R & J

Playhouse, QPAC (Expressions Dance Company)


Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet provides the foundation for Expressions Dance Company’s contemporary ballet telling the story of the star-crossed lovers across three eras.

Natalie Weir’s choreography gives new steps to this age-old story. A Fortitude Valley nightclub provides the setting for Act 1. Juliet (Riannon McLean) meets Romeo (Richard Causer) and the sparks ignite. Initial passion gives way to a love triangle with attendant jealousy and a brawl. McLean dances her role of Juliet brilliantly. She brings intensity and virtuosity to the role of ‘true and faithful Juliet’ but cruel destiny will have its way. ‘For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo’.

The second act is set in Shakespeare’s original setting of Verona in Italy. Jack Ziesing dances the role of Romeo with Samantha Mitchell as Juliet. Weir’s approach is inclusive. Students from Expressions’ training partner, QUT Creative Industries and the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts, help tell the story in this act (and also in Act 1).

The prosaic setting of 1950s suburbia provides a background for Act 3 danced by Elise May (Juliet) and David Williams (Romeo). Weir’s treatment brings out the irony in the ordered comfy pleasure of the post-war period.

The musical score is composed by John Babbage, a saxophonist with the group Topology who perform live on stage. There is a freshness and originality to their work which brings out the emotion in this tragic tale.

It is good to see the production support of this piece by the Queensland Performing Arts Centre through its chief executive (John Kotzas). QPAC takes the view, correctly in your reviewer’s opinion, that it is more than just a set of venues for hire. It is a friend and partner to the performing arts in Queensland. In this regard John Kotzas continues to build on the strong legacy of Tony Gould, the inaugural artistic director of QPAC.

This thoughtful and moving contemporary dance production has also been supported by the Queensland Music Festival which is living up to its charter of being a festival of international excellence accessible to Queenslanders from all walks of life.

Choreographer and artistic director, Natalie Weir has a gift for bringing literary works into the world of dance. She has previously choreographed the work ‘Glass Heart’ based on Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and ‘Where the Heart Is’ based on the novel 12 Edmonstone Street by Brisbane writing legend David Malouf. All too often contemporary dance can lose audiences in a maze of abstractions but Weir connects with her audience with a clear and strong narrative.

Natalie Weir and the Expression Dance Company have produced in R & J a fine, original, creative work set in a great tradition.

Choreography and artistic director: Natalie Weir
Music composed by John Babbage and performed by Topology
Designer: Bruce McKinven
Lighting designer: David Walters
Performances: 15 to 23 July 2011

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Thu 21st July 2011)