Left - Elise May with Pat Marchisella on bass. Photo – John Gass
This week Brisbane applauded another victory against contemporary mediocrity with Expressions Dance Company and their new production While Others Sleep. This prolific company, under the choreographic direction of Natalie Weir, are producing some of the finest contemporary dance works to come out of Australia in recent years.
While Others Sleep is a cabaret style show with three separate acts, inspired by a local photographic publication, which explores the things that happen behind closed doors. Natalie Weir also wanted to make reference to the company’s place geographically (in the Valley and at The Judith Wright), thus coming to collaborate with local musicians, Misinterpretato. The result is like a midnight love affair of cross-dressing strangers to live jazz.
Expressions' cast of six dance stars each embody moody characters, from drunks to fetishists to drag queens, and move fluently between them. It is not usual to see expert dancers who can also act and this is a credit to the talent of the company. One of their new members Connor Dowling even performs a song, and elegantly, while dancing during the first piece. Is there some kind of secret place where people like this go and get fabulous, and can the rest of us please come watch?
Other stand out moments were Richard Causer’s cross-dressing scene with Riannon McLean as his feminine side, the male alter egos meeting in the hallway, and Elise May as the lonely traveller at an almost empty table. There are plenty of dynamic ensemble pieces too, with acrobatic lifts and throws that give the audience a thrill a minute. Some minutes have fewer thrills, but on the whole Natalie Weir and the company maintain a strong narrative, with engaging stories and minimal pretension, which makes the show very accessible to non-dance audiences (i.e. audiences who don’t understand when the contemporary dancer writhes on the floor for 10 minutes to time-lapse projections of trains. Sure art is art and we love that, but we also love to get on the plot train from time to time). There are no projections nor any writhing involved in this show.
Greg Clarke is the man behind the set and costume design. He reorients The Judith Wright as a film noir hotel scene that drips in anonymity. The wallpaper and corridors lead around a corner to the double bed that moves and eats its own sheets. Doors lead in and out of rooms we can’t see and cross behind walls where people disappear. The Misinterpretato trio sit low in the centre to provide the live soundtrack, and also bring in a guest songstress and sax to add to the mood. Even though I know little about jazz magic, it was clear they do beautiful things in a smoky blue realm, and complement the dance perfectly.
There are 15-minute intervals between acts, which allow you to spend a lot of money on wine or nip across the road for a quick sushi. Either that or be prepared to wait around a bit and bring snacks.
All in all, While Others Sleep is a charming delight; you’ll leave as if you’ve had a carnal rendezvous with cigar smokers in a glittery hallway. It’s lovely to see Expressions show their kooky side with this work and even lovelier to see the boys in their briefs and thigh highs. If you can catch the show this week it would be well worth it, as it’s likely it’ll do well overseas and come back more expensive. Take your lover and wear heels.
Expressions Dance Company, Judith Wright Centre and Misinterprotato present
WHILE OTHERS SLEEP
Choreographed by Natalie Weir
Venue: Performance Space, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts
Dates: Thu 12 – Sun 22 August 2010