25
May
17

Behind Closed Doors

 

Behind Closed Doors

Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Playhouse

May 19 to May 27 2017

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

Each dancer brings passion, dedication, vision and respect. I feel their trust in me and it is empowering. They are brave in the studio and brave in performance.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, EDC

 

Set in an upmarket hotel, Expressions Dance Company’s Behind Closed Doors marries live contemporary jazz and contemporary dance.

If only all dance performances could include live music! It might not always be practicable or even possible, but this work powerfully demonstrates how the two live artforms complement and enrich each other.

Artistic Director/Choreographer Natalie Weir and the EDC dancers have collaborated with contemporary music ensemble Trichotomy: Musical Director Sean Foran (piano), John Parker (drums) and Samuel Vincent (acoustic bass), with guest artists Kristin Berardi (vocals) and Rafael Karlen (saxophone). Compositions by the group have been reworked for Behind Closed Doors, and performances include improvisation.

Behind Closed Doors is a reworking and further development of the 2010 EDC production While Others Sleep, also created and performed with Trichotomy (then called Misinterprotato).

The ‘film noir’ hotel setting (design by Greg Clark, lighting design by David Walters) seems a natural one for a jazz ensemble. At the end of the show, the audience stayed seated for a while, enjoying a final number from Trichotomy – it was as if we were transported into that hotel.

The stage is divided into three spaces: an area for the musicians, with space in front of them that is a foyer or a restaurant, and a revolving set, with doors on one side opening into ‘rooms’ with missing walls on the other, into which the audience can see.

We see glimpses of hotel guests’ stories in vignettes featuring a range of characters. In between these vignettes, people pass through the public spaces of the hotel, carrying luggage, hurrying to meet schedules, and presenting their public personae.

Elise May is very moving in her role as The Lonely Woman, partnered by Benjamin Chapman as the memory or ghost of her lost partner. Their duo in their first appearance is fluid, poignant, and sad, with beautiful complex lifts executed almost in slow motion. The lyrical effect contrasts with the strength and control that the movement needs, but which is completely transcended.

The Lonely Woman’s costumes (design by Greg Clark) are stunning: a filmy black dress strewn with 3D appliqué red poppies; and a full-length cream wraparound dress, reminiscent of 1930s film star Jean Harlow.

In this role and in his solo as The Dark Man, Chapman is strong and compelling. The Dark Man appears to be escaping from life in the outside world. Tormented and desperate, he trashes his hotel room, and is found unconscious by the maid. The acrobatic contortions of Chapman’s solo as he ricochets around the room convey the character’s torment and desperation.

May and Chapman also have a scene in the hotel restaurant as a warring young couple, whose row extends to involve other patrons, as they knock over tables and chairs, and hit the suspended lights. The force of the movement and its representation of disregard for polite behaviour is both liberating and discomforting to watch. They are not people you would want sitting near you in a restaurant.

While The Dark Man appears driven by torment to escape from life in the outside world, The Chameleon (guest artist Xu Yiming) disguises himself to avoid notice. He wears a cherry-red suit that blends in with the curtains and bedspread in his room. His fluid and boneless movements are in peripheral planes: he lies on the floor, flopping along impossibly, hides behind curtains, and sprawls on the bed.

In another story, The Businessman (Richard Causer) appears in a suit, so formal and restricted that he must be hiding something.  Sure enough, when inside his hotel room, he sheds the suit and reveals a struggle between his feminine and masculine personae, posing in front of us as if watching himself in a mirror. Causer projects both vulnerability and strength in this role, engaging our sympathy.

Michelle Barnett and Jake McLarnon join Causer to represent The Female Side (represented by a dramatic and erotic dark-red dress) and the Male Side of the character, struggling with him and each other. Barnett and Causer fly and fling each other through a duo, and all three finish by grappling together. We are left wondering how long The Business Man will be able to endure the struggle.

Barnett and McLarnon express completely different emotions and physicality in their roles as Young Lovers. Their duo is passionate, playful and joyous, with Barnett memorably taking a flying leap onto McLarnon on the bed.

McLarnon and Causer also perform a ‘young love’ (or maybe ‘young lust’) duo. The two men’s encounter begins when they pop out of their doorways in bathrobes, and continues in a very physical, gymnastic display of muscularity and humour.

The Maid threads her way through the action as the constant among the shifting group of hotel guests. She finds odd things people drop or leave behind, accidentally sees people in vulnerable or compromising situations, fantasises about guests’ lives, and is harassed by guests. In this role, QUT student Tiana Pinnell did an outstanding job of filling in at short notice for the injured Alana Sargent*.

The publicity for Behind Closed Doors invited us to unleash our inner voyeur. I found that I was identifying with the characters instead – a tribute to the power of the performers to inspire our empathy.

It’s hard to write about the EDC dancers without gushing. They perform amazing physical feats which are at the same time evocative and expressive, and they transport us into other worlds.

*This review is of the second night performance, Saturday 20 May.

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