Posts Tagged ‘ma bo

19
Nov
19

Matrix

 

Matrix

Expressions Dance Company (EDC) and Beijing Dance/LDTX

QPAC Playhouse

November 13 – 16 2019

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

 

 

Through the power of cultural exchange and flow of creative understanding, we demonstrate how artistic relationships foster appreciation of diversity and empathy across borders, making our world a better place.

Amy Hollingsworth, Artistic Director, EDC

 

Matrix is the latest development in Expressions Dance Company’s (EDC’s) five-year Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project, begun in 2015 under the leadership of former Artistic Director Natalie Weir, and carried forward under current Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth.

 

In this project, EDC has been working with companies led by Willy Tsao, currently Artistic Director of Beijing Dance/LDTX. The Matrix double bill is the second collaboration between EDC and Beijing Dance/LDTX, the first being in 2011 with the work First Ritual.

 

 

The 20 dancers of the combined companies (6 from EDC and 14 from Beijing Dance/LDTX) have worked with choreographers Stephanie Lake from Australia, and Ma Bo from China to create two very different pieces: Auto Cannibal and Encircling Voyage. The Brisbane season follows a five-week development period in China, and performances in Cairns and Queanbeyan.

 

While the two works are different, there are some basic similarities. They both use the dancers to great effect in coalescing and fragmenting groups, often with the whole 20 dancers on stage. When the whole group moves with everyone very close together, the impression is of different parts coming together to form one whole — like a flock of birds, or a herd of animals, or some colonial organism.

 

With a run time of 25 minutes, Lake’s Auto Cannibal is just over half the length of Ma’s 45-minute Encircling Voyage. While there are pauses, and places where the action freezes, the overall impression is of relentless, synchronised action, driven by the strong rhythms and the snapping, pounding, croaking, and breathing sounds of Robin Fox’s electronic music, composed for this work.

 

In contrast, Ma’s work is overall more contemplative, although there are moments of frenzy and intense action. The music, by composer and cellist David Darling, is darkly melodic, and has an epic or heroic quality. The rich sonority of cellos and other string instruments combines with many other sounds (bells, gongs, babies crying, singing) (sound effects by Mao Liang).

 

The look of the two pieces is also contrasting. In Auto Cannibal the dancers wear sporty white singlets and black shorts (costume design by Xing Yameng), and overall the lighting is warmer and brighter, while in Encircling Voyage they wear dappled-grey coat-dresses (costume design by Wang Yan) and the lighting is generally softer and bluer.

 

 

In Encircling Voyage, polished steel benches are used by the dancers as benches, mirrors, and, end-to-end, as a bridge or walkway, while in Auto Cannibal, the stage is bare.

 

In her program notes, Lake explains that she is ‘sometimes afraid I’m repeating myself or cannibalising my own work’ — hence the title Auto Cannibal — but that in this work she celebrates the reusing and reinvigorating of choreographic ideas.

 

The precision and timing in this work, with 20 people pounding out movement absolutely on the beat of the varying rhythms in the music, are euphoric. Sometimes all the dancers are doing exactly the same thing on the beat, at other times different groups are responding at the same time to different rhythms.

 

The movement ranges from swaying hips, rotating shoulders, pulsing the upper body, nodding, waving the arms and wiggling fingers, to making tiny fast tramping steps, lunging, jumping up and down many times, and running. Having a large group making intricate movements very close together multiplies the movement effect, as do the punctuating freezes and pauses, which are also absolutely synchronised with particular rhythms and sounds in the music.

 

 

Following Auto Cannibal (and an interval) on the program, Encircling Voyage is a very different experience. In this work, Ma celebrates the journey from birth to death. She has been quoted as saying that she was inspired by a documentary about migrating birds and their journeys, and also by witnessing the ageing of her parents.

 

Images of ageing — shuffling walks, bent upper bodies, shaking — are interspersed with different impressions of journeying — people trying to head in opposite directions; a group lifting and carrying someone along; people walking along a bridge with tiny quick steps; someone frantically swimming; a large group marching slowly, bending backwards and looking up. The synchronised intricate movement of a large group has a mesmerising effect.

 

In extended lifts and movements such as twirling and falling to the ground, the dancers have a lovely fluidity and pliancy, with exceptionally flexible backs.

 

Near the beginning and end of the work, a small figure walks slowly across the stage holding a book, and we hear a soft voice speaking in Chinese (perhaps reading out the words about an encircling voyage printed in Chinese and English in the program?). The dramatic end represents the death of one of the group, visually accentuated by clouds of symbolic white dust.

 

This is a meditative and moving work, providing a balance to the hyper-energetic Auto Cannibal, and sometimes seeming a little slow after that.

 

In both works, the passion, commitment and precision of the dancers is awe-inspiring. The exhilaration of Auto Cannibal and the contrasting control, flow and expressiveness of Encircling Voyage make Matrix an intense and absorbing experience for the audience. 

 

The collaboration between the artists from the two different companies and two different countries has generated great energy and creativity. What will the Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project bring us in 2020? That’s something to look forward to.