Expressions Dance Company: 7 Deadly Sins -
Playhouse, QPAC, 21 August -
Natalie Weir’s signature work for this year continues Expressions Dance Company’s commitment to contemporary storytelling, using theatrical narratives to explore elements of the human spirit. The creative process for 7 Deadly Sins was another collaborative effort between choreographer and dancers, designer and composer, that has produced a visually stunning looking work.
In fiction, wickedness is mostly portrayed as attractive, profound and full of charm, while in truth we know there is nothing more dreary and monotonous. The vices in Giotto di Bondone’s paintings, which were a reference point for Bill Haycock’s striking gold lamé embellished set and costume designs are, however, studies in self-destruction, and Weir’s focus is similarly on the desolation of sin.
Filtered through the subconsciousness of mankind, represented here by guest artist, Thomas Gundy Greenfield, each of the seven sins (a dancer) is “unpacked” one by one, Pandora-like, from gold boxes of varying sizes, resting either on their sides, backs or ends. Also used as platforms for the dancers to work on, around and within, they offer scope for the creation of visually striking imagery.
Darrin Verhagen’s pounding, electronic soundscape both drives and supports the physical exploration of each individual sin, with rich textures and grinding percussive elements. It is a perfect foil for Weir’s bold, athletic movement.
David Walters works his magic with a striking light design that cuts in shafts across the space, and sometimes floods it from red to the monochromatic.
While the relationship between sins is also explored, the overarching construction of this work is of a series of defining solos for the dancers – each shedding their “skin” of gold, revealing themselves as the embodiment of one of the seven sins. Gundy Greenfield, the constant within the action, added gravitas as the lynchpin.
The company has never looked so strong, well disciplined and cohesive. Sloth (newcomer Cloudia Elder) unfolded herself from a small gold box with slow, languorous movement, while veteran dancer, Daryl Brandwood was Greed – decked out in gold ornamentation and a spreading gold lamé coat, he emerged from his coffin like box with percussive, angular, but still pliant movement that showed off his remarkable facility.
Jack Ziesing, in a black and gold Michelin-Man styled jumpsuit, embodied Gluttony, as with pig’s trotter-like motifs, he fed from his trough. The relationship between Sloth, Gluttony and Greed was also explored in a creation of manipulative lifts and sinuous intertwining of bodies.
Rebecca Hall, as Envy, slid snake-like from her box, long gold skirt swishing and a nervous tick-like movement of her shoulders a recurring motive; unsurprisingly Ben Chapman, as Pride, strode from his mirror-lined box, commanding the space with gold cloak sweeping behind. A short duet with Hall was again a beautiful construction of lifts and suspension.
Elise May was mesmerising as Lust – wheeled onto centre stage, standing sarcophagus-like in her box, and swathed in a gold, she was hypnotic, sinuous and predatory.
Weir does not order sinfulness according to convention, where pride (usually considered the worst of all sins) is last. Here, this honour goes to Wrath (Michelle Barnett), who emerged, like Lucifer in an eruption of red-lit smoke, with strongly executed, articulate and extended movement.
Wrath is the catalyst for the work’s climax as powerful moments of unison (a contest between the sins and Man) culminate in Man’s attack on Lust – and because here, Lust is a woman, also with contemporary echoes of domestic and sexual violence. It was unclear whether Man had succumbed to anger or repelled debauchery. However, the poignancy of May’s limping, broken character made a strong emotional connection and was a potent preamble to a dénouement that was for me, otherwise indecisive.
Weir states that there is no judgement made in this work, but perhaps with a firmer point of view, the final moments of this otherwise engaging work, may have had a clearer resolution.
- DENISE RICHARDSON
Above: Benjamin Chapman. Photo: Chris Herzfeld.