Posts Tagged ‘contemporary dance


Piece For Person And Ghetto Blaster


Piece For Person And Ghetto Blaster

Brisbane Powerhouse & Mobile States

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

February 25 – 27 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Nothing happens if you always do things the same way…

– Marina Abromovich


Consider for a moment this moral conundrum. You’re a woman… (that’s not the moral conundrum)

You’re a woman and you’re in a foreign country…

Enter the eccentric, charming and mischievous world of creator Nicola Gunn as she navigates the complexities of trying to be a better person in this critically acclaimed new work.

Are you willing to take part in conflict in order to transform and change the future for the better?

An incident lasting all of ten minutes is told from three different points of view: a woman is out running and sees a man throwing stones at a sitting duck. What happens next leaves the woman coming to terms with the event and its consequences.

It dissects the excruciating realms of human behaviour in an attempt to navigate the moral and ethical complexities of becoming a better person.

As acclaimed writer and performer Nicola Gunn recreates scenarios on stage, she will attempt to dissect our motivations for conflict and ask the big question: why can’t we all just get along?

Again, I arrive late to Brisbane Powerhouse and the Turbine Studio downstairs. I’d raced over from QPAC (by raced I mean drove, through six o’clock city traffic, which is not nearly as bad as five o’clock city traffic), where I’d stayed to see Triumphs And Other Tribulations in the Cremorne, following an afternoon of production excerpts in the Concert Hall and The Stance outside in QPAC’s Cultural Forecourt for the Australian Performing Arts Market: APAM2016. It was a big day! And bigger – much, much bigger – for some than others. In retrospect I can say I wisely went home earlier on the evening of DAY1 rather than stay for opening night drinks. One of the delegates informed me that each year it was generally agreed everyone would try not to go too hard on the first night but each year it seems that this was generally forgotten. I proposed a leisure day on DAY2 in 2018 to break up the program and give everyone the opportunity to catch a Citycat or visit the galleries (or the shopping end of James Street) but was promptly reminded that everyone at APAM is working.

I find Ruth in the crowd outside the studio doors. Shimchong has already gone in (a couple of delegates have been locked out of the Visy and are now trying to gain access to “What is it in the studio?”), and Dave Sleswick, with his clipboard list of delegates, announces that Presenters have first right of refusal. It’s a marketplace after all, so we wait. We look around. No Presenters present! Luckily for us I’d actually registered to see the show and we were allowed to find seats…yes, that old chestnut. We walked past the entire seated audience, past Nicola Gunn, bright-eyed and beaming warmly at us from a corner of the performance space, and up the little steps to THE BACK ROW, BABY.

The house lights stay up. Gunn begins moving and speaking, speaking and moving, seemingly randomly, often quite rhythmically, and at times very violently, without any apparent correlation between the text and the physical activity she performs…at first. She scuttles and stretches and squats and shakes and shimmies. She steps from side to side, launches into considered commando rolls, purposeful kicks, deliberate backbends, peaceful asanas, and pulls herself along the floor as if she’s an early childhood teacher being a child being a caterpillar on the carpet (back when early childhood teachers were allowed ample time to teach such vital skills as being a caterpillar – I’m so grateful my child got in on the end of those days). Gunn completes entire sequences as she chatters away to us, about David Suchet, Hercule Poirot and Marina Abromovich, about skimming stones (the trick is to skim them at an angle of 20 degrees), the enduring brilliance of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter (it might be one of the greatest love stories of all time) and the man she saw throwing stones at a defenceless duck in Ghent, Belgium… A 10-minute morally challenging moment in life becomes an engaging, entertaining, deeply thought provoking 70-minute physical performance.


Every move and every breath is strictly choreographed (Jo LLoyd), although there’s nothing particularly strict about the way it comes across; it mostly feels almost completely improvised, at times untidy. There are even times when Gunn stops herself, incredulous, disbands whatever movement she was in the middle of and exclaims, “What the fuck am I doing?! Fuck it!” before beginning a new sequence and a new version of the story. These are gorgeous, natural, very funny rehearsal room type moments, which underscore Gunn’s musings about the nature of art and life, and our response to the little things. And the momentous things. The things that matter. Do you know what matters to you? The conversation is fascinating and the execution impressive. Gunn is rarely out of breath and ably manipulates the mood so that we’re laughing one minute and the next, contemplating the meaning of life and right and wrong. She’s intensely focused and yet easily distracted. Extremely disciplined and happily relaxed. She’s a walking, dancing, daring, dialoguing contradiction. 

