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Dance lifts with a twist

It's a striking image: slender Finnish contortionist Henna Kaikula draped across the rising tines of a slowly advancing forklift, like tender prey on the tusks of a hunched metal beast.

Deposited on a wooden palette, the small figure stirs. Suddenly she is up, lifting herself over and around the stout machine, holding it in a strange duet as they circle backwards together.

This is Forklift, a new work of dance theatre from Melbourne's KAGE, a marriage of dance, acrobatics and heavy machinery, exploring beauty and power where the human meets the industrial.

As a professional handbalancer, Kaikula has grappled with a wide variety of equipment over the years, from standard handbalancing blocks to more problematic objects like wheelchairs and wine bottles. The 2.5 tonne forklift, however, is a new kind of challenge.

"A forklift is the most complicated but also the most dangerous thing I've worked with," she explains. "We have to be completely in tune with each other. If I fall in front of the moving forklift, you know, the driver has to be alert to that."

Kaikula's two co-performers, Amy McPherson and Nicci Wilks, as well as choreographer Kate Denborough, have all taken their forklift licences and undergone training as a part of the show.

"I was the only one who wasn't able to take the licence," laughs Kaikula. "I wasn't around, so I'm not allowed to drive if there's someone else on board."

But not to worry if you see her behind the wheel -- she'll be sitting the exam for her own forklift licenece in early January. And she already knows her way around machine, working the levers with confidence.

"We spent a lot of time exploring, tried jumping on it and off it, whirling around it, twisting, bending and standing," she says. "We tried all different things, found what worked and then rehearsed it and rehearsed it."

Despite all the technical training, the basic rule of circus arts still holds: trust the people you're working with.

"It's about the connection between the person performing and the person who is driving," says Kaikula. "But it's still scary, because it is a machine and not another human being."

Forklift is the brainchild of KAGE co-founder Kate Denborough, inspired by a vision of three women exploring an industrial landscape and remaking it through movement.

It provided her with the perfect opportunity to work with Henna Kaikula, a graduate of Sweden's Cirkus Cirkör who has performed throughout Europe and Asia. The two have been waiting for the chance to collaborate since the globetrotting Finn – who has also studied theatre at Melbourne's VCA – first stumbled across the KAGE website way back in 2009.

Forklift will premiere for the Sydney Festival at Carriageworks in January 2014, before its Melbourne debut in the Arts Centre forecourt in February.

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By Andrew Fuhrmann   |   Photos by Graham Denholm

Forklift video

Forklift details

Theatres Forecourt
100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne 3004

Telephone 1300 182 183

Nearby Stations: Flinders Street

Price $30.00 to $39.00

Date 12 Feb 2014-16 Feb 2014

Open 6.30pm & 9pm

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