Review: The Red Tree

I didn’t really know what I was walking into when I drove the hour and a half down the highway to East Geelong. Nestled in a renovated church, Geelong’s new dance theatre company, Blink Dance Company, was staging their first work with an adaption of Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree.

Storyline’s get the better of me. I love a narrative form, something to sink my teeth into. Whilst I truly value the abstract nature of dance, I think a linear narrative has the potential to connect with a greater audience simply through a wider reference of understanding. Turns out I should have read the book.

redtree2 Tan’s book is a mystical, surreal escapade through the experiences of depression. His stunning illustrations are consuming, detailed, and completely fantastical. There are few words, but what is not written is demonstrated potently through images. It was obvious, artistic director Lyndel Quick loves this book, however the page by page retelling left me somewhat…bereft.

Dance theatre has the ability to move, to bring to life imagery, ideas, physicality, tactility. The performing arts are unparalleled with delivering an actual experience and yet, for the duration of the show, I felt as though I was one step behind the storyteller. Though I understand I was meant to sense the universality of these dark feelings present in everyone, I was really craving just one “character” to connect to, to personalize the viewing experience.

red-tree1 The company relayed some beautiful images; the projections and the props were amazing in creating scenes carving a surreal view of the world. The stage felt larger than life, and I was compelled toward it, but with each blackout I was thrown into a “new page”, jilting my experience before I’d completely digested it.

There is so much potential in this new company. Discovering a unique language between dance and acting for these particular individuals has turned into a cleverly gestural experience. Still, the use of repetition, the drilling image of a city as soul-crushing was just a little transparent. I once heard a theatre director comment that if he understands the work he’s directing, what’s the point of directing it? Audiences enjoy the challenge of interpretation, the feeling of exploration and navigation. Whilst Quick tenderly recreated Tan’s images, I felt there was ultimately a lack of depth in the movement material, perhaps things were explained too well.the red tree

As a story, I was intrigued. As an audience member I had been taken from the darkness through the light, and in the end there was a stunning red tree…but my feelings hadn’t blossomed.

(images taken from and Blink Dance Company)


Dates: 3rd – 5th October 2013, 8pm (Sat matinee @ 2pm)

Venue: Shenton Performing Arts Centre, Cnr Garden and Ryrie Streets, East Geelong

Tickets: Geelong Performing Arts Centre

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