Gun’s show is a philosophical discussion with strangers in a daggy aerobics class. She brings life and perspective and guts and ridiculous fun to a simple, yet complex, moral dilemma.

The references to performance artist, Marina Abromovich, range from admiration to parody to a final, spectacular homage in a stunning coloured coat and head piece. It makes no sense; it’s the post script that never needed to make it onto the page.

An increasingly layered, synthesised soundscape by composer Kelly Ryall and intense lighting by Niklas Pajanti help to create the hectic atmosphere of a subterranean rave – there are lasers and haze and the electronica and the pulse and the voice, looped and looped upon itself again and again; it’s hypnotic. All of this though is the duck speaking…

It’s amusing (I’m more bemused) and it’s a stunning visual effect, but it doesn’t actually work as the conclusion to this show…or does it? Others ADORE it. Others RAVE about the rave element. Others love watching Abromovich sitting in a chair for eight hours a day too. It’s a real Abromovich moment. With Kate Bush and Lady GaGa looking on, nodding approvingly. Is it Gunn’s final statement (for now) on the state of the arts? Is it a protest? Is it a glorious effort to reinforce the fact that artists can make their art for…themselves? Is it something that seemed like fun so, “Why the fuck not?” Or is it simply that the duck is on acid and we’re along for the trip? It’s a great ride but suddenly we’re in an entirely different theme park.


I want to hear what happened to the duck! And to the woman! And to the man! But there is no neat ending to the narrative, just as there is no neat ending in life, and we are left to dream on what we’ve experienced. I walk out a little bit bewildered. Ruth and I compare notes. We are wondering why the show took the turn it did. One of the delegates bends down to feel the white dance floor… Is this a work of sheer brilliance or another example of too much time and money to create it? I don’t want to see work like this not being able to be created… With so little funding available for the arts in this country already, it seems sacrilege to even pose the question. But one wonders. And one continues to discuss it…

PPGB short trailer – no credits from Performing Lines on Vimeo.





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.

EDC's Black_Image shows L-R Zhang Congbin and Liu Qingyu in SUMERU_Image by David Kelly_low res

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.

Natalie Weir's Don't - image shows Cloudia Elder - image by David Kelly 2

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.






Brisbane Powerhouse & Claire Marshall Projects

In association with Metro Arts

Brisbane Powerhouse

November 18–22 2014


Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway





We are exploring women’s gender, sexuality and power, and how it can be ‘socially inscribed’ on the body …

Claire Marshall, Director/Choreographer


Before the first performance of Flaunt, Powerhouse Artistic Director Kris Stewart made a short, impassioned speech about the Powerhouse’s support for independent dance artists such as Director/Choreographer Claire Marshall and her group of dancers. This support is partly funded by the drinks you buy at the Powerhouse, so drink up, everyone!


Flaunt opens with a woman climbing a ladder onto the roof of a metal-framed structure. She writhes and poses there. Later three others appear and two women manipulate the limbs of the others. The end of the work recapitulates these moments.


In between are a number of other short scenes. The women struggle to escape from behind a glass screen, on which images of sultry-looking formally dressed women are projected. They walk in the strange crossed-over way that models do, they pose and pout, and do some pole dancing moves, using the uprights of the shelter. At another point, the feel is of a nightclub, with very loud, pounding electronic sound. The soundtrack also features a robotic female voice discoursing on gender and sexuality.


In a creepy sequence, the dancers manipulate shop mannequins and dismember them. The cross-section of the bottom half of one mannequin is blood-red.


In her program notes, Marshall says the work is ‘about women and power’ – but only sexual power is on display here, and competition between women. The women appear to be trapped by their gender and sexuality, managing occasionally to break out and escape. The ladder offers a way out, but it’s narrow, and can take only one person at a time.


The overall impression of the design (Frances Hannaway) is of darkness, and entrapment – overlaid with allure. The costumes were mainly black and silver – dark silver leggings and black tops for the opening scene, clear plastic tops with crisscrossed strips of black, transparent white skirts that looked like organza, and dark silver tops with black bike shorts. They suited the dancers, and had a welcome elegance contrasting with the dark themes of the work.


