Review – Which of your sins is the deadliest?

Review – QT Entertainment  7 Deadly Sins
Review: Which Of Your Sins Is the Deadliest? by Rae Wilson
Expressions Dance Company 7 Deadly Sins August 2015
22 August 2015

“Jack Ziesing portraying gluttony and Elise May embodying lust proves a scintillating pairing – both dynamic and unapologetically honest in their sinful behaviour. Driven by a desire to consume more than one needs and a craving for the pleasures of the body, their ripped bodies heat up the Playhouse Theatre at QPAC. Writhing across the floor and contorting their bodies with stunning versatility, they give into their indulgent sins with little regard to anyone around them”.

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Dance & Theatre – It takes two to tango…

Elise May writes about the contemporary dance genre known as ‘Dance Theatre’, which she describes as a kind of liaison between dance movement and theatrical ideas. She also shares her insight about the challenges of playing the fiery, passionate character of Carmen in Expressions Dance Company’s Carmen Sweet.

‘Dance’ and ‘Theatre’. We can identify with these two terms separately, but what does it mean when we put the two words together? Historically, the first signs of the two words used together emerged with the German term “Tanztheater” translated as ‘Dance Theatre’ in the 1920s. As modern dance was breaking away from its ballet tradition and as drama too was departing from its naturalist history, it seemed unavoidable that these two forms might eventually crossover and begin to share some of the same territory. At the same time, dance seemed to be moving towards naturalism with the use of everyday movement and gesture, whilst drama was looking for ways to become more abstract and more physical. Inevitably a hybrid form emerged when both dance and drama adopted elements of the other, breaking down the barriers and allowing for a new form to emerge. (2)

The beginnings of dance theatre emerged in the work of a series of dance artists including Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss and later, Pina Bausch. Laban was the first to make a clear distinction between what he called ‘movement choir’ and dance theatre. Rather than a dance form in which anyone could participate, he insisted that ‘dance theatre’ was and art from presented by professionally trained dancers. His student Mary Wigman called her dance art “dance absolute” and choreographed many works revealing a central issue: man and his fate. Kurt Jooss, another of Laban’s students wrote an article called “The Language of the Dance Theatre.” In this article he wrote:

“A work of Art in order to have meaning needs a concrete subject… The choreographer conceives the theme of the dance work and he translates and structures it into harmoniously composed rhythmic movement, into dance.”

Pina Bausch, a choreographer well known for prolific dance theatre work in the twentieth century, was influenced by this lineage of artists as well as American Modern Dance and German Expressionist Dance (Ausdrunkstanz). She became the director of her company ‘Tanztheater Wuppertal’ in 1973. Her unique dance theatre was based on realism. (2)

“Pina Bausch’s dance theatre is largely autobiographical; its strength is in the intensity of the experience in its expression… Bausch intrudes uncompromisingly into the private sphere and observes the seemingly unimportant with clinical eyes. She brings out people’s motivations.” What emerged in Bausch’s work has been referred to as a ‘theatre of images’, This form of theatre is not so much concerned with telling stories, but rather with conveying feelings using visual, vocal and physically embodied images. (2)

We cannot discuss the development of dance theatre without in turn mentioning the work of Loyd Newson and his company ‘DV8 Physical Theatre Company’. ‘Physical Theatre’ is another term, which possibly only came to public attention around 1986 when DV8 was founded, but which has since been used by a younger breed of theatre and dance artists to capture a sense of the ‘exciting’, ‘risky’ and ‘cutting edge’ when promoting their work to possible new audiences. The term ‘physical theatre’ has recently been synonymously interchanged with ‘dance theatre’, which has blurred our understandings of the subtle differences. Loyd Newson was a practising psychologist before he became a dancer and his works essentially speak of human emotions and feelings.(1) He has spoken of his work as: ‘breaking down the barriers between dance, theatre and personal politics’ and of ‘taking risks, aesthetically and physically’. (3)

In Australia, the physical in theatre has been present since the 1980’s with a rich landscape of leading companies and choreographers employing elements of dance theatre in their work. Such artists as Meryl Tankard, Leigh Warren, Graeme Murphy, Gideon Obarzanek, Gary Stewart, Tanja Liedtke and Expressions Dance Company’s founding artistic director Maggie Sietsma, to name only a few, have shaped a uniquely Australian aesthetic and physical embodiment of theatrical ideas and concepts, each in their own unique ways.

Natalie Weir, current Artistic Director of Expressions Dance Company and creator of Carmen Sweet was initially careful not to ‘label’ her work as dance theatre, however Natalie is known internationally for her highly physical partner work, her organic movement style and her touching insight into human nature. As Artistic Director of EDC, Natalie continues to create work that balances artistic risk with accessibility and that speaks of humanity.

Natalie Weir's Carmen Sweet. Pictured EDC's Elise May. Image by Dylan Evans

Although Natalie’s body of work displays diversity from strongly theatrical to quite abstract, her upcoming production of Carmen Sweet, is very much informed by the traditional notion of dance theatre. What is very unique about this production is that Weir’s femme fatale is brought to life by three dancers playing Carmen’s different states of mind and alter egos. “I thought it would be interesting to see how the story unravels when you have three women take on different aspects of the Carmen persona. The Carmen story has all the elements for great dance; passion, love, revenge, jealously, betrayal, and even a touch of murder”.

In Natalie’s work, I play one of the three aspects of Carmen. I find the role challenging because as a performer, you need to identify the desires and motivations of the ‘character’ in order to convey the ideas to the audience. I believe in the ability for dance to tell stories, and it is in the performing of Natalie’s work, in particular where there is a strong narrative driving the movement and performance, that I feel most challenged and fulfilled. For me, the body is a tool to communicate and it’s primary expression of being is what dance and theatre are all about.



