Expressions Dance Company: The Host -
Playhouse, QPAC, 1 May -
The formal dinner party may be on the way out as a social construct, but as Expressions Dance Company’s (EDC) The Host reveals, it is still a delicious framework for exploring the human psyche.
Natalie Weir has staged several incarnations of The Host – the first in 1998 on the Queensland Ballet. Naturally she was delighted they still had the original shiny black hexagonal table she could utilise for this version on her own company of dancers.
The table sits centre stage and, manoeuvred across the stage into various positions, is used as a literal platform for the work, which, in Weir’s own words, explores ‘manipulation and desire for status and wealth’. Each of the seven dancers represents a familiar character trait, including a domineering Host and his long-suffering Hostess.
We have the lecherous wannabe who flirts with the insecure girl, the flighty party-girl, the has-been who is still so desperate to please, and the younger woman who has an affair with her host. The personality of each is explored in solos, duets and trios through movement that is deeply expressive. Arms carve broad swathes through the space, while more diminutive and percussive gestural movement is also used by Weir to great effect. An evocative lighting design by Ben Hughes helps keep the atmosphere intimate using single overhead spots to narrow the focus.
Jack Ziesing, as the wealthy, controlling, upper class Host, was compelling. From the opening moments, in which he stood on the table and controlled his seated guests with commanding clicks of his fingers, his performance dramatically secured the work.
Elise May was likewise mesmerising with her finely nuanced portrayal of the betrayed Hostess. The multi-faceted tensions of her relationship with The Host were revealed in two beautiful duets of broad movement and controlled lifts. This is where Weir shines, as she takes the basic choreographic construct of contact improvisation and pushes it to dangerous extremes. Likewise, a trio with Ziesing, May and Michelle Barnett, who oozed seduction as The Younger Woman, was like a moving sculpture that exquisitely explored the tensions of the relationship triangle.
As The Has-Been, seasoned performer Daryl Brandwood showed that in the dance department this is far from the case; his extraordinarily pliant body was folded and unfolded, mannequin-like, by Ziesing in another very cleverly constructed duet. The diminutive Cloudia Elder, who conversely is the youngest company member, showed both diffidence and strength in her portrayal of The Insecure Girl.
There was an attractive rawness to Benjamin Chapman’s movement quality in his performance as The Wannabe, which was exemplified in the fight duet with Ziesing as they tossed one another effortlessly across the table in a fearless display of athleticism. In a frilly, bubble-skirted dress, Rebecca Hall (The Party Girl) was delightful in a flirtatious duet with Chapman that saw them both hanging off the side of the up-ended table.
Music has always been important for Weir, but is often used as an undercurrent to support the movement. Here, the Southern Cross Soloists performed a score eclectically drawn in the main from the classical canon, which worked in synergy with the movement to express and also effectively drive the drama. Having the music played live, which is now the norm for EDC productions, was an added bonus.
EDC seems finally to have a permanent cohort of dancers after a couple of years of flux, particularly in the female ranks. This was evidenced by a cohesion lacking in recent works. A big step in maintaining this must be the employment of Amy Hollingsworth in the recently created position of rehearsal director.
- DENISE RICHARDSON
The Host plays QPAC until 9 May.