The dancers (Mariana Parizo, Miranda Zeller, Amelia Stokes, Kirri Webb) were strong and athletic, demonstrating a power that their characters in this piece are denied. The strength of the movement, combined with the pouting and posturing that reproduce some of the stereotyped sexualised images of women, results in an uneasy mix of voyeuristic appeal, parody, and critique.


Flaunt is an hour long, with no interval. Sometimes the time dragged, and at others the work was absorbing. Final show tonight 7pm.



The Red Shoes


The Red Shoes

Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Playhouse

July 18–26 2014


Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway


Expressions Dance Company’s The Red Shoes, choreographed by Artistic Director Natalie Weir with the dancers, revisits the ‘story within a story’ of the 1948 movie of the same name and is set in the same era. The main character, Victoria, is performing in a pantomime based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and playing out a version of the story in her own life at the same time. In her case, the red shoes represent her obsession with her art form, which leads her into madness.


The dancers (particularly Elise May, Daryl Brandwood and Jack Ziesing) are a revelation in their commitment, their emotional intensity, and their execution of Weir’s dramatic and visually beautiful choreography. There are many sublime moments of dance and music, and the production looks striking, with its red, white and black costumes, glittering gold mirrors, and echoes of theatrical grandeur of the past (design by Bruce McKinven, lighting design by Matt Scott).


Elise May as Victoria is a glamorous 1940s-style heroine, drawing us into her tragedy, and dancing truly like one possessed. Her grace, stamina, and ability to express emotion in movement are phenomenal in this portrayal of the doomed character who dances to her death.


Elise May and Benjamin Chapman_The Red Shoes


We first see Victoria in the closing moments of the pantomime, taking her curtain calls, and then in an encounter with the Director (Daryl Brandwood). The Director is commanding and elegant in a dark suit, and while admiring Victoria, tries to control her. Victoria, however, is constantly turning away from him or has her back to him, and in a later duo, pushes him away, after dragging him along as a burden on her back.


After this rejection, Brandwood has a breathtaking solo – icily precise and classically formal one minute, and the next twisting and distorting as emotion breaks through. He is controlling and manipulating, but also expressing grief, and there is a feeling that he, too, is obsessed and near the edge.


The first duo for Victoria and her lover (Jack Ziesing) is tender and languorous, but finishes with Victoria distracted by her obsession with dance. The choreography here and throughout the work incorporates ‘360 degree’ movement and partnering: lifts don’t just go up and come down, but keep going in a circle to continue into another movement. As Weir and her dancers demonstrate again in this new work, her choreography constantly creates new ways for bodies to twine around each other in continuous, beautiful and inspiring movement.


In a flashback scene, we see the beginning of Victoria’s career and the start of her obsessive search for perfection in an audition where the young Victoria (Rebecca Hall) is first spotted by the Director. He starts to control and correct her, violently jerking her limbs into the correct positions as if she were a puppet. She then dances an anguished solo, fighting with the classical technique – Hall demonstrating strength and control to express this anguish, with many turns and balances.


As Victoria becomes more obsessed with a quest for perfection and with her image in the mirror, ‘Mirror Victoria’ (Natalie Allen) emerges. Allen’s ferocity of movement embodied the dark aggression of this side of Victoria’s character as she fights to take over the ‘real’ Victoria. At this point, film (by Sue Healey) is used to show the confusion in Victoria’s mind, with jumbled images of shoes, ribbons, and faces projected over her.


Jack Ziesing and Elise May_The Red Shoes


The Lover loses his struggle to reach Victoria as she descends into madness, and dances a grief-stricken solo that is one of the many high points of the work. Ziesing uses his height and strength to great effect, extending body and limbs in imploring movements and contracting and falling in despairing reaction.


This solo is followed quite soon after by the pantomime duo with Victoria and the Weeping Angel (Benjamin Chapman), dressed in white, whom Victoria confuses with her lover. Chapman is a compassionate, benevolent presence, with a rounded, flowing quality of movement and a calmness unique among these mainly haunted or haunting characters.


Jack Ziesing_The Red Shoes


The pantomime concludes with the Weeping Angel comforting and supporting the dying Victoria. The curtain comes down and we in the audience, like Victoria, can no longer distinguish between ‘reality’ and the ‘performance’, applauding what we think is the end of the show, until realising that we are hearing recorded applause, and that May is taking curtain calls as Victoria, not as herself.


