Review: Guttered (Restless Dance Theatre, Brisbane Festival, and CPL – Choice Passion Life)

Photo credit Roy Vandervegt

Guttered was an original and entertaining piece of site-specific contemporary dance theatre, performed in a Chermside bowling alley as part of Brisbane Festival 2022.

Based in Adelaide, Restless Dance Theatre define themselves as Australia’s leading creator of dance theatre by dancers with and without disability. Guttered explored love and life through the lens of disability, addressing the dignity of risk and the opportunity to learn through mistakes and failures. The work presented the bowling alley, in part, as a symbol for this, asking audiences: How would you feel if gutter guards and ramps were installed in advance to prevent any possibility of your failing to hit the pins? Well intentioned “help” that smothers potential growth is something people with disability encounter all too often.

Photo credit Roy Vandervegt

Directed by Restless Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director, Michelle Ryan, Guttered was performed by an ensemble of seven (7) dancers, with solos, duets, and group work entwining to explore themes of love and attraction, jealousy and violence, protection and control. The dancers performed on and around the bowling lanes, although the ball return rack occasionally obscured their movements. The choreography made full use of the unusual performance space, incorporating the boundaries of the gutters and lanes, as well as including varying levels and lifts.

Contemporary dance movement and physical theatre element were used to tell clear, simple story arcs and to illustrate emotion in more abstract ways. The tone of the more theatrical aspects varied, from gentle and playful to aggressive and controlling, as the dancers ran, rolled, leapt, and slid on the lanes, as well as incorporating bowling balls into the choreography.

Entering the performance space, we were welcomed and given a personal scorecard to complete. How often do you feel like a winner? What do you need to score? Some were invited to take a turn at bowling and the dancers moved through the audience, presenting more questions on slips of paper, or holding up illuminated bowling bags so that we could hear the overlapping whispers from within: about competition, preparation, winning, losing, and more. These voices were also incorporated into the wider soundscape of the performance. The dancers held cue cards up to the audience at different times, encouraging a certain response to the onstage action, although some of these were intended to challenge and to consider. In these subtle ways, Guttered invited the audience to consider its message and how it aligned, or didn’t, with their own attitudes and preconceptions.

Photo credit Shane Reid

The music soundscape by Jason Sweeney blended with the chatter and crash of the other bowling lanes outside the performance space, adding to the strong sense of place. Lighting design by Geoff Cobham was very engaging and included handheld lights and moveable lighting bars, which were used to great effect throughout the performance. Design by Meg Wilson was neon-bright and colourful, and technology developed by Heidi Angove contributed to some of the performance’s most uniquely memorably images – a duet with an illuminated bowling ball, and a performer dancing with an image of themself projected onto their body.

Guttered was an original, entertaining, and thought-provoking site-specific dance theatre piece, making full use of its performance location. The work clearly articulated its message and gave the audience ample opportunity to reflect and reconsider their own ideas of, and approach to, people with a disability.

Guttered will play at Kingpin Chermside Bowling Alley, Chermside, from 13 – 18 September 2022.

For ticketing and further information, visit the Brisbane Festival website

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