REVIEW | Still Frame

Still Frame Lion Heart Dance Co
STILL FRAME by Lion Heart Dance Company. All images by Nancy Morrison Photography.

New Double Bill by Lion Heart Dance Company

Chapel Off Chapel, Melbourne, March 16

reviewed by Caterina Kuljis

Last week saw the debut of new works under the title STILL FRAME by up-an-coming Melbourne-based company Lion Heart Dance Company, under the artistic directorship of Benjamin Curé.

The first piece Without Words is directed, produced and choreographed by Benjamin Curé seeks to use the wonder of dance to express the many things in life that transcend our ability to encapsulate with words. The second work, Your Story, is the first major choreographic work by company artist Debbie Keenan which explores the ways we quickly pass judgments on people we meet without truly knowing what has gone on in their world. Both shows were set to a live orchestra.Still Frame Lion Heart Dance Company

1st Bill: Without Words
This piece was magnificent!  Sentiment cannot put into words – in a complex world – how beauty can shine through. The beauty in movement, beauty of raw emotions, beauty within, beauty in connections, beauty of nature… the beauty all around us!

Without Words takes you on a magnificent journey of the beauty of life, rolling through a the range of emotions we can all relate to. You are swept onto this canvas and with every stroke of the brush and colour this expressive piece comes to form. Curé is highly passionate and talented and this is clearly showcased in his work. He brings his vision to life, and has the magic touch to inspire his performers to not only embrace his choreography and vision but by also bringing depth and true emotion to the stage that the audience can engage with.

The choreography was masterful, layered and complex.  As is life. As each violin cord was strung or piano keys were stroked the dancers drew you into each emotion portrayed through fluidity and layered combinations comprising of many fast rhythmic patterns, different accents in the counts as music rolled through varying tempos. It flowed with lyrical and jazz inspired moves to sharp, flexed contemporary and balletic influences. It all harmonised so well together, just by changing the breathe of the performers to grip on the shoulder or their placements on the floor to include or isolate was sublime, and added to this journey of emotion. The costumes were black with abstract lines and asymmetrical hemlines complimented the fluid abstract movements.

The opening act commenced with silhouettes of beautiful and soft, long lines, superimposed on a white canvas backdrop with double metallic painted frames in the centre of the backdrop. The music and the dance movements were harmonious, just like trees swaying in the breeze gently, grounded, strong and calming.

Still Frame cast
Lion Heart’s cast of ‘Still Frame’: @megelaine26 @debbiekeenan_ @ncvdnc @raachwhelan @andrewjliu1992

With the combination of a light change to an intense amber colour, the instrumental music changing and the heightened breathe of the performers instantly transformed the emotion to a raw struggle, as the female artists continued their sharp patterns. Andrew J. Liu’s torment and suffering is heightened with strikes of the piano matching the movements seamlessly.

Moving to red as the mood becomes sombre, trying to break through the barriers. Beating bodies, sharp flexed lines, clusters, isolations emphasised with the girls’ backs turned away depicting how people can lose their way and come back to one another for balance and support.

The lighting was incredibly powerful as the silhouettes shined through each of the intense colours. Each unique storyline evolved through these colour transitions as they rolled from red to magenta to purple to blue to green and the finale revisiting all the emotions showcased. Life comes full circle in Without Words.

Curé’s use of the floor was creative and smart. As the formations unfolded through abstract, circular, linear, and clustered formations they appeared to have synergy and purpose, and the transitions were smooth and effortless.

The dancers were passionate, talented and through the layered choreography their timing was incredible. Andrew J Liu‘s portrayal of this journey of emotions was strong, engaging and powerful yet vulnerable and calm. He is a power house of a performer. Rach Whelan‘s pas de deux with Andrew J Liu was light, soft and effortless as their bodies rolled and merged. Nadia Vickery had long lines and legs that went for days! Her elegance and grace was captivating to watch. Meg Clohessy showed her strength as a lyrical dancer. Debbie Keenan was strong, diverse performer who was striking on the floor.

Without Words brought tears to my eyes and goosebumps to my body, I was completely mesmerised with the rolling emotions of life paired with the beautiful selection of music, the layers of complexity of life through complex yet smooth, fluid movements and characterisation. I could watch this piece again.Still Frame Lion Heart Dance Company

2nd Bill: Your Story
Debbie Keenan has been with Lion Heart Dance Company since it’s beginning and has developed this, her first show, under the mentorship of Benjamin Curé. As both the creator and a performer in Your Story, Keenan says she found the experience enjoyable although challenging to do both. As a performer, it is a test of strength to share one’s passion and vision in bringing a show to life, and overall this was a good first show for Keenan.

Your Story is based on a series of experiences from Keenan’s own life that she felt audiences could also relate to and reflect on.

The set was transformed into a dark-curtained backdrop with white-framed mirrors on stands in a line across the back. The mirrors were removed and replaced as needed per piece. With such a dark, heavy backdrop some of the depth of the lighting was lost and the space felt quite closed-in, however it did not detract from the dance pieces.

Keenan’s choreography was strongly lyrical, drawing from the narrative of each song to develop the range of dance moves to the evolving story-line. Adding props to the mix can often be an unnecessary distraction, but in this instance it was highly creative and effective to use the mirrors as the ongoing prop. The audience experienced the reflections of the performers through the varying angles of the mirrors which was effective and gave the show another dimension. The dancers’ timing through the use of the prop and the diverse choreographic pieces was great.

Still Frame Lion Heart DanceThe music choice was mainstream with key lyrics from the songs, such as ‘you are my only reflection’, ‘need thicker skin, it’s just my insecurities, hide behind the mirror’, setting the tone of each piece.  Themes explored included the journey of life, reflections of how others see you and how you see yourself, how at times we can be self absorbed, and letting people in. Love can be complex, where sometimes we can push our loved ones away and sometimes we can let them in. My favourite pieces were the love story set to Alicia Keys’ “Fallin” and the constant flipping, and swapping of the mirrors in the light-hearted piece set to Drax Project’s “Toto”.  Your Story had a funky overtone which showcased the entire cast, while for me Meg Clohessy‘s solo was a stand out and she was truly in her element.

Most of the cast from Without Words also performed in Your Story: Andrew J Liu, Nadia Vickery, Meg Clohessy and Debbie Keenan all dressed in white showcased their passion and skill in lyrical, all shining at different stages for different reasons. They all are strong, talented and versatile dancers who did Keenan’s choreography justice.

My only request from STILL FRAME is that I would have preferred to have the order of the double bill reversed with Without Words, as the stronger work, closing the show. Lion Heart Dance Company is a up and coming company to keep your eye on and  I can’t wait to see what they produce next.


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