Archive for the 'Dance' Category

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.

19
Apr
17

Behind Closed Doors with EDC

WHAT: Behind Closed Doors

WHERE: QPAC Playhouse

WHEN: Friday 19 May to Saturday 27 May 2017

A sneak peak ahead of the season…

By Ruth Ridgway

Behind Closed Doors

Coming up in Expressions Dance Company’s 2017 season is the new work Behind Closed Doors. Choreographer Natalie Weir and the dancers explore what lies behind the façade of outward appearance, and turn the audience into voyeurs. Taking us into the private lives of hotel guests and staff, they reveal human nature in its darkness, fragility, and playfulness. Behind Closed Doors features live jazz played by the contemporary music ensemble Trichotomy.

An interview with Natalie Weir, Artistic Director of Expressions Dance Company

What inspired you to create Behind Closed Doors? Is it connected with your 2010 work While Others Sleep, which explores what happens at night in a hotel?

Yes, this is a re-visioning of While Others Sleep, taking some of the central ideas but we’ve moved into different areas this time. I’ve always been interested in voyeurism. I did a work called Insight years ago here at EDC, also with Greg Clarke, the designer. It used the Edward Hopper painting, ‘Night Windows’ as its inspiration and it was about looking through an apartment’s window. While Others Sleep in 2010 had so many ideas within it that I thought were great and I wanted to take to another level. I also wanted to work with Trichotomy again. Our audiences have grown and many have not seen the work, so why not set it in a hotel again and put it on a main stage? It has so many elements that are of interest to the audience and so many short stories within it. The audience have all stayed in a hotel and may relate to the story.

How did you and Trichotomy work together on Behind Closed Doors? Has music been especially composed for this work?

The music is part of Trichotomy’s quite extensive body of work over many years with a lot of pieces composed by Sean Foran. Sean is such an amazing person to work with – everything is easy. I felt like we really gelled when we worked together the first time. I’ve listened to a lot of his original music and this time I’ve spent a lot of time listening to his new stuff. There’s a lot of talking backwards and forwards with Sean. He alters his original music for me to match what I need, and then finds a way to blend the scenes together. Music is extremely stimulating and, because it’s jazz, it immediately sets the mood. When creating the show I imagined that Sean and the band are in the lobby playing in an expensive hotel. The music has a lot of range. It can be cool, sexy jazz but can also be very dramatic and dark. When we get into the rehearsal studio with the band they will watch the choreography and will be able to respond to the dancer in front of them – there might even be some improvisation. We’re lucky also to be joined by Rafael Karlen on Saxophone and vocalist Kristin Berardi. The great thing about these guests is that, not only are they amazing but, because they are a saxophonist and a singer, they can move around the stage and can become part of the action.

How did you and the dancers create the work? Did you create characters and a narrative for the characters, or did you follow particular themes or concepts?

Some of the characters have remained from While Others Sleep and some are quite new. I usually enter the studio with a strong idea of the characters and talk to the dancers about it – and then it’s collaboration between the dancers and me. They create a lot of the movement themselves and I direct it. They also research their characters, which is great because it takes them on a journey through the work. It’s my job to direct the dancers into the right place and to pull all the parts together. This is a big work with a lot of different parts including a set that moves and revolves, so I make sure this comes together seamlessly and keep the direction of the work moving forward. The dancers aren’t dancing what I tell them – it comes from them and then I shape it. I don’t tell them how to be a character they make that decision and own it, which makes it far more personal

The publicity for Behind Closed Doors has a ‘noir’ feel to it, but also mentions playfulness and fragility. How would you describe the balance of the moods and emotions in the work?

It is a balancing act because there are moments that are light and frivolous and others that are very dark. It’s finding a way to structure the work so that each of the moments has a time to be, but not detract from the other and that’s about finding the through line from the work from start to finish. Once you have all the parts you have to bring them together and the work has to be larger than the sum of the parts. While each part has its part as a small story and is part of the theme, it’s the strong narrative that brings it together. Some of the scenes go into the absurd and tongue-in-cheek and it wonders through the landscape of the human psyche. I think it will be very entertaining but it definitely has some depth and guts.

