The DANZ Season of Limbs@40
5 October, Q Theatre, Auckland
Tempo Dance Festival 2017
Reviewed by Leah Maclean
Choreography by Mary Jane O'Reilly, Mark Baldwin & Douglas Wright
Performed by Unitec, New Zealand School of Dance & In Flagrante
As someone born after Limbs Dance Company disbanded, it is such a sensational honour to witness their influential choreography brought back life at the Tempo Dance Festival.
The DANZ Season of Limbs@40 is homage to the company that helped pioneer contemporary dance in New Zealand forty years ago. Founded by Chris Jannides in 1977, Limbs Dance Company brought cutting-edge, compelling choreography to the New Zealand stage and went down in the annals of New Zealand dance history. Works from former Limbs members, Mary Jane O'Reilly, Mark Baldwin and Douglas Wright, have been dusted off and re-embodied by students from the New Zealand School of Dance, Unitec and dancers from In Flagrante.
A short video, created by Jessie McCall, made up of archival Limbs footage opens the show. It’s a nice touch and makes the whole event feel even more poignant. Following the video is Mary Jane O'Reilly's Poi, which was originally performed in 1983 and then redeveloped and lengthened in 1987. The students of Unitec Performing Screen and Arts enter the stage in leafy green unitards (the original costumes) and proceed to imitate the deft hand movements of poi; the soundtrack (Jack Body) is a combination of nature sounds and whooshing poi. There are moments of stunning synchronisation and solo work, leaps and tumbles across the stage and perfectly angular formations. Though the piece may be a bit longer than necessary, it is beautifully structured and absolutely hypnotising.
Mark Baldwin's Melting Moments is romantic duet between three couples, performed by the New Zealand School of Dance. Dressed in red unitards this piece is beautiful and sensual, with a strong classical foundation. The partners cling to one another and use the body of the other intimately; for when this piece was originally made (1980) you can understand why Limbs created a stir. They were provocative and intimate, unafraid of displaying affection and sexuality. The performers are successful in creating an air of longing and intimacy; they stare deeply into their partners’ eyes and tenderly move independently and in unity. One barely wants to breathe in fear of shattering the moment. Melting Moments is a highlight of the programme and an exceptional example of Limbs' diverse choreographic style.
Talking Heads is O'Reilly's second piece in the programme. Performed by In Flagrante dancers to Seen and Not Seen by the Talking Heads this work is hip, sassy and wonderfully upbeat. The four dancers shimmy across the stage with indifference, nay attitude. They move collectively with synchronised head wobbles, shrugs, bum wiggles and the occasional power pose. The women on stage are strong, sexy and don't give a damn what anyone thinks. The audience reacts favourably to this short but spicy piece.
Douglas Wright created Knee Dance which was first performed in 1982; this iteration of the work features three Unitec dancers wearing loose black costumes and stony expressions. The choreography flows like water and is rich with repetition and intricate group tableaus. Knee Dance is compelling, unique and a little bit haunting. This would be an excellent introduction to new contemporary dance audiences.
Perhaps Can is a solo work by O'Reilly. Out of the six pieces this is the least of my favourites; it sits slightly off kilter next to the wonderful group works in the programme. Maria Munkowitz (In Flagrante) slinks across the stage dressed in a bright yellow skirt and black shawl, which is soon discarded. She drapes herself across a lone chair and extends beautiful, long limbs. She moves slowly and sensuously, utilising belly dance techniques. She is wrapped up in her own world, is she performing for herself or for her audience?
The final work is Douglas Wright's Quartet. This is an adventurous and exuberant piece performed passionately by the New Zealand School of Dance students. Dressed in purple singlets and skorts, the performers leap across the space with impressive elevation and exhibit a wonderful chemistry and awareness on stage. They come together and they part, they jump and bound in pristine time - it is like a choreographed playdate between children. Having never had the opportunity to see any of Wright's work, I am now a convert. Quartet ends the programme on a high.
The highlight for me was seeing the young performers become a part of the Limbs legacy and pinpoint the influence of Limbs on works today. The Limbs@40 programme was a marvellous taster of what Limbs brought to the stage all those years ago, one can only hope for future revivals and developments. If the ballet can do it, why shouldn't contemporary?