Posts Tagged ‘elise may

16
Jun
18

4Seasons

 

4Seasons

QPAC, Expressions Dance Company & City Contemporary Dance Company 

QPAC Playhouse

June 14 – 22 2018

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

 

The Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project is more than just a dance exchange. It is an exchange of ideas and an intertwining of culture, with an enormous amount of generosity and respect between everyone involved.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, Expressions Dance Company

 

 

A collaboration between Expressions Dance Company (EDC) and Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), 4Seasons is the latest development in EDC’s Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project. Presenting three very different works by three choreographers, it premiered in Hong Kong last month.

 

First on the program is Summer, created by independent choreographer Kristina Chan for the CCDC dancers. She has imagined a future world of fierce heat as global warming worsens, exploring how people react to changed climate.

 

The dancers are already on the stage when we enter the theatre, slowly walking, crouching, and writhing on the floor in silence, under a burning orange light shining through a silk canopy above. They are dressed in black and grey.

 

This is an ensemble work, with no individuals singled out — it is as if we are watching a community of organisms from a distance as they are burnt by fierce heat, blown by gales, and fearfully watch the orange sky.

 

The dancers move in slow motion with great fluidity and control — a population weighed down, moving through an oppressive atmosphere. They huddle together, shielding each other, entwining, collapsing, recoiling, and occasionally running.

 

The music, James Brown’s Summer, is ominous, with long drone-like notes humming and blaring, pounding beats, noises like a helicopter, rumbling, the sound of the wind, and rasping breath.

 

An endpoint seems to arrive when the sky falls and envelops the dancers in a silvery shroud. However, in an anticlimactic final section after a short stillness, some people extricate themselves and crawl away. Others survive to struggle on, with eventually only a lone figure left standing.

 

This work is intense and, despite its apocalyptic vision, at times hypnotically beautiful in a minimalist way.

 

 

Following a very short break (when the audience remains in darkness), the second work on the program begins. Dominic Wong, Assistant Artistic Director of CCDC, created Day after Day on the six EDC dancers and one CCDC dancer, using music by Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter and Patrick Ng.

 

Focusing on partings and reunions, in analogy with changing seasons, it opens dramatically with the group entering quickly, carrying Alana Sargent above them as if she is swimming through waves. Their transparent white pants and blazers contrast with the darkness of the previous work, and accentuate the rapidity and detail of the movement.

 

The EDC dancers dived into this work with great energy and commitment, meeting the demands of an astonishing variety of movement. In a complete change from Summer, this is frenetic and tic-like at first, with scratching movements, heads jerking like birds, little jumps and wriggles, nodding and head shaking. In one section, the thrashing music, white suits and high-energy movement are reminiscent of a nightclub.

 

Behind the EDC dancers, Bruce Wong of CCDC is walking in ultra-slow motion across the back of the stage. With shaved head and almost naked, he is a complete contrast to the other dancers. He suggests the passage of time, or an underlying reality of life with non-essentials stripped away.

 

When Wong turns towards the front of the stage and begins to walk forward towards a column emitting bright white light, the mood changes. The music becomes plaintive and has a singing piano-like tone. The movement of the EDC dancers changes pace, with slow-motion lifts and slow turns. As Wong reaches the column, the work ends. 

 

 

The culmination of the program is the signature work 4Seasons, choreographed by EDC’s Artistic Director, Natalie Weir, for all 20 dancers of both companies. Weir’s music choice is Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, ‘recomposed’ in a contemporary and compelling interpretation by Max Richter.

 

The costumes are in soft colours of pale pink, pale grey-green, burgundy and dark blue that reflect the seasons and look lovely together. In this work, as in the other two, the visual and costume design by Cindy Ho, and lighting by Lawmanray contribute hugely to the different moods and styles.

 

Duos representing each season are punctuated by interludes for the full ensemble. Alana Sargent and Ivan Chan evoked spring and youthful romance, entwining around each other. Bobo Lai and Richard Causer projected the sensuality and storms of summer, matching their power and energy. Elise May and Yve Yu, with long extensions and coiling embraces, savoured the richness and fulfilment of autumn.

 

The winter duo for Qiao Yang and Jake McLarnon was electrifyingly beautiful from the instant it started. In its expression of longstanding love, coupled with a poignant realisation of time running out, the couple seemed to melt and soar in intertwining and folding lifts. It was as if the movement itself had become embodied, rather than bodies putting effort into making movement.

 

Qiao is an extraordinary dancer, whose every move is viscerally expressive. In McLarnon she has an extraordinary partner whose strength, line and feeling complement her perfectly. Their interaction is in essence like that between the two companies: the fluidity, control and speed of the CCDC dancers and the athleticism, attack and broad-brush fluidity of the EDC dancers melding and influencing one another.

