First up, this work is not of the Australian cannon, it is slow, languid, and purposeful, oozing with a kind of sensuality often lost on local dancers and dance makers: this is Highness, the latest piece by Melanie Jame Wolf and Savage Amusements – a work that within its tight 60 minute run time, delves some way into archetypes that plague queens of the monarchy and those of the every day. It deconstructs, in beautiful motions, the labour of creating images, an idea that seems to transgress from the areas of pop and performance into the everyday; a notion that seems to speak of the pressure to look good, to, only then, feel empowered.
Most of the performance is illuminated in the stark light of one of two projections and, with these, the repetition of images also featured in a series of video installations providing a seamless transition from foyer to theatre. To call this a dance work would be reductive, as it sits more comfortably within the realms of performance art. It’s joyous to see, with such abandon, Melanie Jame smash, metaphorically and in present moment, the patriarchy, here in the form of fragile plaster casts. Humor is also well employed, incorporating one of pop and modern histories’ most scrutinized and tragic royals- Princess Diana, and an interview on her place within the royal family – it is perhaps here, in this moment, that the work’s concepts become the most clear.
Joined on stage, by Martin Hansen and Ivey Wawn, whom both assume the role of servant and stage hand as they work, laboriously, to unpack and then reconfigure the stage and setting to form a series of interconnected images, all striking, and all highly visceral. You wish, in brief moments, for the pace to be picked up in this work, but this relates more to what we, as local audiences expect and are, time and time again, delivered by local dancers and makers; when actually in the slowness of this work we find its true power and pull.
Most astonishing is, in closing scenes, where Melanie Jame proves to not just be an incredible dancer and performance artist, but reveals also to be an incredible singer, embodying every inch of her pop aesthetic in a sultry and seductive number she coos to the audience; we are, by the end of this piece, once again under the spell of an other-worldly artist. Though, perhaps, not as ground breaking as the first work in this trilogy, exposing the archetypes of women. For here is gone the intimacy we found in Mira Fuchs, though the interlinking themes and concepts are still present, and we wait with anticipation for Melanie Jame to present the third in this series of work. Highness, aside from offering much to local audiences, is a work that local dancers and makers should see, if only to disrupt their own, at times, archetypal, view of what dance is and can be.