Sydney Morning Herald: Entertainment
3/12/2017 CAMERON WOODHEAD
When it comes to theatre created by ensembles with and without disability, Australia can fairly claim to be world leaders. Rawcus may not have achieved the international recognition and touring potential of Geelong-based company Back to Back, but their finest work is as innovative and accomplished, and possesses the sort of transcendent quality that leaves you feeling charged and changed.
Their latest, Song For a Weary Throat, is exquisite dance theatre that begins with a guiding poetic allusion: a young woman enters and chalks the opening lines from Dante’s Inferno on a blackboard; she smudges them out.
The ensuing pilgrimage flows from the sense of spiritual crisis Dante identified. Anyone who midway through life has found themselves in a dark wood, with no clear path forward, will understand intuitively the halting, recursive trajectory of the piece, which embodies the ordeal those soul-struck by grief, or heartbreak, or life-changing trauma face when they learn, unsteadily, to dance again.
On a set lightly suggesting a ruined church hall, floodlights of shocking wattage flash upon frozen moments and disjointed, but painterly, scenes.
A man sweeps rubble into a corner and, with alarming violence, throws his broom away. A woman stands before (perhaps snatching at, perhaps sifting through) a stream of sand falling from the heavens. Two figures trade places in a cruel dance: the first prone, desperate for assistance, is helped up, then crushes her benefactor’s head under bootheels.
Tightly choreographed physical theatre swells and dissolves between isolation and synchronised movement, between torment and fleeting joy, with an almost Sisyphean power.
Indeed, the work seems more attuned to existentialism than medieval religious epic – I kept thinking of the last page from Beckett’s The Unnamable: “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” – though there are clear shades of Dante’s visions of the damned. (A repeated motif where the ensemble sits impassive on chairs fringing the stage, for instance, recalls those poor souls who, attracting neither praise nor blame in life, the poet found too wretched for hell.)
Hovering over the action like a dream are the intoxicating, ethereal vocal improvisations of the Invenio Singers (Gian Slater, Josh Kyle, Louisa Rankin), though even their otherworldly beauty is brought crashing to earth, in a rare moment of outright comedy.
Richard Vabre’s intensely dramatic lighting and Jethro Woodward’s composition and sound staging are essential players in this brilliant and transporting work, which ends, fittingly, with a man crouched on the floor, trying to reassemble shards of a shattered mirror.
And no praise is too high for Kate Sulan’s direction. She has instilled Song For a Weary Throat with discipline and resonance, forging theatre of extraordinary reflection and poise, beauty and – that rarest quality in our fallen world – wisdom.