The Dark Light Review
Reviewed by Leah Maclean
Once a year Footnote’s three-week Choreolab dance intensive comes around and six dancers are plucked from the programme to perform in a short-term company developed specifically for the New Zealand Fringe. This year the ChoreoCo team was made up by Laura Beanland-Stephens, Sarah Elsworth, Sophie Gargan, Rosie Tapsell, Hannah Tasker-Poland and Bella Wilson, under the choreographic instruction of the multi-disciplined New Zealand artist Alexa Wilson.
The audience filters into Circa’s more intimate theatre, the space is darkened and an orange quartz rock sits centre stage illuminated by an inner light. A dancer stands at the far wall with her back to the audience; she stands stock still right up until the performance begins. It’s a curious exercise, perhaps a question of whether anyone notices she is there. She is Bella, dressed in a dark leotard and Ray-Bans. She crawls and slithers across the stage; she clambers over the pointed quartz and lets out, grating high-pitched screeches. As this happens obscure sentences and words are projected high-up on the rear wall, there is a battle between watching the performers and reading the words above.
In the programme notes The Dark Light is described as a “dimly lit cave” where “connections are fragmented and lost". This description becomes clear when the performers emerge tentatively from the dark recesses around the stage and in a series of unrelated, disjointed solos. Each performer throws themselves whole-heartedly into their angst-ridden characters and there is more theatrics than actual dance. Hannah, welding a clipboard, bellows the names of audience members into a microphone, including my own; “Do you feel me!”, Sophie draws diagrams on a whiteboard and reads from a personal journal, Rosie performs an extract of both jerky and fluid movements, Laura writhes on the floor and Sarah spins uncontrollable for an extraordinarily long time. There are very few moments of cohesion but when the dancers do come together we are confronted by a powerful ‘girl-gang’ all vying for the stage and their reality. The Dark Light contains noise and destruction, the dancers are manic and tangled, and there is also a certain element of uncertainty in these young performers. It is chaotic in the search for oneself and ones desired reality.
Alexa must be commended for her impeccable sound design, overlaying popular music with other sound bites and tracks – the effect of it creating a mystifying and surreal atmosphere. The costuming is dark, glittery and bold; there is an instance where the dancers strip down as if shedding their skins and the next time the lights come up they have alternated the dress. One has to wonder if the implication of this costume change means that they have found their desired and true selves. The performers confess their very relatable insecurities and then turn to the audience, questioning select members on whether they have been honest, vulnerable and whether the world needs conflict. The final act and the audience is brought onto the stage, a technique that has become popular in the contemporary, the lighted quartz is passed around in an almost cult-like fashion. It is a symbol that we are joined and that we are present.