The publicity images of Elise May and Richard Causer in evening dress are very glamorous. Can you tell us more about the costumes and design of the work

The show is set in a very classy hotel and the costumes are designed to range from being quite real through to being quite fantastical. There are so many characters and scenes and the costumes are really important in bringing out the story and the images of the work and making us believe that the characters are real. Greg Clarke, the designer, has been influenced by the photography of Gregory Crewsden and films such as Blue Velvet and Mystery Train. There’s men’s suits, some glamorous dresses and even some underwear. And then some fantasy items that you need to see to understand! The design is really stunning. The costume design exposes the characters and helps inform the audience about who these people are and where they’re from.

The work can put the audience into the role of voyeur. How do you think they may feel about this? How has this potential audience response influenced the creation of the work?

At times the audience are like voyeurs watching something that perhaps they shouldn’t be, as if looking through a window or a door, but other times the characters really take the audience on their journey. That’s when the magic happens – the audience goes from being a voyeur to feeling like they believe in these characters and feel joy, sadness and darkness alongside them. It should be a wonderful theatrical experience for the audience because the gamut of the work is so broad from quite funny to very sad. It will be a roller-coaster ride. Isn’t that what theatre should do – transform the audience…?

Finally, what do you hope the audience takes away with them from Behind Closed Doors?

I know the audience will leave in absolute admiration at the beauty and physicality of the dancers and they will be in raptures over the incredible music played live. Having the musicians on stage playing live changes the theatrical experience. I hope the audience will recognise moments of their own lives, or someone they know within the work, and I hope they come away smiling and feeling moved. To connect to the audience is my ultimate aim. This work does not seek to alienate anyone, but to connect them. I always say that dance has the power to move people, even when you’re not sure why, and that’s its ultimate power.

Two quick questions for dancer Elise May:

What have you always wanted to know about what goes on ‘behind closed doors’ in a hotel?

As a dancer I’ve spent countless time checking in and out of hotel rooms on tour. There is a certain an allure to the homogenised hotel experience, no matter where you travel there are crisp white sheets, city views and monochrome corridors. But when you spend enough time in hotels you begin to notice the coming and going of other guests and wonder about the reasons for their stay or observe the odd hours that people keep. On occasions I have even started to project my imagination into the enclosed private spaces on the other side of the walls or behind the hotel doors… What is happening in the room beside mine? In a very identical room a very different scenario might be playing out, what could it possibly be? The inner private worlds of others has been a topic of interest in popular culture for some time. The concept of voyeurism has been featured in films such as ‘Rear Window’, ‘Minority Report’, American Beauty and countless others. For me, this fascination with the private lives of others is really an interesting starting point for a creative work and provides lots of meaty areas of exploration in terms of character development and movement creation. 

Can you briefly describe your role(s) in Behind Closed Doors, and how you have prepared for them?

My role in Behind Closed Doors is that of a lonely woman who is dealing with feelings of vulnerability and loss of her recently departed husband. We see her character first in the earlier stages of their relationship when they visited the hotel on their honeymoon. The romantic getaway was one of perfection in her memory and is an experience that comes back to haunt her as she returns to the hotel after his death. In an attempt to reconcile her feelings of grief and move on with her life she travels on quite an emotional journey throughout the work. In preparing for this role physically I have experimented with many different qualities of movement from abandoned, flung, weighty movements to angular, anguished and sharp dynamics. My role also involves a lot of incredibly intricate and sculptural partner work which is Natalie Weir’s choreographic forte. In researching the role I also looked into the 5 (or 7) stages of grieving as coined by psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross which can manifest as a mixture/ or ‘jumble’ of strong emotions experienced by those who face major life changes including loss, the prospect of death or the death of a loved one. Although my role deals with some very heavy content, I think Natalie’s choreography weaves these scenes and characters together in a way which is poetic and really casts a microscope or possibly even a mirror over the human condition.

