Katie Rudd in 'Lost + Found'. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo Carol Brown Design Kasia Pol

‘Lost + Found [dances of exile]’. Tempo Dance Festival

6 October 2017. Q Theatre complex, Auckland. Choreography: Carol Brown

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

This layered work of a ‘reactivated archival material from former Bodenwieser dancers including Shona Dunlop MacTavish, Hilary Napier and Hilde Holger’ is presented as an itinerant event with audience members following dancers and narrator as they move through the out-back, off-stage spaces of the Q Theatre complex. Spoken introductions are interspersed with fragments of dance by couples and triples in stairwells, corridors and half-way spaces that suggest history is at best caught piecemeal and personally.

Film and sound excerpts are included en route but you receive all these as random mosaic rather than linear sequence. The audience finally assembles in the foyer for the projection onto a split screen of fragments from Bodenwieser dancers, paralleled with new sequences by the present performers, who are members of the New Zealand Dance Company. I personally would have appreciated more sequential use of that historical footage, with identification of who and what we were watching. Bodenwieser unleashed and encouraged such expressionist commitment from her dancers, a quality that today’s performers would do well to be reminded of.

I would have dearly loved to see a performance of a complete short work, say Bodenwieser’s Demon Machine, from 1924, interpolated into Lost + Found. (It’s not impossible. This after all was a highly acclaimed, prize-winning work in the same choreographic competition in Paris that saw Kurt Jooss win first prize for his Der Grüne Tisch/The Green Table. Dunlop is alive and spirited still today, and was in fact present at this season. Brown was herself in an early New Zealand staging of the work in 1970s, as were students at New Zealand School of Dance in 1980s, and reconstruction can be aided by the fact that the choreography also exists in Laban notation score). ‘The machine gains ascendancy over the souls of the people instead of man dominating the machine. The vital problem of our age’ … reads the original 1924 program note. More than 90 years later, there is resonance in our age of digital burn-out that represents so much contemporary communication.

The arresting image on the program cover, of Shona Dunlop in her own solo, Two souls alas, reside within my breast (as I recall, this was the first choreography not by Bodenwieser in that company repertoire), is collaged with the ecstatic backward lean of Dunlop as Cain in Cain and Abel, but both these images remain unidentified and uncaptioned.

Many of those attending will have found the mystery and unpredicability of this work an engaging and refreshing experience. I personally find some degree of distraction in the encounters with other audience members that are inevitable as we move from space to space, and from the curious tone of narration that accompanied the work. That said, I did catch some fragments of exquisite intertwined arm movements by two women in the stairwell, and wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Perhaps history is made up only of such fragments and memories?

Jennifer Shennan, 15 October 2017

Featured image: Katie Rudd in Lost + Found. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo: Carol Brown. Design: Kasia Pol

Katie Rudd in 'Lost + Found'. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo Carol Brown Design Kasia Pol

Sir Jon Trimmer and William Fitzgerald in 'Lark' from 'whY Cromozone'. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo: © Amanda Billing

‘whY Chromozone.’ Tempo Dance Festival

7 October 2017, Q Theatre, Auckland.

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

Tempo Dance Festival has always had a program slot, Y Chromozone, for an exclusively male line-up of choreographers and dancers to do their thing.

I remember it in previous years being overlong, over compered, and in need of more insightful programme notes—but as one who thinks gender has little to do with choreographic vision anyway, I was always going to be hard to convince of the concept. (I know, I know, I’m in a minority here, but I am a member of many minority groups and that is no bother to me, per se). OK, let’s to the dance…

The first listed item did not happen, but there was no announcement to warn us of that. That’s a serious issue for a reviewer working in the dark through a program of 13 separate items without interval. I don’t usually take notes during a performance but prefer to remember what is memorable, consulting the program before and after. For that to work, you don’t want the second item playing as the first.

That said, the opener was stunning—Not, choreographed and performed by Oliver Carruthers, to music Tourists by Nicolas Jaar. He was carried onstage in a twisted knot which then unfolded, limb by twist, to open finally into the straight line of his body. A secure mover this one, from Unitec.

Asmodeus, choreographed and performed by Jay Clement (to Arsonist’s Lullaby by Hosier), a gymnast harnessing extraordinary strength and balance. He spent most of the dance upside down, on the palm of one hand, legs airborne, slowly rotating on top of three poles, in a delicious slow-motion dance that held tight to its music, thus allowing poetry to emerge from its power.

