Posts Tagged ‘daryl brandwood


7 Deadly Sins


7 Deadly Sins

Expressions Dance Company (EDC)

QPAC Playhouse

August 21 to 29 2015


Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway




‘We are committed to contemporary storytelling that touches the human spirit …’


Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, Expressions Dance Company


In EDC’s latest work, the seven deadly sins enter in a blaze of gold, and then strip back to reveal the darkness beneath, battling for supremacy over each other and over a hapless Man.


Initially, we see the Man (Thomas Gundry Greenfield) watching TV, with the eerie flicker of the changing images reflected over him. As he sits in a vegetative state, his soul appears to rise from his body to indulge in or wrestle with the sins. His body stays as a lifeless dummy in front of the TV set, and this is where the soul returns in the end.


Each sin – Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Pride and Wrath – is represented by a single dancer. They each wear a distinctive gold costume – all stunningly opulent, except for Sloth’s simple, loose shift. After a spectacular entrance by each sin in turn, appearing out of boxes of various sizes, the costumes are discarded to reveal the dancers in brief black practice wear. Every dancer has a wonderful initial solo, punctuated by various duos and other combinations with the Man, with each other, and as a whole group.


Natalie Weir's 7 Deadly Sins_Photo shows Daryl Brandwood (top) and Benjamin Chapman (bottom)_Photo by Chris Herzfeld_med res


The boxes echo the Ancient Greek myth of Pandora’s box, which contained all human evils and miseries. Pandora opened the box, releasing evil into the world. The boxes also echo the initial inspiration for the work: paintings of human vices by Giotto di Bondone, an Italian artist of the 13th–14th century, who depicted each vice as a single, closely framed human figure.


7 Deadly Sins is an abstract expression of the sins’ essence, rather than a strongly narrative work, although there are elements of narrative. For instance, the first sin to appear is Sloth (Cloudia Elder), summoned by the Man’s TV-induced inertia. The scenario could be interpreted literally as television being the source of all sin – another incarnation of Pandora’s box – but that might be going too far, and the connection is a looser, more dreamlike one.


Following the appearance of Greed (Daryl Brandwood) and Gluttony (Jack Ziesing), they and the Man attack Sloth, hurling her into the air and catching her in a savage display. The feeling is that they are forcing her into showing some energy.




Towards the end, after Wrath (Michelle Barnett) has appeared, the whole group dances in a frenzy, and the Man hits out at Lust (Elise May). In this violent interpretation of ‘to spurn love and opt for fury’ (as the program notes describe wrath), she becomes a wounded creature trying to escape from him. In this scene, May seems to represent Love, rather than the coldly seductive Lust she portrays earlier with awe-inspiring grace and control. In her gold costume, she looks like a princess from some ancient world.


The movement is intensely acrobatic, moving seamlessly through every dimension of the space. Elder, as Sloth, is a burden to the Man, dragging him down and, in a memorable image, hanging face-down and unsupported over his head in an inverted V. Gundry Greenfield is a strong, muscular figure as the Man, while also projecting a sense of bafflement and of being in thrall to the sins.


Brandwood makes Greed look savagely elegant, extending and contorting his limbs impossibly as he manoeuvres over, around, and out of a giant rectangular box. His polish and control always stand out. We will miss this wonderful dancer when he leaves EDC at the end of this year.


Ziesing is a very athletic Gluttony, after ridding himself of his outer gold costume that only mildly resembles a ‘fat suit’. Benjamin Chapman evokes an emperor with conquered subjects in a commanding interpretation of Pride.


Rebecca Hall is a snakelike Envy, slithering and twining – and making her entrance in a fabulous billowing gold snakeskin coat. As Wrath, Barnett projects strength and energy in her explosive movement, her legs and strongly arched feet like weapons.


Natalie Weir's 7 Deadly Sins_Photo shows L-R Elise May, Thomas Gundry Greenfield and Michelle Barnett_Photo by Chris Herzfeld


I could go on watching these dancers and this choreography forever, mesmerised by the feats the dancers perform, and the beauty and power of the movement choreographed by Artistic Director Natalie Weir, in collaboration with the dancers. Weir also acknowledges the important contribution to creation and staging by Rehearsal Director Amy Hollingsworth, formerly Dance Director with Sydney Dance Company.


The mesmerising choreography and movement distracted me from the confusing ending of the work, in terms of structure and flow. A conclusion seemed to be reached several times (at one point the audience starting to applaud as if this were the case) before the final resolution.


7 Deadly Sins makes a big visual and aural impact. The gold costumes are the dominant visible feature of Bill Haycock’s design, which he says in his program notes are inspired by the ‘currently popular “sword and sorcery” films’. The set, based on the idea of a gold living room, is minimal, enriched by the lighting (David Walters) in different tones of gold, and also blue and red.