Natalie Weir's Behind Closed Doors. EDC. Image shows EDC's Richard Causer 2. Image by Jeff Camden COLOUR.low res. jpg

Two quick questions for dancer RIchard Causer:

What is your most memorable ‘behind the scenes’ experience at a hotel?

A few years ago I worked part time in a five star luxury hotel in London called Cafe Royal. There I was privy to many behind the scenes moments. One exciting memory I have was something I thought only happened in the movies. I worked as the restaurant host and events host. We would be given a guest list of names that we would expect to arrive for certain private functions or events. As these guests arrived I realised I was welcoming many A-list celebrities who checked in under fake names. It was extremely exciting as this happened on many occasions and I would have to contain my excitement which I never did too well. Instead I would lose all use of words and just smile from ear to ear. Not subtle at all!

What has been the creative process for you, as a dancer, working with Natalie Weir as the choreographer for Behind Closed Doors?

Working with Natalie is always such a heart-warming experience. The rehearsals are always calm and everyone is very respectful and supportive of each other. Working on Behind Closed Doors has been a fun satisfying challenge, we are all working with specific characters and get to play dress ups a lot. I have enjoyed researching my character by watching some great films and reading some interesting online forums which continue to feed me with new stimulus. What is great about working with Natalie is she allows us the freedom to continue developing our roles from the beginning of the process to the very last performance.

07
Mar
17

Propel

 

Propel

Expressions Dance Company

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

March 3 to March 11 2017

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

Deeper than Ink L - R Michelle Barnett, Richard Causer, Alana Sargent, Benjamin Chapman, Jake McLarnon and Elise May

I feel I really need to be a champion for the art of contemporary dance and I take that very seriously.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, EDC

Propel is the second incarnation of an Expressions Dance Company (EDC) initiative to provide emerging and established choreographers with the opportunity to create new works on the company. Propel was introduced in 2014.

This is EDC’s first season for 2017. Former EDC dancer Richard Causer is back, along with long-term members Benjamin Chapman, Michelle Barnett and Elise May (now also promoted to Assistant to the Artistic Director). Jake McLarnon and Alana Sargent have recently joined the company. Sargent, formerly from Sydney Dance Company, also designed the costumes for Propel.

Hollow Lands - Alana Sargent

Opening the program was Hollow Lands by Lisa Wilson, the most experienced and established of the four choreographers. She was inspired by the light installation Through Hollow Lands by the Seattle-based artist/designer Etta Lilienthal.

Lighting designer Ben Hughes (with Bruce McKinven and Leonie Lee) has created a striking three-dimensional network of fluorescent tubes, arranged in rectangles with various sides missing, evoking Through Hollow Lands. Warm sidelighting of the dancers highlights their sculptural muscularity, enhanced by simple white shorts/skirts and tops, or dresses.

In her program notes, Wilson says her response to the installation was to explore the idea of ‘coming to the brink’. The six dancers approach the lights in awe and appear to be both attracted by them, and repelled by a force around them. They reach out, shrink away, and hurtle over the lights. At times they move away from the framework.

In a slower, more lyrical section, Elise May undulates, and Richard Causer and Alana Sargent dance a sensual duo. With all six dancers back on stage, the movement becomes more frenetic towards the end, before five fall to the floor, leaving one still upright.

Written on the Body - Jake McLarnon and Alana Sargent

Written on the Body-Benjamin Chapman and Michelle Barnett

In the second work, Written on the Body, Elise May combines dance and video, with the loose general theme being our perception and the effects of others on our own inner world. It was difficult to see how such a general theme related to the dance and the movement, except, of course, that the dancers are perceiving each other and affecting each other, and the audience is also perceiving them and affected by them. A feature of the work that does directly and strongly express connection is the complex shapes formed by two or more of the five dancers balancing on each other, or performing intricate lifts.

The video, extending across three separate screens at the back of the stage, sometimes consisted of staticky white dots, and at other times of intriguing, occasionally beautiful images, such as closeups of grass stems and leaves silhouetted against the sky.