Enough, choreographed by val smith, was performed by two great wild things swathed in 1000 shaggy sheepskins. They edged on walking sticks hesitantly and painfully from downstage left to upstage right. About mid-stage they rolled over each other, and one great monster pulled apart to become two—so I guess you could say they sprogged. They then continued the pilgrimage across the stage. These were creatures that Maurice Sendak might have designed. Music is identified as ‘anonymous vaporwave track pirated from a gay porn site’. Well, they said it. The whole strange hilarious thing was possibly a metaphor, depending on what you want from your metaphors.

Me, Myself But Why? choreographed by Stephen Hidalgo, performed by Stephen Hidalgo and Stephen Hidalgo. This screen-to-stage conversation between ‘himselves’ as screen figure and on-stage dancer was played with brilliant timing and a sharp dry wit that had us in stitches. Lucky this isn’t a competition as we’ve had four winners already and we’re not even a third of the way through the program.

This is a thing, choreographed and performed by Connor Masseurs, to Freefallin Dreams by Saje, was a contemplative solo at times reminiscent of a breakdancing insect, at other times a beguiling man. No program note to profile the dancer, just an obtuse paragraph that did no justice to the interesting textures of the very well-shaped dance we saw.

Dane Head, a 14 year old pupil of Allan Barry at Mt. Eden Ballet Academy, performed the peasant pas male variation from Giselle. His impressively clean technique and sound musicality, coupled with his obvious delight in dancing, made for a pleasant experience for him and us, both.

Outcast by Fenjay Sapon was a quartet of Unitec dancers often pitching one against three. Confident in their strength and their ability to build atmosphere, their use of rhythms and canon added interesting depth to this piece.

Liberate-He, by Earl de Castro was a thrust of waacking and voguing, tight jeans and high heels, all pitch perfect.

Joe Carvalho performed a mesmerising solo on an acrobatic circus apparatus, the cyr wheel. Harnessed through music, A Little Walk to Nowhere by Brain Damage, this performance brought Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, after waiting 530 years in a manuscript, to spend time with us. This was a miracle of true proportion and conversation with gravity. Carvalho’s heroic performance was delivered with a modesty that will not easily be forgotten

Lark, choreographed by Loughlan Prior, of Royal New Zealand Ballet, performed by Jon Trimmer and William Fitzgerald, proved a masterwork. There’s little surprise in that since Prior has already earned considerable choreographic kudos. 78 year-old Trimmer’s presence on stage, before he even moves a muscles, reeks with the authenticity of a performer who deeply knows how dance works. Fitzgerald moves with a calm clarity that makes virtuosity seem effortless, and his elevation is something to savour. Suffice to say this piece portraying an older dancer as he sifts memories of dances past, alongside a younger dancer’s questing after the kinds of things that will bring meaning to his future performances, had a poignancy to treasure.

Blue Bird, by Christopher Olwage, has recently been performed as part of Viennese Pride celebrations in Austria and we can be sure it received the same audience appreciation there as here. To Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Ray, the dancer en pointe and with costume of blue feathers that were shed in stages, suggested a cabaret twilight of happiness tinged with yearning.

The final slot, Idco Next Generation—Swagganauts, is a team of nine young Hip Hop dancers who have all the cut and thrust of seasoned street dance. Precision, speed, agility, cool, and a cap with the peak going down the back are all stitched in place so’s you couldn’t slip a knife between the moves. Josh Cesan should take credit for this spirited finale.

Jennifer Shennan, 15 October 2017

Featured image: Sir Jon Trimmer and William Fitzgerald in Lark from whY Cromozone. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo: © Amanda Billing

Sir Jon Trimmer and William Fitzgerald in 'Lark' from 'whY Cromozone'. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo: © Amanda Billing

 

Emily Hancock, Oliver Carruthers and Atalya Loveridge in Douglas Wright's 'Knee Dance'. Photo Amanda Billing

The DANZ season of Limbs @ 40. Tempo Dance Festival

5 & 6 October 2017, Q Theatre, Auckland, Tempo Dance Festival

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

Tempo Dance Festival is an energising fortnight every October at the Q Theatre complex and surrounds, when Aucklanders have a sea of performances and workshops to navigate. This year’s theme marked important anniversaries in dance—Limbs Dance Company at 40, New Zealand School of Dance at 50, Northern Dance Network at 20. I’m a starter for that, since everything that happens is caused by what went before.

