Cremorne Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre
The Brisbane dance community turned out in full at the premiere of Everyday Requiem, to pay homage to its creator, Natalie Weir as she celebrated 10 years as Artistic Director of Expressions Dance Company (EDC). This work, her last at the helm of the company, marks a return to the themes of earlier creations, exploring the complexities behind the ordinariness of everyday family life.
A man, having celebrated his 70th birthday, looks back, reflecting on what was, and what might have been, but ultimately accepting and celebrating what is. It’s Weir at her very best as she captures, without an ounce of sentimentality, the possibilities of grandeur and nobility in the commonplace.
Live music is again imperative to her work, with the singers of the Australian Voices on stage, and integral to the action. Musical Director Gordon Hamilton has composed a plainsong (unaccompanied) requiem, where strains of the Latin text are heard between more mundane iterations, such as lists of dates, or items found in a child’s backpack. Add to this the more unusual sounds of gargling, whispering and shivering, and you have a rich and thematically textured partner to the movement.
Bill Haycock’s simple design wraps the work, cocoon-like, on three sides of the stage with shimmering folds of gold coloured cloth, which allows David Walters’ subtle lighting to evoke the different moods of the hero’s life on its gently shifting surface.
As the Old Man, guest artist and veteran thespian Brian Lucas was a formidable presence on stage. First appearing slumped over a long, white-clothed table, littered with the detritus of his birthday party, the tiniest of movements carried weight and meaning. He evoked not the sprightliest of 70 year olds, but the motivation behind the deliberate hesitation in some of his movement gave weight to the idea that here was a man nevertheless entering the final years of his life.
Serendipitously the four decades of EDC were represented on stage, with Lucas, a member in the late 1980s to 90s, joined by Lizzie Vilmanis, an EDC dancer in the early 2000s, replacing the injured Elise May as The Wife. Vilmanis was and still is an extraordinarily articulate and dramatically accomplished dancer.
Jag Popham, Jake McLarnon and Richard Causer individually represent the Old Man’s memories of life as a young child, an adolescent, and finally as a middle-aged man. Many of these “memories” are visually realised in duets (Weir’s forte), where the movement flows as bodies interweave, dip and dive, including the tortured dynamic with his brother (Scott Ewen), explored in a powerful and percussive sequence between Causer and Ewen that potently expressed the rage and bitterness of this relationship.
We see the beginning of this acrimony in an earlier, poignant duet with McLarnon and Isabella Hood as his Young Love, which disintegrates as The Brother (Ewen) intercedes.
Changes in time and place are seamlessly denoted, sometimes by a change in clothing – the intervention of the Vietnam War, for instance, by McLarnon’s donning a khaki shirt. Another beautifully expressed duet by Vilmanis and Causer of interweaving movement and song is a central plank to the work, and shows the blending of one year into the next as their marriage evolves in a repetition of the mundane.
Alana Sargent as The Daughter was a lovely match for Vilmanis in a poignant mother/daughter duet. Sargent’s shuddering, grief-stricken solo, as the Old Man remembers the death of his wife, her mother, was also totally absorbing.
As older dancers from WaW Dance unexpectedly join the company for a frieze-like tableau in the work’s penultimate moments, Weir makes powerful statement about aging, acceptance and forgiveness, not at all dampened by the earlier interruption of a fire alarm.
Everyday Requiem is another fine example of Weir’s innate ability to express emotion through movement, honed here to a razor-sharp precision.
- DENISE RICHARDSON