Earlier this year, six ensemble members of Expressions Dance Company travelled to China to join the fourteen dancers of BeijingDance/LDTX in five-weeks of creative development to create two works, Auto Cannibal by Australian choreographer, Stephanie Lake and Encircling Voyage by Chinese choreographer MA Bo.
Under the umbrella title of Matrix (a cultural, social or political environment in which something develops) the two works were premiered in Beijing and Tianjin before travelling to Australia for performances in Cairns and Queanbeyan, prior to performances in Brisbane and Hong Kong.
Both works involved all twenty accomplished dancers and the differences in approach by the two choreographers in employing the skills of those dancers made for a riveting evening.
For her work Auto Cannibal, Stephanie Lake, draws on the idea of the modern world’s obsession with newness and consumption to create an ode to re-using, re-purposing and re-invigorating. She draws on her own previous choreographic ideas to create a kaleidoscopic work using only the dancer’s bodies to create a continuously intriguing sequence of mesmerising movement.
The work commences with a single dancer in a spotlight responding to the incessant clicking of Robin Fox’s soundtrack. One by one other dancers join her until the stage is filled with face painted dancers, all wearing similar black shorts and white tops, but moving in perfect unison.
They ebb and flow in movement suggesting waves crashing on a shore, or form an endless moving line behind a couple performing an intricate courting dance. A girl performs a bird-like solo. Males challenge each other and form a group to threaten a lone female.
Along with rhythm changes, there are hints of various scenarios, but nothing is confirmed, and finally, having pleasured the eye and challenged the intellect, the work climaxes in a shower of snowflakes.
A lush moody score by David Darling, arresting ash-covered costumes designed by WANG Yan, six mirror-surfaced stools and stunning lighting design by Joy CHEN are tools MA Bo incorporates into her arresting work, Encircling Voyage, to muse on the circle of life.
Exercising a rich choreographic palette she has her dancers continuously re-arrange the stools to create sculptural groupings. Three men carry a young woman high above their heads then swoop her around the stage. Virtuosic solos, by dancers unnamed in the printed program, sensuous duets and ingenious tableaus abound.
Deep cultural meanings are suggested. Dancers write messages in the air, a crouched figure crosses the stage mysteriously, the cries of a baby are heard, and a young woman is stripped of her costume to form a crucifix image on the mirrored stools, then covered with ash for a shattering climax.
Visually arresting, constantly intriguing, with stunning choreography superbly performed by twenty remarkable dancers, Matrix is not only a feast of innovative and memorable dance theatre but also a remarkable example of the value of cultural exchange.
The Q Theatre, 253 Crawford Street, Queanbeyan
Performance: Thursday 7 November 2019 – 7.30pm
Season: 7 – 8 November 2019 (ended)
Image: A scene from Stephanie Lake’s work Auto Cannibal in Matrix – photo by YIN Peng
Review: Bill Stephens OAM