Limbs was formed in 1977 and directed by Mary Jane O’Reilly from 1978 so good to have her back as Artistic Director of this retrospective program. The first work, her own  Poi, to music commissioned of Jack Body, is sustained and serious and beautiful and evocative and green. No actual poi are used but the curved and circular arm gestures at a range of rhythms and tempi bring them close. There are evocations too of the bird life in shaded fern and dappled bush (I remember a lovely lighting design in the original season). This work from 1983, reworked and extended in 1987, is available on dvd and makes an excellent educational resource. It was here well performed by seven dancers from Unitec Performing and Screen Arts program.

Next, from 1980, Melting Moments by Mark Baldwin, to Dvorak’s American string quartet is a rich and very red dance. Six dancers in three pairings—deep and slow, contained yet erotic, sensual and gorgeous—just as I remember it. It was here well performed by students from New Zealand School of Dance.

Talking Heads, by O’Reilly, to Seen and not seen from 1980, is a goofy hilarious quartet of wobbling robots who nod and jiggle their way around the stage. It needs a tight command of movement isolations, and sense of humour from all of us.

Then came Knee Dance, one of Douglas Wright’s classics, from 1982. To music by Laurie Anderson, this is a compelling work that dances out the magnetism and interdependence among three dancers—the invisible bonds of relationships made visible. In Wright’s choreography, each move grows out of the one that went before, so is both parent and child of itself. A miracle of a dance, here exceptionally well performed by Unitec dancers.

Emily Hancock, Oliver Carruthers and Atalya Loveridge in Douglas Wright's 'Knee Dance'. Photo Amanda Billing

Emily Hancock, Oliver Carruthers and Atalya Loveridge in Douglas Wright’s Knee Dance. Photo: © Amanda Billing

Perhaps Can is a sensuous solo for a skirted woman who does a kind of slow motion flamenco number to Miles Davis’ The Pan Piper. A reverie, made in 1979 by O’Reilly.

There’s a view which might see each of Douglas Wright’s works as talisman. Nonetheless, that would be a fair claim for Quartet, to Vivaldi, first performed in New York and in 1987 set on Limbs. I have colleagues in New York who still remember that early performance, and everything else Wright put on that program on the eve of his departing from the Paul Taylor company. It will always be New Zealand’s arts administrators and funders biggest, saddest mistake that they consistently failed to provide Douglas Wright with the resources to sustain a company and his repertoire produced over the decades. Instead we have provided many more dollars for much less talented choreographers. It is too late now, Wright has turned to literature and visual arts, so although no longer choreographic, his output continues to pour forth. (An interview on www.RadioNewZealand/Saturday with Kim Hill, September 2017, is a remarkable portrait of the artist as a middle-aged man—insightful, compassionate and well worth listening to).

Quartet, here performed by students from New Zealand School of Dance, perhaps needed more rehearsal time? Nonetheless we saw perfectly well what the work is, but it is additionally something to be truly grateful for—that Marianne Schultz, formerly a dancer with Limbs, and in the original cast of this work, has published a book on the history, repertoire and context of the company, in time for this 40th anniversary. It is her considerable achievement to include a close-up, gesture-by-move, limb-by-leap description of Wright’s choreography. That is a demanding and pedestrian task to set oneself and she does it faithfully and with great aplomb.

[Marianne Schultz, 2017. Limbs Dance Company—Dance for All People. 1977–1989]

Let the record stand. Audiences today can see what they missed. A Maori whakatauki or proverb has it that we walk backwards into the future. Despite the ephemerality of dance performance, we can see, to a degree and depending on our vision and our memory, what went before.  We cannot see what hasn’t yet happened. History is not bunk. It’s all there is. It’s now two minutes in the past that I wrote that sentence. Your reading of it lies, one hopes, in the future, except that by the time you’ve read that, it too is past. Well done, all of us.

