DANCE REVIEW: When Time Stops

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.

When TIme Stops (EDC)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.

REVIEW: Blak

Bangarra Dance Theatre: BLAK

Words by Tahnee Robinson

It’s not often that each element of a performance — choreography, lighting, set design, smell — is beautifully executed in its own right. But Bangarra’s latest offering, BLAK, goes beyond that to create a performance both stunning in its attention to detail and deeply confronting as a whole.

Blak is slick and sharp, tightly controlled dance theatre that, despite telling its story through movement and metaphor, completely eschews artifice. There is nothing self-conscious here — and absolutely no apologies as the dancers use their bodies to tell stories of crime, violence, assault and grief.  The stage is often dark, but when the dancers look out they’re bold: they’ll look you in the eyes.

The performance is divided into three sections. Choreographed by Daniel Riley McKinley and the male dancers themselves, “Scar introduces us to gang of young men dressed in street gear.  Clad in dark, hooded clothing, their movements evoke a sense of sublimated violence, stalking the stage with fear and aggression as they navigate the difficulties of being young, male and indigenous in urban Australia. The men fall in and pull back from fighting and self-harm in a series of movements that fall somewhere between breakdancing and ballet. These sequences incorporate traditional elements that eloquently convey the opposing forces of modernity and tradition, and the difficult spaces available for young Aboriginal men to occupy and grow into.  Different pools of spotlight flicker between dark scenes of conflict. At one point the grinding, synthy soundtrack whoops into the unmistakable cry of police sirens and the group cease fighting, unified instead to flee.

Bangarra: Blak

Part two, “Yearning”, is choreographed in collaboration with the female dancers. It’s a change of pace — the movements are less violent, more sinuous — but the atmosphere is no less fraught, largely due to the music. David Page and Paul Mac have outdone themselves; they create a dark, electronic soundscape that incorporates traditional singing, vocal samples and instruments, with elements of trip hop and trap music.  A woman answers a call, illuminated by the sodium-lamp glow of a telephone box in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night. The music throbs and jitters; tension escalates in an eerie way that is reminiscent of some of Cliff Martinez’s recent film scores.

Jacob Nash’s set design is poignant in its minimalism. Single props are perfectly chosen to evoke a sense of place: a row of blue plastic chairs, a swinging spot lamp and a corrugated iron roof, glowing green in the dark. Beneath the eerie glow women sit atop milk crates and learn of a granddaughter’s suicide; a smoking tin can on stage wreathes their grief with incense. Their loss smells sweet and spicy and mournful; it lingers.

This beautiful simplicity continues as a small television — the old kind, a CRT with rabbit-ears — appears on stage.  Three women writhe on the ground. From the dark, a figure appears carrying a green spotlight; he’s filming them. As they dance in distress, they appear on the TV. We’re watching the film and reality in real-time, but we cannot focus on the domineering figure behind his lamp. The result is simultaneously deeply affecting and extraordinarily hard to articulate — a powerful, confusing motif.

The performance culminates in part three, “Keepers”, which features the full ensemble. The set is breathtaking: blackness lightens to reveal the gloss of wet rocks and light refracts off a stream of fog to create a waterfall. The dancers come together, with nature, to embrace both tradition and the future. This beautiful piece of work gives the performers room to show us the full range of movement, emotion and eroticism in their repertoire. It’s a tribute to love and community that ends a confronting performance on a note of optimism and possibility.

BLAK runs at the QPAC Playhouse until 27 July, 2013.

TAHNEE ROBINSON is a Brisbane-based writer. She was OffStreet Press’s visual arts, film and fashion editor.

Judith Wright Centre: Salõn

Timothy Brown (Queensland Ballet, Expressions Dance Company) promises Judy audiences the exotic, the erotic and the sublime in The Salõn. He curates  seven physical performers — with backgrounds in circus and dance — in collaboration with musos Michelle Xen and the Neon Wild. It’s a showcase of local talent with international appeal; don’t miss out.

