7 Deadly Sins
Expressions Dance Company (EDC)
August 21 to 29 2015
Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway
‘We are committed to contemporary storytelling that touches the human spirit …’
Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, Expressions Dance Company
In EDC’s latest work, the seven deadly sins enter in a blaze of gold, and then strip back to reveal the darkness beneath, battling for supremacy over each other and over a hapless Man.
Initially, we see the Man (Thomas Gundry Greenfield) watching TV, with the eerie flicker of the changing images reflected over him. As he sits in a vegetative state, his soul appears to rise from his body to indulge in or wrestle with the sins. His body stays as a lifeless dummy in front of the TV set, and this is where the soul returns in the end.
Each sin – Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Pride and Wrath – is represented by a single dancer. They each wear a distinctive gold costume – all stunningly opulent, except for Sloth’s simple, loose shift. After a spectacular entrance by each sin in turn, appearing out of boxes of various sizes, the costumes are discarded to reveal the dancers in brief black practice wear. Every dancer has a wonderful initial solo, punctuated by various duos and other combinations with the Man, with each other, and as a whole group.
The boxes echo the Ancient Greek myth of Pandora’s box, which contained all human evils and miseries. Pandora opened the box, releasing evil into the world. The boxes also echo the initial inspiration for the work: paintings of human vices by Giotto di Bondone, an Italian artist of the 13th–14th century, who depicted each vice as a single, closely framed human figure.
7 Deadly Sins is an abstract expression of the sins’ essence, rather than a strongly narrative work, although there are elements of narrative. For instance, the first sin to appear is Sloth (Cloudia Elder), summoned by the Man’s TV-induced inertia. The scenario could be interpreted literally as television being the source of all sin – another incarnation of Pandora’s box – but that might be going too far, and the connection is a looser, more dreamlike one.
Following the appearance of Greed (Daryl Brandwood) and Gluttony (Jack Ziesing), they and the Man attack Sloth, hurling her into the air and catching her in a savage display. The feeling is that they are forcing her into showing some energy.
Towards the end, after Wrath (Michelle Barnett) has appeared, the whole group dances in a frenzy, and the Man hits out at Lust (Elise May). In this violent interpretation of ‘to spurn love and opt for fury’ (as the program notes describe wrath), she becomes a wounded creature trying to escape from him. In this scene, May seems to represent Love, rather than the coldly seductive Lust she portrays earlier with awe-inspiring grace and control. In her gold costume, she looks like a princess from some ancient world.
The movement is intensely acrobatic, moving seamlessly through every dimension of the space. Elder, as Sloth, is a burden to the Man, dragging him down and, in a memorable image, hanging face-down and unsupported over his head in an inverted V. Gundry Greenfield is a strong, muscular figure as the Man, while also projecting a sense of bafflement and of being in thrall to the sins.
Brandwood makes Greed look savagely elegant, extending and contorting his limbs impossibly as he manoeuvres over, around, and out of a giant rectangular box. His polish and control always stand out. We will miss this wonderful dancer when he leaves EDC at the end of this year.
Ziesing is a very athletic Gluttony, after ridding himself of his outer gold costume that only mildly resembles a ‘fat suit’. Benjamin Chapman evokes an emperor with conquered subjects in a commanding interpretation of Pride.
Rebecca Hall is a snakelike Envy, slithering and twining – and making her entrance in a fabulous billowing gold snakeskin coat. As Wrath, Barnett projects strength and energy in her explosive movement, her legs and strongly arched feet like weapons.
I could go on watching these dancers and this choreography forever, mesmerised by the feats the dancers perform, and the beauty and power of the movement choreographed by Artistic Director Natalie Weir, in collaboration with the dancers. Weir also acknowledges the important contribution to creation and staging by Rehearsal Director Amy Hollingsworth, formerly Dance Director with Sydney Dance Company.
The mesmerising choreography and movement distracted me from the confusing ending of the work, in terms of structure and flow. A conclusion seemed to be reached several times (at one point the audience starting to applaud as if this were the case) before the final resolution.
7 Deadly Sins makes a big visual and aural impact. The gold costumes are the dominant visible feature of Bill Haycock’s design, which he says in his program notes are inspired by the ‘currently popular “sword and sorcery” films’. The set, based on the idea of a gold living room, is minimal, enriched by the lighting (David Walters) in different tones of gold, and also blue and red.
Darrin Verhagen’s music (with additional material by Ben Keane) evokes each sin – slow and meditative for Sloth, overlaid with snuffling and muffled snoring sounds; driven percussion for Greed; slow and voluptuous for Lust; sinister for Envy, overlaid with hissing, and sly whispering (like Parseltongue, the Harry Potter serpent language); and frenzied drumming and hoarse screaming for Wrath.
7 Deadly Sins runs until 29 August.