This is disconcerting, but perhaps deliberate. However, it does lessen the impact of the character’s own death. When we realise what is happening, we see Victoria on an empty stage, in the void of madness, finally collapsing and dying again.


From the point where Victoria in the pantomime is compelled to dance to her doom by the Dark Angel (a lithely malevolent Sam Colbey paralleling the role of the Director in Victoria’s life), to the time of her own death, the focus shifts from the earlier intensity and complexity of the choreography to film of Victoria running through varied landscapes, to Victoria herself running and to the music and a flurry of emotion.


This concluding section could perhaps be tightened and ‘edited’, and the difference between the end of the pantomime, and the death of Victoria herself made more distinct. Shortening the work a little could, if anything, strengthen its impact. At about 1 hour 20 minutes, it is long for a performance without an interval.


The Southern Cross Soloists, playing live on stage, pour out a flood of ‘hauntingly beautiful’ music (Weir’s description in the program) for this production – from baroque to contemporary Italian and Australian composers. All the soloists are featured at some point, each in moments of such close relationship with the dancers and such lovely sound that it takes your breath away.


The Red Shoes_EDC_hero



The Red Shoes – a chat with Natalie Weir


The Red Shoes is Natalie Weir’s new work for Expressions Dance Company.


Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story and the 1948 film of the same name, it too is about a woman obsessed with dance to the point of self-destruction.


The Red Shoes_EDC_hero


Ruth Ridgway chatted with Natalie Weir, Artistic Director of Expressions Dance Company.


What was it about the Hans Christian Andersen story and the 1948 movie of The Red Shoes that appealed to you and inspired your work of the same name?


I saw the film on television some time ago and thought it was beautiful, and possibly something a dance company could do. I loved the era it was set in, and the story within a story idea.


It is also very appealing to find strong, complex and interesting female characters to base work on.


In order to grow our audience, we are at times using well-known titles to help make the company more accessible, and to perhaps attract people to see us that might not normally come. And I do love to tell a good story – with darkness and light!


It also seemed relevant to create a work about dance – as this is what we do every day – and the pursuit of perfection. This is not only in classical ballet, but also contemporary dance – the dancers do this constantly. But of course perfection means different things to different people.




How have you developed the work? Did you have a particular focus to start with? Did this change, and if so, how?


I started discussions with designer Bruce McKinven, to see if he found the idea inspiring. We talked a lot about the idea of obsession, or addiction, and how that can start very small and focused, but end up overtaking one’s whole life.


Bruce followed the story within a story idea by creating onstage a world within a world. We have not really deviated from this – just developed it.


The dancers of course play a major part in the creation of the work, the development of the movement and the characters. This work really belongs to them.


How do you feel about the cruelty and sadism of the Hans Christian Andersen story, and is that reflected in the work?


It’s like many of the fairy tales – those of the Grimm Brothers for example – the heart of the story is often dark and gruesome. In Red Shoes the girl’s feet are chopped off – yet they keep on dancing without her! Not so nice. However the idea of something taking over someone’s life – like a drug, where they are unable to stop it, seemed like strong fodder.


In my Red Shoes, the dancer Victoria becomes obsessed with the person in the mirror – but not in a good way. She is performing in a pantomime of The Red Shoes – which I have approached quite stylistically, with a dark angel cursing her to dance to death, and redemption/love/spirituality found through the weeping angel. This pantomime has her personal story around it (the story of the real Victoria) – her memories of auditioning for a dance company, her struggle with the form, her search for perfection, as well as the amazing highs that being on stage and the accolades bring.


The film of The Red Shoes shows another way in which a woman is destroyed, not so much by her obsession with dance, but by her temerity in wanting to have a career. Is this battle to develop a career reflected in your work? Or is the struggle different, and in what way?


Yes, it’s the struggle I guess to maintain a real life – seen through the relationship with Victoria’s lover/soulmate – balanced precariously with her onstage desires and dreams. We see her begin to slip into a madness of sorts, and the lover is left with a shell of a woman whose spirit has been captured by a world of fantasy.


The struggle could be brought into a modern context – the difficulty of finding a life/work balance, and I think this is relevant when working in an artform that is about passion, dedication and drive. Rarely do artists of any genre leave their work at work; it does pervade their private lives and often defines who they are. But when is this too much? And what happens when it ends?




What do the red shoes symbolise for you?


They are the intangible spirit that drives a dancer to be all they can be – the love of an artform.


What do the story and the film say to you about dance as a pursuit? How is this different in your work?


I think most people would recognise that dance is an artform of incredible highs and fulfilment, especially for those who make it to the top in their field – perfection can almost be found (but not quite). However, there is a downside, and perhaps for those not finding that dream, it can be heartbreaking. But the satisfaction for those who persevere and get there – that might be hard to match in other areas of their lives.


Can you tell us a little about the music for The Red Shoes, which will be performed live by the Southern Cross Soloists?


The music is by an eclectic mix of composers. Tania Frazer (Creative Director of Southern Cross Soloists) has been sending me music over a period of 12 months. We wanted it to sound as if it belonged in the 1940s, and had beauty and timelessness. We have music by Rachmaninov and Bach, as well as living composers such as Matthew Hindson, Pēteris Vasks and Giovanni Allevi.


The Southern Cross Soloists are all incredible musicians, all really at the top of their game, and it is a pleasure to have the luxury of the music being played live.


You are also incorporating film by Sue Healey. How is the film being used?


Film is not an area I have worked in before, but this work seemed to ask for it. The film is used three times only: the first two times to magnify the state of mind of Victoria, and the third in the onstage pantomime, to provide a really different look onstage and give the sense of the dancer travelling. Victoria dances through night and day, and different landscapes – and the film underpins the emotion and physicality of the dance to the death. Sue Healey is a sensitive and experienced filmmaker, and this work seemed like a great place to collaborate with such a film artist for the first time.


Finally, what do you hope the audience will feel in response to your work The Red Shoes?


It is always hard to predict how audiences will react to a new work, but I hope they feel engaged by the story, stunned by the gorgeous design, moved by the haunting beauty of the music, and inspired by the beautiful physicality and artistry of the dancers.


Every one of the dancers has a moment to shine, and I do believe they shine through.



The Red Shoes runs from July 18 – 26 2014 at QPAC. Book online.






The Lind
June 27 – 28 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


You might have noticed I’m not reviewing community theatre this year. Sorry about that. Sometimes we have a writer available to catch something or other (for example, tonight Maree was able to see The Breakfast Club, an amateur production at Brisbane Arts Theatre), but there is actually too much on to keep up with it all! While we’re being casual and chatty here, you might also have noticed that I’m several reviews behind the eight ball. Sorry, especially to those involved in the productions in draft form on my desktop. I’ve been teaching full time again, as well as rehearsing Diabolique, our original production, which was selected for inclusion at the Noosa Long Weekend Festival, and I’ve got a looong To Do List for the holidays! I promise I’ll catch up!


Vincent, a contemporary dance work by local choreographer, Melissa Lanham, not only interested me on a number of different levels but it exemplified the creative process that we see all too often go unsupported. Fortunately for Melissa and co, the project received funding from Ausdance Queensland as well as the support of private investors, which means the work was able to have a showing at the end of its first creative development phase.


Well, how did you think new great work is created!?


34. 1889 Self-Portrait oil on canvas 65 x 54 cm Saint-Rémy September 1889 © Musée d'Orsay, dist.RMN - Patrice Schmidt


We saw the premiere of Vincent this weekend and there’s no doubt that the work, as I’ve experienced it, deserves another lump sum to take it to the next level. I understand the plan is to take it to Perth next and then tour it from there. I’ll look forward to seeing that next stage of development because while I was unmoved, a friend who has only recently rebranded herself as a painter (the painter had been lying dormant for decades, as so often happens, beneath another professional persona) emerged from the dark theatre with tears streaming down her face, at a loss for words. She’s seen something in it that I’ve missed, obviously, but what I see is the potential of this production to have a similar effect on a broader audience…if only they have the opportunity to witness the work.


