Woman Life Freedom. Crows Feet Dance Collective

24 March 2024. Hannah Playhouse, Wellington
reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

This dance work is choreographed by Jan Bolwell and performed by 35  members of Crows Feet Dance Collective, an ensemble of mature dancers, marking 25 years since the formation of the group in 1999.

‘Anyone can join Crows Feet—you just have to be a woman over 35. There are no auditions’ reads the program note. It’s a courageous undertaking to put trained former dancers together with others who have never performed professionally—never mind mid-30s, some are in their 70s and 80s. In today’s dance culture, which typically favours technical virtuosity and the prowess of youth, it is refreshing to see this dignified and measured yet impassioned meditation on the roles and rights of women in several parts of the world, focussing principally on Iranian and Kurdish societies.

Anna Groves in two moments from Woman Life Freedom, 2024. Photos: © Rob Edwards

The hour-long dance work is a vigil, a witnessing, a lament, a letter to the world. It plays against Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, and incorporates text from a number of sources, including the utterly wonderful poem by Maya Angelou—A Brave and Startling Truth. There’s not meant to be a star in a show of this nature but, since her words address all of humankind, Angelou (who was herself a dancer of some note) is that star—or do I mean that Annie Ruth delivers her text with an empathy and luminous vocal quality that binds the performance together. The poem Home, by Warsan Shire, is equally memorably spoken. 

Gorecki had Poland’s tragedies in mind—Angelou knew too well the violent savagery meted out to Black Americans—Shire is British-Somali—so the show’s telling of Iranian women’s struggles and resilience finds echo in many other times and places in the world. Processions resemble mediaeval basses danses, tableaux and groupings use lengths of cloth to double as hijab or the shrouded bodies of dead babies, a serpentine farandole of grief acts as a poroporoaki to farewell family and friends.  

It’s sad and sobering, but finds a way to end with resilience and hope—which are words you can equally apply to Jan Bolwell herself, both in her life and her work. It’s a yes from me.

Jennifer Shennan, 29 March 2024

Featured image: Anna Groves in a moment from Woman Life Freedom, 2024. Photo: © Bob Zuur

3 thoughts on “Woman Life Freedom. Crows Feet Dance Collective

  1. Can one make a Comment on one’s own review?
    It occurs to me that I could have mentioned Margaret Barr whose own work always carried significant and similar themes of human rights and voices.
    The excellent profile of her by Garry Lester in Australian Dictionary of Biography (online) is well worth reading.

  2. No reason why one can’t comment on one’s own review. You asked me earlier if I had met Margaret Barr. Well I didn’t ever meet her. I was too occupied with other dance matters when the opportunity may have been there.

    The comment I would make re Crows Feet, however, is that it is so interesting to hear about such companies in New Zealand. We have a number of mature artists’ companies in Australia, including the exceptional Canberra group The GOLDS (that is Growing Old Disgracefully) established several years ago by the equally exceptional Liz Lea. I have also had connections with the Tasmanian group MADE (Mature Artists Dance Experience). And there are others. Dance crosses so many boundaries.

  3. Woman Life Freedom did end, as it should, on a positive note of resilience and hope.
    But something worth remembering is that the Morality Police later arrested hundreds of women protesters & incarcerated them in prison, often for inordinate lengths of time, simply for demonstrating & for refusing to wear the hijab.

    Therefore, it is imperative that we in NZ & elsewhere, write, email, fund-raise & demonstrate to support them. For as the adage goes: first them, then us.

    Ann Hunt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *