Mitimiti, FRESH, Ahua, The Fallen Mystery, Prime & Malaga - Tempo Dance Festival 2015
30 September-18 October 2015 - Auckland
Reviewed by Raewyn Whyte
A buzz of anticipation was ever present in the foyer and performance spaces of Q Theatre throughout Tempo 2015, with almost constant full houses providing a flying start for incoming artistic director Carrie Rae Cunningham. Tempo's well-established combination of curated short work showcases plus hour-long main bills and a sprinkling of independently presented works once more came up trumps. Atamira, Muscle Mouth and Footnote knocked everybody's socks off on the big stage, along with hip-hop from Out of the Box and an extraordinary cast-of-thousand children in Nutcracker from the Deirdre Tarrant Dance Theatre with Marian McDermott School of Dance. While in Q Loft the independents ruled the roost along with the particularly effervescent sci-fi-comedy-dance group Dynomotion.
Atamira Dance Company's five-years-in-development Mitimiti opened Tempo 2015 with a three-night season in Rangatira, eclipsing all expectations in a radically staged indigenous performance activation conceived and directed by Jack Gray. Rangatira auditorium was stripped back to remove everything but the floor, and the audience sat and stood around the edges or looked down from the tiers above. Choreographed movement (Jack Gray with the dancers), scenography (John Verryt), projected film (Lisa Reihana), sound design (Francois Richomme), lighting design (Vanda Karolczak) and costume/object design (Ruth Woodbury and Rosanna Raymond) all played key roles in what transpired as an evocation of the ancestral Mitimiti. Sea and stone, tree and bush, sea life, people and ancestors were brought forward from time immemorial to be greeted by indigenous representatives from around the world and celebrated by all who gathered in Q Theatre. An altogether remarkable production, this created an extraordinary convergence of art and indigeneity and a warm sense of community that transcended all boundaries.
The FRESH showcase shone a light on emerging choreographers, revealing some of the currently prevailing approaches and conventions of contemporary dance in Auckland.
In four of these works, a close relationship between music and movement was the norm, providing the mood, strongly influencing the phrasing and sequencing of movement across the floor, the patterning of events, dynamic range and placement of contrasts.Highbrid, choreographed and performed by Kat Bolstad and Jess Quaid, combined aerial work on tissu with slithering floor work, moving to cues from charmingly offbeat music from Imogen Heap. Licht, by Sophie Follett, focused attention on a pair of glowing white translucent light balls which draw the dancers to interact with them in alliance with pulsing, tinking and chordal bursts of music by Son Lux. A rhythmically pulsing, driving soundscore by Conner Strati provided the impetus in Throat, co-developed by Rosa Strati and dancers Shani Dickens, Molly McDowall and Sofia McIntyre. And the quietly repetitive rhythms of Brandon Wolcott & Emil Abrayam, and spacy, multilayered tones of Gustavo Santaolalla provided Katie Rudd's Company of Another with a wonderfully flowing quality to which her choreography was richly attentive.
The fifth work, Burnt Skin, boldly choreographed by Katerina Fatupaito, embraced instead the establishment of a performance environment through place-marking rituals involving the distribution of salt and flour to create a safe space for the revisiting of a threat-filled family story about a cannibal spirit who is chased away by an enemy. The movement was vigorous and restless, the mood guarded and watchful, with original music providing an aura of fraughtness.
The PRIME showcase extended this array of approaches further, with, object-oriented and dancer centred choreography, real-time composition, and a contemporary pointe work. All four works came across as sketches of something larger in development, and the decision to shoe-horn them into a truncated mixed bill format was questionable.
Touch Compass presented an excerpt from 2 x 2 x 2 by choreographers Catherine Chappell and Marc Brew. Five dancers moved and interacted in, on, through and around the multiple spaces created by a large cube built from aluminium tubing. Solos, supported duos and trios, plus occasional full group moments showed the company at work and at play with this marvelous object which seems at once hugely strong and open, yet fragile, and implies a sense of precariousness in for the dancers as they interact with it.
In the face of uncertainty was a beautifully lit group work directed by Sarah Knox, set to amorphous sound scores from Lawrence English, focussing attention on a group of six dancers moving fitfully and in a restrained manner much of the time, restlessly changing position within the cluster of bodies. It had a moody, understated, meditative feel, and seemed in some mysterious way to be suspended between space and time, going nowhere.
