Expressions Dance Company
Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts
March 3 to March 11 2017
Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway
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.
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.
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.
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.