 

In full circle, the winter couple is followed by a look back at youth. Felix Ke, one of dancers representing spring, dances a lovely solo with a yearning quality, and many slow-motion acrobatic movements. Rousing ensemble work end 4Seasons on a high note. With the pace and variety in this work, and the quality of the performances, it flew past, ending too soon.

 

The whole program is an inspiring celebration of dance, music and the spirit of collaboration, drawing together so many different elements: Vivaldi, Max Richter, the climate apocalypse, romance, passion, fierce athleticism, transcendent beauty, meditative slowness …

 

Production pics by Cheung Chi Wai

 

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13
Mar
18

Converge

Converge

Expressions Dance Company

With Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University

Conservatorium Theatre, South Bank

March 10 – 17 2018

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

Programs such as Converge are essential—a choreographer not only has to have talent, they need to practise their art; it is through these experiences that they can learn their craft and develop distinct choreographic voices for now and into the future.

Natalie Weir

Artistic Director, Expressions Dance Company

 

In its Converge program, Expressions Dance Company gives four choreographers a chance to create new works, as well as to collaborate with emerging composers and an ensemble of 16 musicians performing live on stage. This is the Queensland Conservatorium’s first such opportunity to work with a contemporary dance company, and a rewarding experience for performers and audience alike.

 

The first piece on the program is by Melbourne-based Stephanie Lake, who is now an established choreographer with her own company. Her high-energy Ceremony, originally conceived as an abstract expression of the music (by György Ligeti, Chinary Ung, Javier Alvarez and Steve Reich), evokes the intricacies of fast-moving machinery, its pace and varying rhythms sweeping the audience along with it.

 

 

Ceremony is an exhilarating experience, particularly the sequence for the dancers alone, using body percussion and breath, followed by the hypnotic energy of Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood. Together, the six dancers and the musicians create complex rhythms, intertwining movement and patterns of coalescing and unfolding with magnetic precision and energy. The green and white costumes designed by company member Alana Sargent — tunics, shorts, kilts and Tshirts or singlets — have a sporty style that suits the energetic movement.

 

Of the four works in Converge, Lake’s is the most polished and tightly connected to the music.

 

Second and third on the program are works by two of Expressions’ own dancers: Richard Causer and Jake McLarnon. Causer worked with composers Isabella Gerometta, Padraig Parkhurst and Michal Rosiak, and McLarnon with Tanya Jones and Jarvis Miller.

 

 

Causer’s Imposters is about layers of identity, and how we show different layers in different circumstances. Sargent’s costume design contributes to the visually intriguing expression of this idea: pale orange lampshade-shaped skirts with a reinforced hoop in the hemline can be inverted to conceal the dancers’ upper body and heads.

 

A pile of lemons was another symbol of layered identity, the lemon’s enticing colour and smell concealing its sourness and bitterness. The dancers bite into the fruit and spit out chunks onto the floor. (Was this inspired by Will Holt’s 1960s song Lemon Tree with its refrain Lemon tree very pretty …?)

 

 

Elise May is a powerful figure in this work, crouching amongst the lemons, shielding her face, and showing a fear of the other five cast members, which is reciprocated. At times, the dancers appeared to be performing a surreal ritual, twirling like dervishes in their long skirts.

 

Jake McLarnon’s Isochronism is a promising choreographic debut. This duo expresses the theme of performing movements at the same time, or, like a pendulum, performing the same movement within the same time irrespective of how big the movement is – like dancers of different sizes when dancing in time to music. McLarnon also refers to the work of artist Jasper Hills as an inspiration for his piece.

 

 

The movement is athletic and close knit, and on first night was danced by Scott Ewen and McLarnon with a masculine power and energy. It would be interesting to see how the duo differs when danced by a male and a female dancer, as originally cast.

 

Xu Yiming’s Aftermath completes the program, his involvement in Converge being part of EDC’s Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project. Aftermath brings a complete change of mood and style, although it has a surreal quality in common with Causer’s earlier piece.

 

It shows four people struggling with what life throws at them — a perplexing mix of demands and responses, introduced by the dancers laughing wildly, yelling orders and responding with actions. In keeping with these random challenges and the sometimes clumsy way we meet them, the movement is often hunched and awkward or grotesque, interspersed with moments of fluidity.

 

In contrast, the music (Georgi Gurdjieff/Thomas de Hartmann) is serene and meditative, with its plangent chords and echoes of religious ritual. The feeling is of an underlying harmony behind all the struggle, which is worth it in the end.