Jennifer Shennan, 14 October 2017

Featured image: Emily Hancock, Oliver Carruthers and Atalya Loveridge in Douglas Wright’s Knee Dance. Photo: © Amanda Billing

Emily Hancock, Oliver Carruthers and Atalya Loveridge in Douglas Wright's 'Knee Dance'. Photo Amanda Billing

 

Dancers of QL2 in 'Not like the others', 2017. Photo Lorna Sim

‘Not like the others.’ QL2 Dance

13 October 2017, Theatre 3, Canberra

This year the annual Chaos Project from young Canberra dancers aged from 8 to 18 had the theme of difference. Alison Plevey, currently acting artistic director of QL2 Dance while Ruth Osborne is undertaking research overseas with a Churchill Fellowship, writes, ‘…it explores how we are the same, what makes us different, how do we feel about being different, do we feel pressure to do, think and look the same, and ultimately [Not like the others] celebrates the joy and power in difference.’ For young people, being able to be themselves and to feel comfortable in doing so, is critical and the dancers, whether they were 8 or 18, and whatever their level of emotional maturity, embraced the seven separate sections that made up Not like the others with gusto. Using dance as an educative tool is one of the great strengths of QL2 Dance

This year the three choreographers working on the show, Alison Plevey, Steve Gow and Jack Riley, made sure that in each section the theme was very clear. The younger group had a strong section, Square Peg, in which there was an exploration of how they saw themselves. ‘I was born in Canberra’ said one young dancer, and all those who identified in this way grouped themselves with her. Another dancer said ‘I can whistle through my teeth’ and the same thing happened, with appropriate accompaniment. And so on. It was a simple, but effective exploration of the theme, and was the work of Plevey.

I especially enjoyed the section by Steve Gow for an older group of dancers. Called ‘Virtual Identity’, it looked at social media as a way of conforming to expected notions about who we are: ‘Get the perfect picture’, ‘Write the perfect post’ and so on. Visually and choreographically Gow made an arresting statement about conformity and I admired the use of masks to get across the idea of conformity and the lighting (Kelly McGannon) of this section. Gow’s use of groups of dancers in constantly changing arrangements made this section simple but powerful.

Dancers of QL2 Dance in 'Virtual identity' from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Virtual identity’ from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Probably the most sophisticated section was Jack Riley’s ‘Allone’. It explored the idea of the power one person can have in society. Riley used probably the most senior of the dancers to examine this idea and made use of long wooden sticks as props to symbolise the roles one might have in society. I have admired Riley’s shorter works on previous occasions. In these situations, he has the ability to structure a work carefully and intelligently, and to use his widely varied movement experience to get his ideas across. ‘Allone’ was admirable and I suspect its relative brevity was to Riley’s benefit.

Dancers of QL2 Dance in 'Allone'. Photo Lorna Sim

Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Allone’ from Not like the others. Photo: © Lorna Sim

As ever, the closing sections of the QL2 show were expertly choreographed as a continuous part of the show. But the highlight of Not like the others was the strength of its message. Having a good idea for a show is one thing. But being able to put it across to an audience with the power that Plevey, her collaborators, and a bunch of young dancers did deserves much respect.

Michelle Potter, 14 October 2017

Featured image: Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Square peg’ from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dancers of QL2 in 'Not like the others', 2017. Photo Lorna Sim

Louise Potiki-Bryant in 'Ngaro' Photo Tessa Chrisp

‘Ngaro.’ Tempo Dance Festival

4 October 2017. Q Theatre, Auckland. Tempo Dance Festival. Choreography Louise Potiki-Bryant

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

Louise Potiki-Bryant gave the premiere and sole performance of Ngaro, the solo work that results from her time on the prestigious Marti Friedlander Residency in New York. (Friedlander, a child orphan refugee to New Zealand from war-torn Europe, became one of the country’s leading photographers, and her portraits of New Zealand artists are the finest we have. Additionally, her bequest of this stimulating residency will ensure that her legacy continues, and how pleased she would be that a choreographer took up the challenge).

The word ‘ngaro’ in Maori means ‘hidden, out of sight, disappeared, absent, missing, lost, destroyed, consumed, passed into, undetected, unnoticed, passed off, passed away, subsided, forgotten, unintelligible, beaten, baffled, at a loss, distressed, oppressed, overcome by emotion, unavenged, unrequited, secretly’. Such are the riches of Maori vocabulary; there are also secondary and tertiary meanings—’fly, blowfly, supposed to represent the life or spirit of a person—or a roller used to drag a canoe—or a piece of wood set up for certain purposes’. It has a further meaning—’to be certain’. So there are all the words one needs to write about this.

