31
Aug
16

Muscle Memory

 

Muscle Memory

Judith Wright Centre & Collusion

Judith Wright Centre Performance Space

August 17–20 2016

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

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Muscles flex and memories resurface in this all-Australian evening of chamber ballets …

Muscle Memory program notes

Muscle Memory is a varied and polished program of chamber music and chamber ballet. Contemporary music ensemble Collusion has partnered with choreographer Gareth Belling and dancers from the Queensland Ballet’s Pre-Professional Program to present three short works for small groups of dancers, and two duos.

Belling was originally commissioned by the Queensland Ballet to create these works for the company over a period from 2006 to 2011. The costumes were all designed by the Queensland Ballet’s Noelene Hill.

The first piece, Urban Myths (to Nigel Westlake’s piano trio of the same name) is for three couples. Inspired by photographs on the walls in his grandparents’ house, Belling wondered what lay behind the posed images of happy 1950s couples. In his ballet, one pair of the three has a troubled and violent relationship, gradually revealed in increasing intensity, with the other two couples being drawn into the conflict.

Lifts feature prominently in the choreography, displaying the strength and poise of the young dancers straight away. The movement patterns also have the dancers advancing and retreating in a wave-like effect.

The youth and freshness of the dancers contrasted with the dark themes and sober costumes of this piece. It was hard to believe in them being enmeshed in the unhappiness they were trying to portray. But they danced beautifully, and straight away demonstrated the success of the QB Pre-professional Program.

Urban Myths was followed by Transference, a cheeky flirtation between a female and a male dancer. The music too, is a duo, the Violin and Piano Sonata by Australian-Ukrainian composer Catherine Likhuta.

The dominant feature of the dance duo is the female dancer’s white tutu, with its medium-length petal-like skirt. At the start of the work she is on the floor folded into the skirt, and appears from it like a flower opening. Later, the tutu droops downwards, or is folded up around her torso, exposing the underside of the tutu, and the body. The body of the male dancer, while he was wearing less (a white Tshirt and grey briefs), did not appear as exposed.

After this interlude came Transition Sequence for a group of eight dancers, to Carl Vine’s String Quartet No. 3. At times the dancers formed a close group, with quick movements darting out from the group, like a small colony of organisms moving as one. At other times the group disassociated, and two couples were featured.

The costumes for both male and female dancers in this piece were short, stylish, grey tunics with a Grecian-style bodice. Those for the female dancers were particularly short, and kept riding up, destroying their elegant effect.

Following the interval came a second short duo, Mourning Song, to Paul Stanhope’s Songline (for violin and cello). In this piece a woman is mourning the death of a man, and also celebrating his life. The woman is dressed in a dark-purplish long dress, and appears gaunt and grief-stricken. The man is a ghostly figure, dressed in grey.

The music for this piece, with the violinist and the cellist seated downstage left, made a great impact, and dominated the dance. At one point, the cello and violin were as if stridently calling out in the same strong, beating rhythm. The power of the performance by Benjamin Greaves (violin) and Danielle Bentley (cello) eclipsed the youthful, earnest performance of the dancers.

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The final work on the program was Refraction to Philip Eames’s composition for piano quintet, Annealed Cyan Matt, in its premiere performance. Refraction has been rechoreographed to this commissioned score after first being created to Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 1.

This is a playful work, with one sprite-like female dancer leading the others into various energetic routines. The lighting design (by Ben Hughes) features a refracted band of rainbow-colours that the dancers move in and out of, creating interesting colour effects.

The dancers wear bustiere-like white bodices, and white briefs for the men, and intriguing skirts made of clustered thick white loops for the women. (Again, these skirts tended to ride up distractingly.) The general effect was reminiscent of Victorian or Edwardian circus performers, and the strength and flexibility of the male dancers, in particular, reinforced this impression.

Overall, this was an entertaining program, showing off the skill and attack of a strong group of emerging dancers. The classically based choreography (with the women on pointe in three of the five pieces) suited them.

The strength and assurance of the Collusion musicians’ performance and the music they played were spellbinding, showcasing the work of five different Australian composers.

During this season of Muscle Memory, Collusion also promoted their crowd funding campaign, which will help them to provide free community concerts for people with a disability and their families in Queensland. These concerts give people the opportunity to experience live music in safe and accessible spaces.

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