Powerful New Music and Dance Works Unite Top Australian and Chinese Ensemble

November 15, 2019

Review of Matrix

If you’ve never seen professional contemporary dance, or indeed, never wanted to, then Matrix may just be the one show to change your mind.

Matrix is a new show created by the collaboration of Australia’s Expressions Dance Company and Beijing Dance / LDTX, the first non-government funded Chinese dance company. The two groups spent five weeks collaborating and creating the show: a double-bill of two new dance works by incredible Australian and Chinese choreographers, both women.

Auto Cannibal, by award-winning Stephanie Lake, opens the show and is a non-stop adventure in flow and staccato. There’s no sets, and the ‘costumes’ are simple white singlets and navy shorts for all, and bare feet. Throughout, the twenty dancers looked like a much bigger group, and was most impressive when performing as a single organism; moving like barnacles in water.

The program description is opaque, but like an abstract painting in a gallery that only tells you the mediums used, the power and emotion experienced watching this work is not in ‘understanding’ what you’re seeing, or even interpreting it, but just letting it wash over you. Without even a hint of narrative, this piece is instead driven by a thumping and dramatic score, composed by audio-visual artist, Robin Fox, (who clearly had many friends cheering him on in the audience).

It’s something that in an 25-minute abstract dance piece I did not look away once or lose focus. Indeed many in the audience gave this work a standing ovation (as did I!).

If pressed, I’d describe the first third represented the beach; with the dancers, together and separately, taking on the shapes of water, waves, sand, birds, insects and atmosphere. The middle third showcased a more mechanised performance with dancers riffing off each other’s shapes and contortions, and the final part, a stylised depiction of a dance party.

If I had any criticism it would be that the loose costumes detracted from appreciating the dancers’ precise forms and movement, light and shadow, especially when each move is so exact and beautiful.

The second and longer work, Encircling Voyage, by Chinese choreographer MA Bo, also featured all the dancers barefoot in identical monochrome costumes. This time they wore flesh bodysuits under long, frayed, shapeless button-down black and white shirts. Sets were provided by several long mirror-topped benches that morphed from beds to trucks to trees and jail cell bars.

This piece is what I would typically consider to be contemporary dance. The mood was largely miserable and the dancers seemed to be engaged in a series of life’s struggles from boring work, to giving birth to getting older.

The music, by lauded American composer and cellist, David Darling, was typical in its postmodernism by being mildly unpleasant to listen to. Sounds dragged on and lacked joy and harmony.

So did the dancers. Despite their technical brilliance, much was lost as several beautiful tableaus appeared at once, frustrating the audience who either watched it like a tennis match – head turning side-to-side – or forced to choose one group, while frustratingly catching only glimpses of the others. The ensemble performed with the same passion and vigour as in Auto Cannibal, but with none of the wit. The ending, including babies crying, and a focus on one dancer, possibly through her death and cremation, was the most visually compelling moment that ended an amazing and surprising night of world-class dance.

Matrix debuted in China before it’s short run of only 4 nights in Brisbane, QPAC, and will then go on to FNQ and Hong Kong. If you want to be challenged, surprised and really entertained by incredible art, Matrix is a must-see and it’s on at QPAC until November 16th.

Expressions Dance Company launches its 2020 season at a free event at QPAC on 26th November.