Reviews of Vicki Van Hout’s Briwyant

Jill Sykes, Sydney Morning Herald, 2011

It is like an epic in an hour: a mix of familial intimacy at its best and worst, the power of ancestral forces, surreal action and domestic platitudes… The result is engrossingly unpredictable…

It could be a traditional tale of a duck and a goanna, or a Torres Strait Islander woman ‐ the delightful Ghenoa Gela ‐ getting instructions from above, a marital tiff, a female riff of musical chatter behind the porous walls of a tent shelter, or sometimes just dancing in what could be seen as a fusion of urban and outback indigenous styles. It can be serious and funny. Above all, it is a rich mix of talent and individual commitment from performers with a variety of cultural backgrounds that start with Australian indigenous but move beyond that as the names of the dancers suggest: Henrietta Baird, Ian RT Colless, Gela, Raghav Handa and Melinda Tyquin. There is only one performance left in its short season. It deserves more.

Jane Barton, Australian Stage, 2011

The broad sweep of Briwyant’s technical, conceptual and artistic complexity are a revelation. From the opening moments, when Van Hout casually states that the noise you can hear – a kind of meaty thud as dancers hurl them selves against canvas – is the sound of stories wanting to be told, there is the strong feeling that all the rules of engagement are about to be smashed. Van Hout starts with a creation myth and subsequent themes of gender roles, violence, survival, sexuality, drinking, city dreaming and meaning making are layered carefully over the top.

Briwyant refers to the Yolgnu word ‘bir’yun’ meaning brilliance or shimmer. It describes the effect of traditional Top End cross hatching painting technique, where fine lines produce a shimmering movement over the surface of the work, a manifestation of ancestral forces. Throughout, Van Hout’s blunt, urban humour shimmers through Briwyant. From the word play in the title (pronounced ‘brilliant’) to the comic genius of Ghenoa Gela speedily embodying a happy drinker at the Erskineville Hotel, the frenetic mixed media and dance creates a picture of the Inner West and asks the big question: can you find your dreaming here and does local knowledge amount to a song cycle? It’s a question that isn’t answered but which offers, with a generous heart, a new way of looking at our daily reference points.

Beautifully realised and conceived, Van Hout’s classical training with NAISDA and contemporary studies with Martha Graham School of Dance in New York are perfectly blended in Briwyant. The short run belies the importance of this work and you can only hope it finds a place in the sun on the festival circuit and tours widely.

Keith Gallasch, RealTime, 2011

Vicki Van Hout’s choreography is some of the most idiosyncratic and inventive seen in Australian dance for a long time and her team of dextrous dancers execute it with high precision, unbelievable energy, humour and attitude…

The choreographer’s sources are many, drawing on and effectively melding diverse Indigenous and other forms within a dance theatre framework that ranges from droll rhyming verse (delivered by the charismatic Van Hout herself) to a lucid dreamtime tale transformed into dance, to witty social encounters and sometimes mysterious but never less than intriguing images pertaining to Indigenous art and culture. Soundtrack, media and lighting are occasionally burdened with superfluities, but the best of Marian Abboud and Imogen Cranna’s digital media effects, Elias Constantopedos’ score and Guy Harding’s lighting fuse seamlessly with Van Hout’s organic exploration of the relationship between bodies and the lines, dots and the hatched ‘shimmer’ of Indigenous art. Danced organically across Van Hout’s playing card landscape design, this makes for a powerful experience, at once magically elusive and cohesive.

Jordan Beth Vincent,  The Age, July 2012

In its rich imagery and ideas, its detailed and thoughtful integration of movement and live media, and in its humorous take on the reconciliation of indigenous identity with modern life, Briwyant manages to break new ground and surprise us every step of the way. This is a work that is definitely worth seeing.

Anne-Marie Peard, Aussie Theatre, July 2012

Briwyant begins with the sound of a story wanting to be told.  As it searches for the Dreaming in an urban world and looks for the songlines that still connect us all to country, this is contemporary Australian dance at its most compelling…

…With remarkable dancers (Henrietta Baird, Raghav Handa, Rosealee Pearson, Beau Smith and Melinda Tyquin), Van Hout’s distinct choreography melds traditional Indigenous movement with a New York-inspired post modern fluidity. This result is grounded and precise, but unpredictable and always surprising. As is the soundtrack where silence, live narration (Van Hout) and the dancer’s voices are as important as the music.

Heather Bloom, Australian Stage, July 2012

The dancers on stage are nothing short of brilliant. Each performer brings such passion and talent that any narrative flaws are easily forgiven.  Using a mixture of modern media, digital projections and an eclectic soundscape of 1920’s jazz, whimsical nature sounds and the thumping beats of a dance club, Briwyant is an example of the complexity of Indigenous living and the difficulty in respecting the traditional while embracing the new.

With so much story to cram into an hour-long performance it is easy to get lost in the movement rather than interpret Van Hout’s vision. What has been created is a stunning piece of contemporary dance, expertly executed by exceptional dancers. Briwyant is a gorgeous piece of art, as bright and shiny as Van Hout intended.

Chris Boyd, The Australian, July 2012

AS a piece of writing, Briwyant is strong. A crazy Dreamtime fable about goannas and ducks – and their irreconcilable differences – sets up the show’s tongue-in-cheek and ever-so-slightly sacrilegious ploy…

As a work of dance, Briwyant is witty and delightful. The choreography is fast, varied, dynamic and imaginative and its execution is sharp and often scintillating. (One hardly dares look away from Melinda Tyquin for fear of missing something utterly awesome.) The dancers twist and corkscrew like ice-skaters, as if their hair might function as ballast and help keep them upright. They slap, prod and tear at one another with intent. The ensemble is drilled and impressively well rehearsed.

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