Review: MADSOC’s 2022 major production — Elemental X Purgatory

The monumental, doubled-billed production is on at the Seymour Centre until Sep 17.

Photography by Dibyendu Roy.

Yesterday evening, USyd’s Movement and Dance Society (MADSOC) took to the Everest Theatre at the Seymour Centre for their opening night performance of Elemental X Purgatory. The 2022 production conjoins 2021’s Elemental, postponed due to Covid-19 lockdowns, with 2022’s Purgatory — making for a thrilling and diverse double-billed show. 

Act I begins with Elemental, a production thematically inspired by the idea that “the complexity of all substances could be reduced to four simpler substances: earth, fire, water and air”. Each unique choreographic work draws from the society’s talented pool of student choreographers and dancers to embody each temperamental element. 

A stand-out performance in the first act was ‘Maneater,’ a sharp JFH number depicting the mythical sea creature the Siren and the dichotomy between its mythological danger and enchantment. The piece’s choreographer, Sarah Najjar, knocked it out of the park in the dynamics department while the dancers brought it home with incredible unison and stage presence. 

Alex De Santi’s work ‘Water Under the Bridge’ is an abstracted contemporary piece about the chaos of the human mind which, performed by a colossal ensemble of 22 dancers, flowed and raged like rapids. MADSOC presented a wholly captivating performance which was followed shortly thereafter by ‘Mother Nature’ which, choreographed by Natalie Domingos, grounded the productions’ thematics — “From earth to sky, she is beauty, mystery and might. She is mother nature,” reads the synopsis of the piece. 

A bubbly jazz performance choreographed by Jess Allen and Anastasia Sotnikova to a remix of Britney Spears’  ‘…Baby One More Time’ had the crowd in a great mood — accompanied by a good amount of whoops and hollers. 

Soon we were taken from ice to fire. A lovely adaptation of The Nutcracker’s ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’ is found in ‘Snowflake’, choreographed by Audrye Fung; which floated into Katie Lang’s fiery, innovative contemporary choreography to Billie Eilish’s ‘watch&burn’. The temperature remained high with Tasmin Delaney’s blockbuster, high-energy piece ‘Feverish’ — comprising 26 authoritative dancers, it was easily a crowd-favourite.

When the show returned from intermission, Act II: Purgatory began. Despite being a thematic side-step from Elemental, the driving concepts of Purgatory made for a contrasting show that captured the full breadth of dancers’ genre-transcending talents. The 2022 production asks the question, when the lines between good and evil are blurred, “who will be judged as wicked? How will we recognise the righteous?” 

The act opened with Madeleine Gallagher’s ‘Dichotomy,’ performed to a mix of Fall Out Boy’s ‘My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark,’ Woodkid’s ‘Run Boy Run,’ and ‘Warriors’ by Imagine Dragons. Gallagher’s choreography skillfully depicts the crossroads of anger; when we are left with the choice to either “succumb to destruction” of our own making or to “embrace our internal fire” and confront ourselves. 

Another bright and strength-filled piece came soon after in ‘The Sunrise Battle’ by Alex De Santi, which told the tale of the eternal battle at sunrise between the Ancient Egyptian Sun God Ra and Snake God Apophis. 

Moods changed from blazing seriousness to sheer vibrancy through ‘Say My Name (KPOP)’ by Therese Lee — a fantastically executed piece which aimed to “explore the continuous struggle and pushback of raising one’s voice and reclaiming one’s identity.” 

Seventh up in the show was the incredible duo of Alyssa Chia and Alex De Santi, whose short but beautifully suspenseful piece, entitled ‘Played,’ was set to ‘2’ by H.E.R. and choreographed by Natalie Domingos. The contrasting staging alongside red, back-lit downlights resulted in two stunning silhouettes moving across the stage with defiance, revenge and power. 

A show-stopping tango number amassed 28 dancers of the production’s cast — the largest of all in the show — to the alluring sounds of Moulin Rouge. Choreographer Tasmin Delaney sought to explore the “malicious nature of toxic relationships and the struggle that ensues when one tries to leave” within the piece, and dynamically achieved exactly that. Dancers functioned as one in shimmering unison against the sharp yet sultry expression of the choreography and musicality — the audience was audibly captivated by the display of skill and storytelling. 

A final standout of Elemental X Purgatory was choreographed by Amy Burke to a mash-up of Lady Gaga’s ‘Stupid Love’ and ‘Born This Way,’ entitled ‘Pride’. The synopsis reads: “This empowering jazz dance explores the journey of [the LGBTQIA+] community across time, whilst encouraging everyone to accept themselves for who they are.”

Across the double billing there are 33 dance performances from ballet to jazz, tap to funk, and KPOP to contemporary fusion. Producer Sibel Alca has described everyone involved with the production as part of a “Society of people who choose to continue dancing despite pursuing tertiary education… because at the core of their being, they purely love to dance.” 

Elemental Artistic Director Libby Rose, Purgatory Artistic Director Maddy Vincent, and two-time Producer Sibel Alca have done a deeply commendable job of bringing the utterly deserving Elemental to the stage after an uncertain year, and creating an entirely new production in Purgatory to coexist alongside it. Any student who engages with art, expressive movement, visual cultures, or none of the above, will find something within the prolific, diverse and high-energy production that is Elemental X Purgatory. 

Elemental X Purgatory has two remaining shows on Sep 16 and 17 at the Seymour Centre, tickets available here