When the images were interesting and beautiful, I tended to watch the video and not the dancers, and when the images were less arresting, I focused on the dancers instead. Is that the intention? It was hard to connect the images with the dancers’ movement.

Waiting Alone - Richard Causer

Chinese choreographer Xu Yiming has been working with EDC as part of the company’s Australia China Dance Exchange. His work Waiting Alone made a big impact, not only with its style and sound, but with the outstanding performance of Richard Causer.

In this short, intense solo, Causer’s strength and maturity enabled him to put his technique completely at the service of expressing emotion – loneliness, desperation, and a feeling of ‘What have I done?’ or ‘How can this be happening?’

Starting by turning slowly on the spot, and crescendoing in a frenzy of windmilling arms and seamless movement down to and up from the floor, Causer eventually subsided into a defeated crouch, with head bowed. Throughout the solo, the dancer repeatedly draws one or both hands down over his face and bows his head.

In a departure from the varied mix of electronic music/sound effects of the first two works, the soundtrack for Waiting Alone is the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for piano, overlaid with the sounds of screams, bangs, crashes, the wind whistling, and gulls crying. The sound and the dancer’s movement are a spine-tingling combination.

During this Propel season, EDC dancers Benjamin Chapman and Jake McLarnon will also perform Waiting Alone. It would be fascinating to see how each of the three dancers interprets this solo.

The final work on the program is Amy Hollingsworth’s Deeper Than Ink. The title metaphor represents an intense involvement with another person as a tattoo on the soul – only deeper. The simple, yet stunning costumes for all six dancers are long black pants, and sheer very pale tops, the arms and upper section densely mottled in blue-black, creating the illusion of tattoos.

The work is dimly lit and misty, with vignettes of movement at different positions on the stage suddenly illuminated and then plunged into darkness. In complex huddles and groupings, the dancers express aggression, despair, and sometimes consolation. One person is often pulled, resisting, away from another, creating an atmosphere of loss. The music (by Ben Frost, and Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto) ranges from eerie filmic grandeur to dirge-like strings, and metal-inspired dark energy.

In Propel’s three longer works, a wealth of different movement ideas were expressed, demonstrating the success of this choreographic development program in nurturing creativity. Some pruning of repetition and closer focus could fine-tune these works from an audience point of view.

The dancers all shone throughout the whole performance. Athletic, expressive, and each with an individual style, they are inspiring and energising to watch.

08
Sep
16

Snow White

Snow White

Ballet Preljocaj

QPAC International Series

September 2–11 2016

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

Watch the live stream of Snow White tonight from 7pm HERE

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Dance is more than controlled contortion and movement. It is the canvas against which we interpret the world and explore the depths of human emotion.

Angelin Preljocaj

The story of Snow White is a focus for this year’s Brisbane Festival, with the full-length dance theatre work by the French contemporary dance company Ballet Preljocaj, as well as a music theatre retelling by La Boite Theatre Company and Opera Queensland, and the Gallery of Modern Art screening two film versions, one from 1916, and the better known Walt Disney one from 1937.

Artistic Director and choreographer Angelin Preljocaj created Snow White on his company Ballet Preljocaj in 2008, and it is one of their best-known works. This season is part of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s International Series, and exclusive to Brisbane.

The series has notably brought to Brisbane companies of the calibre of the Paris Opera Ballet, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and the Bolshoi Ballet, and is a highlight of the dance performance calendar. While Ballet Preljocaj is not as internationally renowned as these companies, it is good to see a contemporary company as part of the series.

Snow White, like many fairytales, is a very dark story, about hatred, jealousy, attempted murder and revenge. Preljocaj’s version exploits this darkness to the full, staying very close to the story recorded by the Brothers Grimm.

The evil Queen, jealous of the beauty of her stepdaughter Snow White, tries several times to kill her, and apparently succeeds, but Snow White is revived by her Prince and marries him. At the wedding, the stepmother is forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she dies.

In the opening scene, a woman in black struggles through dark trees in a thick fog, disappearing into it and then reappearing. She is revealed as Snow White’s mother, who dies when giving birth. This short sequence is one of the most powerful moments in the work.