This is an important, striking, dark, at times troubling work. Secrets are hinted at, troubles encountered, fears faced and not entirely conquered. There is a yearning … is that for a child? Was there a child not born? The work is enigmatic and its references and symbols tap into the interior of experiences. New York as a busy city full of people seems full of loneliness instead. Video clips are projected onto strip screens that slide across the stage like days and a night across the stage. The creative team—Potiki-Bryant  & Paddy Free (video/sound) and Rona Ngahuia Osborne & Paddy Free (costume/set ) are a strong cohort bringing visual and audio depth and dimension to the production. I wish they too had come to share the curtain call.

There is extraordinary courage involved in mounting a work as personal as this one. I do think it a most inappropriate choice of Festival management to have billed it as the opening event of Tempo’s fortnight program however, and would have preferred it in an early evening slot with a quiet korero session to follow, rather than a reception with wine and cheese and chatter. Come the curtain call we had seen a tired, sad, exhausted slip of a woman talking a bow, a wan smile and then an exit. It just made you want to go after her, hug her, and assure her that everything will be alright. There’s a word for that in the dictionary too. It is ‘aroha’.

Jennifer Shennan, 14 October 2017

Featured image: Louise Potiki-Bryant in Ngaro. Photo: © Tessa Chrisp

Louise Potiki-Bryant in 'Ngaro' Photo Tessa Chrisp

 

‘Reef UP!’ Liz Lea and dancers

7 October 2017,  Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre

I’ll reverse the usual order of things here and put the verdict first. It comes from my young companion, Ollie, aged 8, who said as we left the Courtyard Studio, ‘It was just too good. I loved it and would like to see it again.’

Liz Lea’s Reef UP! is a show for children (although it’s fun for adults too) about the Great Barrier Reef and some of its inhabitants. It examines the effects that climate change, human intervention, and other problems of our era are having on this magnificent world heritage site. But while it is a didactic piece in so many ways and exhorts us to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’, it is just gorgeously presented with spectacular costumes, wigs and lighting; decorative props filling the performing space; and underwater footage playing continuously in the background. It is expertly performed by three dancers (Liz Lea, Liesel Zink and Michael Smith), who all are required to make a myriad of quick changes to become different reef creatures; and one imposing gentleman (Greg Barratt from Canberra’s GOLD company) as King Neptune.

Reef UP! is a little in the tradition of the now old-fashioned panto. The performers constantly invited audience involvement, and the children in the audience responded with gusto; and there was a lot of patter and some ad-libbing from the performers as well. But there were also enough contemporary references to make it relevant to young folk today. David Attenborough was referenced several times. His research provided some of the scientific data about various creatures, and about the Reef itself. There was a murmur through the audience whenever his name came up. Then there were references to Star Wars at times, including a fight using a light sabre against the Crown-of-thorns character.

Choreographically the show was uncomplicated but fast-moving and performed to a grab bag of songs and symphonies—from pop to Beethoven. While all the performers carried out their many roles with aplomb and true professionalism, I couldn’t help but admire Liesel Zink in particular. Pure joy in moving coursed through her body. Such a pleasure to watch.

Lea, once again, has surpassed expectations and given young people a new way of looking at a topic through dance. After Canberra, Reef UP!, Lea’s third educational show with a scientific bent, is touring schools in regional Queensland with an Engaging Science Grant from the Queensland Government.

Michelle Potter, 8 October 2017

Featured image: Cast of Reef UP!, Canberra 2017. (l-r) Liesel Zink, Liz Lea, Michael Smith, Greg Barratt. Photo: © David Turbayne

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr' Photo: © Heidrun Lohr

‘Gudirr, Gudirr.’ Dalisa Pigram

30 September 2017, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

Gudirr, Gudirr is a solo show, a dance format that we don’t see all that often. A solo show needs a strong performer for a start—someone who single-handedly can hold the audience’s attention for an hour or so. Dalisa Pigram did exactly that in Gudirr, Gudirr. But just as importantly, a solo show needs a powerful idea behind it, and a coherent structure in which the idea can develop. Gudirr, Gudirr had both the message and the structure.

