Towards The Flame

Towards The FlamePhoto by Fiona Cullen

"It's the year of the collaboration," says Natalie Weir choreographer of Expressions Dance who is discussing Towards The Flame, a pioneering initiative prompted by Richard Wenn, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra's Director of Artistic Planning. It's a hefty program that includes Beethoven's Prometheus Overture and Stravinsky's Fireworks. And, in a daring first, the orchestra will perform Schedrin's Carmen Suite with Expressions Dance Company. The Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts is dancing to Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.

Weir says, "I've been meeting with Richard for some time now. We were both keen for our companies to be shown working together in new ways. Expressions could never afford to perform with an orchestra and we get to be shown in a new light. Our companies will attract a different crowd".

Dance is blossoming in Brisbane. During the Brisbane Festival, Artistic Director Noel Staunton presented Dance Energy, a pioneering initiative involving Queensland Ballet, Dance North and Expressions Dance. Four choreographers worked on this ambitious project and for the first time these companies danced together on stage.

And, if it's a good year for dance, Carmen has been a major focus in the Queensland arts scene this year. Recently, Opera Queensland and the Queensland Ballet staged Carmen, and Weir is creating yet another version. About her interpretation she says, "I have six dancers and Carmen is a multi-complex character. So I have three dancers for the role of Carmen and each one plays her in different ways. The male dancers play the soldier Don Jose, the toreador Escamillo and one is a characterisation of fate. Carmen is warned about her death in a dance involving a fortuneteller. 'Beguiled' is about poetic views of love, loss and fate".

"I'm getting it out there as fast as I can so we have time to look at it before the performance" says Weir. "It will be amazing to have this formidable sound just behind us. This is a challenging, iconic work, it's big, dramatic but beautiful and kind of fun. I want to make the characters believable. At times, I use the music as a backdrop rather than dance it out. For us it's so different and not the kind of thing I usually do. Such a great story, the costumes are beautiful.

"I am working with a recording Richard suggested. The conductor Johannes Fritzsch will be coming here to watch a rehearsal and that will help us in terms of tempo. We are going to listen to it at their building and walk it out as they rehearse. Then, the next time we all get together will be for one of the technical rehearsals. The dancers love the experience. It's so inspiring getting into the nitty gritty of Carmen. I take on board the dancers' ideas, it's the way that I work, especially as I have a core group of six that I absolutely trust and they contribute lots of input. I'm brave, go to the studio, know what the music is but don't have the choreography already down."

The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky written for the 1910 Paris season of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes is a ballet based on a Russian folk tale about a magical bird. Choreographer Penny Mullen is resisting classical dance in her version and instead pays homage to these traditions. She is aware her students have never danced live with an orchestra before and not to such driving, complex music.

Mullen says, "I'm working from an aural perspective. The dancers are learning musical cues. Stravinsky's music is highly charged and diverse in its tempi. To find a way into all the constantly shifting metres the dancers must embody the music".

"There's a female lead who is manipulative and sensual. She creates tension between a man and his wife purely motivated by a lust for power and status. But, she is torn between ambition and her loved one when she meets someone she feels real emotion for and all the nonsense peels away".

"The dance poses the question, 'is status or being true to oneself more important'? This has relevance today. The other dancers are woodland creatures, surreal fantasy wraiths. It's a dynamic, athletic and relentless piece located in a supernatural forest".  Mullen, like Weir, prefers to work in a collaborative way and "utilise movements innate in a dancer's physique. It's a careful balance between the choreographer's vision and each dancer's unique way of moving".

In these economically stretched times, artistic risk has been pushed to the brink of extinction. Yet, an ambitious venture like Towards The Flame involving two dance companies and a 92-piece orchestra performing live after minimal rehearsal proves that the pulse of aesthetic experiment and danger, though it maybe faint, is still out there beating.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Expressions Dance Company and the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts present

Conductor Johannes Fritzsch

With Dancers from the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts and Expressions Dance Company

Venue: QPAC Concert Hall
Date/Time: 7pm, Saturday 17 November, 2012
Bookings: qtix 136 246

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