ZF: Salõn is an ambitious interdisciplinary work. How did you go about getting the balance just right, both in terms of aesthetic and the diverse cast?
TB: It was like creating a lavish yet unpredictable patchwork of acts, styles and artists genres.

ZF: With your dance background in mind, what were you looking for in your seven performers?
TB: The Salon performers are local independent artists who have proven to be outstanding in their fields while also creating their own unique niches within music, circus and dance.

Anthony Trojman — photo by Dylan Evans Photography, design by Blender

Anthony Trojman for Salōn (photo by Dylan Evans Photography, design by Blender)

ZF: Tell me one or two stunning, surprising or strange things about the character or talents of the performers.
TB: Travis Scott is a dancer come pole dancer come swinging pole dancer. This is very unique as there is only a small hand full of swinging pole artists around the world.
Former Expressions contemporary dance artist Anthony Trojman (pictured) is currently completing his honors in physiotherapy, with his last exam a day before we open!

ZF: How was “living work of art” Marchesa Luisa Casati an inspiration for the show?
TB: Marchesa Luisa Casati has always been an icon for me. Although this work is not a biography of the great Marchesa, the concept of icons, divas, and muses being immortalised through art are themes among others the show has drawn inspiration from.

ZF: How important was the Fresh Ground program to the show’s development? (Salõn was part of our JWC’s Space program introduced this year.)
TB: Fresh Ground is a unique program that I think gives the Judy a very important role in the independent arts sector. Artists need to have access to government facilities and support without too much paper work and admin. Just a studio with a speaker can give an artist a chance to create magic for Brisbane audiences and potentially show the world how good we are and what we have to offer.

ZF: If you were to paint a tableau that represented Salōn, what would it look like?
We have quite a few in the show! Very colourful, very diverse with a mix of glamour, grace, rebellion and cheek!

SALŌN plays at the Judith Wright Centre from 22 to 29 June, 2013.

Dancing with Bach

Judith Wright Centre, March 6

Bach’s Cello Suites were amongst the first suites of classical music to work their way into my bones. Lucid Dance Theatre’s Dancing with Bach project, choreographed by Louise Deleur in collaboration with cellist Louise King, aims to evoke the feeling of the suites as well as to paint a portrait of the composer’s life and work through dance.

But first, before Bach, we are shocked into a short piece called Surge — a lightning storm of a dance piece, performed by two sinewy figures upon a beach. The visuals are engrossing, with the dancers silhouetted against shoreline. We can almost smell the salt in the air.

There’s a 10-minute break that is determinedly not an interval: house lights go up, pop music hums, the stage is set for the main event — but we can’t leave our seats. At last, lights go down and bow meets cello. King’s performance is fluid and captivating. It’s easy to focus on her body language, but the dancers too are worthy of attention. They do more than dance to the music; the aim is to perform the suites with the body.

Dancing with Bach

Dancing with Bach is a work developed through the Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground program. It’s an interesting production in this theatre space. With cello the only accompaniment, the thud of dancers’ feet on stage reverberates. In some ways, this focuses us on the dancers’ visceral movements; in other ways, it’s distracting. (You could hear a pin drop — or the sound-techs whisper.)

I always try to state my biases: dance is something I’m only learning about. For me, Dancing with Bach is an unsubtle piece — a little heavy-handed, heavy-footed. Rikki Mason dances the role of Bach himself, with Melissa Tattam and Elizabeth Barnard. Their danced relationships are intimate and tense, yet perhaps it is the sonic-emptiness of the space that makes communicating this intimacy to the audience difficult. Projections on a tall, thin screen illuminate stories from Bach’s life and, in this manner, we are unnecessarily told that we “find a world of emotions” in the suites — something the performance itself inherently seeks to show. The show don’t seem confident that the music will guide the dancers’ movements and our reactions and, as such, Dancing with Bach never seems to get the timing just right.

 

Dancing with Bach played at the Judith Wright Centre from March 6 to 8, 2013. 

For a different point of view, I liked this review at SameSame.com.au.