Solo Festival of Dance
QPAC & Expressions Dance Company
QPAC Cremorne Theatre
May 15–17 (Program 1) & May 22–24 (Program 2)
Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway
The best in the country, at their best.
Australia’s only solo dance festival returns in 2014 with a dazzling line-up of the country’s most virtuosic dance artists, including EDC’s own.
SOLO is dance nourishment for the soul; a tantalizing menu curated by Natalie Weir to showcase individual dancers and choreographers in an evening of beautiful artistry and bravura.
Featuring artists from Expressions Dance Company, the Australian Ballet, Australian Dance Theatre, Chunky Move, Dancenorth, Shaun Parker & Company, and Australia’s brightest independents, with new choreography by Narelle Benjamin, Antony Hamilton, Daniel Jaber, Natalie Weir, and more.
The Solo Festival of Dance is presented jointly by Expressions Dance Company (EDC) and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, with the program curated by Natalie Weir, EDC’s Artistic Director. It is an inspired idea, presenting a great variety of works by different choreographers and performers, some of whom we may not often see in Brisbane. There are two programs, with different guest artists in each.
In the first program, Kimball Wong from Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) stunned us with his energy and ferocious abandon in Morphology (choreographed by Garry Stewart, Artistic Director of ADT, and Wong). Like a creature trying to break out of a chrysalis, he twitches and flips into the air from a lying position – how he does this is a mystery. Gravity doesn’t seem to apply, but certainly takes over as he crashes to the ground. The struggle continues as he gets to his feet, and is continually thrown down again, writhing and twisting. There was no music – only an intermittent, echoing beat.
A very different, but also compelling performance, was by independent choreographer/performer Brian Lucas. His piece CON was very topical, coming so closely after the Federal Budget. In his spoken and danced oration, Lucas repeats the same three lies: “I am here because of you! I am here for you! You can trust me!” Oratorical gestures accompany each element of the speech, and are repeated with varying breadth, force and style. The final “You can trust me!” as Lucas walked downstage towards us was a chilling moment.
Alice Hinde of Dancenorth threw herself into an even bleaker piece: Together into the Abyss (by Raewyn Hill, Artistic Director of Dancenorth). This expresses in movement the last stage in Friedrich Glasl’s nine-stage model of conflict escalation, where the focus is on destruction of the other at the expense of one’s own survival. Continually gasping as though she were choking, and whirling and dashing herself to the floor, Hinde has some respite in a slower section, before the final doom.
Michelle Ryan, Artistic Director of Restless Dance Theatre, choreographed her own solo Falling. Ryan cannot walk unaided, and her journey onto the stage, supported by a helper, is a powerful introduction to the performance. She remains seated for her solo, in which she circles and twines her arms, delimiting the space she can reach. Accompanying her, cellist Emma Hales played The Flying Dream by Iain Grandage. The dancer and the musician mirror each other: both seated, and both channelling their energy through their arms and upper body to create a performance of dream-like yearning.
The other seven solos on the program were by EDC dancers and trainee. In the classically based solo Anatomically Incorrect (by Daniel Jaber, Resident Choreographer, Leigh Warren Dance), Daryl Brandwood displays his technique and parodies it at the same time. The irony is that, although the piece reveals the hard work, grim endurance, and “anatomical incorrectness” behind the elegant surface of classical ballet, it is still wonderful to watch because of Brandwood’s mastery of that technique.
Jack Ziesing gave a thoughtful and emotive performance of the poignant Seven Ages (by Natalie Weir and Ziesing). From a large suitcase, he takes pairs of shoes – starting with those from childhood, moving to youth, adulthood, and old age – mirroring the movement of the different ages. This work is a complete miniature piece of dance theatre, engendering a range of emotions.
Ziesing also performed the less accessible improvisational study Point of Return (by independent choreographer Antony Hamilton). A laser pointer trained on him is intended “to articulate the depth of space between the dancer and his starting point”.
Cloudia Elder’s solo Human Fly (by QUT lecturer and choreographer Csaba Buday, with Elder) brought a welcome exuberance to the program in a celebration of female sensuality, with movement very attuned to the lilting and seductive version of the song Human Fly (Nouvelle Vague). A trainee at EDC and still a student at QUT, Elder has a fresh energy and engaging presence.
EDC dancer Benjamin Chapman opened the show with The Man of Many Talents (choreographer Elise May, with Chapman). Looking debonair in a dinner suit, he plays with different aspects of masculinity, appearing to be controlled by external forces in a robotic style of movement. This entertaining caricature of masculinity also reveals bewilderment and confusion about its conflicting demands. Chapman also closed the show with the meditative solo The Weeping Angel (by Natalie Weir and Chapman), part of The Red Shoes (a work in development).
As well as choreographing for Chapman, Elise May performed Close to the Bone (by Narelle Benjamin). This intense piece is mainly on the floor, with May’s long limbs folding and extending. She holds a flower, a perhaps too-obvious link to the words “… I think of each life as a flower …” (part of a quotation from poet Mary Oliver in the program notes).
Unfortunately, from where I was sitting at the front of the theatre, it was hard to see much of this piece. A tip: for contemporary dance at the Cremorne, it’s best to sit further back and higher up.