Gudirr, Gudirr is a production by the Broome-based company Marrugeku, of which Pigram is co-artistic director along with Rachael Swain. The focus of the work is a small bird, called Guwayi in the Yawuru language of the Broome area, and using the bird as a pivot for her work was suggested to Pigram by a relative, traditional lawman and cultural adviser to Marrugeku, Senator Patrick Dodson. Senator Dodson is Pigram’s great uncle—her mother’s mother’s brother in the Yawuru kinship system. He explains:

The Guwayi bird flies very low across the intertidal area to warn people out on the reef that the tide is coming in. It warns people that it is time to move because the tide brings danger. It is a warning to take heed of, and not to ignore the signs. The Guwayi bird does not tell lies. I told this story to Dalisa because the story of the Guwayi bird can be used to reflect on the social challenges that Indigenous people face today. The warning sign from the Guwayi bird can go one of two ways. We are either going to drown because we are not reading the signs of our disempowerment, or we will hear the warnings and we will take steps.

Pigram believes strongly that the young people of the Broome community must read the signs and take those steps.

The work begins with words scrolling down a screen at the back of the performing space. The words were written by A. O Neville, so-called ‘Chief Protector of Aborigines’ in Western Australia from 1915 for several decades after that. The words are nothing short of confronting with their reference to ‘quadroons’ and ‘h/c’ people. But, while I was expecting the show to continue to be confronting, ultimately it was moving, powerful and totally absorbing.

In a series of disparate scenes, some accompanied by projections of the faces of people from Broome, or footage of young people engaged in a bit of a street fight, Pigram worked through her frustrations at the difficulties she believes Indigenous people face. These scenes, including the section in which pretty much every word Pigram spoke started with ‘f’, were sometimes hilarious. How quickly can the meaning and impact of a word be changed when used over and over? Great theatre!

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr'. Photo

Dalisa Pigram in Gudirr, Gudirr. Photo: © Terry Murphy and Helen Fletcher-Kennedy

Choreographically, Pigram drew upon the variety of dance styles that have been part of her cultural heritage. In the opening moments her movement derived from silat, a Malaysian form of martial arts that Pigram learnt from a relative. At other times, Pigram’s Indigenous heritage was clear in movements that were quite grounded and recalled women’s dances where the body is bent slightly forward and the feet move with slow, tightly held walking steps.

But for me the most interesting sections were those when Pigram made use of the suspended fishing net that was part of the set/props. She has spoken of it having multiple functions, from entangling her to giving her freedom. She used it early in the piece in a joyous manner when she swung backwards and forwards and recalled with pleasure the times she spent out on the water fishing with her father. But at other times she looked as though she was indeed tangled in it, trying to escape.

I loved this show. So many emotions were expressed and felt and, while the difficult moments, such as those when Pigram dwelt on youth suicide, were indeed confronting, I felt that the anger was mine not Pigram’s. She was bent of presenting herself as a woman of mixed heritage making an effort to understand and deal with the situation in which she found herself. That we could all have the courage to confront the issues that confound us!

Michelle Potter, 4 October 2017

Featured image: Dalisa Pigram in Gudirr, Gudirr. Photo: © Heidrun Lohr

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr' Photo: © Heidrun Lohr

Nick Jachno in 'Falling on succession' from the ONCE season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo:© Stephen A'Court.

‘Once.’ New Zealand School of Dance

Te Whaea, Wellington, 8–16 September 2017
Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

This year is the 50th anniversary since the founding of New Zealand School of Dance (formerly National School of Ballet). It is an inspired idea to mark that by inviting 10 graduates from across the decades to choreograph solos for current students in the contemporary dance stream. The program, Once, is being performed for a season 8–16 September.

To open, all ten performers stand to frame the space, they depart into the shadows, and only the first performer is left. Between items the last dancer links with the next one, in a metaphorical handing on of a baton across the generations.

The rectangular stage space has side seating in four sections, which suits some of the dances well, but does pose a real challenge for lighting design. Sixteen floor level lights are used in the majority of pieces, which means that some lights will be shining straight into the audience’s eyes. Whenever strobe light (none of that here) or other light is shone into my eyes, my instinct is to close them—which is of course not a great way to review a dance performance. The program’s three little masterworks adopted different sources of light and the difference that made for me was exponential.

