Flexn first

Flexn

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.

Flexn

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.

Brisfest brightenment and enlightenment

It was difficult not to think pink in the vicinity of the CBD’s George Street when a massive marquee took over Queen’s Park as host to celebration of 2015’s Brisbane Festival launch. With Principal Partner, Treasury Casino and Hotel also lit up for the occasion, the excitement was mind-blowing (to take the festival’s tagline.)

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Although the festival is Australia’s youngest international arts festival, its growth in audience attendance and program size since it was made an annual event in 2009, affirms its role in connecting artists and audiences through attracting world class entertainment. And in his inaugural year as festival director, David Berthold is certainly bringing the world to Brisbane from September 5 – 26, first and foremost through the drawing together of four shows umbrella-ed as ‘Congo Connections, showcasing the power, politics and personality of the unique African nation. These include “Coup Fatal”, which will see Congolese Countertenor Serge Kakudji joining 12 musicians to refashion some of the greats of baroque music with pop, rock and jazz, and also “Macbeth”, a thrilling showcase of Verdi’s operatic version set in the Congo.

MACBETH

The provocative programming continues with “Flexn”, a piece created by Brooklyn hip-hop pioneers of the relatively new dance from flex, which opened only months ago in New York City. Infused as it is with the unrest following the extreme circumstances in the US in aftermath of police shootings of unarmed black suspects, the piece is sure to stir as well as reflect deep resonance with our own national narrative. And to have it playing almost alongside “Beautiful One Day” is quite the coup, for this acclaimed theatrical documentary promises to be a gripping look at the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee in police custody on Palm Island and the subsequent aftermath uprisings, even more so by its inclusion of Palm Island residents (including Doomadgee’s niece).

HONEY

Then there is also “Hot Brown Honey”, a cabaret of less drama but just as much political passion, returning in an explosion of colour, culture and controversy to the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts to serve up some comedy, circus, striptease, song, dance and poetry while smashing a few stereotypes along the way.

There is similar promise of stereotype shattering in W!ld Rice’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, as part of the festival’s Singapore Series to mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence. The gender-bending play, which features an all-male cast (no drag) has been a huge hit in Singapore, despite homosexuality being illegal there, and promises the joy of Wilde’s wit, with a twist.

Brisbane Festival is Brisbane’s biggest party, vibrant, lively and unique. And September 2015 promises to build upon this with events for cabaret connoisseurs, circus lovers and a music enthusiasts featuring alongside its thought-provoking and politically charged works, to ‘brighten and enlightened the world with mix of the merry and the meaty’, Berthold described it, for amongst the big subjects and serious conversations, there is also promise of some sure fun.

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The creators of “La Soiree” are returning to the Spiegeltent with “Club Swizzle”, which promises to be just as debaucherously sassy as its circus cabaret forerunner. “Thum Prints” sees beatboxing virtuous Tom Thum matching forces with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and “Symphony For Me” sees the QSO putting on a free concert based on the submitted favourite classical pieces of some of its audience members. The music program also includes an environmentally focused muliti-media collaboration between former Powderfinger frontman Bernard Fanning, four-time Aria Award winner Katie Noonan and renowned Western Australian author Tim Winton, along with around-the-world solo sailor Jessica Watson, as part of the 50th anniversary of the Australian Marine Conservation Society and also “A State of Grace” tribute to the music of Tim and Jeff Buckley, featuring a swag of acclaimed musical performers.

Brisbane audiences are sure to be tickled pink with the program, which features hundreds of artists from five continents, including a number of free events (because arts should be accessible to everyone). Although there are many ways to enjoy a festival, exhilaration comes from the connection and accumulation of its program’s parts, and in 2015, this promises to be truer than ever. With so much theatre, music, dance, circus, film and lots more, there are countless opportunities to brighten and enlighten. Tickets are on sale from June 30, so grab a program and start planning how you are going to paint the town pink this September.

PROGRAMS