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Science + love = explosive dance

Kathryn Kelly: The Farm & C03, Frank Enstein

Frank Enstein, The Farm Frank Enstein, The Farm
photo Scott Belzner for Nikon Australia courtesy Bleach Festival 2017

Frank Enstein is the first children’s show produced by the newest dance company in Queensland, The Farm, based on the Gold Coast. All animals are equal is the ethos of choreographer-dancers Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood whose past collaborations have included the perennially touring Lawn (2004) and other iconic works programmed across festivals in Europe. The Farm has been a highly active cultural agent in the blossoming performance scene on the Gold Coast. In the legendary durational work Tide, Webber and dancer Joshua Thomson grappled with each other in office furniture embedded into the coastal estuary at Currumbin for 48 hours.

A collaboration with Perth dance company Co3 in Western Australia, Frank Enstein is one of the flagship works at the 2017 Bleach Festival, which is gearing up for a massive year of programming for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Loosely based on Jon Scieszka's Frank Enstein series of children’s books about a child genius, the performance makes our mad scientist older and yearning for love and companionship. Young actor and filmmaker Daniel Monks who has only recently moved into dance and has a mobility impairment, which plays out on the left side of his body, is the emotional lynchpin of the show.

Frank Enstein, The Farm Frank Enstein, The Farm
photo Scott Belzner for Nikon Australia courtesy Bleach Festival 2017

Rather than the zany science made by the book's younger protagonist, the show focuses primarily on the growing love affair between Monks as the lonely scientist who has created a series of human dance monsters from lightning (including one accidently born out of a garbage bin) and an eccentric young girl on a picnic with her dog outside the scientist’s garage-lab. She stumbles upon his experiments during the lightning storm and decides, despite her frizzy hair and his experiments, that he is the one for her.

The show feels a bit like sophisticated panto—think Rocky Horror for kids with snatches of dialogue, lots of mugging, sharp entrances and exits and three signs at the back of the lab that flash to change the direction of the show: “Work, Party, Romance.” The strength of the work lies with the characteristic explosive choreography Millwood and Webber are renowned for and some haunting choral scenes where the other dancers move to echo our hero as he mobilises his weaker left arm and is lifted and manipulated.

Like Circa’s When One Door Closes, the show features not only backpack vacuum cleaners but also a dustbuster solo from Co3's whipsharp Zachary Lopez as the dance creature who emerged from the bin, half 80s-powersuited woman and half unitard-dance monster.

The show is lots of fun and the audience of mostly young boys with their families snorted their way through the gags and the virtuosic choreography. The messages of self-acceptance and worthiness were heartfelt and sincere. Yet the show lacked the edge, the lingering specificity of the best of Webber and Millwood’s work where you feel as if you are looking through a peep-hole into a complete universe, sharply rendered, just for you.

Frank Enstein, The Farm Frank Enstein, The Farm
photo Scott Belzner for Nikon Australia courtesy Bleach Festival 2017

Bleach Festival 2017: The Farm & Co3, Frank Enstein, directors Grayson Millwood, Gavin Webber, devisor-performers Brianna Kell, Zachary Lopez, Talitha Maslin, Daniel Monks, Andrew Searle, lighting design Mark Howett, set design Vilma Mattila; The Arts Centre Gold Coast, 31 March-1 April

RealTime issue #138 April-May 2017 pg.

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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