The Wine Project - Java Dance Company
10 February 2015, Circa Theatre - Wellington
Reviewed by Jo Randerson
This popular show – having successfully toured New Zealand and on its way to Edinburgh – plays finally and to the delight of many in its home town of Wellington. Circa’s new flexible seating block is utilized to allow an audience of four sides, and we are treated to the smells of coffee beans, star anise and cinnamon sticks crushed underfoot as we enter the space. The performance begins: a naked woman frolicks with lightness and ease, until she is clothed with a simple loincloth (Sarah Gatzonis). Charley Davenport accompanies on the cello with sincerity and a simple, enjoyable presence.
A few empty wine barrels comprise the set, around which several more (mostly) happy revelers appear. They grin a lot for the first act, in proper Dionysian fashion, and then small tussles begin to complexify between the group, creating a suddenly more interesting dramaturgy. A romance unfolds, and leads to a wedding (performed with style by Emma Coppersmith and Michael Gudgeon). One reveler is evicted from the group, others challenge the hierarchy and vie for control over the supremely powerful grape.
The joyful performers dance, percuss, play and flirt their way through, into and over the wine barrels. The set is moved with precision and the performers use their bodies, voices and faces with control and fluidity. One of the joys of this show is seeing such a blended performance of musicianship, dance and theatre all performed together – without the musicians sitting to the side. The performers are equal, and work as a strong ensemble, sometimes making gentle forays into the audience. Tristan Carter plays the violin with vigour and humour, and has a strong comic presence (Davenport and Carter also composed the music).
The most interesting physical sequence for me was the hangover dance, performed by Gatzonis and Coppersmith. Built off the sound and movement of retching, it morphed into a beautiful duo where the audience enjoy the free movement of the body in space. With New Zealand’s high binge drinking rates, there could be more to mine here, although this would perhaps not make for a festival hit.
Java Dance are a deservedly popular company, performing frequently at festivals both in New Zealand and abroad. Choreographer Sacha Copland works energetically to explore new ways of working with and for audiences including on buses, on streets and in containers. It’s great to see this company pushing boundaries within a dance context.
It’s a pleasing performance for those who enjoy wine, although it may sit uncomfortably with those who don’t - or may be seeking more challenging content around the use of alcohol in our country. However, as many of us still love a good night out at the theatre, it’s no wonder audiences are loving this show. ‘The Wine Project’ is a successful blend of music, dance and theatre which celebrates the power of the grape, and the effects it can have on society.