1 Martha Bresmer and Lorna Sanders Fifty Contemporary Choreographers Taylor and Francis, 2011, p. 298
2 Royd Climenhaga, Pina Bausch Sourcebook: The Making Of Tanztheater, Taylor and Francis, 2012, p. 1-­‐47,
3 Simon Murray and John Keefe Physical Theatres: A Critical Introduction Taylor and Francis, London, 2007, p. 14

Natalie Weir’s Carmen Sweet. Pictured EDC’s Elise May, Samantha Mitchell and Riannon McLean. Image by Dylan Evans

The Emerging Choreographer – How to Kick-start your Chorographic Career

Australia’s dance industry boasts a number of very talented choreographers whose international reputation rate highly amongst the best dance makers in the world. The choreographer’s passion to communicate ideas and stories, coupled with the desire to use movement as a medium of expression drives many to create meaningful and relevant work for contemporary audiences. So what does it take to be a choreographer? And how can developing your interest in choreography help you to diversify your dance practice and contribute to an emerging culture of brave new dance work?

So how does a young dancer know if they have a hidden choreographic talent? Some of the following questions may help to identify whether or not you have an interest or inclination towards choreography:

  • Firstly, do you have something to say? In other words, do you have ideas that you would like to express or communicate in ways other than the written word, or other forms of traditional communication?
  • Do you visualise or imagine movement or theatrical concepts? For some choreographers, the inspiration to create choreographic work often originates from a single imagined idea or concept.
  • Do you enjoy creating original movement or experimenting with new ways of putting movement together?

If you have answered yes to at least two of these questions, chances are you probably have some of the creative attributes of a choreographer. Developing your interest in choreography is something that you may like to consider as an addition to your creative skills-set as a dance artist.

Just having an interest in choreography however may not be enough to kick-start a choreographic career. Finding opportunities to experiment with your ideas is really important. Like any art form, we are not immediately expected to be masters of our craft. Developing your choreographic skills may take many years of play and experimentation. So if you are interested in choreography, the best place to start is in the classroom or rehearsal studio with your friends and peers in a supportive environment. If you know of other dancers who are interested in experimentation you may find a way of working together as a group where each person has an opportunity to experiment with some choreographic ideas on the rest of the group of dancers.

In these early stages of experimentation as an emerging choreographer, it is best to start with small-scale tests or exercises just honing in on single elements or concepts. For example, going back to basics and creating just a simple movement phrase that includes movements with a range of levels, directions and shapes is a great place to start. Creating a phrase (like a movement ‘sentence’) that encapsulates a simple but clear intention is a really important skill in choreography, so spending time on this aspect is really beneficial.  Once you have become comfortable creating simple phrases, experiment with expanding these by introducing new movement concepts such as repetition, timing, spatial orientation and dynamics.

Also, experimenting with ways to work with your dancers in the choreographic process is important. Setting small tasks where the dancers generate their own movement to contribute to the phrase is a great way to approach the choreographic process in a collaborative way, this can also generate some very interesting results that enhance and enrich the movement language that you create together in the studio. There are many ways to establish a working practice with your dancers that can set up very specific dancer-choreographer relationships and rehearsal processes. It is worth experimenting with different approaches and being open to new possibilities.

Once you are at a stage where you are ready to share these small experiments with an informal audience you may need to find opportunities to test out your first creative works in front of small audiences. This is an important step in gaining the necessary experience and feedback that will be very useful in further developing your work as a choreographer.  Getting feedback on your work might be as simple as inviting your peers into the rehearsal studio or asking other choreographers or people from outside the dance field who’s opinion you respect to watch your work. Try to think about whom you will invite. Share your work with people who you think might give you some honest constructive criticism that could help you look at your work from an outside perspective and give you insight as to how others relate to your ideas. In a low-pressure environment such as a rehearsal or informal performance, your audience will perhaps feel more comfortable talking about what they have experienced. It may be a good idea to have some questions ready to ask your audience. For example – Did they understand a particular aspect or idea that you were trying to convey in the work? Or what was their immediate response to the piece? Questions like this might help them to be specific and articulate their response to your work. There are opportunities available to take part in this kind of program in most Australian states. There are also funded programs such as residencies or assisted creative development platforms that offer choreographic opportunities to emerging choreographers. Becoming a member of The Australian Dance Council (Ausdance) in your state will enable you to find out about and access such opportunities.

Having invested time, energy and commitment into your choreographic development, you may then take the plunge into applying for professional choreographic commissions or writing your own grant applications to further your professional development or create an independent dance work. Thinking ‘outside the box’ and considering alternative performance venues or site-specific spaces to present your work may expand your practice outside the traditional theatre setting. Collaborating with other artists and practitioners from other disciplines will also increase your networks and provide new audiences for your work. Finding a mentor (a choreographer whom you look up to or whose work you admire), can be an extremely useful and rewarding experience for emerging choreographers. The mentor figure will be able to offer all sorts of practical advice for you as you begin to generate your own work.

In an increasingly competitive industry, it is important to have a diverse set of skills in order to ensure that you can find, make and create opportunities to work in your field. Dance, like many of the performing arts is experiencing a shift of creative ideals, where traditional notions of theatre are being put to the test through intense experimentation and questioning. In this climate a new wave of young Australian choreographers are emerging to claim this new space for highly innovative and interesting new work. Whether you are already a choreographer-in-the-making or yet to experiment in the world of choreography, there is a calling for your unique choreographic voice in the future of Australian dance.