Posts Tagged ‘expressions dance company

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.

19
Apr
17

Behind Closed Doors with EDC

WHAT: Behind Closed Doors

WHERE: QPAC Playhouse

WHEN: Friday 19 May to Saturday 27 May 2017

A sneak peak ahead of the season…

By Ruth Ridgway

Behind Closed Doors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two quick questions for dancer Elise May:

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

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

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

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

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

Two quick questions for dancer RIchard Causer:

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

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

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

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

07
Mar
17

Propel

 

Propel

Expressions Dance Company

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

March 3 to March 11 2017

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

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

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

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, EDC

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

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

Hollow Lands - Alana Sargent

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

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

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

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

Written on the Body - Jake McLarnon and Alana Sargent

Written on the Body-Benjamin Chapman and Michelle Barnett

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

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

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

Waiting Alone - Richard Causer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23
May
16

When Time Stops: Director’s Cut

 

When Time Stops: Director’s Cut

QPAC & Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Playhouse

May 20–28 2016

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

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

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

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, Expressions Dance Company

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15
Feb
16

BLACK

 

BLACK

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

EDC_Black_16_event

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.

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