QPAC, Expressions Dance Company & Guangdong Modern Dance Company
QPAC Cremorne Theatre
February 12 – 20 2016
Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway
I believe in these programs, keeping EDC connected to the world and bringing new aesthetics and ideas to our company. I am proud EDC is part of such a heartfelt and meaningful dance exchange.
Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, Expressions Dance Company
Black is a program of three works resulting from a collaboration between Expressions Dance Company (EDC) and Guangdong Modern Dance Company (GMDC), mainland China’s first professional contemporary dance company. This is part of EDC’s Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Program 2015–2020, in which EDC will later partner with BeijingDance/LDTX, and City Contemporary Dance Company from Hong Kong.
First, GMDC performs Sumeru, created by resident choreographer Liu Qi, followed by EDC performing Don’t, choreographed by Artistic Director Natalie Weir. The program concludes with the work Black, created for the combined companies by Hong-Kong-based choreographer Xing Liang.
This program isn’t all black! The colour white is the dominant visual impression of Sumeru, the first work. The dancers all wear various combinations of white tops, shorts, skirts and dresses in soft, light fabric. The effect, combined with the power and yet softness and flow of the movement, is of ethereality overlying great energy.
The title of Sumeru is the name of a sacred mountain, believed to be the centre of the world in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology. In creating this work, choreographer Liu Qi was inspired by an ancient saying to the effect that a tiny mustard seed contains Mount Sumeru, and Mount Sumeru contains the mustard seed.
The fluidity of the movement, sometimes in slow motion reminiscent of tai chi, and sometimes flying through the air in whirling lifts, creates a mesmeric effect matching the enigmatic and reversed perspectives of the saying. The music (by Thomas Lee Pettersen and Kung Chi Shing) contributes to this effect, with the sounds of bells, gongs, piano, and drumming.
Sumeru is beautiful to watch.
Natalie Weir’s Don’t, originally choreographed in 2012 and performed in Melbourne, has been reworked for its Brisbane premiere as part of this season. The opening and closing images are memorable: Richard Causer, shirtless and with his back to the audience, undulates and flexes his back and arm muscles, lit in such a way that the pattern they make takes on an independent life of its own. Causer is making a welcome return to EDC after four years in London.
Don’t is about the concepts represented by simple words, including ‘don’t’ and ‘stay’, and their interpretation in relationships between men and women. Tension in relationships is the driving force, especially around the word ‘don’t’, with its connection to issues such as consent, and violence. Couples variously draw close to each other, and break free, with other permutations in between.
The words are presented very literally, using cut-out letters manipulated by the dancers. This literalness felt and looked awkward at times: perhaps the words could be represented in a more subtle way, or not appear at all?
The EDC dancers infuse Weir’s inventive choreography with maximum drama, particularly Causer, Michelle Barnett and Elise May. Trainee Jag Popham, a third-year student from the New Zealand School of Dance, made an impressive debut with the company.
Black, the work for the combined companies, was created in 2015 in Guangzhou. There EDC and GMDC spent four weeks working together, and first performed the piece as a work in progress. Choreographer Xing Liang and the dancers have explored the associations and expressions of the colour black, and occasionally its opposite, white – which are the only colours used in the costumes (designed by Linda Lee).
The piece is impressionistic, with a series of disconnected evocations of the colour black, creating some beautiful moments and strong images in a series of ‘clips’ rather than a cohesive flow. Black is associated with pain, concealment, a primordial darkness, violence, protection, and a meditative peace.
At the beginning the male dancers gasp and exhale loudly, and groan raspingly as if in pain. After a period of silence, the women fold, wave and flow in slow motion. They crouch and scuttle like creatures hiding in the dark, or appear to be hatching out of the darkness, or flocking together for protection.
In a threatening scene, four men menace another, and surround him as he tries to escape. Later, the lighting silhouettes the dancers, some standing, and others glimpsed crawling and sliding on the floor.
A woman dressed completely in white moves stiffly and awkwardly, as the antithesis of black. Appearing early in the work, she is also the final figure on stage, reaching up into a shaft of light in an image of yearning.
The music (by Kung Chi Shing) varies from bell sounds in slower sections, to piano and birdsong, to faster, more aggressive percussion sequences.
In this collaborative program for EDC and GMDC, it was interesting to compare the styles of each company. The GMDC dancers combined strength with a wonderful fluidity and control, while the EDC dancers’ strength was sharper and more staccato. EDC overlaid the movement with more drama; for GMDC, the movement itself was the drama.
An abiding impression from this triple bill is how wonderful it would be to see EDC double in size. The company’s seven outstanding dancers certainly held their own, but GMDC’s fifteen dancers demonstrated the power of a larger ensemble.
A collaboration like this one between EDC and GMDC can show everyone – dancers, choreographers, composers, designers, and the audience – other ways and other styles, and is an enriching experience.
Black continues until 20 February, at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre.