Forklift: dream time in the wee small hours

CarriageWorks is the ideal location for Kage’s new work, Forklift, in which three women and a 2.5 tonne forklift interact on a vast concrete space.

The monster machine chugs in from upstage through an opened panel or sliding wall beyond which the audience could still see Carriageworks staff and passers by walking up one of the passageways that weave their way around the former railway yards in Sydney’s Redfern.

The 60-minute piece begins with a woman in a hi-vis yellow jacket arriving at the warehouse-like space in the wee small hours. She plays a desultory game of cards with another worker, and then hops into the cab of a forklift to drive it on stage.

Through the gloom we see two women in nude-coloured tops and tights draped on the front and back of the forklift as if they are bodies ready for sleep or burial.

The forklift elevates the women to a row of pallet racks and delicately places them inside.

This was one of the most vivid, cinematic beginnings to a dance piece I’ve seen and held much promise for a brilliant piece of choreography by Kage’s artistic director, Kate Denborough.

Although the work did not always live up to its first 20 minutes, it held my interest to the end due to its contrast of flesh and steel, working together in harmony, to the daring and skill of the performers and for the unique concept of Denborough and her dancers/circus performers, Henna Kaikula, Amy Macpherson and Nicci Wilks.

Kaikula, a contortionist who appeared in Cantina at last year’s Sydney Festival, was especially daring as she balanced on one arm on top of a small platform cranked high in the air, and, as she did so, lowered her legs gently into the splits.

It may all sound like a cirque act but there’s a strong narrative to Forklift, one that involves wit, play, and dream-like sequences that conjure up images of death, the afterlife and transformation.

The shift worker who first drives the forklift is inducted into the world of the two other women and each has their turn to drive the vehicle, to be lifted onto its frame, the platform or the forks, to swing from parts of the frame or to be dragged along the ground, still slowly and gently, by the forks.

The forklift itself has its choreography, often spinning in fast pirouettes as it’s driven by one of the women.

The mood changes as the lights dim to reveal neon lines on the floor, a signal for the women to shed their underpinnings and pull on jaunty, coloured costumes. At the same time, the brown pallets turn a circus shade of green and pink.

This transformation takes the piece more into the realm of a circus act that ends with one of the women hula hooping a massive hoop as she jogs around the stage.

Forklift ends suddenly, with no obvious conclusion – where do the women go next? Will the night games be repeated another time? That’s not something we’re going to know.

Forklift was developed at CIRKO (Centre for New Circus) a space dedicated to the creation of new circus and performance works in Helsinki, the hometown of Henna Kaikula.

While it finished its short Sydney Festival season today (19 January 2014) Kage’s website shows that potentially, it has a longer life as a touring piece.

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Forklift, Amy MacPherson, photo © Justin Bernhaut

Henna Kaikula, at the National Museum of Denmark, 2013, photo © Stuart McIntyre