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Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre


8 March 2024

Choreographer: Stephanie Lake
Composer: Robin Fox
Set Designer: Charles Davis
Lighting Designer: Bosco Shaw
Costume Designer: Paula Levis

Reviewed by Brigitte Knight


Photograph by Roy Van Der Vegt

Highly acclaimed and awarded Melbourne-based Stephanie Lake’s Manifesto is the headline production amongst the small professional dance offering at this year’s Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki |Auckland Arts Festival. The Australian company has a reputation for gutsy contemporary choreography with striking visual aesthetics and Manifesto is a perfect example; nine dancers, nine drummers, nine rock drum kits, a bold Busby Berkeley-informed stage design in a palette of red, white, and black, and a no-holds-barred Edinburgh Military Tattoo-inspired approach to pace and delivery. Conceptualised during lockdown and created with partner and composer Robin Fox, Stephanie Lake describes Manifesto as “a tattoo to optimism” and a “rallying cry for solidarity”

Photographer Sam Roberts
Photographer Roy Van Der Vegt

The reveal of Charles Davis’ brilliant set draws spontaneous applause from the audience on opening night, the nine drumkits spanning the breadth of the stage on elevated tiered sections furnished with opulent red drapery. Davis’ clever manipulation of colour and form frame the dance floor, ensuring the height and size of the instruments and musicians feature, integrate with, but never upstage the dancers below. Lighting design by Bosco Shaw plays an understated but key role in realising Lake’s visual aesthetic for Manifesto, gently directing focus, ensuring expressive detail is visible, bringing warmth and energy to the work while remaining secondary to the movement and music. Similarly, Paula Levis’ costume design -  black for the drummers, mostly white for the dancers - contributes to the holistic success of the work (slightly ill-fitting women’s tops may be reflective of the changing casts that have performed in the work, rather than an intentional decision), with the dancers’ hairstyles and costumes changing subtly throughout the performance. 

Photographer Roy Van Der Vegt
Photographer Sam Roberts

An abstract contemporary work, Manifesto is bookended with the dancers on a semi-circle of black wooden chairs which echo the shape of the set above, seeding naturalistic and gesture-based movement from the opening moments. Ignited by a single, shocking crash of the drums, Lake’s choreography motors through ensemble, solo, and small group sections with vibrancy and momentum. Rooted in stylised classical technique but expanding, morphing, disrupting into contemporary, hip hop, breakdance, salsa, capoeira, and improvised vocabularies the material strives for Balanchine-style “see the music, hear the dance” integration with Fox’s powerful score, achieving synthesis at times but with scope for greater variety and differentiation of movement at others. The first two of three trio sections, and solos danced by Marni Green, Melissa Pham, and the masterful Samantha Hines are the strongest of the small group moments, however, Lake’s choreographic intention is clearest in her expansive ensemble work which the women in particular deliver with precision and refinement of technique. Rather than auditioning, both dancers and musicians were selected from across a broad range of disciplines, fostering a collaborative approach to Manifesto’s composition. Drummers from backgrounds of metal, jazz, classical, and experimental music find shared rhythms, staggeringly rapid canons, flawless unison, and bombastic delivery in a cohesive realisation of Fox’s score. The cross-pollination of dancers matches them for energy, elevation, and attack, however, the dancers without vocational classical/contemporary training get by on power rather than accuracy, creating some inconsistencies in the delivery of choreographic detail, projection, and line.

Photographer Roy Van Der Vegt
Photographer Roy Van Der Vegt

Manifesto builds with resounding urgency to its finale; vital, vibrant, stirring, humorous and certainly unforgettable.

Photographer Wendell Teodoro
Photographer Roy Van Der Vegt


Review – Manifesto – Stephanie Lake Company – Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki – Auckland Arts Festival 2024

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