Darrin Verhagen’s music (with additional material by Ben Keane) evokes each sin – slow and meditative for Sloth, overlaid with snuffling and muffled snoring sounds; driven percussion for Greed; slow and voluptuous for Lust; sinister for Envy, overlaid with hissing, and sly whispering (like Parseltongue, the Harry Potter serpent language); and frenzied drumming and hoarse screaming for Wrath.


7 Deadly Sins runs until 29 August.




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



Carmen Sweet


Carmen Sweet

Expressions Dance Company & QPAC

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

31 October – 2 November 2013


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Natalie Weir's Carmen Sweet. Pictured EDC's Elise May, Benjamin Chapman. Image by Dylan Evans.


Natalie Weir’s Carmen Sweet finishes tomorrow, which is an absolute travesty, because apart from Katherine Lyall-Watson’s Motherland at Metro Arts and QTC’s Design For Living in the Playhouse next door, Carmen Sweet is Brisbane’s other must-see show at the moment, at a time when our theatre seasons are wrapping up and the festive season and its drinks are beginning to take over our evenings. “Come for drinks,” “Just drop in for drinks,” “It’s just drinks,” “We’ll bring the drinks.” Does that sound familiar? Well, at the Cremorne Theatre, for Carmen Sweet, you can take your drinks in with you. I know! The festive season comes early to QPAC! I love the Cremorne in its cabaret configuration, and to get up close to performers who are practically artworks themselves is a joy. So book a table! I’m sure the strength, tone, balance, flexibility and focus of this ensemble, which we see up close from said table, can be attributed not only to the rigorous demands of training and rehearsal, but also to the work being done with the team at West End’s Core Yoga. The secret of course, is to make it all look effortless during performance, and these dancers do just that.


The Cremorne space is much more intimate than The J, which is where Poppy and I enjoyed the first version of this show, during the Noosa Long Weekend earlier this year. The second half of a double-bill, and the only dance piece in the program, Carmen Sweet stood out and when I knew it was to return, I locked it in early! Last night, Natalie Weir and her exquisitely talented dancers wowed us again, with a passionate and playful performance of the full version; it features a guest ensemble of young local dancers this time and flows more smoothly from one number to the next, and right to the bittersweet end. Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite is “quirky and sublime”, the perfect choice for Weir’s reimagining of the famous femme fatale’s tragic tale. Why do we still admire her and want to be her? Because she is FABULOUS! The story has made her so, and the women who play her in Weir’s version are FABULOUS.


Natalie Weir's Carmen Sweet. Pictured EDC's Elise May, Michelle Barnett, Jack Ziesing, Riannon McLean. Image by Dylan Evans.


All three Carmens are exceptional, presenting contrasting and conflicting aspects and alter egos of the woman. They are Elise May, Michelle Barnett and Rhiannon McLean (sadly, this season is McLean’s last). They are equally matched in skill and strength, and in their fierce commitment to the character, but Elise May is something else, drawing all eyes, regardless of what else is happening on stage and even when she is completely still. She is simply incredible to watch and makes me think, every time I see her, of our Cate. That’s right. Elise May is the Cate Blanchett of Australia’s contemporary dance scene. I wonder how much longer we’ll have her?


The girls are joined on stage by beautiful, powerful performers, Daryl Brandwood (he is fate or Carmen’s conscience), Jack Ziesing (the hapless soldier) and Benjamin Chapman (the famous toreador). Brandwood’s entrance and subsequent solo performance particularly, is simply exquisite, and drew gasps from those sitting behind me on opening night, as did the opening motif featuring Elise May on the red-lips-lounge in a superb black gown, designed and created by Bill Haycock. Similarly, the lighting states by Ben Hughes are impressive, evocative, the icing on the cake.


Natalie Weir's Carmen Sweet. Pictured EDC's Benjamin Chapman, Riannon McLean, Jack Ziesing. Image by Dylan Evans.


And speaking of cake, I keep thinking about what Brisbane continues to offer us, not just at the moment, but year-round, in terms of its theatrical seasons and support of our artists, and dance being no exception; we can have our cake and eat it too. We are missing out on very little, really (I mean, who has the time to see much more?!), thanks to the incredibly talented individuals who choose to create and produce their work in Brisbane. Having said that, because I’VE NEVER BEEN TO MELBOURNE BEFORE Sam and I are off to Melbourne at the end of next week, just for a few days, and we’ll see King Kong and The Beast …I’m expecting to be bemused by one and entertained by the other! Follow us on Instagram and Twitter #xsgoestomelbourne


You don’t have to go to Melbourne to see Natalie Weir’s Carmen Sweet. It’s world class contemporary dance happening right here in Brisbane, but only until tomorrow night!



To find out about becoming a dancer at EDC or to apply for their week-long contemporary dance intensive in January 2014 see