REVIEW: Converge (Expressions Dance Company)

Ensemble in Richard Casuer's Imposters, photographed by FenLan Chuang


Where? Queensland Conservatorium Theatre, Griffith University, South Bank
When? March 10-17, 2018

Expressions Dance Company’s first production of 2018, Converge, is presented in partnership with the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University (QCGU) and features four compelling new contemporary dance works from established and emerging Australasian choreographers. The two local choreographers also collaborated with emerging QCGU composers to create original music for their pieces, and the dancers were accompanied onstage by a twelve-piece ensemble of QCGU musicians, conducted by Professor Peter Luff.

This is the “first time students from the performance and composition disciplines have had the opportunity to work alongside a professional dance company,” Professor Luff said after the show. This is also the first time that contemporary dance has been performed on the Conservatorium Theatre stage, and the result is thrilling.

Scott Ewen, Jake McLarnon, and Jag Popham in Stephanie Lake's Ceremony, photographed by FenLan Chuang

The first work of the evening, Ceremony, was choreographed by Stephanie Lake and used a mixed bag of music: György Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles (Movement 1); Chinary Ung’s Khse Buon; Javier Alvarez’s Metro Chabacano; and Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood. Lake, one of Australia’s most awarded choreographers and a recipient of a 2017 Australia Council Fellowship, has created a thrilling work combining high-energy movements, which seem manic and convulsive at times, with beautiful moments of stillness and suspension.

Lake wrote in her programme note that “what started as a purely abstract physicalisation of the music has evolved into something of a madcap ride.” Rhythmic but fluid, the work made extensive use of breath and body as percussion, invoking a clockwork motif that recurred throughout the work, and the dancers kept time very impressively. The final sequence, in particular, was beautifully synchronised. Alana Sargent stood out with her flexibility and fluidity of movement, and Elise May was very emotive but half a beat behind the group at some points.
Tiana Pinnell in Stephanie Lake's Ceremony, photographed by FenLan Chuang

The second work of Converge, choreographed by Helpmann-nominated EDC ensemble member Richard Causer, was titled Imposters and set to a haunting series of strings and piano composed by Isabella Gerometta, Padraig Parkhurst, and Michael Rosiak. Some contemporary works can leave audiences scrambling for meaning but Causer’s choreography brought through his themes with refreshing clarity, examining identity, judgement, vulnerability, and the ways in which we are built and destroyed by how others see us. Causer’s choreography created scenes of resistance, defeat, and struggling to rise, and utilised costuming – designed by Alana Sargent, who also performed as a dancer in the piece – and lighting to show the addition and subtraction of layers, the raising of barriers between individuals, and the glaring brightness of others’ gaze.

All of the dancers showed great strength and stability, especially in the sequences of highly acrobatic lifts. Their beautiful extensions gave the work a suspenseful quality, and their emotional engagement with props and space added depth and purpose. The duet between Jake McLarnon and Scott Ewen were particularly striking, and the image of the two male dancers struggling over a lemon has cemented itself in my mind as a key image of this work.

Scott Ewen and Jake McLarnon in McLarnon's Isochronism, photographed by FenLan Chuang

Making his choreographic debut for a professional company, Jake McLarnon created a powerfully intimate work in Isochronism, inspired by Australian painter Jasper Hills’ work of the same name and with music composed by Tanya Jones and Jarvis Miller.

The performance of this work by McLarnon and Scott Ewen – who makes his EDC debut in Converge – made this a personal favourite for the evening. The two dancers were wonderfully attuned to one another as they performed the layering of bodies, push-and-pull, and puppetry of McLarnon’s choreographed struggle for power. Both danced with great strength and control, and were very synchronised despite their height difference – difficult lifts were performed with impressive smoothness and effortlessness. Also interesting was the use of the spotlight as a physical space and a prop, which the dancers moved with and against.

Ensemble in Xu Yiming's Aftermath, photographed by FenLan Chuang


The final piece of the evening, Aftermath, was choreographed by internationally acclaimed Chinese choreographer Xu Yiming to music which combined several pieces by Gurdjieff/De Hartmann with Arvo Pärt’s Pari Intervallo. Xu Yiming returned to Expressions Dance Company through their Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project, having previously worked with them as a choreographer and a guest performer through the same programme.

The work opened in an unusual way with the use of voice and comedy, and evolved into a complicated series of movements. Some sequences were characterised by sharp, erratic bursts of movement, becoming more fluid as the piece progressed. Interlocking limbs returned the audience to Stephanie Lake’s work earlier in the night, as did the repetition of certain movements, poses, and motifs throughout Aftermath.

Xu Yiming’s choreography made conscious use of sound and silence to zero in on small movements, and used sudden changes of position and level to keep the audience absorbed. The trust and rapport between the dancers was clear, and the work used the full stage but always returned to the flower beneath the spotlight. An especially poignant moment that made good use of stillness was the image of Alana Sargent standing on Jag Popham while he turned slowly on the floor. The synchronicity was less than perfect in group sequences but each dancer shone individually.

Ensemble in Stephanie Lake's Ceremony, photographed by FenLan Chuang
It was almost hard to believe that the ensemble of dancers for the entire production numbered only seven – they proved themselves to be incredibly strong, athletic, and versatile artists. Lighting design by Ben Hughes and costumes designed by Alana Sargent distinguished each piece in the audience’s mind and brought the entire production together.

It is always a privilege to see new work from emerging choreographers and, as Artistic Director Natalie Weir eloquently put it after the performance, “Tonight, each of these talented artists reminds us that the future of contemporary dance is in good hands.” A very accessible performance for anyone who has never experienced contemporary dance before, and a joy for those more familiar with it.

Tickets and show details for Converge are available here.

For contemporary dancers with foundational training, choreographer and EDC dancer Jake McLarnon will be running a Converge Masterclass on Saturday, March 17 – more details here.

Scott Ewen and Jake McLarnon in McLarnon's Isochronism, photographed by FenLan Chuang