 

As always, the Expressions’ dancers give a powerful performance. The dancers are a strong ensemble, with Elise May’s dramatic force, Alana Sargent’s razor-sharp energy, and Jake McLarnon’s expansive strength particularly standing out.

 

With the musicians upstage centre, and the rest of the stage bare, the lighting by Ben Hughes is crucial in creating the different moods and environments for the four pieces.  The musicians are softly lit, but still clearly visible, enabling the audience to experience both the way they convert movement into sound, and the way the dancers respond to the sound with movement. Feeling this interaction adds another dimension to the performance.

 

 

Converge is a program of great variety, with many intriguing and exhilarating moments.

 

 

 

 

Converge Masterclass with Jake McLarnon –

 

Saturday 17 March, 2pm-3:30pm at Expressions Dance Company Studio, Fortitude Valley

 

An insightful 90-minute workshop with Expressions Dance Company (EDC) ensemble member and choreographer, Jake McLarnon. The workshop will explore the creative process behind Jake’s new contemporary dance work for Converge, EDC’s thrilling first season for 2018.

Foundational contemporary dance training required.

Tickets are $30
A $10 discount is available to the masterclass for patrons who have purchased tickets to the performance.

BUY MASTERCLASS TICKETS

 

13
Aug
17

Mozart Airborne

 

Mozart Airborne

Expressions Dance Company & Opera Queensland

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

August 4 – 12 2017

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

We imagined a collaboration where music, voice and movement are equally valued and which brings our artists and our respective audiences together in celebration of all the flaws, foibles and magnificence of the human condition.

Directors’ Note, Lindy Hume and Natalie Weir

 

It was an inspired decision by artistic directors Natalie Weir and Lindy Hume to join the forces of Expressions Dance Company and Opera Queensland in interpreting some of Mozart’s electrifying and beautiful arias and piano works.

The result, Mozart Airborne, opens QPAC’s newly refurbished Cremorne Theatre, a perfect space for this intimate and emotion-filled performance.

The six EDC dancers and six OperaQ singers (all recent graduates or alumni of the Queensland Conservatorium) perform pieces by six choreographers. The brilliant and expressive playing of pianist Alex Raineri, onstage throughout, is the heart of the performance.

The twelve pieces making up the program include a variety of music and combinations of performers, proceeding without a break for just over an hour. No narrative thread connects the pieces: rather, they present a variety of emotions and energies, likened by the artistic directors to an anthology of short stories. The choreographers were asked to interpret the music of the arias, and, while understanding the words, not necessarily literally interpret the text.

The order of the pieces and changes in mood keep the attention engaged. The building intensity of the final third of the program, culminating in the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem, provides an emotionally satisfying experience, resolving in the Lacrimosa’s final amen.

Choreographed by Natalie Weir for the whole cast, the Lacrimosa is solemn and unearthly. The shifting patterns and groupings of the ensemble evoke religious ritual. In repeated surges of movement, one dancer is lifted above the whole group, echoing the soaring music and the final appeal for mercy.

The performance opens with the limpid, poignant Fantasia in D Minor K397, also choreographed by Weir. To this solo piano work, the singers and dancers move across the stage, EDC’s Richard Causer seeming to observe the others as they pass by. His hands wind around each other as if he is trying to hold onto something.

Weir’s third piece, Là ci darem la mano from Don Giovanni, represents a flirtation between a man (dancer Jake McLarnon and baritone Samuel Piper) and a woman (dancer Elise May and mezzo-soprano Melissa Gregory). While the duo is playful, the exultant and passionate movement, with its spectacular lifts, matches the richness of the music and the voices.

Richard Causer has choreographed a riveting piece on Das Lied der Trennung K519. For tenor Dominic Walsh and dancer Michelle Barnett, it is about the anguish of two lovers forced to part. Walsh stands still, in a shaft of blue light, pouring out a stream of beautiful, heart-wrenching sound, while Barnett winds around him. The intensity and power of her movement within a restricted space compellingly convey grief and desperation.

Mozart Airborne is a very special experience. The concept of the collaboration between the two companies is beautifully realised, with total integration of the music and the movement—and of the dancers and the singers, whose movement and acting blended seamlessly. This performance made me oblivious to everything else, suspended in multiple expressions of Mozart’s sublime music.

25
May
17

Behind Closed Doors

 

Behind Closed Doors

Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Playhouse

May 19 to May 27 2017

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

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

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, EDC

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

24
Aug
15

7 Deadly Sins

 

7 Deadly Sins

Expressions Dance Company (EDC)

QPAC Playhouse

August 21 to 29 2015

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

7deadlysins_chrisherzfeldcamlight

 

‘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.

 

7deadlysins_elisemay

 

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.

 

 

31
Jul
14

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

 




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