The set design and lighting, by Thierry Leproust and Patrick Riou, respectively, create a powerful effect, from the start taking us into a malevolent world dominated by brooding forest.

snow_white_16_gallery_04yangwang

There are lighter, even joyous, moments: Snow White’s duos with her Prince; the vigorous dances of members of her father’s court; an interlude with nymphs and fauns in the forest; and the dwarves, with whom Snow White takes refuge before the Queen finally hunts her down.

The choreography has some very balletic elements, mixed with much earthier grounded movement. The courtiers’ dancing, for instance, repeats the basic classical arm positions, but also has the dancers stamping and thigh-slapping, reminiscent of central or eastern European folk dance. Scooping and windmilling arm movements are a theme through the work.

The dancers playing the dwarves appear from openings in a giant wall filling the whole space at the rear of the stage. The miner’s lamps on their heads reinforce the analogy of a cliff, peppered with mineshaft entrances or cave mouths. Suspended by ropes, the dwarves walk up and down the wall as if it is a floor, and fly and tumble across it, in a magical sequence.

Emilie Lalande was a fragile, girlish Snow White, light, quick and agile. Her Prince, Redi Shtylla, was the outstanding dancer on first night – strong, tall, and athletic. He projected an energy that contrasted with Snow White’s fragility. Their duos were tender, and passionate, with many flying lifts.

Léa de Natale appears only briefly as Snow White’s mother, in the opening scene, and in a beautiful and moving aerial sequence when she lifts the unconscious Snow White up to float above the stage – both very powerful.

As the Queen, Cecilia Torres Morillo glowered and smouldered at her giant mirror, and commanded the stage with an evil presence. There is little dance in her role until the end, when the Queen is tortured and dances to her death. Torres Morillo’s repetitive leaps were slightly underwhelming in the portrayal of such a violent end.

An uncredited dancer deserves a mention for her portrayal of a deer in the forest, nervous and alert, and moving jerkily as it scans its surroundings for danger. Its fear is justified – it is the creature killed by the Queen’s hunters to make her believe they have obeyed her orders and killed Snow White.

Much was made in the publicity for the show of the costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier. The wicked Queen’s red and black dominatrix outfit, with its cage-like outer bodice, and long skirt cut away in front to show her black stockings and boots, was a signature image for the season.

The Prince’s eyecatching salmon-pink costume, reminiscent of a prince from classical ballet, was inspired by that of a Spanish bullfighter.

snow_white_16_gallery_02yangwang

Snow White’s striking wedding dress is a crinoline, the frame hung with white fringes that fluttered as she moved. Her costume for the bulk of the work, however, is a white playsuit-like garment looped very loosely between her legs, with wide slits at the side, and a floating panel at the back. The costume is very unflattering, with the look of a sagging nappy, and exposes the dancer’s buttocks a lot of the time.

Preljocaj chose music from works by Gustav Mahler for Snow White. The haunting quality of the music suits the dark fairytale, although the choreography (the vigorous folk-style dance, for example) contrasts with its grandeur at times.

snow_white_16_gallery_05yangwang

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra, led by its Conductor Laureate Johannes Fritzsch, played beautifully, and contributed greatly to the theatrical impact of the show.

At 1 hour 50 minutes without an interval, Snow White feels like a long stretch in the theatre. Some people on the first night obviously needed a break, and walked out halfway through anyway.

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.

27
Jun
16

If _ Was _

 

If _ Was _

Judith Wright Centre & Dancenorth

Judith Wright Centre Performance Space

June 23–25 2016

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

IFWAS_DanceNorth_1

If Form Was Shifted is a virtuosic reflection of the thought process structured through group manipulation.

Ross McCormack

If Never Was Now is a surreal hive of buzzing activity reflecting the beauty and brutality of the natural world.

Stephanie Lake

Dancenorth’s Artistic Director Kyle Page set choreographers Stephanie Lake and Ross McCormack a challenge, the end result of which is the double bill If _ Was _.

