Review | ‘Archives of Humanity’ brings a modern day epic to Perth Festival

Archives of Humanity | Studio Underground | til Feb 27 | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The human spirit is most brilliant when resilient, and oh my… how the past year has tested our collective resilience. From the uncertainty of COVID-19 to the aching, isolating voids of lockdown, we have had to imagine new ways of bringing community together and, thus, create our art. And we have succeeded at this, and then some: Archives of Humanity is a testament to that success, our resilience.

The work begins before you are seated as you walk through Naoko Yoshimoto’s The Bird Makers Project. Created during lockdown by members of the wider community, this installation features a flock of 1001 blackbirds. But it’s the stories adorning the wall that make this an archive of profound insight into the human condition. It is an archive filled with words from children, refugees and Casuarina inmates. Their stories cover the gamut from joy to outright heartbreak, especially those shared by children trying to make sense of a world in lockdown, calling out for long deceased pets to return home and comfort them.

The actual dance work itself, Archives of Humanity, takes place in-the-round. The rectangular stage is a literal pitch of sand across which the dancers emerge as a perpetual motion machine of human machine. Here an intergenerational cast, ranging in ages from 15 to 55, create a tableau that examines our collective response to calamity. The result is one full of sorrow, power, grief, turbulence and so much wonder.

Inspired by Bill Viola’s The Raft and the paintings of de Caravaggio, Archives of Humanity is a modern day epic, a triumph of human endurance. Choreographer Raewyn Hill has created something so exceptional, sublime and transformative, it has to be seen to be believed. The throbbing soundtrack by Eden Mulholland only adds to the overall potency of this work.

The joy of any dance work is the space it allows for you to imagine your own narrative across the dancers. This is where Archives of Humanity excels, creating bountiful moments where gesture and movement resonate at the core of your being. Yes, we can lift each other up, but carrying each other forever isn’t sustainable. Yes, we can tear each other down, divide ourselves, but there will always be something that brings us back together. No one state of emotion is eternal: we are connected and affected by the motions of each other. Our isolation is a mere thread in a tapestry of collective loneliness, and surely that is to be celebrated. Surely that should bring us together, if only for a time.

Archives of Humanity is a cathartic celebration of resilience. It brims with an unheard melancholy and exuberance that reaches for, and embraces, the ecstatic, the divine and the holy. This is dance as it should be: relentless, incredible and awe-inspiring. An absolute must-see.

See Archives of Humanity at the State Theatre Centre Studio Underground. For tickets and more information, head to perthfestival.com.au

Scott-Patrick Mitchell (SPM) is a non-binary performance poet and writer with over 20 years review experience. SPM appears in Contemporary Australian Poetry, won the 2019 Wollongong Short Story Prize and has created such stage works as The 24 Hour Performance Poem.

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