Dance Plant Collective
Choreographed by Bella Wilson
Raye Freedman Arts Centre,
Auckland, 29 April 2023.
Reviewed by Jenny Stevenson
Whether through judicious planning or serendipity, Dance Plant Collective’s new work Structure had its premiere on International Dance Day, the global celebration on 29 April of the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), the “father” of modern ballet. IDD’s stated purpose is to “revel in the universality of this art form, cross all political, cultural and ethnic barriers, and bring people together with a common language – dance”.
Choreographer, Bella Wilson and the exuberant young dancers of Dance Plant Collective have much to offer in pointing us in this direction, but theirs is a viewpoint that is distinctly political as they are from a generation of activists who have been devastated by the fall-out from climate change. Instead, the DP Collective points towards a new way of societal organisation and their dance works comprise “a unique collaborative practice inspired by the genius of rhizomatic ecosystems”.
My knowledge of rhizomatic ecosystems is minimal at best, but I believe as organisational constructs, they seek to ameliorate the rift between a world driven by complex technologies and hierarchical systems and the orderliness and interrelatedness of the natural world. And it is this viewpoint that underpins Structure and as such, perfectly aligns with the International Dance Day message from Chinese dancer and choreographer, Yang Liping who writes “As human beings, we should respect nature, learn from nature, and harmonize with nature, just like the earth, the mountains, and the sky”.
Wilson creates several different sections in the work, each defined by a distinctive movement vocabulary, to illustrate her exploration of “the structures that govern our lives” and the impact of and “relationship between order and chaos”. The Lead Cast of Angus Syben, Brittany Kohler, Kit Reilly and Natasha Kohler, along with twelve other dancers negotiate these states of being, through multiple formations to an extraordinary score by Flo Wilson. Bella Wilson acknowledges the collaborative input of the dancers in creating the choreographic material.
It is a joy to see up to 16 dancers on stage at once and Wilson uses their presence to create the “structures” which allow one or more of the dancers to deviate – in an act of rebellion against the norm. The patterning veers between the intricate and the simplistic but is always highly effective in creating a relentless, driving energy onstage. The costumes by Lisa McEwan are a medley of grey and black with apron-like tie-ons, to allow them to be discarded and for the outfits to evolve throughout the work.
The dancers pass through pedestrian movement to defined dance sequences, in the opening segment of the work, creating fleeting moments of connection. Then abruptly, the four lead dancers are closely contained by a maypole of lighting, designed by Paul Bennett, which miraculously creates square boxes in a ladder formation on the stage floor. The dancers, moving in more and more frantic pacing configurations in the compressed space, must keep their balance in this precarious climbing of what appears to be a corporate ladder.
The four dancers break away from this constriction, moving into a turning segment and are then joined by the rest of the cast, all whirling in multiple ways – perhaps in an attempt to free themselves of the vestiges of conformity. The work ends with a discourse on love and its healing properties, as a wooden and rigid Angus Syben is gradually restored to a sentient human, through manipulations of loving intervention. This latter section with its rising and falling dynamic as the two lead dancers collapse again and again into a mass of supportive bodies is both tender and poignant and is the highlight of the work.
The collective collaboration of multiple people to create “Structure” is much to be admired and the overall clear direction of Bella Wilson is a testament to her organisational abilities as much as to her choreographic intelligence.
Photographs by Jinki Cambronero