QPAC, The Playhouse
September 23 – 26
As testament the world class fare of Brisbane Festival’s lineup, the city’s audiences have become amongst the first in Australia to be introduced to Flex, a style of dance so new that it requires its own Flexapedia explanatory dictionary of terms within its program.
Peter Sellars’ work, “Flexn” is, however, compelling in more than just its novelty. Working with dance pioneer Reggie Gray and dancers from Brooklyn, Sellers presents a work that is a confrontational, edgy and ultimately sad depiction of race relations in contemporary US society. The work was created in the era of unrest following the rulings in response to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York, however, is crafted to also include reference to the emotional journeys beyond just victims. Regardless of physical distance from its narrative, however, audience members are sure to be touched by at least one moment of connection.
The show is boomingly and boisterous from the outset as its 15 member, mostly-male ensemble linger and stretch on stage to the sounds of Flosstradamus’ ‘Too Turnt Up’. It is a heightened energy level that pumps throughout the show’s large ensemble numbers into a finale that appears almost concert-like in its experience as Gray introducers the individual dancers for moments of show in a mash-up of flex energy.
Even when liveliness drops during smaller numbers and solos, such as to JT’s ‘Cry Me a River’ and Christina Aguilera’s ‘Hurt’, there is still an essential vigour to entice the mixed audience. Indeed, the solos represent the night’s most moving moments. However, rather than allowing audiences to linger in their lyricism, numbers are sometimes punctuated by quite literal moves (making guns motions with hands and alike), the frequency of which is distracting. On a larger scale, when, for example, bodies are all joined together to be dragged around in a chain, the effect is extremely striking.
With chiselled athleticism, the dancers demonstrate astonishing physical skill in contortion outside of a traditional frame. However, the work elicits more than just audience amazement of physical prowess. At times aggressive, at others hypnotic, the dancers are always enthralling to watch. And even when at its most angular, there is a fluidity to their movements that is engaging, regardless of the nature of the number, with the female ensemble members often standing out with their equally aggressive and poetic moves.
“Flexn” is not only new, but a deeply expressive and specialised new dance form. From its big ensemble numbers, well-suited to the opened-up wings of the Playhouse venue, to the intimacy of its more touching times of social commentary, its stirring social-justice themed narratives are sure to enact reaction of some sort from audience members, even if they be laymen to the language of dance.