Queensland Conservatorium Theatre, Brisbane
March 15, 2018

Live music, original compositions and new choreographies are the key ingredients in Expressions Dance Company’s aptly named minor season: Converge. Here, experienced and emerging choreographers present a quadruple bill of short works on the company dancers, accompanied by young musicians from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. It is a platform for new choreographic and compositional voices to be heard, and there is good reason to pay attention to what is being said.

The first work of the evening opens with six dancers in a line making familiar gestures: tapping of fingers, tutting of tongues, heavy breathing. Exaggeration and distortion are layered in and what begun as familiar is now something quite abstract, although distinctly recognisable as human movement. This is Stephanie Lake’s Ceremony – a world of “ticking machinery, percussive rituals and beasts arising”. The dancers shift between sections characterised by highly articulated hand movements, hyperextended lines, isolation of limbs and the occasional scream or sigh. The tone of the piece constantly shifts; it is playful yet twisted, ordered then chaotic.

ConvergeExpressions Dance Company’s Converge. Photo © FenLan Chuang

Lake has chosen an eclectic set of music scores to accompany her choreography, including works by György Ligeti, Chinary Ung and Javier Alvarez. There are exciting points when the dancers appear to conduct the sound through their bodies, but this relationship is occasionally lost in those moments when neither the score nor the choreography take leadership.

Lake’s cleverest artistic choice in this work is her use of Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood, wonderfully performed by the Conservatorium’s percussionists. The intricately structured score propels the latter half of Ceremony through a sequence of polyrhythmic patterns and heavily accented movement. Lake’s works typically use music with dominant rhythmic structures, which supports the conclusion that Lake is most comfortable in this type of sonic territory. Indeed, the choreography in the latter part felt more connected to the music than the opening sections. When the piece resolved, the air felt electrified; the sonic and kinaesthetic space between the percussionists and the dancers had been activated and nearly exhausted.

Converge, Expressions Dance CompanyExpressions Dance Company’s Converge. Photo © FenLan Chuang

A very different kind of charge emerged in Xu Yiming’s Aftermath, the fourth work in the programme. Dressed in ordinary clothes, four dancers burst into raucous laughter then abruptly stop. The audience giggles at its silliness. The dancers resume laughing whilst barking orders at each other: “Wake up! Walk! Fall!” These are familiar instructions and we immediately identify with the humanness of these words and accompanying actions. This opening scene soon dissolves as the dancers spread out across the stage, slowly morphing into an abstracted movement vocabulary that is uneasy, erratic and ultimately mesmerising.

Xu has used piano pieces by George Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann to accompany this work. As a philosopher and spiritual teacher, Gurdjieff believed that humans live their lives in a state of hypnotic “waking sleep” and only through disciplined work are we capable of reaching a higher consciousness. Whether Xu had this theory in mind when he created Aftermath is not clear from the programme note, but contextualising the music in this way offers an interesting perspective on the dance work.

The sparseness of the piano accompaniment powerfully underscores the restrained explosiveness of the choreography. A man drags a lifeless woman by the leg across the stage. A couple hold hands and stare blankly ahead, but their steps are so shaky and unstable they can barely support each other. A man’s aggressive yelling gradually blurs into the calling of a woman’s name. The drama of these moving images is deftly constructed. Xu shows great mastery in directing the attention and energy of the work; always careful not to flood a moment with too much movement or sound. A final sequence of total unison echoes the opening, but the familiarity of the pedestrian movement is noticeably absent.

Converge, Expressions Dance CompanyExpressions Dance Company’s Converge. Photo © FenLan Chuang

The two works in the middle of the programme were created by Expressions members and accompanied by original compositions. Richard Causer’s Imposters is a visually arresting work exploring the layers of identity. The dancers’ long hooped skirts designed by Alana Sargent (also a company member) are lifted over the dancers’ heads in a clever deconstruction of physical identity. Jake McLarnon’s Isochronism is a considered duet that explores co-dependency through physical manipulation, collapsing and falling.

Converge is a varied programme that provides an opportunity for choreographers, composers and musicians to present new expressions of their art forms. The moments during the evening when these three elements truly came together were the most rewarding.

Expressions Dance Company’s Converge is at Queensland Conservatorium Theatre until March 17



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