff,” but rather reveals what it is like to wear them every day. Removing the beanie from his head and extending it forward, Currie-Richardson appears to hand over the weight of this experience and begs, challenges: “you get over it,” but no-one does. “Gedovait” concludes with Currie-Richardson lying spent on the floor, in uncomfortably close proximity to the audience around him, and there he remains “in character” until the audience, after applauding, leaves the room and returns to the brightly lit laundry. A couple of people hover awkwardly, and seem uncomfortable to leave him in that state, whilst also respecting his space. It reveals that it is easy for us all to walk away when it is too much to face, my own self included.

Luke Currie-Richardson’s “Gedovait” at “Escalator” presented by Stephanie Lake Company. Photograph by Marc Gambino

From all that is raw to all that is concealed, whoopee cushion included, Harrison Ritchie-Jones’s “Big Wig Small Gig” presents a world where a big-wig important person is actually a person wearing a big, towering wig. With the pretence of the skin painted lead white in the manner of an aristocrat, and cheeks rouged in neat circles, Anika de Ruyter and Oliver Savariego, joined by a gold-legged Ritchie-Jones, draw a love triangle in the air as they throw themselves into the brevity of exaggerated merriment, as the harpsichord plays.

Harrison Ritchie-Jones' “Big Wig Small Gig” at “Escalator,” presented by Stephanie Lake Company. Photograph by Marc Gambino

“Escalator” affords a safe space for choreographers and dancers, the lucky audience included, to explore diverse ideas in various states of resolve. The “wild journey to unexpected places” promised upon arrival, makes me hope that it continues as a program beyond its debut, and as a springboard of confidence for all of the choreographers and dancers involved.

Gracia Haby


Using an armoury of play and poetry as a lure, Gracia Haby is an artist besotted with paper. Her limited edition artists’ books, and other works hard to pin down, are often made collaboratively with fellow artist, Louise Jennison. Their work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia and state libraries throughout Australia to the Tate (UK). Gracia Haby is known to collage with words as well as paper.

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