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Dancenorth perform “Wayfinder” at Brisbane Festival. Photograph by David Kelly

A Kaleidoscope of Wonder

Dancenorth’s “Wayfinder” at Brisbane Festival

Performance
Dancenorth: “Wayfinder”
Place
Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane, Queensland, September 21, 2022
Words
Madelyn Coupe

The term “wayfinder” has two definitions. The first refers to a sign or landmark that helps navigate people to a specific location; a physical marker guiding people home. The second points toward a traveller; someone who is in search of a particular place. Despite being either subject or object, the two definitions share a commonality—there is an inherent and active search going on. People searching for signs, for each other, and for meaning. The audience, too, walked into this performance searching for their own answers, as individual as they may be. And what they found was the kaleidoscopic brilliance that is Dancenorth’s “Wayfinder.”

“Wayfinder” is collaboration at its best. Choreographed by Amber Haines and Kyle Page, the production is a fusion of dance, music and visual art. Dancenorth teamed up with sound artist Byron J. Scullin who, in collaboration with Hiatus Kaiyote (a three-time Grammy nominated Australian band), created an aural wonderland.

The opening moments set the tone of the performance. The dancers entered the stage. The choreography was small at first, but grew with intensity and power. Everything from the movement to the music hit a fever pitch before it abruptly stopped—and a mass of yarn dropped from the ceiling and onto the dancers. Their bodies were, now, engulfed by knitted colour.

Another collaborative facet of this production brought in the talents of visual artist Hiromi Tango who was the costume and scenic designer. A core element of “Wayfinder” is Tango’s signature style—her practice explores themes of humanity, sustainability, and nature. Part of her design incorporated a knitted mass of yarn that the dancers interacted with and explored throughout the show. The yarn, in question, was hand knitted by volunteers beforehand. Guided by Tango and design associate Chloe Greaves, audience members had the opportunity to physically weave themselves into the production; what they created would be used by the dancers.

Dancenorth perform “Wayfinder” by Amber Haines and Kyle Page. Photograph by David Kelly

This was not the only moment that integrated the audience into the production. When we walked into the theatre, amongst the rows of seats, there were a number of white orbs strategically placed on a few chairs. The orbs were about the size of a soccer ball and slightly iridescent to look at. As we found our seats, it just so happened that I ended up being one of the lucky few who was assigned an orb. But as someone who hates audience participation, the decision to willingly pick it up was by no means an easy feat.

During the show, the orbs became an extension of the audience; an aural body that existed in multiple parts and extended throughout the space. They illuminated different colours—from white to pink to peach—and sang their own songs (there was an almost invisible speaker at the bottom of each one). They connected the audience more intimately to the performance. The initial personal interaction when you picked it up turned into a conversation with the person sitting next to you which, then, evolved into moments with the people in front and behind you. We shared and passed the orbs around, all wanting each other to have the same experience. Not one person solely kept their orb. Everyone was connected.

Dancenorth perform “Wayfinder” at Brisbane Festival. Photograph by David Kelly

Onstage, a number of talents shone. Damian Meredith’s static syncopated movements were eye-catching. His articulation and control of his body are a testament to his technique as a dancer. Marlo Benjamin, too, was wonderous to watch. In a production that is visually and aurally rich, Benjamin was calm fluidity; she injected a sense of clarity amidst the chaos around her.

“Wayfinder” was born out of a desire to feel human connection. Haines and Page wanted to create something that was the polar opposite of what we all experienced during the initial peak of the pandemic. Instead of isolation, they wanted closeness. Instead of monotony, they wanted a kaleidoscope of wonder. And between the collaborations—creators to dancers, dancers to audience, creators to audience—you can tell that none of this was done in isolation. Everything relied on connection, and “Wayfinder” ended in an explosion of colour and joy that was infectious.