2015 Auckland Fringe Festival
9 February - 1 March, Auckland
Reviewed by Paul Young
The four contemporary dance works in the 2015 Auckland Fringe Festival provide diverse representation of the local dance community as well as familiar themes and shared vocabularies. Inevitably it’s the riskier offerings which make the greatest impact.
In contemporary dance, game playing is often performed literally as a choreographic device while ‘game’ can also refer to the rules of any particular relational interplay. These ideas provide some common ground between the two group shows in this year’s festival.
Samantha Wood-Rawnsley, Amy Mauvan and Jess Quaid of Etched Dance Productions present a triple bill which explores familiar subjects of interpersonal relationships and some Merce Cunningham style chance composition technique. These Our Body uses elements of hide and seek and sibling like rivalry which later shifts to darker themes of intimacy and tension while One Dance 7 Times mixes and matches selections of music, costume and cast on a whiteboard to randomise the choreographic possibilities. The fairly standard contemporary movement vocabulary does not match the spirit of innovation one might expect of the Fringe, and along with the lite content I feel that the show could be more successful with some development .
Auckland University’s Bodyphonics collective present Jabber, a triple bill canvassing subjects as diverse as inclusion or exclusion from unspecified social groups, consumerism, and the mysteries of the afterlife. Bodyphonics choreographer Vivian Hosking-Aue’s The Wounds of JC delights by conscripting audience members to deliver the dancers’ own eulogies for themselves as ‘deceased’ dancers. Hilarity ensues. Hip hop vocabularies and qualities continue to inform contemporary practice, and the young dancers in this programme display an intense forward-facing focus and compartmentalised movement that seems influenced by the genre.
Triple bills can be problematic if the parts are so eclectic as to seem unrelated, or too similar to be differentiated. Both these programmes are notable for the similar vocabulary and choreographic structures amongst pieces. The audience really engages when the form has been developed with consideration of the content, and although all performers deliver with commendable skill and application, only Hosking-Aue’s work stands out for its developmental cohesion, innovation and heart.
Themes of matriarchy, bones, and identity link the other two works by choreographers at polar ends of their careers.
Choreographic outlier, prolific maker and dance addict Jennifer De Leon has been described as radical in the persual of her artistic agenda. Her adherence to neo-classical technique and tendency towards liturgical content has previously made one feel that if you have seen one work, you might have seen them all. In Stripped Bare, however, De Leon presents two reflexive solos diametrically opposed in style. Stripped Bare presents the inevitable decline of the ageing dancing body through De Leon’s familiar form-based vocabulary, now sometimes shaky andwith very little ballon but retaining surprising strength, flexibility and line, while Grace - accompanies marks a surprising shift towards state based performance. Nearly naked with bones extraordinarily exposed, it makes for uncomfortable yet remarkable viewing.
Mother/Jaw delivers strong political content without a hint of dogma, bending and blending theatre, dance and poetry to new and mercurial places.
While the cast of Jahra 'Rager' Wasasala, Grace Woollett, Alisha Anderson and Vivian Hosking-Aue generally excel, it is the women who deliver the most memorable performances of individual content while Hosking-Aue fulfills his slightly less developed role with quiet strength . Co-choreographers Jahra ‘Rager’ Wasasala and Grace Woollett stand out in their visceral conviction and tangible embodiment. Woollet’s ephemeral opening solo of is the folding and floating of a drowning marionette, with her articulate limbs in constant searching movement that echo gestural motifs of Pacific dance. ‘I am the Va!’ asserts Wasasala and it’s a statement I readily accept. The experience of being one, the other, neither or both may resonate for those whose culture and identity are mixed or at odds.
Inspired by Grace Taylor’s stunning poetry collection ‘Afakasi Speaks’, voice and text is intrinsic to the work. Kevin Rudd’s famous admission of guilt to indigenous Australians is looped into a robotic rhythm, and I agree, one apology isn’t nearly enough. An excerpt from the film Rabbit Proof Fence brings back unpleasant memories of Don Brash’s flawed logic linking indigenous identity to blood quantum. Anderson is on point delivering an endearingly honest, thought-provoking monologue on race from a pakeha perspective. Most impressive is the cast’s delivery of spoken word poetry and sound, as practiced and exemplified by Wasasala, which puncuates much of the work.
Musical collaborators Christoph El’ Truento and Addison Chase have made a rich contribution, their dark ecclectic score guides the pace, tone and transition of each scene with seamless support.
Human jaws, crafted from clay and loaded with symbology, are carried like revered ancestral relicts until an attempt to ‘wear’ them fails because they are broken and no longer fit. Are oral histories interrupted lost forever ? I think of Maui’s inheritance from Muriranga-whenua’s magic jawbone, which seems to me a brutal crime. I think of the stolen generation. Kevin Rudd says ‘I’m sorry’ one final time.