Dancing across a stage flooded ankle-deep with water, energy flows through each movement as the water flicks up like an extension of the fingertips. And yes, this performance does have of a splash zone. As blackness welcomes the beginning of the piece, a trickle of water stirs as the dancers enter the space, bringing a sensory calmness, if only short-lived.

Lake © Sarah Navin
Lake
© Sarah Navin

Hsin-Ju Chiu starts the work, hands outstretched above her head, clawing the air as if she is trying to reach the surface and is struggling to breathe. She retreats behind the large hanging branches, hinting at the mysterious creatures that lurk beneath the shadows of the lake’s surface. A couple (played by real-life couple Kristina Chan and Timothy Ohl) set up by the lake, with deck chairs, a map, and floating campfire in tow. The intricate realism of the childlike teasing between the couple is superbly choreographed as they playfully grab, trap and provoke each other.

Originally performed in 2010, by Brisbane choreographer Lisa Wilson herself, Lake is back for a 10-week tour. Wilson has worked with The Australian Ballet, Sydney Dance Company and Opera Australia and has developed this visual and aural feast in association with the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Wilson became fascinated by Australian lakes while on a camping holiday around Currumbin, south of Brisbane, “I remember from my childhood, those really deep, dark waterholes and that feeling of intense beauty yet that chilling isolation of those deep spaces, and things lying submerged.”

Lake © Fen-Lan Chuang
Lake
© Fen-Lan Chuang

There is tap dancing reminiscent of ‘Singing In The Rain’, back flipping, belly-sliding, rolling and even a headstand that falls, smacking down on the water. Side lighting from the stage wings illuminates dancers as they perform continuous, fluid movements through the dark, seemingly murky water. Ohl’s head rests on Chan’s shoulder and then slowly rolls down her outstretched arm before he spins into a barrel roll and crashes into the water. Dancers become fully immersed, dripping head to toe – so as they flick their head back, hair flings a line of water, catching the light. Another dimension is added through the use of rain, creating minute splashes, and bubbles that appear like fireflies and glide across the surface. The scene-setting backdrop includes visions from an Australian lake, as well as large silhouetted figures that build the narrative of a tension-fuelled relationship, further encapsulated by the mystery figure in the lake. It’s as though Chan feels stifled by this part of her psyche trying to swallow her, indicating the emotional baggage forming a rift in the relationship.

Lake © Fen-Lan Chuang
Lake
© Fen-Lan Chuang

I initially anticipated a work based on water to be relaxing. However, controlling movements and haunting music with a reverberating heartbeat creates a sense of anxiousness. Partner-work is exceptional, as the pair constantly support each other’s weight, through push and pull movements. Before the performance, Chan assures me that an advantage of the water is that it softens falls, reducing the pain of movements that slam into the ground. I am reminded of this as I witness Ohl carry Chui tightly wrapped in a ball, knees to chest, before he abruptly drops her into the water. The two female dancers slip in and out of rare synchronisation, however they don’t quite hit unison, which I am craving.

This visually stunning work has moments of stillness, disclosing the subtlety of smaller gestures, and further amplifying the spiral movements that really stir the water. As Lisa Wilson puts it, “The water is another performer”. Combining water, rain, and fire, while being deeply evocative and moving, Lake’s mesmerising uniqueness gets my gold star of approval. The ripple effect creates an echo so no movement is lost – it's now hard to imagine a piece not set on water.