The program notes for a dance always interest me. I’m happy if there are none, and happy if there are some that help in some way to illuminate the choreographer’s thinking. Not so happy if there are notes but they don’t help at all as that’s usually a sign that the structure of the dance is less well shaped than might be. It’s an opportunity to communicate parallel to the dance, and should not be wasted, ahakoa iti, he pounamu.

Craig Bary made a strongly physical work for Nick Jachno, who gave a committed performance and it was good to be reminded of Craig’s own stellar dancing across the years. Sacha Copland, known for her quirky sense of humour and brilliant handling of props, had Ella Williams dancing with a bowl on her head to fabulous music by Lajko Felix and Boban Markovic. Eliza Sanders’ piece has a sleepwalking and muttering dancer, Holly Brogan, in a study of troubled introversion. Raewyn Hill switched off the footlights and put strong corridors of light around the edge into which stepped Toa Paranihi to dance a strong and beautiful celebration of himself, the moving body, light on skin, him, Raewyn, and us all.

Toa Paranihi in 'Solo for Toa.' ONCE Solo season, New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo: © Stephen A'Court
Georgia Van Gills in 'Wellness.' ONCE solo season, New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo: © Stephen A'Court

(left) Toa Paranihi in Solo for Toa (choreography Raewyn Hill) and (right) Georgia Van Gils in Wellness (choreography Emma Murray) from the Once solo season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photos: ©Stephen A’Court

Emma Murray has been working in Europe for some years now and the influence shows. Her piece, for Georgia Van Gils, sits within dance-theatre that follows theme and thought rather than display ‘beautiful’ movement for its own sake. It’s not an attractive or easy theme, to witness a young woman in desperate need of help, thinking of asking for it, but not actually asking in case we are not going to help her. It was a poignant piece, and had the best program notes of the night.

Taiaroa Royal knew well the strengths of his performer, Kent Giebel-Date, and made the dance accordingly—with his hallmark wit of engaging with the audience then inviting us to follow to an intimate place where the male body moving could speak without words. Light on human skin, my favourite thing. Mary Jane O’Reilly made Valhalla, for Jill Goh, strong presence of woman, flying pennants, boots and strop, stripping to prove it, suggesting the burlesque style she has recently focussed on. (This year is also the 40th anniversary of Limbs Dance Company, an enterprise that, thanks primarily MJ and Sue Paterson, brought such joy and fun into so many lives).

Kent Giebel-Date in 'Overdone'. New Zealand School of Dance, ONCE solo season 2017. Photo: © Stephen A'Court
Isabella Coluccio in 'Born under the same star' from the ONCE season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

(left) Kent Giebel-Date in Overdone (choreographer Taiaroa Royal) and (right) Isabella Coluccio in Born under the same star (choreographer Janessa Dufty) from the Once solo season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photos: ©Stephen A’Court

Janessa Dufty made a work for Isabella Coluccio that was at the same time strong and lyrical, and Lauren Langlois in the final slot set a dance for Christina Guieb that presented a woman in meditative involvement in her thoughts. It might have been better to place Daniel Belton’s well-styled work, XYZ, last, since his preoccupation with astral scale and energies lifts our focus up to astronomical places, where we find a perspective and proportion for all our endeavours—in scale as well as detail.

So, though this is not a contest, my three strong front runners were Raewyn Hill, Emma Murray and Taiaroa Royal. Well done all.

Jennifer Shennan, 11 September 2017

Featured image: Nick Jachno in Falling on succession (choreographer Craig Bary) from the Once solo season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo:© Stephen A’Court.

Nick Jachno in 'Falling on succession' from the ONCE season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo:© Stephen A'Court.

Jack Riley and Alexander Hunter. Study for 'Fuse'

‘Fuse.’ Jack Riley & Alexander Hunter

7 September 2017, Ralph Wilson Theatre, Canberra. A Ralph Indie 2017 project

Jack Riley, a former Canberra Quantum Leaper, is a very competent dancer with exceptional fluidity in his every move. We saw a little of that ability in Fuse, the opening show in Canberra’s Ralph Indie 2017 program, especially in the early stages. Riley was wheeled into the performing space lying face down on a goods trolley. He was covered in bubble wrap and the trolley was being pushed by his co-performer, cellist Alexander Hunter, who was mysteriously wearing a heavy metal mask that made him look a little like Ned Kelly in black. Hunter moved away and, still masked, began making sounds on his cello. As he did, Riley revealed himself from under the bubble wrap and began dancing. This was the best moment of the show.

