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Artrage Festival

All-in dancing

Geet Frank

Crossfire Crossfire
photo Patrick Schuttler
Artrage is onto a winner with Crossfire, although next year the organisers might want to consider a bigger venue, graduated stages and stadium seating. The multi-stage centrepiece event of the Northbridge Festival was an unprecedented crowd puller, packing 8,000 people like sardines into a space less than a square kilometre in size.

Crossfire, a dance-off pitting opposing dance styles against each other on multiple stages decked out like boxing rings, was staged for the first time last year as part of an Artrage fringe event in the outer Perth suburb of Midland. The success of the event saw it moved this year to the crossroads of James and Lake Streets, 2 of the busiest streets in Perth’s entertainment district.

Over 20 different dance groups and exponents of as many dance styles battled it out on 5 stages—one main stage flanked by 4 smaller ones on each side, aided by little more than a soundtrack cue.

While ballet dancers pirouetted on the main stage, a Ukrainian Cossack troupe picked up the pace on stage 2; tappers took on belly dancers, bootscooters faced off Spanish dancers; Perth Wildcats cheerleaders came up against hip hoppers; and African dancers challenged swing dancers in a triumph of split-second timing and choreography. Perhaps understandably, the overwhelming crowd favourite was the final risque round, which saw fitness school pole-dancers pitting sheer athleticism against the raw sexuality of adult industry professionals while between them, calisthenics exponents split, twisted and somersaulted centrestage.

Individually choreographed performances prior to and between dance-offs borrowed from boxing and sporting traditions, with performances preceded by rousing fanfare, hype and hoopla courtesy of raucous hosts, placard-waving girls, EPW wrestlers and sword fighters.

Punters pushed and jostled for space on the streets and in surrounding restaurants, in some cases creating health hazards by jumping onto flimsy barriers designed only to cordon off alfresco dining areas. Meals lay forgotten on tables as restaurant patrons lucky enough to have booked tables in advance of the event stood on their chairs to get a better view.

The successful execution of Crossfire is particularly remarkable considering the conditions under which it was produced. Logistical requirements meant everyone had to get it right the first time, without the benefit of rehearsals, preliminary checks or tests for lighting or sound. As stages could only be erected on the day, lighting was programmed in a virtual computer environment, and a soundtrack pieced together with a lot of foresight and even more guesswork, while dancers were armed with only a schedule and a stage manager to guide them.

The set-up may have been the only thing to miss the mark—stages were spaced 10 or so metres apart to allow audiences to move freely between them, but the capacity crowd meant the only really satisfying view for most of us would have been an aerial one.

Crossfire, choreographers Claudia Alessi, Sam Fox, Artrage Festival 05, Nov 20

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 14

© Geet Frank; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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