Australian Dance Reviews

R&J – Expressions Dance Company

Parramatta Riverside, Sydney
May 16, 2013

By Lynne Lancaster.

Sydney has been very lucky this past week to have visits from both the wonderful Australian Dance Theatre in their amazing G and the marvellous Expressions Dance Company from Queensland with Natalie Weir’s R&J.

R&J features superb dancing that is laser sharp and sizzling with death defying rolls, jumps, runs and catches in the pas de deux. The small cast is magnificent!

The ballet takes the well-loved Shakespearean story of Romeo and Juliet as its base. The work is in three sections – Act 1 is Passion, Act 2 is Romance and Act 3 is Devotion, using various elements of the story with a twist.

In the first two sections we see the enforced separation of the two lovers. In Passion, our Juliet (the award-winning Elise May) is dark, passionate and intense. Some of the amazing, flowing pas de deux is Graeme Murphy-like in its dazzling rolls, jumps, catches and enfolding. Our excellent Romeo for both this and the third section, Devotion, was the handsome Jack Zeising.

In Romance our Romeo is dark and curly-haired Benjamin Chapman, and his Juliet is the exquisite blonde Michelle Barnett. This act is far more concentrated on the sad death of the lovers after some tremendous pas de deux and pas de trios. Tall, bearded Thomas Gundry Greenfield looms as the ominous figure of Death.

Particularly for the first two acts, Weir’s choreography has a circular feel, contrasted with some laser-sharp scissoring lines of legs and arms and wonderful enfolding and entwining for the sinuous pas de deux. In Romance there are waltz like movements and large blocks of dance for the ensemble as guests at a party. Romance also features long arcing lines, a joyous lyricism and floating lifts.  

The third section Devotion, set in the 1950s, opens with a tender and intimate ticklish pas de deux of tiny movements of a hand or finger; you can almost hear Juliet (Riannon McLean) giggling. There are lots of repeated phrases of everyday movement as Romeo leaves for work/arrives home repeatedly with almost a Groundhog Day feel. Eventually the phrases change and our Juliet is left sadly alone…waiting.

Bruce McKinven’s set is mostly various tilted boxes of assorted sizes. For the middle section of the work there is also a coffin-sized box mysteriously lit from the inside. The final section includes two chairs forming a split sofa.   

John Babbage’s score drives the show. Sometimes it is Phillip Glass-like, sometimes it is hot jazz with a cool saxophone solo, at other points it is delicate, joyous or anxious. The lighting by David Walters is stark yet atmospheric, eerie at appropriate points, and there is a marvellous coup de theatre at the end that gives a soft, poignant lyricism.

R&J is a hypnotic, enthralling performance showcasing a splendid, passionate cast and sensational dancing. Bravo!

Photo courtesy of MGM Publicity

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