Unitec Dance SHOWCASE 2022
Raye Freedman Arts Centre,
Auckland17-20 November 2022
Reviewed by Jenny Stevenson
Most people would acknowledge that completing a three-year training course in a discipline like dance is hard work. But for this cohort of 15 graduating Unitec contemporary dance students, their three years of Covid-interrupted dance training involved large chunks of online learning – making their achievement even more impressive. They have weathered the challenge and fetched up on the far shore of their dance journey with an infectious energy and enthusiasm that lights up this showcase of their talents.
Now in it’s 33rd year of offering dance training with a large choreographic component, Unitec dance graduates have taken their place on stages and various media platforms throughout Aotearoa. Alumni like Jack Gray (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa) of Atamira Dance Company, Louise Potiki Bryant ((Ngāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha), independent choreographer and video artist and Malia Johnson of Movement of the Human among others, are creating uniquely New Zealand dance forms. The course is now led by Paul Young (Kai Tāhu, Ngāti Mutunga) who has invited a selection of Unitec-trained choreographers to create work for the showcase.
The programme opens with Ko Te Wānanga o Wairaka tēnei, a beautiful creation melding movements that reference elements of kapa haka with a contemporary dance aesthetic. It is created by Chrissy Kokiri (Tapuika) and Eddie Elliott (Tainui, Ngāti Maniapoto) to their composed Waiata and Pātere and an emotive score by Alistair Deverick. The work is performed with strong commitment by the large group of 2nd and 3rd year students. They begin in low light, their backs to the audience moving slowly upstage – as though commencing a journey – before turning to chant and sing in Te Reo, sentiments such as: “This is Unitec, a home that has nourished our artistic voice” (in translation).
Among the five other works collated for the Showcase programme Plastic Mountains, choreographed by Tamsyn Russell struck a vibrant note with its neon-pink lighting design by Filament Eleven 11, tattoo-inspired costumes by Miriam Eskildsen and its rhythmic reading of the haunting Mountains made of steam by Silver Mt Zion. A strategy for navigating this “ever-changing” world “together”, it features strong unison dance, intermittently interrupted by various groupings, followed by a return to homogeneity and is beautifully performed by a mixed cast of 3rd and 2nd year students.
Young has given graduating student Jake Starrs a chance to develop his choreographic offering Loss and Ambling in the Fool’s Paradise to represent the new generation’s voice in the programme. Shooting for the surreal, the work conjures up “a waking dream” by creating ambulatory beings composed of several entwined bodies, each representing different body parts. A dangling dial-phone acts as a magnet or deterrent at various times as a number of scenarios unfold. It is both clever and witty in its composition and portends future promise for Starr as a choreographer.
In Delicate Bones choreographed by Katie Burton, two couples dance serenely, seemingly unperturbed by several other dancers wielding blocks of wood to create shapes and structures in a variety of patterns around them. The interaction between the solid objects and the flowing movement of the yielding bodies creates an interesting duality with moments of pleasing contrast. The music comprises two tracks by Autechre.
The 2nd Years are given a chance to perform as a group in Traces by Bella Wilson, featuring a slow-moving wave of dancers making their way across the stage, each telling a complex story in movement, that concern “embodied memories”. Gradually the individuals coalesce forming an “interconnected organism”, that encompasses all the entities. The music is an original score by Flo Wilson.
The final spot on the programme is reserved for Bellum created by Rose Philpott for the full cast of graduating students. It is an unashamedly entertaining work that celebrates the diversity of the group and delivers (one suspects) on several “in jokes”. The dancers don several different costumes and embody different characters as they galivant around the space or interact with each other, to an original score by Hannah Lynch (Ngāti Porou). As the curtain closes they are still dancing in circles, no doubt reluctant to abandon what has obviously been a time of great enjoyment for them.
Although it proved impossible to track all the dancers, the eye was drawn several times during the programme to Stella Grace Seawright, ‘Isope ‘Akau’ola, Jake Starrs and Natthavout Sabanhdit among others.