The challenge was for each to create a work of the same set duration, to sound selected from the same composition (by Robin Fox), using lighting from one design (by Bosco Shaw), and costume design based on one pattern (by Andrew Treloar). During the creation process, neither knew anything about the other’s work.

While these conditions might appear restrictive and likely to produce similar results, the works create very different impressions, McCormack’s dark and more introspective, and Lake’s vivid and full of energy. That said, they do have in common a robotic, ‘popping’ style of movement at times, and in both, the dancers seem to represent non-human creatures living in different dimensions of our world.

For the titles and themes of their works, the choreographers filled in the blanks. McCormack created If Form Was Shifted, which reflects group manipulation of the thought process, and manipulation of the body. Lake created If Never Was Now, a piece about creatures changing in response to a frenetically changing world.

The choreographers chose different segments and combinations of the electronic sound composition. These range from continuous reverberating chords, buzzing noises, repetitive phrases and beating rhythms, overlaid at times by bell sounds or beeping noises.

Each set of costumes creates a very different effect. The trackpants, singlets and shorts for McCormack’s work are dark and unobtrusive; for Lake’s, the dancers all wear trackpants (red with a white stripe for the men, and deep salmon with a red stripe for the women), the men are bare-chested and the women wear flesh-coloured bras.

If Form Was Shifted is the first work on the program. It begins and ends with four of the five dancers standing around speakers on the floor towards the back of the space, and a lone dancer downstage left. This lone figure is a male dancer at the beginning, and a female dancer at the end, echoing the theme of transformation.

The combination of the lighting and the dark costumes emphasises the dancers’ arms and their muscularity, particularly in the first solo, where the man’s hands with splayed fingers are a focal point. In another section, dancers contort their faces into rubbery grimaces. In the final grouping, the lone female dancer moves like a long-legged bird.

The most striking moments of the work involve the whole group moving as one organism, or one shifting aggregate of organisms, with the boundaries between individuals vanishing. Occasionally one dancer rises to the top of a huddle and continues to move on the backs of the other dancers, or is extruded from the centre of a group and reincorporated. The impression is of a constant flux or process of transformation.

The second work, If Never Was Now, opens with two dancers in a circle of white on the floor. The circle has texture, and I wonder what it’s made of – rice? sand? The answer is small polystyrene beads.

The circle is soon broken up by the dancers, whose movements sweep and fan the beads into different patterns on the floor, and into fluid drifts and flurries, with mesmerising effect. They also press the beads onto their faces and bodies as decoration, resembling dots of paint.

Changes in the lighting add other dimensions to the beads, different angles making them look like a relief map on the floor, or showing up every bead, while ultraviolet light makes them glow. Finally, a column of the beads drifts down over the one dancer remaining on stage, and as she sits and then lies down, her movements make the whole column undulate like smoke.

The movement in this piece is generally fast, with turns and jumps, grappling, stamping and running, as well as floorwork. The dancers appear to be creatures fiercely intent on living to the utmost. As in the first piece, their movement is birdlike at times, and they move like a flock at one point. Two dancers mirror each other in one segment, shimmying and increasing their range and speed of movement.

The Dancenorth dancers (Harrison Hall, Mason Kelly, Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan and Georgia Rudd) are strong and superfit. In both pieces, they show an incredible athleticism that really lets fly in Lake’s work.

Kyle Page must be pleased with the result of his ‘fill the blanks’ experiment. Both pieces transcend the limitations of the conditions he has imposed, appear to fulfil their choreographers’ intentions, and are absorbing and exhilarating to watch.

23
May
16

When Time Stops: Director’s Cut

 

When Time Stops: Director’s Cut

QPAC & Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Playhouse

May 20–28 2016

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

Natalie Weir's When Time Stops. Image by Chris Herzfeld. Image shows EDC full company with Camerata of St John's

The dancers’ commitment and trust bring new energy and vision to the work. They are responsible for bringing it to life. It belongs to them.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, Expressions Dance Company

 

When Time Stops is intense, moving, and beautiful. In a series of impressionistic scenes, a dying woman re-experiences significant events in her life, and says goodbye, finally moving into another realm and accepting her inevitable death.