Vincent’s production elements are well balanced (music by Ezio Bosso, Max Richter & Kleefstra-Bakker-Kleefstra), and the performances by three professional dancers (Andrew Haycroft, Michael Smith & Chloe Lanham) are slick, despite some suitably angular and seemingly untidy choreography, including lifts, climbs, and tightly, fiercely manipulated turns. I’m not sure anyone else would refer to the choreography as being “untidy”‘and I mean it in reference to the style only, the execution of it is excellent. In this context, that’s just what it is to me and it’s fine. There are moments when the dancers are practically falling about themselves and all over each other. There are other very neat and precise moments, and there are some longer moments when the dancers are positioned behind set pieces so that the movement itself is partially obscured (I’d like to see those moments/movement sequences brought out front!). There’s even a well-timed body slam thrown in for good measure. (I guess if it were not well timed we’d be calling it an unmitigated disaster!).

The space at The Lind is small, stripped bare and like this it presents a certain level of intimacy, which is helped by a movable set – just two panels used effectively to separate time and events – and an intense lighting design that serves in turns to alienate us and bring us close to the work, and seemingly, within the reach of van Gogh’s crazed mind. But I feel so separated from the action throughout and I can’t tell whether or not that’s the intent. How do we ever relate to madness? One’s madness is one’s own, surely. But should I be sympathetic?


It’s a terrible, tragic demise of an artist but I feel nothing.


Of course Sam will tell you it’s because my heart is frozen that I feel nothing (That’s right. I look for a white streak through my hair every morning). He’s not a contemporary dance fan and he genuinely enjoyed this production. I’m genuinely surprised.


The piece begins with an uneasy soundscape to indicate a noisy crowd, to which van Gogh (Andrew Haycroft) eventually reacts in a violent, vocal manner, tearing at his hair and his paint smeared shirt. He’s unable to cope and it sets the scene for his descent into madness.


The deterioration of van Gogh’s mental state is fast – it’s a short show – and we are offered insight along the way through van Gogh’s brother’s eyes. Theo writes to him, pleadingly, but to no avail; the artist continues to “waste” paint and create works that remain unappreciated and, more importantly, unsold in his lifetime, much to his own and his brother’s chagrin.


The story, as it is in this state, is actually ultimately told from Theo’s POV and I’d love to see the show develop around his narration. Haycroft is well cast as Vincent, vulnerable in the titular role and demonstrating convincing quirks and characteristics throughout, but he doesn’t need to speak. The initial guttural sounds are enough. Conveniently, Haycroft even LOOKS like van Gogh (ears intact, you’ll be relieved to know). He’s a strong dancer and has a good sense of self, space and just the right measure of drama.


starrynight_vangoghMichael Smith is vocally the strongest performer of the three – his letters to van Gogh are perfectly pitched and phrased – and I feel like the story needs no other voice but his. A final dance solo above and around and beneath a chair, which he brings forth through the audience, proves his core strength and superb control, as Theo loses control after his brother’s death, “drowning” in his own madness, but it goes on and on, and we’re at risk of missing the point because it’s laboured, after being so obvious in the first place.


Chloe Lanham, in the abstract roles of the various women, the muse and all of van Gogh’s demons rolled into one, makes her presence felt from the moment her brightly body painted figure is revealed. She’s a dynamic performer and we enjoy the ferocity of the penultimate number, which also drags on but hones in on the voices inside the tortured artist’s head. There are not many lighter moments in the production and I wondered if there might be a positive relationship, other than with the brother, from which to draw. I’d love to see the joy and exuberance spent on the creation of Starry Night applied to a relationship with one of the few women who were not immediately discarded by van Gogh. Instead, we see a strange romp in which the artist’s self portrait is replaced by the artist himself in a fast-paced six-legged waltz around the stage. This, for want of another, is a lighter moment but even more so, it’s disturbing.


Still-Life--Vase-with-Fifteen-SunflowersA highlight at this stage is a dramatically hanging light, weighted perfectly, obviously, allowing it to swing pendulum like from above, the likes of which has never before been seen in this space, and the lighting generally, by Melbourne based (Sunshine Coast bred) designer, Travis MacFarlane. As if it’s not tough enough to light a contemporary dance piece, MacFarlane has created a plot that perfectly frames the action and cleverly leaves enough darkness around the edges to remind us that it’s into the shadows we must go if we truly wish to find (and face) ourselves.


There is excellent economy of movement in Lanham’s physical work, which now needs to be applied just as effectively to her storytelling. And this is what government funding and the next stages of creative development are for. Vincent is ambitious and far-reaching. The original investors have noted its potential already. Perhaps a pozible campaign will follow. Perhaps a venue or two will be bright enough to pick it up for a run. Perhaps we’ll see the next version sooner than we think. It’s a fluid, professionally finished production, even in this, its first incarnation. Look out for the second coming.


