Bespoke (Queensland Ballet)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre
November 9 – 17
As the saying goes, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” For me, this is especially the case when it comes to the art of dance; I don’t have familiarity with the vocabulary of ballet moves, however, I can appreciate the overall aesthetic of the art form. And aesthetic is what Queensland Ballet’s “Bespoke” is all about.
In illustration of the company’s varied repertoire, the creative intersection of art forms sets out to challenge assumptions about what dance is, what dancers can do, and how dance is experienced. And in its three-work 2018 attempt to achieve this, it more than succeeds, creating an experience of contrasts for audience consideration.
Three distinct works by three different choreographers each explore unique themes. But the on-stage works represent just some of the night’s sensory dance experiences. Before even entering the theatre, there is Cass Mortimer Eipeer’s dance film about duality, ‘Brute’ and a photographic exhibition of dancers emerging from darkness, in the Brisbane Powerhouse foyer spaces. The positioning of the contemporary dance program against electronic media is an integral part of the intent of the experience and represents much of its success. This is particularly evident in the evening’s first and most substantial work ‘Parts per Million’ (concept and choreography by Craig Davidson), which looks at human behaviour patterns and the idea of change.
The vision is of poetry in motion as dancers glide across the stage in formation within lines of light, like the disinterested, indifferent subjects of John Brack’s iconic ‘Collins St, 5pm’ muted oil painting of urban Melbourne’s repetitive nine-to-five office life drudgery. Though there are some visually impressive moments as dancers cannon in movement, the most impressive moves are when they break free from the uniformity in partner and solo work, sometimes in struggle, before ultimately conforming again to what appears to be their pre-determined course.
Movement is lyrical, yet deliberate with dancers all showing disciplined, statuesque control in execution of traditional pointe-technique type moves amidst the essentially contemporary dance sensibility that is signposted by a soundscape (composer Nicholas Robert Thayer) of evocative strings rising through dramatic percussion to a jazzy resolution.
There are some powerful moments too as lighting (Cameron Goerg Designer) is used to create stunning silhouettes against the industrial backdrop of the heritage-listed location. Light and shade are used metaphorically and literally throughout the work, such as when the ensemble dance in the dark, in a scene of added interest, that could have been enhanced beyond just a front-row treat by having at least low lighting on dancers’ feet.
And when light shines its awareness to force change from conformity, structure and content are subverted, especially when a portable screen is glided across the stage as part of the action.
The second work, Jack Lister’s ‘B-Sides’, is a contrast of colour and Creole opening sounds as dancers shimmy and shake their way through a selection of popular artists from the 1960s, complete with retro vinyl end-of-record sounds. Taking advantage of the large Powerhouse Theatre space, three art installation type block colour rooms of yellow, blue and red serve as settings for some of number’s stories.
The narrative through-lines are easy to follow; a woman in red anguishes about in angular angst in reaction to spying a man in similar coloured dress, sultrying with a woman in blue to Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Smoke in Bed’. Again, expectations are subverted though, with share of an alternative point of view as attention switches to the assumedly cheating woman’s partner in blue, alone.
Behind the imagined closed doors of the coloured rooms, a lot is happening as a male dancer dons the cheating woman’s dress in lyrical plea to ‘just let me be yourself’, to the exhilaration of ‘You Don’t Own Me’. As partners are mixed, physical strengths are showcased as dancers ascend and hang from compartment walls. Despite the provocation of duets within the confines, the overriding feeling is one of vibrancy and fun with New Orleans colour and movement touched by tango and step dancing dynamism.
The final work, ‘Carbon Field’ also makes excellent use of the vast stage space. The collaboration between Queensland Ballet and Expressions Dance Company showcases both steely strength and subtle fragility in its exploration of duality. Hued together, the masse of dances ebb and flow like the ocean, spilling in ripples and crashing in pattern on the stage before netting themselves outstretched across its expanse in joined limbs.
There is an immediate organic feel to Gabrielle Nankivell’s choreography as the dancers dome together tightly like a diamond before relaxing vulnerably into the carbon of all living things. The continuous movement means everything is interesting, even the effect of the work’s muted common costumes of grey, black and white, with individual details.
With such rich aesthetic interest, “Bespoke” is not only an engaging experience but a provocative one. And while its two interval format may be to enable to substantial set changes required for each number, it also provides wonderful opportunities to discuss personal reactions to and interpretations of the works’ intended messages.
Everything about the evening is high calibre and the fact that it comes at such as accessible ticket price can only be an added bonus. Indeed, “Bespoke” represents all that needs to be celebrated about contemporary ballet and Queensland Ballet should be commended for not only producing high quality, beautiful dance such as that on show in this program, but also for their contribution to the landscape of the art form through the ongoing creation of new and impressive works.
Photos c/o – David Kelly