Sunday, October 11, 2015


Expressions Dance Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre - October 9, 10, 2015.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Originally created by Natalie Weir for a gala performance with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, “Carmen Sweet” has been reworked by Weir into a perfect vehicle for Expressions Dance Company.  In terms of Weir’s mission which she says in her program notes is to “expand our audience’s appetite for beautiful, high quality contemporary works that tell a story, with great music and stunning dance”, it ticks all the boxes.

Weir is noted for her highly physical partner work and her confident, expansive movement style. Her previous work shown at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, “R&J”, had raised high expectations for this visit by Expressions Dance Company and “Carmen Sweet” did not disappoint.

Working with six exceptional dancers, to the music of Rodion Shchedrin’s intriguing adaptation for strings and percussion of Bizet’s opera “Carmen”,  originally composed for his ballerina wife, Maya Plisetskaya, and which includes excerpts from Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne”, Weir has crafted a masterful deconstruction of the familiar Carmen story which cleverly compresses all the essential elements of the story while expanding the psychological possibilities through the device of having the three female dancers portray different aspects of Carmen’s  personality, often simultaneously. 

Ilise May as Carmen 
The work enthrals from the opening moments when we discover tall, elegant,  Elise May, representing the wiser, darker side of Carmen, seductively posed on a  reproduction of Dali’s famous red-lipped Bocca sofa. She wears a glamorous full length black lace dress, split to the waist to expose her perfect long legs.  May presented an arresting image, perfectly prefacing the intrigue and danger which was to follow.

Eventually she is joined by Michelle Barnett, representing the sensual, fiery side of Carmen, and Rebecca Hall, as the younger, carefree, flirty Carmen, both costumed in flattering red and black costumes designed by Bill Haycock who also designed the simple, dramatic setting. As they dance, together and separately, the different aspects of Carmen’s personality become clear.

The entrance of Don Jose (Jack Ziesing) provides a catalyst for turmoil as each of Carmen’s personalities vie for his attention. The temperature rises considerably with the arrival of the flamboyant matador, Escamillo (Benjamin Chapman) to whom Carmen is immediately attracted. Enter the mysterious fortune teller, played with considerable bravura by Daryl Brandwood, bare-chested and clad in a beggar’s gauze skirt, which sets the stage for the tragic events which are about to unfold.
The three Carmens dance with Don Jose

“Carmen Sweet” displays Weir’s impressive choreographic inventiveness to superb effect in the series of luscious athletic solos, duets, trios and quartets which thread through the work. Her confident phrasing constantly delights as she takes advantage of the sly wit and fresh instrumental colours contained in the score.  Her use of dramatic, sensuous lifts and falls, and her often surprising resolutions to choreographic combinations constantly enchant the eye without confusing the storyline, as exampled in her arresting quartet in which the three Carmen’s dance as one with Don Jose to the famous Habanera.

 An interesting inclusion were six young dancers, recruited from local ballet schools, each carrying a long-stemmed red rose,  who provide a showy entourage for the entrance of the matador, Escamillo ( Benjamin Chapman).  Weir’s choreography for these dancers was challenging, but able to be executed perfectly, as it was on this occasion, but complex enough to convince the audience that they were members of Expressions Dance Company.

The final image, a stunning tableau with Don Jose, horror-stricken at what he has just done, standing over the bodies of the three Carmens, lifeless on the red couch, provided a deeply satisfying conclusion to this memorable work.

The Queanbeyan performances of “Carmen Sweet” come early in an extensive tour of Victoria and New South Wales. Even if you have to walk over hot coals to get there, when it comes to your town, don’t miss the opportunity to experience this beautifully mounted, and superbly performed, dance work by one of the country’s most accomplished dance makers.

Daryl Brandwood and Elise May 

                                           This review also appears in Australian Arts Review