The Dance Makers

Judith Wright Centre (Expressions Dance Company)


Expressions Dance Company offers us a scintillating glimpse of three newly choreographed works which vibrate with raw creative energy.

Expressions new artistic director, Natalie Weir, is building on her international success to nurture and support local dance makers in showcasing their works.

Her own piece, “The House Project”, is described as a work in progress, planned as a full-length work in 2010. It tells the story of a man returning to his childhood home and confronting memories, emotions and dreams. Weir makes effective use of literary metaphors, just as she previously did in her stunning work Glass Heart based on Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights. In the program notes to her current work Weir quotes from David Maloufs celebrated Brisbane-based novel 12 Edmonstone Street: Except that memory, in leading us back, has turned us about. Memory is deeper than we are and has longer views.

In this piece a young man (danced strongly by Richard Causer) rips down the boards blocking the entrance to his childhood home and takes us on a journey through an intense, dramatic world involving conflict with his father (Ryan Males), the joy of his first love (Samantha Mitchell), the support of his mother (Riannon McLean) and the mixed emotions of contact with his brother (Timothy Brown) and his brothers girlfriend (Elise May). Perhaps the program notes could be a little more explicit in helping the audience follow the plot of this sometimes dysfunctional family but there is no doubt about the emotional power of the memories unleashed by the homecoming.

The work “Skin Graft” choreographed by Vanessa Mafinvolves a clever use of a kitchen lineoleum floor floating vertically in space to allow a different perspective or bird’s eye view of the dancers appearing to recline or roll on the floor while actually standing up. The dancers (Elise May, Riannon McLean, Richard Causer, Ryan Males, Samantha Mitchell and Timothy Brown) skilfully exchange plain white shirts in a manner suggestive of the grafting of skin from one to another.

Who said performers cant be creatives? The dancer Timothy Brown was commissioned last year by Maggie Sietsma to choreograph his new work “Message Me”. It is set in a world where we send and receive many text messages and emails, twitter constantly and interact on Facebook walls. Yet does this circle of communication result in a containment of the self? Much of this work is performed within a sand circle laid out on the stage. The close interaction of the dancers posing as if for photographs makes us question whether all this intense message communication helps or hinders the growth of self. Then things start to change. Slowly intrusions are made on the sand circle. The characters start to break out, start to connect with the sand rather than being contained by it. There is a poignant solo sequence danced exquisitely by Riannon McLean accompanied only by piano when, having broken through the sand circle, she moves with the liberating beauty of self-awareness. McLean transports the audience in one of those magic moments in dance an epiphany in the twinkling of an eye.

The intimate atmosphere of the performance space at the Judith Wright Centre is ideal for these productions. The Judy was intended to be a place of artistic creativity and collaboration. The production of these three new works fulfils that goal admirably. The buzz among the high school students attending the performance with this reviewer suggests that Natalie Weirs dance makers are indeed stirring the imagination of youth.

Choreograhy by Natalie Weir, Vanessa Mafand Timothy Brown. Music by David Pyle, Danny Rhodes and others. Design by Bruce McKinven. Lighting design by Nick Tomlin.

Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes (including 20 minute interval). Playing 27 August to 5 September 2009.

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Sun 30th August 2009)