The game is on and this time the players are the dancers

Australia. The country that loves sport, especially men’s sport. The country where sports news eats up a large chunk of time or space in the media, where TV and radio arts programs are rare and where dance reviews are limited to about 300 words in most newspapers.

What would it be like if the arts had the same amount of coverage as sport and if arts critics ran live commentaries during performance intervals?

A dance commentary might include news and views on dancers who’ve been promoted or recently retired, which dancers are injured, how they injured themselves, who is taking up new coaching (teacher, choreographer) roles and who is standing down, how many people were in the audience and how they reacted to the show.

In timing, kinesthetic awareness and technical skills, professional dancers and sportsmen and women have much in common although dancers’ salaries are ridiculously low in comparison with those of sportsmen in particular.

These similarities and differences are the basis for Champions, a new work by freelance choreographer, Martin del Amo, who gathered together a team of 11 female dancers, the Channel
Seven sports presenter, Mel McLaughlin, and the composer Gail Priest and sought help and advice from the coaches and athletes of the women’s soccer club, Western Sydney Wanderers FC (W-League),

The most successful element of Champions is the text for the commentary (written by Martin del Amo) that accompanies the entire work, including the pre-game warm up.

Upstage, on several screens, video footage shows McLaughlin quizzing the dancers and commenting on the game. There’s also a rolling text list of the dancers’ accomplishments, awards, performances and statistics, including their age, height and weight.

The funniest part of the commentary is the warm up segment in which the dancers stretch and pose and move across the fake grass floor of the stage as they form patterns and showcase a few ballet steps, one of which is described in the commentary as a “chassé coupé en tournant”, an in-joke that the ballet savvy audience enjoyed.

An hour long show, Champions sometimes seemed longer and more drawn out than it needed to be to make its point.

While the concept and narrative are clear, the choreography itself is less successful.

The dancers move together in repetitive floor patterns – forward, backwards, sideways and in circles – with the teamwork interrupted when one or more dancer breaks away from the team and although the moments depicting victory or defeat change the mood, Champions never quite reaches a pinnacle or a conclusion.

Linking the the pre-game, game and after-game sections is the goofy team Mascot who resembles a chunky swan dressed in white tulle, a reference, perhaps to ‘Cyggy’, the Sydney Swans’ mascot.

Inside the swan suit is Julie-Anne Long who is also the dramaturg for the work.

In her tutu-like costume, the Mascot attempts a few ballet steps from Swan Lake.

She is cute but poignant as well.

Maybe she depicts Odette, the heroine of Swan Lake, a helpless creature who is doomed to be forever a part-swan, part-woman, with no real chance of escaping her fate unless she is saved by a man and as we all know, that doesn’t work out well.

Champions makes valid points about gender inequality in the worlds of both the arts and sports, and with the support of its producer, FORM Dance Projects, it’s a worthwhile addition to the limited list of dance works that showcase women and women’s roles in the arts in a land where the ‘heroes’ are sportsmen and women are often merely supporters.

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Champions, Kristina Chan, photo © Heidrun Lohr

Champions, Marnie Palomares in the green top, held by the ensemble, photo © Heidrun Lohr

Champions, Sara Black, in the blue top, held by the ensemble, photo © Heidrun Lohr

Champions, Melanie Palomares and Kristina Chan in the warm-up, photo © Heidrun Lohr