Words: Tahnee Robinson
We awake in the underworld, on the banks of the river Acheron. The Ferryman (Thomas Gundry Greenfield) is rowing away from us. He will row for most of the performance, quiet and inexorable, as we linger by the river. He is a towering figure, but he is not unkind: he will wait patiently for his charge until she is ready. When Time Stops takes us through the last moments of a life, picked up in a rush of memories before making the final crossing.
Bill Haycock and Iceworks Design’s underworld is a beautiful creation, haunting but without malice, and deceptively simple. Comprised of mirrored surfaces and windows, backlit panes and a hidden door, the set is beautifully atmospheric and very flexible — a must for this performance, which places its entire musical ensemble on stage for parts of the piece. The lighting, designed by David Walters, is ingenious and integral, maintaining the subdued sorrow of the underworld but showing us glimpses of life — elation, love, terror — with a scattering of stars or a beam of sunlight falling across a face.
There are more musicians than dancers; Iain Grandage’s composition is performed by Camerata of St John’s, a chamber orchestra of string players sans conductor. There are 12 of them, and they move around and amongst the dancers as they play. This is no mean feat: creeping a bass, two cellos, two violas and seven violins around a stage occupied by a company of contemporary dancers in mid-flight is an extraordinary work of choreography and focus. The musicians are part of the performance — as they should be; the compositions are integral to the mood of the piece and to understanding what is being depicted. The strings are perfect for this, their richness and many tones provide a degree of emotional nuance that is essential to our understanding of each section.
There are parts of When Time Stops that are particularly affecting. Broken into a series of moments of profound importance to the dying woman, it is largely up to the audience to imbue these impressions with meaning. Amongst these segments is ‘First Kiss’, which stirs a sense of sweet nostalgia and innocence, reminding the audience of first-love elation without overstepping into melodrama. Later, there is ‘Scan’, which makes clever use of the set and lighting to imply a medical emergency of some kind — intimations of mortality revisited at the time of death. ‘Time’ is represented by a little silver orb, around which Daryl Brandwood dances with extraordinary feline skill and control; the orb is captured and released with joy and desperation.
The dancing is extraordinary, and each of the seven company members brings an intense commitment and control to the performance. They are uniformly graceful and astonishing, contorting themselves into impossible positions with complete fluidity and a superb awareness of each other. Natalie Weir’s choreography is inventive and intimate; The Woman (Riannon McLean) reviews her life with fear and longing, often reaching out to the visions she sees, embracing her memory of herself or her lover. It’s romantic, and often sexual, without being tawdry or overt; these intimacies are the highlight of the performance, as the dancers lift and hold each other, entwining and separating.
WHEN TIME STOPS by Expressions Dance Company is on at the Playhouse, QPAC, until September 14, as part of Brisbane Festival. Tickets $48–58.
TAHNEE ROBINSON is a Brisbane-based writer. She was OffStreet Press’s visual arts, film and fashion editor.