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Real and virtual worlds converge in dance premiere


Adelaide choreographer Larissa McGowan is not much of a gamer herself – “I’m actually quite terrible” – yet it is curiosity about the allure of video games that inspired her latest dance work.

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“I found it fascinating what draws people into that virtual world,” McGowan says.

“It’s such a vivid, fantastical space and so different to the real world.”

Mortal Condition, which will premiere at the Adelaide Festival Centre next week, consists of two distinct parts and is performed by McGowan, a Helpmann Award winner and former Australian Dance Theatre member, and fellow dancers Thomas Bradley and Kialea-Nadine Williams.

Part I: Condition, is grounded in reality and described by McGowan as a conversation between two human bodies in space. Performed by McGowan and Bradley, it is accompanied by a score from Adult Themes for Voice – an experimental album of strange and often guttural vocal noises recorded by singer Mike Patton of rock band Faith No More.

“In the first half, the choreography is extremely intricate, detailed and in sync with this very raw music,” McGowan says.

“A lot of the movement feels animalistic and raw and extremely fast. It’s being evoked through the body by the sound.”

Part II: Mortal Condition, ventures into the virtual world, with choreography inspired by the attributes and quests of characters from video games ranging from Pixels and Super Mario Bros to Mortal Kombat, Minecraft and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. It will be performed by McGowan and Williams, with projections by light artist Toby K that reflect gaming interfaces and environments, and an original soundtrack composed by Adelaide’s DJ Tr!P.

“He’s made this epic sound score that is so layered and so textured and helps bring to life the avatars, the characters and this fantastical world we are heading into,” McGowan says.

Dance- Mortal Condition - Larissa McGowan

Thomas Bradley, Larissa McGowan and Kialea-Nadine Williams in Mortal Condition.

McGowan has built a reputation for work with popular culture themes, which she sees as a way of bringing a broader audience to the world of contemporary dance. Her dance Frantic, which toured last year as part of Sydney Dance Company’s De Novo, explored the fan culture surrounding the Alien and Predator sci-fi films.

For Mortal Condition, the choreographer and dancer researched games ranging from ’80s favourites Pac-Man and Tetris to the elaborate 3D games played today. She tried playing many of the games herself – “and just got quite frustrated!” – as well as watching her fellow dancers, who had more experience in the gaming world.

McGowan says the resulting dance work compares the real and virtual worlds. It looks at the allure of gaming, but doesn’t seek to make a statement about whether it is a good or bad thing.

She herself has gained a greater appreciation of the creativity behind video games, as well as the way in which they both help players to make social connections and also serve as a form of escapism from the stresses of everyday life.

“I now have a fonder feeling towards it [gaming],” she says.

“Previously, I felt that it was always a communication blocker with partners and friends because I wasn’t into it … I was intrigued to know what draws them into it and why they spend so much time in these worlds and make them almost a better version than reality.

“But spending the time looking at these games, playing them, being in them, you start to see the beauty, the art … all the things that go into making them.”

Mortal Condition will be presented at the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, from May 11-14.

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