If you care at all about dance theatre, see this.
Where the Heart Is was created by Natalie Weir for Brisbane’s Expressions Dance Company in 2010. The work subsequently toured to national acclaim, garnering several prestigious awards. I caught the second night of its current revival, playing to a healthy-sized crowd almost boisterous in its approval.
In some ways this popular success is surprising. Although the material is primal and direct – a man confronting childhood memories by revisiting the abandoned family home – the aesthetic style is somewhat rarefied and uncompromising. There is deliberate blurring of narrative and internal action, little by way of obvious synching of gesture and music. John Rodger’s score is a mosaic of expressive modes. Sharp-toothed dissonances, jangling waltzes, folksongs, all find a place.
A factor that helps us to engage with this sound world is the presence of the musicians onstage, often in amongst the action. We are constantly aware of the human source of the soundtrack. Most nakedly human of all is singer Pearly Black, her protean vocals running a gamut from husky colleen to keening banshee. Christa Powell ’s violin, too, speaks with poignant directness, light on vibrato as though to suggest an amateur home player. The atmospheric piano of Marc Hannaford anchors the whole.
What unfolds within Bruce McKinven ’s faded Queenslander set is more fragmentary meditation than coherent story. The lone Young Man is soon ripping up the floor from which figures from the past emerge to re-enact family history. Certain elements suggest a child playing with a doll’s house. Rooms split apart revealing tableaux within, and the Young Man often manipulates other characters like marionettes. But a brooding fatalism prevails: after idyllic memories of infancy relationships start to knot then unravel.
The dancers are all excellent, their technical proficiency serving portrayals of considerable depth. You get the sense of a cast whose close camaraderie has seeped almost imperceptibly into the family ties of the characters.
David Williams and Jack Ziesing alternate nightly in the roles of The Young Man and The Brother. Being intimate with each other’s every move must help foster the unforced sense of fraternity they convey. As their Father, a man ultimately unable to express anything except hostile frustration, Daryl Brandwood arouses both indignation and pity.
Riannon McLean is The Mother, a warm, wounded figure. Her defining moment comes in a wrenching solo after domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Also moving is The Grandmother of Elise May, especially in a striking set piece revealing the plight of a vital human will trapped in a body no longer able to serve it. Samantha Mitchell, as the protagonist’s First Love, brings a sunlike relief to the family conflict.
If you’re looking for easy entertainment, Where the Heart Is is not for you. Sometimes it’s too dense –as when words of David Malouf are sung over an intricate pas de deux – but if you care at all about dance theatre, or even about the arts at this time of statewide fund-slashing, see it.
(Photo: Chris Herzfeld – Camlight Productions)