Review: Under My Skin

5 years ago
Aidan Johnson

Dance – especially contemporary dance – can seem a bit niche for most people. And it is true – some contemporary dance pieces can be a little avant garde for most people. However, Under My Skin is not only is accessible (for the most part) to hoi paloi, but it is also an excellent combination of different mediums – dance, sound, and light. And considering that the dancers (and a fair few of the production team) are deaf/have hearing impediments, the show is even more spectacular.

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There were three identifiable “sections” in the hour long performance. Whilst they flowed fairly well into each other, they certainly stand out from each other very well. All of them deal with, in different ways, ideas such as identity and the “true self” verses what is presented to the world. It was quite an interesting journey for the audience, who got to watch very rapid costume changes on stage, saw dancing involving a large rubber sheet (which was very impressive – how the dancers managed to get a lifeless piece of rubber to look so lifelike and be so diverse is a testimony to the choreographer and the dancers themselves), and witnessed wonderful shadow and light performances that were in some ways reminiscent of Indonesian light shows. Each section involved some sort of transformation, or a change, and often involved various degrees of unmasking. Although there wasn’t a “plot”, you could definitely feel a sort of story going along with the performance, and it was well structured.

The music was quite interesting. At times almost sinister, long sustained chords and throbbing bass (not in a dance club manner, more like a swirling tide) created a very atmospheric soundtrack. Whilst having strict rhythm obviously doesn’t work with dancers who have hearing impediments, it did mean that the show could at times be a little repetitive (music-wise). However, the music itself was very enjoyable, and definitely suited the atmosphere of the location and the theme of the show.

One of the most impressive parts of the show was the lighting and props. As a taste, the opening of the performance starts in total blackness, with soft lighting eventually revealing the four dancers closely linked in what can only be described as a human fountain (they were moving like water around each other’s bodies, making a very interesting spectacle). What made this particularly interesting though was how the dancer’s bodies weren’t the main focus – they instead were the backdrop for video footage of themselves dancing. It was like going to the cinema, except the cinema screen was constantly moving. And that’s basically the show in a nutshell – the interaction between the dancers, the music, and the visual elements make for a very enjoyable viewing.

Although the show certainly was delightful, it wasn’t quite perfect. Aside from a few minor mishaps (which were very well played off), the show itself could be construed as a little difficult for some people to follow. Although it can be enjoyed by most people, it is still a fairly intellectual exercise to enjoy artistic dance, and without words to drive along a show, it can seem a little difficult to follow at times. Furthermore, as has been mentioned, the lack of any form of fixed or driving rhythms, although understandable, did mean that the show did drag a little in the middle.
In conclusion, Under My Skin is certainly a visual treat, and definitely an enjoyable experience. It is an excellent example of contemporary dancing, and allows the audience to ponder many things, ranging from identity and masks through to perceptions and transformation. Hopefully the sow stands out in the Next Wave Festival, and will be an example to other dance productions that people who are hard of hearing can still make moving and high quality dance productions.

Under My Skin runs from the 5th to the 8th of May as part of the Next Wave Festival at Arts House North Melbourne.

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