Everyday Requiem (Expressions Dance Company)
QPAC, Cremorne Theatre
October 12 -20
I’m not necessarily a dance person and I’m not particularly emotional, so to be moved to tears by Expression Dance Company’s “Everyday Requiem” was a surprisingly profound experience. It is not because of its beauty, although it does include a number of exquisite moments, but rather due to the relationships and emotions evoked by its dancers.
The World Premiere and very special lyrical contemporary work from the critically acclaimed Queensland company serves as Artistic Director Natalie Weir’s swan song after a decade at the helm. And what a show with which to exit…. unanimously appreciated by an enduring standing ovation form an emotional opening night crowd in acknowledgement of its original choreography, integral all-vocal score and all-round beautiful story performed by stunning dancers and singers.
Its breathtaking experience begins with a group mournfully gathered around tables in the centre of a fairy-lit Cremorne theatre. The space is obviously more intimate that the expansive Playhouse stage of the company’s most recent 4Seasons and, as it unfolds, this turns out to be entirely appropriate for a show telling such a personal, but also universal, human story.
The touching tale is of a man’s life revisited by his aged self, guest artist, veteran Brisbane performer Brian Lucas, an early-days EDC dancer and, for seven years, the Company’s Assistant Artistic Director. Against the backdrop of Australian History from the 1950s until today, the man is played by four men, each responsible for a particular generation of his life; the Old Man guides his younger self back to revisit memories and moments, sometimes forcing emotional connections of his younger self in order to heal unresolved disharmony. Thus, the show takes the audience through The Man’s infancy, childhood and adolescence towards maturity.
The accompanying relationships are told in sequence, beginning with the wondered play of carefree childhood, school days and sibling tussles (Jag Popham as The Man’s Infancy and Childhood). After The Man’s (Jake McClaron as The Adolescent and Young Man) infatuation with Young Love (Isabella Hood), including a love triangle also involving his brother (Scott Ewen), he meets The Wife (Lizzie Vilmanis) and heads to the conflict in Vietnam, where as The Mature Man (Richard Causer), he can only read in a letter of his child’s birth.
Immersed in the performance, The Australian Voices choir provide textured and expressive acapella accompaniment in delivery of Artistic Director Gordon Hamilton’s sublime original music, as we witness the boy become a man who lives a life. The soundtrack is physicalised by powerful, skilled dancers who clearly convey the narrative and also the emotional sensibilities of its experience, whether it be the slow burn sensuality of a new couple’s lives entwining, the more masculine competing physicality of in-conflict brothers or the tumble of male dancers in representation of their turbulent time at war. And the four male dancers are excellent in each credibly inhabiting what the others have and will create as the same character.
Guest artist Lizzie Vilmanis is particularly memorable, especially as the wife left-behind. Her accomplished range is evident in way she takes the audience along from the painful yearn of these fluid movements to playful interaction with The Daughter (Alana Sargent) in juxtaposition to the child’s resentment and rejection of her returning father. Another particular highlight is the impressive partner work, especially when, post-war, the couple expressively rejoice in the glory of over a decade of their love for each other, connecting together fluidly in vulnerable but united movement. Then he is alone, conflicted in witness of his daughter’s grief. It’s an incredibly powerful scene full of the contradiction of fragmented frenzy and at the same time, profound emotion, thanks to Weir’s choreography of the entire body. (Even a short mid-show evacuation opening night interruption could not impact upon its resonance).
So many transformative moments occur during the 75-minute work, just as they do in a life. And its celebrations, conflicts, reconciliations and tragedies of everyday experience certainly offer reflective fodder for audience members who may be wondering how its life summation might be applied to their experience.
The simplicity of its beauty emerges from its relatable everydayness which also comes courtesy of lyric lists of school supplies, groceries and alike. At one stage the Australian Voices members (Sophie Banister, Samuel Boyd, Isabella Gerometta, Rebecca Hocking, Jamie Moffatt and Daid Upcher) even sing while gargling and bushing their teeth, all-the-time never being of anything but outstanding voice as they accompany and also sometimes cleverly interact with the action on stage, like a Greek chorus. Holistically, it’s a large vision that works well to bring big-scale reward.
There is a deliberateness to every aspect of the experience’s examination of life’s relationships. David Walters’ lighting design adds to the aesthetic representation of each juncture in the journey from infancy to mature man. Similarly, small details in costumes and lyrics provide contextual clues, symbolise transitions and work with repeated movements to signpost ongoing motifs. All of this combines to make the narrative at-once easy-to-follow and engaging, especially as special guest dancers from WaW Dance join on-stage towards the work’s satisfying conclusion.
My choreographic illiteracy means that usually watching dance leads to a wandering mind, but this is far from the case this time, such is audience investment and anticipation of how we will get to the story’s end. Indeed, “Everyday Requiem” is a very clever, layered work that will resonate both in the moment and long after in cathartic release of the range of emotions evoked in its experience. Even if you only have a passing interest in dance, this is a show you must see, as testament not only to the talents of two Brisbane-based companies, but the power of an art form to speak to our collective human experience of the ups and downs of family and life and realisation of the things that are truly important.
Photos c/o – David Kelly