No, it’s not an upstart new-world band you haven’t heard of. Opal Vapour is a contemporary dance work with roots in Indonesian ancestral dance, and is brought to the stage with an Australian twist. Drawing on themes such as cleansing, purification, and belonging to a place of birth, and taking elements from Javanese shadow puppetry, the show is a stunning, haunting, and ultimately very impressive piece of work.
The Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre is a suitably dark and snug venue for a performance of this kind, and a perfectly-sized space for the three-person show. Consisting of the powerful physical moves of dancer Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, the soaring voice and musicianship of Ria Soemardjo, and the lightning of Paula van Beek, the fifty-minute show is captivating from start to finish.
As the audience files into the theatre and takes to their seats, each and every person present slowly realises that the object on the stage, an oblong-shaped box perhaps six feet in length, has upon it a drape-covered shape that looks suspiciously like a person. It is only around ten minutes later when the show starts, that this is confirmed. Ria Soemardjo slowly circles the stage, chanting in a haunting fashion and ringing hand-held bells, before slowly removing the layers of drapes from what soon is revealed to be Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal’s body, and the show begins. The stamina to stay so still under hot spotlights and several layers of drapes is only the start of Tunggal’s physical exertion for this evening.
For the next forty minutes or so, the trio hold the audience in the palm of their hands, with a series of moves, postures, shades, and sounds that evoke strong images of trance, reawakening, and court dance. Visuals from an overhead camera are projected onto a screen behind the dancer to add a dual effect, and the box on which the performer spends the entire performance is lit from below and covered in a thick layer of sand; all of which ends up on the Visy floor by the end of the performance. Something else that happened at the end of the performance is the audience being so impressed that the performers were called back onto the stage four times for rounds of bows to the sound of thunderous applause; all richly deserved.
After being fairly spellbound for the duration of the performance, it’s a harsh reality that awaits the audience as they come blinking back into the light of the Powerhouse’s foyer, and while a dance performance needs to be seen to be fully appreciated, take it from me: this one was pretty damn great.