Good Evening Vietnam was real-time composition and performance co-developed in the moment by Kristian Larsen and Georgie Goater to an array of sampled sound clips. There was a sense of journey here, with bicycle riding and interactions with scattered objects, ever-changing aural scenery and some arresting moments. However, despite some arresting sequences in which the interactions between performers piqued interest, the two performers appeared to inhabit mostly separate worlds, and resolution was not achieved in the time available.
John & Eleanor by choreographer Brigitte Knight was presented by The Friday Company with music by Pan Sonic. Three sharply focussed, definitely energetic almost-gangsta female dancers in black pointe shoes worked the space, starting and ending in heavy jackets, but stripping down to club wear for much of the action. There was a hint of anti-establishment or perhaps they were just out to get what they could from the situation in which they found themselves. I found this puzzling.
No puzzling over things was needed with Ahua, co-developed and performed by Kelly Nash and Nancy Wijohn -- a refreshing, charming, somewhat decorous 42-minute portrait of the two performer/choreographers and particular aspects of their lives, A wild collage of music clips set the tone of each segment and carried resonances of personal experiences specific to a time and place. The mood was reinforced by theatrical lighting by Ruby Reihana-Wilson, interwoven with abstract AV projections by Rowan Pierce -- shadowy textures, oddly shaped blocks of light, black light, and occasional imagery -- clouds, a window frame, the Milky Way seen close up. As they moved deftly through the space, there was a suggestion that their lives have followed similar pathways, and that they live their lives at full pace, rushing from A to B to C and back again, frantically trying to keep track of each other, snatching moments together in passing, each waving the other off to travel to some faraway place, with eventual reunions, social dancing, occasional quiet domestic moments to be treasured, and discussions about how much of the dancer's body should be exposed in contemporary performance. At just 42 minutes, this first version of Ahua suggests there is great potential for expansion.
Deep shadows and strangely shaped blocks of low light set the mood for The Fallen Mystery, an absorbing hour-long work choreographed by Zara Killeen-Chance in collaboration with performers Paul Young, Georgie Goater and Lisa Greenfield. This dimly lit space hosts innumerable encounters between a series of highly stylized, recognisably noirish loners dressed in trench coats -- two independent dames who embody an array of femmes fatales, and a well-dressed bloke on the prowl who ranges from vigilante man to stoic to cop on the make. There's no narrative as such, just a steadily morphing sequence of interactions at a slow and steady pace punctuated by freeze frame pauses. The pace gives events an edge of tension, heightened by the emotionally weighted glances so deliberately emphasized by the performers. There are multiple entrances and exits, and sequences overlap at times, and there's enough repetition and variation to imply the cinematic flashback so typical of film noir. It's as if you're riffling through the pages of a graphic anthology of noir short stories, with everything polished to perfection.
Closing the week in the Loft was Malaga a strongly-contrasted double bill from two prolific Pacific contemporary choreographers, Thomas Fonua (in collaboration with nine
dancers), and Vivian Hosking-Aue, which provided yet another approach to choreographic development, this time with the thematic and narrative material in focus.
Programme notes clued us in to Fonua's subject matter in Malaga -- the 19th Century Volkershau (human zoos) in which Samoan men women and children were put on display as exotic living colonial subjects for the German populace to observe up close. Two different excerpts were presented, both replete with intense, darkly themed interactions, deliberately confronting us with scenes of capture and rough handling, bodily manipulation, human misery and grief, resistance, resignation.
Aue's E V E, on the other hand, definitely took an alternate viewpoint on events in the Garden of Eden, never exactly irreverent, but clearly putting a different spin on aspects of the standard narrative. With a cast of six, some recognisable events were replayed involving Adam, Eve and the Serpent, the voice of God, the birth of Cain, and a truckload of apples which were eaten, tossed about, destroyed, exchanged, and generally redistributed around the space.
As always, Tempo leaves in its wake lots to think about, some memories to cherish, hopes to see more work by x or y, and knowing that the next Tempo is already being planned, with thoughts about what might (or might not) be included next time.
Read DANZ Mitimiti, The Indescribable