One of the best parts of the major performing arts festivals that are held throughout the country is the amazing opportunity for local artists to experience, and for local audiences to witness, the collaboration between Aussie and international performing artists who are at the forefront of their field. The Brisbane Festival features the Australian premiere of First Ritual, a collaboration between celebrated Chinese dance company Beijing Dance/LDTX and Brisbane’s award winning Expressions Dance Company. The theme of the performance is ritual and more specifically what the work explores is ritual both shared and unique in Australian and Chinese cultures.
The performance is divided into three acts. The first act focuses on Australia as choreographer Natalie Weir takes the audience on a journey through a series of moments that are representative of ritual. Across the thrust of the stage runs a long strip of sand. An iconic Max Dupain photograph of a beach scene is the backdrop for the first dancer, a young woman or girl perhaps, delighting in a walk on the beach. The movement is flowing and joyous as she frolics in the sand making a connection to sand, the earth. Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe’s music also features in the first act. The light mood continues and other photographs are displayed with each new scene: a wedding, the birth of a child. Darker moments are explored, remembering war and those who have fought for Australia represented initially by a lone male dancer. Moving around the stage he awkwardly collapses as one leg rolls weak to the ground, it’s a stirring and uncomfortable moment to watch. Later in the piece, poppies are strewn on the sand, representative of our Remembrance Day rituals. Overall there is a sense in the passing of time, life and the history of Australia.
Act two, choreographed by Li Hanzhong and Ma Bo from Beijing Dance/LDTX, looks at ritual from the Chinese perspective. Standing around the stage were large white figures shaped in the style of wooden art mannequins. The dancers slowly move to the front of the stage carrying bowls of water that they place in spotlighted spaces on the sand. This act is a marked contrasts to the first, with a faster more rhythmical pace and many dramatic moments. The music, Tan Dun’s Orchestral Theatre II: Re, is heavier in feeling with warrior like vocalisations playing throughout. Dancers assume positions behind the mannequins moving mob/army-like at times. Ritual is represented en masse as a group dance through collective prayer-like moments and scenes that resemble war and death. With painted hands the dancers leave their prints over the bodies of the mannequins and after the destruction they cleanse their hands in the water bowls. Percussive and desperate the dancers try to rid the evidence of the paint/blood from their hands and their souls. Personal struggles and searches through ritual were also a part of the dance in the second act. In a striking extended moment a female dancer was elevated and supported by a few of the male dancers. She never touched the ground during this section and her sharp movements appeared to be dictated by her male supports rather than through her decisions.
The third act saw the two dance companies perform as one ensemble and the work moved into modern times. From both sides of the stage dancers began at varying paces and moved as pedestrians across the stage focused on where they were going. Interactions slowly sprouted and two people would dip into a connection while the world hurriedly moved past them. Once again the idea of people being a collective as well as individuals was explored. A picture of a beautiful organic ball of hands and arms, bodies bending and resting, rising and reacting in response to the human horde was created. Relationships were explored, loving and violent, public and private. The energy and life that exuded from the final act was glorious and a brilliant way to bring the performance to close.
Visually there was a lot to process and relish. The lighting design by Godzilla Tan was stunning, enhancing each act wonderfully. As each act passed, the differences between the dance companies and choreographic styles were fascinating to watch. Natalie Weir and Expressions had an earthy and natural quality to their work, the dance more fluid in feeling, while Beijing Dance/LDTX’s work possessed a more exacting and angular quality, and the flexibility and aerial work displayed by the Chinese dancers was notable. It was wonderful to witness this brilliant coming together of two very distinctive contemporary dance companies.
BeijingDance/LDTX and Expressions Dance Company (EDC) present
Part of the 2011 Brisbane Festival
Venue: Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates: 14 – 17 September, 2011
Duration: 70 minutes (no interval)
Tickets: $40 – $32
Bookings: Brisbane Powerhouse Box Office + 61 7 3358 8600