N.B. The English subtitles on the first video I found are an absolute disaster so check this one out!






Phluxus 2 Dance Collective

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

June 14 – 21 2014


Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway 


After the apocalypse…


The de-generator audience is ushered into the cavernous black gloom of the dimly lit theatre. There are no seats (and no stage) – we are in amongst the set and free to move around it. Twisted strips of shredded and silvered plastic hang from the roof in tent-like shapes, fastened to the floor with crisscrossed silver tape – the effect is of twisted steel and broken glass. Dull muddy-silver meandering strips like dirty water wind across the floor.


After we are plunged into complete darkness, and experience waves of thunderous sound, a small light shows and a man (Alexander Baden Bryce) appears. He lunges, twists, and drags himself along the floor, and stretches up imploringly, struggling to breathe.


Later, a woman (Amelia Stokes) enters, hobbling and bent over with pain, coughing, twitching and scratching. She twists and writhes, and throws herself into the air. She visits various piles of hoarded and salvaged objects: dingy-looking bottles of water, empty bottles, gas masks, bits of jewellery, torches, bits of fabric. The water is particularly precious, and she obsessively rearranges the bottles.


Both the man and the woman seem to have survived some horrific disaster, and are desperately struggling to survive. Their costumes are various wrappings and rags in protective layers – grey for the man and terracotta for the woman. Their eyes are surrounded in dark shadows, giving them a haunted look.




When the woman and the man see each other, they circle like prey and predator. They wrestle and grapple, like feral creatures. The man dominates in this contest, and treats the girl brutally, even when you think they are on the point of being kind to each other.


When the man collapses though, the woman revives him, after some hesitation. She sponges his body with a rag and pathetically tiny amounts of water – his feet first then hands and body and lastly the face. (If you had only one bit of cloth, wouldn’t you start with the face first, not the feet, which are probably dirtiest? However, it had to be the face that was last, because that’s when the man revived.)


Eventually, the pair reach a more harmonious state, and in two more lyrical and hopeful segments they dance as if in slow motion. The sound, which for the most part has been thudding, crashing and exploding like the end of the world, and vibrating from the floor up through our feet, changes to more peaceful music (all composed by Andrew Mills). At this point, are the two people exhausted, dying creatures, or are they heading into a new beginning?




The performance ends as they stand still, and the soundscape changes to news reports about apocalyptic events – nuclear war, earthquake, climate change, fire, tsunami etc. For me this felt jarring and too obvious. I think we all got the message without this very literal information about different apocalyptic events. However, it did unmistakably leave us with the question ‘Will we ourselves survive?’


The audience is very involved in this show. We cluster around the dancers, and the dancers in turn herd us to spaces they don’t want to occupy, as we keep out of their way. We are part of the performance – choreographed as the negative of what the dancers are doing. Are we playing the roles of bewildered sheep-like victims of the apocalypse? Or maybe we are ghosts – I thought I saw one, but it was probably an audience member in the gloom.


Choreographer Nerida Matthaei (Phluxus Artistic Director), with dancers Stokes and Bryce, has achieved an impressive feat in devising and carrying off a piece of such weight and destructive energy with only two performers (plus audience). The dancers, performing demanding and intense movement under very close scrutiny, kept us engaged and involved, and dealt impressively with the mass of the audience moving around them.


There were some drawbacks. Sometimes it was hard to see what was going on because people were crowding in front of each other. You need to stay alert and follow the action. The performance lasts an hour, which was about my limit for standing after a day at work. The slower, more lyrical sections at the end felt a little long.


Post-apocalyptic stories are, paradoxically, an enduring genre that goes back at least to the biblical Noah and the flood, and probably earlier. de-generator joins current book/film examples of the genre, such as The Hunger Games, The Road, and the coming film Z for Zachariah.


Post-apocalyptic style has also been with us a while, and is popular at the moment. As an example of the style, the de-generator design (set and costumes by Lisa Fa’alafi, and lighting by Keith Clark) also reminds us of the dark and dire inspiration behind it.





Phluxus2 Dance Collective has been supported by the Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground program, made possible by Arts Queensland.

de-generator has been support by Creative Sparks,a joint initiative of Brisbane City Council and the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.




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