REVIEW: 4Seasons (Expressions Dance Company, City Contemporary Dance Company, QPAC)

Alana Sargent and Ivan CHAN in Natalie Weir's '4Seasons', photographed by Mak


Where? QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre
When? June 14-22

Expressions Dance Company, City Contemporary Dance Company (Hong Kong), and Queensland Performing Arts Centre present a breathtaking triple bill of new contemporary works, filled with powerful imagery and messages about our humanity and its impacts.

4Seasons is an outcome of the cross-border collaboration achieved through EDC’s five-year Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project. The work brings together 20 dancers from the ensembles of both companies to perform the three works, choreographs by EDC Artistic Director Natalie Weir, CCDC Assistant Artistic Director Dominic Wong, and Helpmann Award winning independent choreographer Kristina Chan. Lighting design by Lawmanray, stage visual and costume design by Cindy HO Pui-shan, and sound design by Anthony YEUNG highlight the key elements of each piece and add invaluably to the masterful visual tapestry of 4Seasons.

Kristina Chan’s ‘Summer’ is the opening piece, beautifully paced and taking place in an imagined dystopian future defined by extreme atmospheric conditions. Performed by the CCDC ensemble and set to a piece of music by the same name, composed by James Brown, this piece is a commentary on rising global temperatures and apathetic attitudes towards global warming and human impact.

The most obvious and powerful image in this work is the slow and ominous descent of an enormous fabric sheet, lit with a golden-orange glow like a sun, bringing a sense of urgency and impending disaster as it unfurls closer to the dancers onstage. A malfunction with the sheet that necessitated the piece to be reset and the dancers to start from the beginning did not take anything away from this awe-inspiring performance.

Natalie Weir's '4Seasons', photographed by David Kelly

Chan’s choreography shifts from the parched, languid movements of stretching and rolling, to whirling limbs, to powerful moments of complete stillness, heavy with anticipation. A particularly striking moment comes as dancers are passed back across the bodies of their peers, helplessly swept along by the movements and decisions of others. The image of a single figure standing in stillness, or observing the interactions of the others, was also repeated throughout.

The athleticism and quickness of the dancers was admirable, and although in parts their synchronicity was not perfect the raw emotion with which they performed and their smooth fluidity and emotionally connected partner work carried them through.

This work explores themes of intersection, interconnection, and interdependence as well as struggles for power through its highly physical partner work, tangling and untangling of bodies, and the parallel of undulating movement with the billowing fabric above. Ideas of breath and air are also touched upon, and the connection of human health and life to our surrounding environment. Uniform costuming and the sounds of a helicopter in the music adds a militaristic undertone in parts, suggesting an oppression other than the rising heat.

Dominic Wong’s ‘Day After Day’, performed by the EDC ensemble and CCDC’s Bruce Wong, explores ideas of human relationships in the metropolis, and the ways in which these parallel the changing seasons. An eclectic mix of music from Nils Frahm, Max Richter, Patrick Ng, and Olafur Arnalds and quick, purposeful movements combine with transparent, suit-like costumes to clearly evoke images of a fast-paced city lifestyle. 

Dominic Wong's 'Day After Day', photographed by David Kelly

Wong’s choreography is fluid but abrupt, utilising sharp angles in kicks and arm movements, as well as sudden changes in level, to add to the sense of busyness. Elements of robotic movement and repetition drive home messages about corporate drones and the daily grind and partner work explores relationships with loved ones and strangers.

The athleticism and stamina required for this piece was considerable, and the dancers did a phenomenal job of performing all the movements fully without compromising on technique or emotion. They displayed strength and balance as they executed complicated lifts, acrobatic partner work, and intensive floorwork, seemingly with ease, as well as great tenderness when the work called for it.

Bruce Wong moves slowly, so slowly, crossing the back of the stage, barely noticeable amongst the high-paced dancing around him as he moves towards the stage’s only prop, a pane of thick glass that might be imagined as a tower representing the city and what it has to offer. His role is more of a counterpoint than as an active dancer, but he performs this role with great focus and emotion.

Lighting was used skilfully to draw the audience’s eye around the stage, and strobing effects enhanced the frantic feeling of the high-paced section of dance, the music rising with the movement. The piece finishes on a soft and beautiful moment, accompanied by the sound of rain.

Dominic Wong's 'Day After Day', photographed by David Kelly

Natalie Weir’s ‘4Seasons’ is the third and final piece of the evening, set to Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, recomposed by Max Richter – Vivaldi – The Four Seasons. The choreography purposefully subverts traditional classical shapes even as it relies heavily on the dancers’ classical training and abilities, and the attention to detail in shaping the choreography to the music was superb.

The pastel costume pallet really makes the movement pop, and provides easy visual pairing of the dancers wearing the same colours. Waves of movement across the ensemble and a progressive series of lifts, jumps and kicks in canon created a stunning visual, further accentuated by the costumes. The incorporation of socks in the costuming was interesting, and the way that they were used to generate momentum and slide into stillness was an excellent complement to the choreography.

Alana Sargent and Ivan CHAN 陳俊瑋 perform the first duet, which seems to suggest a young love – constantly touching, leaning, chasing, and following, but occasionally looking elsewhere, or anticipating a next step without them.

Richard Causer and Bobo LAI 黎家寶 portray a reluctant or faded love in their duet, pushing each other way only to return to lifting and carrying. Lifts from the floor were lovely, as was the chemistry between the two dances as she brushes him off and away, reaching for something else beyond him.

Jake McLarnon and Qiao Yang in Natalie Weir's '4Seasons', photographed by Cheung Chi Wai

Elise May and Yve YU 余藝 epitomise slow, controlled beauty and balance in their duet, which feels like an established love. They complement one another s partners, and their long extensions and gravity-defying lifts are spectacular.

Jake McLarnon and QIAO Yang 喬楊 perform a cold but physically close duet with tense chemistry, a partnership in which they deliberately look away from each other. QIAO Yang’s balletic technique shone in this work, and Jake McLarnon’s feet are meticulously placed. As their duet departs from the stage, Felix KE 柯志輝 commences a solo, the only one in the piece, a portrayal of yearning or unrequited love performed with impressive balance, control, and emotion.

It is a nice touch to return to each couple and their key movements and emotions in the conclusion of the piece, and the final series of movements are breathtaking as the ensemble move as one.

Ensemble in Natalie Weir's '4Seasons', photographed by David Kelly

4Seasons is a stunning series of interwoven works, a perfect example of a theme explored differently by different choreographer without losing the key thread, and beautifully performed by the ensemble. Undoubtedly, a triumphant success for the companies and for the Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project, if this is the kind of incredible work the partnership can produce.

Prior to its Brisbane season, which will run from June 14-22, 4Seasons premiered in Hong Kong on June 1. Following the conclusion of its season at the Playhouse Theatre, 4Seasons will tour to the Darwin Entertainment Centre from June 29-30 and then to the Beijing Dance Festival in July.