Nobody Hears the Axe Fall – Footnote New Zealand Dance ChoreoCo
5-10 March 2019, Circa Theatre, Wellington
NZ Fringe Festival
Reviewed by Leah Maclean
The annual New Zealand Fringe Festival also marks the annual Footnote Choreolab, a three week professional development intensive run by the company each year. From the Choreolab cohort, five freelance dancers are selected to develop a new work with established choreographers to be presented in the Fringe Festival. This temporary company is known as ChoreoCo and the 2019 selection is made up of Georgina Bond, Oliver Carruthers, Sophie Grieg, Abbie Rogers, and Rachael Wood, under the guidance of co-choreographers Julia Harvie and Stuart Lloyd-Harris.
Nobody Hears the Axe Fall is a grim performance installation set in a chaotic, dry-iced infused dream world where the performers moan gutturally and move with agonising intention; this is not a work for the faint of heart. It opens with a lone performer (Rachael Wood), in near darkness, slowly shedding items of clothing and laying them painstakingly on the floor. She contorts her naked body into uncomfortable tableaus and never once makes eye contact with the audience through the haze of dry ice, and then the chorus of voices begins. A slow-rising hum comes from either side of the theatre, like the sound of people on a roller coaster going up, up, up. The volume increases and then Wood is joined by the remaining four dancers. Their movements are slow and lethargic and they repeat the same pattern Wood had introduced, undressing and laying out items of clothing, then clumsily redressing. Their naked and vulnerable forms are out in the open; this is the first of many moments of intense but quite beautiful imagery.
There is a lot going on in this work and a range of emotions experienced – discomfort, despair, awe, and even hostility – one might feel as though they are trapped in the nine circles of hell. The dancers embody an anguished state of being through spoken word and visceral choreographic sequences; a particularly captivating duet performed by Oliver Carruthers and Wood unfolds like a slow-motion fight scene with carefully executed lifts and contact work.
The stage composition is minimalistic, allowing the dancers to easily extend themselves and share the space soundly – Circa Two is not a substantial theatre. At the bottom right of the stage is a rectangular pool of water which, throughout the piece, the dancers interact with in an almost ceremonial way - pages of melancholic script are discarded into the water and bodies lay in an entangled prostrate position. It’s quite a lovely image which is enhanced by video footage of each artist submerged in different receptacles of water – perhaps an evocation of birth and the beginning of life’s journey.
The closing act ends the work with a striking image of the five dancers veiled in large squares of foil, dry-ice curling around their bodies and permeating the audience. There is a heavy industrial fan blowing the dancers back and rustling the foil blankets, they look like wanderers lost in a sandstorm and I am left feeling claustrophobic.
Nobody Hears the Axe Fall is nothing less than dark and I depart feeling somewhat pessimistic. But, in saying that, I’m still thinking about it.