 

In this 2016 restaging of When Time Stops, Expressions’ Artistic Director Natalie Weir has made some changes, and has refreshed the work in collaboration with new and former cast members. The original 2013 version was powerful – this one even more so.

The music, composed specifically for this work by Iain Grandage, won a 2014 Helpmann Award for Best Original Score. It creates a dark, rich string sound, with poignant solos for cello and violin.

The live performance by the string players of the Camerata of St John’s is spellbinding. Dressed in black and with bare feet, the twelve musicians play from memory, moving on and offstage and in among the dancers, sometimes enclosing them in lines. Outnumbering the dancers, they are visually striking, but not overpowering.

The overriding impression of the dancers is of fearless strength and unrestrained emotional expression.

Michelle Barnett as the Woman excels in her first leading role with Expressions. It is a demanding performance, physically and emotionally, requiring a great expressive range. Barnett sweeps us along with her, and her final acquiescence, as the light shining on her face dims, is a wrenching moment.

A constant reminder of death and the crossing into another world is the archetypal Ferryman (guest dancer Thomas Gundry Greenfield), who waits to take the woman on her final journey. For much of the time, he sits in the background in his boat, rowing, and facing away from the audience.

Gundry Greenfield’s muscularity, combined with slow, controlled movement, and his watchful, ominous presence, make the Ferryman a dominant figure, at times pulling the Woman towards death, and at other times repelling her or trying to prolong her life.

In the section ‘Time’, guest dancer Xiao Zhiren (Guangdong Modern Dance Company) recreates the solo originally performed by Daryl Brandwood. Flexible and fluid, he is a worthy successor to Brandwood, twisting his body impossibly and recovering effortlessly.

Natalie Weir's When Time Stops. Image by Chris Herzfeld. Image shows Rebecca Hall_low res

The Woman alternates between observing her younger self, played by other dancers, and reliving her own experiences. In ‘First Kiss’, Rebecca Hall and Benjamin Chapman capture the joy and tenderness of a youthful love affair, the movement exultant, with lifts whirling through the air.

Barnett is partnered by guest dancer Jake McLarnon in ‘Knocked Sideways’, the evocation of a violent and dysfunctional relationship, where Barnett is flung and wrenched through acrobatic movement. In this role, McLarnon creates a character with a convincingly cold and threatening presence.

Showing great expressivity and strength, Cloudia Elder features in ‘Scan’, at first pressed against a large panel of light, and then moving away to convey fear, disbelief and despair.

Following ‘Scan’, the Woman relives her reaction to the news about her illness. As if one person can’t contain the enormity of it, McLarnon and Chapman partner Barnett in expressing her rage and grief through uninhibited movement.

The mood changes in the elegiac ‘Last Kiss’, where the Woman farewells a friend (Xiao Zhiren). In this gentler duo, Zhiren and Barnett match each other in expressing a sense of loss, nostalgia, yearning and compassion, taking it in turns to carry each other.

In the ‘Cardiac’ scene, Elise May recreates the Woman’s final struggle for life. The Ferryman, this time in the guise of a rescuer, administers chest compressions to try and resuscitate her. Barnett is watching, as if the Woman’s spirit is already separated from her body.

May is a very powerful performer, completely sublimating movement into emotion. Her sudden coughing and choking in the Woman’s death throes seem incongruous, however, as none of the dancers have previously vocalised in any way. This breaks the intensity of the performance.

Bill Haycock’s design for the show gives an effect of elemental simplicity, with walls of a tilted room, and projected images of clouds, and stars in a night sky. The lighting by David Walters is often muted, and pierced by shafts of light from a tall, narrow doorway. The dancers’ costumes (calf-length dresses for the women, and long pants and loose shirts for the men) are in neutral light shades, apart from Barnett’s, which is black.

After the show and the extended applause, the audience was still so wrapped up in the performance that they stayed in their seats briefly, and moved out of the theatre slowly, talking about the experience. You know it has been a great night in the theatre when this happens.

When Time Stops is on until Saturday 28 May at the Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Book here