'Flesh and Bone’, an intimate work which sees Denborough and Van Dyck sharing the stage—alone—for the first time in almost a decade.

A Kagean birthday: celebrating 15 years of physical theatre

Melbourne-based Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck’s physical theatre company, Kage, celebrates its 15th birthday this year, and the company seems to emanate all of the positive qualities of its teenaged years with none of the accompanying negatives.
By John Bailey
Other collaborations lurching towards such an age can be overtaken by insecurities and restlessness, a wondering if things might be better elsewhere. But Denborough (BDance, 1994) and Van Dyck (BDance, 1995)—despite international acclaim and a series of high profile commissions across Australia—seem as curious and eager to encounter the new as they were 15 years ago.
‘We still feel our best work is ahead of us,’ Denborough says. ‘That’s still our driving impetus. We’ve still got lots of ideas and things we want to do.’

‘I feel like we’re just starting now,’ Van Dyck says. It’s an odd statement from such a successful creative partnership spanning more than a decade, but perhaps it’s because KAGE isn’t a brand merely churning out variations on a theme or style.

The company’s brief has never been easily categorised—’physical theatre’ or ‘visual theatre’ have been bandied about, but each new work appears as if cut from a fresh cloth. There are consistencies across productions, but the differences seem to make these fade into the background.

‘Our resilience and perseverance and willingness to do what we want to do and not subscribe to other people’s expectations is the only reason we’ve survived, really,’ Denborough says.

‘If we’d worried what other people think of us too much we would have crumbled. There are enormous expectations and demands to be black and white. It’s not so much an unwillingness to be put in a pigeonhole and more a willingness to be expansive. We’ve always tried to put a positive spin on it, for our own sanity I suppose.’

Alumni Gerard Van Dyck, Kate Denborough, KAGE, photo: Jeff Busby
Alumni Gerard Van Dyck, Kate Denborough, KAGE, photo: Jeff Busby

The pair met while studying dance at VCA and discovered a range of affinities from the outset. ‘We really loved each other’s sense of drama within the movement,’ Van Dyck says. ‘Dance as a storytelling device rather than an abstract artform. And on top of that, a sense of humour. That’s where our working relationship began, with those elements. The first handful of works we made…I wouldn’t say they were comedy but there was silliness or absurdity. Then we moved into things that were perhaps more humane or more serious. But when it comes to me and Kate working in a room together or just hanging out, none of that’s changed. All of that is still really there. Which is probably testament to why we’re still here.’

‘We looked around us and wanted to create something that we didn’t see happening,’ Denborough says, an impetus that still seems to drive KAGE. ‘Both of us were drawn to collaboration. Even at lunchtime we’d hang out with the musos, some of the visual arts production students. We already had an eclectic eye because we didn’t just hang out in the dance studio and want to dance. Right from the start, I think that’s been a key aspect in our aesthetic.’

While collaboration is a crucial tenet in contemporary performance, the company pays more than lip service to the idea and the results are another reason each KAGE production carries with it a distinct sense of vitality and reinvention. Denborough and Van Dyck have drawn on the talents of circus performers, children, bodybuilders, opera singers, poets and cartoonists, among many others. And each has not been merely a resource to be mined, but a pivotal contributor to the breathing essence of a work.

Denborough is pragmatic about this method. ‘In terms of performers, it’s really interesting finding dancers who’ve come from different backgrounds. Or who are not necessarily trained dancers but are amazing physical movers. Because there can be quite a sense of sameness when you see a lot of dancers who have had very similar training from one institution. The style and the methodology of the teaching can mean things can tend to look very similar. But when you get bodies who have had really different physical experiences and you work with them over a period of time, the possibilities become much more exciting.’

This review originally appeared in RealTime 108, April-May 2012, and is reproduced with the permission of the writer and the publisher, Open City Inc. 
A version of this article originally appeared on Channel, the Faculty’s previous publishing platform.