30Forward - Footnote New Zealand Dance
28 August 2015, The Opera House - Wellington
Reviewed by Chris Jannides
Footnote’s tribute to its 30 year history begins as we enter the theatre with projections of video footage from its past. Surrounded in my seat by ex-company members, the air is filled with ‘there I am, hanging from the monkey bars’, ‘the one in the green lycra is me’, ‘Oh, there I am again’, etc., etc. There’s a contagious buzz coming from these recognitions and spontaneous exclamations. But how might the current dancers waiting in the wings be feeling knowing that elder generations of their forbears are sitting in the audience? How well do they live up to the inherited legacy and tradition that precedes them?
The evening starts with a ‘curated’ smorgasbord of items by the company’s founder and iconic stalwart of NZ dance, Deirdre Tarrant. She has taken selected excerpts from the frozen depths of Footnote’s repertoire, and then thawed, re-animated and strung them together for new consumption. Confined to the last decade, her emphasis is on eclectic diversity. This poses a potential challenge for the present company as it is generally unusual for Footnote dancers to perform work that was not made on them.Nevertheless, they cope admirably. The performance demands are extreme. Technical precision, spoken dialogue, conflict, absurdity, ritual, anarchy - they sail through it all with ease.
After interval there is the evening’s showpiece, Malia Johnston’s new work, Flip Pivot Boom, with dynamically integrated video projections by Rowan Pierce and music to match by Bevan Smith. Undisputedly one of NZ’s most prolific and reliable choreographers, Malia is virtuosic in her seemingly effortless ability to make exciting dance. Her forte is being able to inspire genius levels of creativity in performers and collaborators. In this instance, the dancers supply her with remarkable material that is both visually and structurally appealing, and itself virtuosic in its inventiveness. While Flip Pivot Boom may have one section in it too many, I don’t know anyone here who currently does it better or so often. Malia’s choreographic images are never less than crystal clear. She is a movement maestro who is in heavy demand. As I watch, I scribble these words: clever, complex, fast, thrashy, pulsy, tight, angular, twisty, hoppy, runny, frenetic, spastic, show-offy, airborne. I try to label it: pop-art dance set to a modernist videographic aesthetic of cool monochrome and pastel. There’s a bit of overload, and an effort towards making an impact, yet it’s all sophisticated and mature in its highly accessible artistry and design. Ironically, for me it is a non-dance image that tops the bill in terms of a stand-out moment: large face screens made from pulled-up t-shirts on immobile statuesque bodies.
In the blackout, screams and stamps of approval from the auditorium. Lights up for well-earned bows from the dancers who know they more than satisfy the discerning eyes of their predecessors as well as the audience at large. The legacy is secure. There are bouquets for Footnote’s smiling founder and for her crowd-pleasing guest choreographer.