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Review: Out of Earshot

Cabaret Festival

What’s it like to dance when you can’t hear music? How much do we rely on sound to communicate and tell us what to feel? Can you listen with your eyes? These are the kinds of questions Out of Earshot leaves its audience pondering.

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A dance work with an integral live percussion element, Out of Earshot pushes the boundaries of both contemporary dance and cabaret – which is only to be expected from a company whose previous works include a show performed on and around a 2.5-tonne forklift.

Collaborating with other artists is a key part of the ethos of Victoria-based KAGE – established by Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck – and in this instance it has joined with profoundly deaf dancer Anna Seymour and jazz percussionist Myele Manzanza to explore “the power of non-verbal language”.

The audience is drawn in by a gentle duet in which Manzanza plays the body of dancer Elle Evangelista like a hand drum, setting a sensual rhythm for the piece. They are gradually joined by the other ensemble members – Van Dyck, Seymour and Timothy Ohl ­– whose bodies also serve as percussion instruments, before Manzana eventually takes his position behind a drum kit on a moveable platform.

What follows is 55 minutes of dance and music that veers between entrancing, rousing and perplexing as it challenges our thinking of the connection between music and movement, and the role sound plays in communicating meaning and emotion.

There are moments of silence, in which attention is firmly focused on the dancers’ movements and you feel yourself leaning in as you wait for the percussion to kick back in.

Sometimes the beats are quiet, soft, accompanied by equally tender movement; at others they reach a frenzy and the dancers revel in the party-like atmosphere.

Manzana is physically integrated into the entire performance. It is like the dancers are playing him, or at least with him – in one particular highlight, Seymour drapes herself across the percussionist and his drumkit as the music reaches a peak.

The lighting is excellent, with three narrow panels surrounding the stage showing a visual representation of the soundwaves.

Individual senses are spotlighted throughout the performance: there’s miming, a conversation in sign language, a beautifully choreographed and passionate pas de deux in which Seymour covers her partner’s eyes with her hands. And what to make of the singing – a rendition of Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass”?

In an interview before the Cabaret Festival began, choreographer and director Kate Denborough told InDaily that Out of Earshot would mess with people’s idea of what they expect when they go to a live performance.

“We are looking at how you don’t necessarily need sound to evoke those feelings, and that emotion can be expressed purely through visual physical movement and intimacy rather than relying just on audio cues to propel you further in the story.”

Out of Earshot is a show that will inevitably provoke a range of different emotional responses due to its unorthodox nature, but there’s no denying it’s unlike anything you will have seen before.

The final performance of Out of Earshot is tonight at the Dunstan Playhouse. See more Adelaide Cabaret Festival reviews and previews here.

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