Friday, May 17, 2013


Expressions Dance company
Q – Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre - 14th May 2013.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Perhaps it was the lure of seeing another version of “Romeo and Juliet”, but dance enthusiasts, including an impressive number of young dancers,  flocked to the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre to see the only performance in the Canberra region of renowned contemporary dance choreographer Natalie Weir’s multi- award winning dance work, “R & J”.  

In this witty re-interpretation of the familiar story, Weir offers us not one, but three versions of the story, built on just six dancers augmented with a stage-full of young local dancers for the arresting opening sequence. The three sequences are set in different eras, and each concentrates on a different aspect of the story.

The first sequence, “Passion”, is set in a contemporary modern nightspot. The young couple, (Elise May and ex-Quantum Leap dancer, Jack Ziesing), meet on a crowded dance floor and fall in love. Their ecstatic pas de deux is interrupted by a stranger, (Thomas Gunry Greenfield) who emerges from a phone box to intrude on their reverie. During the inevitable altercation which follows, the girl is killed.   

The second sequence, “Romance” , costumed to suggest the more traditional medieval setting, begins with both the girl and the boy (Michelle Barnett and Benjamin Chapman) being lifted, doll-like,  from pedestals by members of their families who try unsuccessfully to keep them apart. Eventually, after a long tender pas de deux, both end up in a glass coffin.

The final sequence “Devotion”, set in the 1950’s, commences with the young couple, (Riannon McLean and Jack Zeizing) blissfully sharing a couch. They tease each other playfully while watching television. In an ingeniously choreographed section, we see their departing rituals as he heads off to work, then returns at the end of the day.  These rituals are repeated in quick succession until, inexplicably, he doesn’t turn up as before. Realising that he is not going to return, the girl (McLean) dances a gorgeous, intricate and melancholy solo utilising  the couch almost as if it were her missing lover.

Throughout the work, the reference points are crystal clear and although one viewing is hardly enough to fully register and absorb Natalie Weir’s complex, inventive choreography. But with its characteristic intricate interweaving of the dancers bodies, spectacular brilliantly resolved lifts, and strongly delineated characterisations, “R & J” is totally absorbing and engaging.  

Weir has gathered together a troupe of brilliant dancers, each perfectly in tune with her signature style and able to interpret her choreography to perfection.

Their brilliant dancing is enhanced by the imaginative set designs of Bruce McKinven, featuring a series of sculptural elements, ingeniously lit by David Walters, which seamlessly and satisfyingly transport the viewer through different situations and time zones, while the rich, musical soundscape, composed by John Babbage and recorded by Brisbane ensemble, Topology, provides a glorious cocoon of warm aural colours perfectly in tune with the mood and intent of this challenging and lovely work.

 It is this perfect fusion of disparate elements which makes watching a performance of “R & J “such a compelling and satisfying experience.