As things progressed, however, I became somewhat confused. Nothing seemed to link up to anything else. I’m not sure what Riley’s purpose was in moving the several metal cylinders, which were also revealed to be on the trolley, onto an expanse of fabric. Some cylinders were balanced on top of others, yet others went solo, and later Riley pulled the fabric forward without upsetting the cylinders. Nor am I sure what the purpose of the moveable staircase was, which was pushed forward from the depths of the upstage blackness. Nor the full-length mirror that was placed at the top of the staircase. And so on. What did it all mean? Dance doesn’t have to ‘mean’ anything in the end, but when so many disparate objects are part of the performance one can only wonder whether there is some kind of narrative going on. If there was it was not obvious, nor was it even slightly suggested, at least not to my mind.

In the end, and after reading through the handout, I discovered in notes from the two artists involved, Riley and Hunter, that the work ‘address[ed] the objects we found in the space when we arrived.’ Found objects? Dada dance? This was a far cry from Marcel Duchamp. Other parts of the notes were equally frustrating ‘Without any preconceived ideas of content or structure we both worked intuitively throughout the process …’ To me there was no coherent structure. Not every choreographer comes to the creative process with a structure firmly in his or her head. But most, the best ones anyway, end up giving the finished work some coherence. It doesn’t have to be a preconceived notion, but a structure brings sections together, even if or when some content is not entirely obvious, and even if the overall concept is a little ‘ambiguous’—another word from the handout.

Ralph Indie is a wonderful initiative by Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres. It gives support to (mostly) emerging artists to experiment with new ideas. Last year’s Ralph Indie dance program was Wiggle Room. It was exceptional. I wish I could feel more positive about Fuse. Let’s hope we get something more satisfying and better thought through for the dance component of Ralph Indie 2018.

Michelle Potter, 8 September 2017

Featured image: Jack Riley and Alexander Hunter. Study for ‘Fuse’. Photo: Andrew Sikorski

Jack Riley and Alexander Hunter. Study for 'Fuse'

2017 weave hustle and halt. Australian Dance Party

‘weave, hustle and halt.’ Australian Dance Party

2 September 2017, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery has done it again—commissioned a short, totally captivating dance piece in conjunction with one of its current exhibitions. This time the company involved was the Australian Dance Party, led by Alison Plevey. She gathered together a great mix of young (and not so young) dancers to present an outdoor work on the gently sloping walkway leading to the gallery entrance. The dancers were accompanied by two musicians guesting from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Tim Wickham and Alex Voorhoeve, who at times sheltered in an alcove on the side of the building but who, at others, strolled around the dancers and were incorporated into the choreography.

The inspiration behind weave, hustle and halt was Dempsey’s People: A folio of British street portraits 1824–1844, a show of miniature portraits in watercolour by British artist John Dempsey of those who plied their wares, or who engaged in other activities, in the streets of London and elsewhere in Britain in the nineteenth century. Plevey has not tried to replicate the portraits in any way but has set out, successfully indeed, to give the audience a feel for the way people might interact with others on the streets today, or at any time really. Yes, there was weaving of bodies, a bit of hustling and some halting as people stopped to observe others.

2017 'weave, hustle and halt' Australian Dance Party

'weave, hustle and halt', 2017. Australian Dance Party

The sound score was an exciting accompaniment with the major part being played on an electric violin and an electric cello. But along with this part of the score there were various street sounds—including the sound of cars in the street and the noise of car horns. In addition the score began with the sound of Big Ben chiming, a beautifully evocative sound and a link back to the original portraits.

Alex Voohoeve, 'weave, hustle and halt'. Australian Dance Party. Photo: Michelle Potter
Tim Wickhmam, 'weave, hustle and halt'. Australian Dance Party. Photo: Michelle Potter

Plevey goes from strength to strength with her innovative ideas and her commitment to using Canberra as a backdrop for her work. Her performers did her proud and we can only continue to thank the National Portrait Gallery for coming to the party and bringing us such an enticing presentation.

Michelle Potter, 3 September 2017

Featured image: A moment from weave, hustle and halt, Australian Dance Party, 2017

2017 weave hustle and halt. Australian Dance Party

All photos: Michelle Potter