The Kiss Inside - Douglas Wright
16 April 2015, Sky City Theatre, Auckland
Reviewed by Francesca Horsley
The Kiss Inside, the latest work by master choreographer Douglas Wright came as an unexpected gift. A bonus from an artist whose unique dance lexicon is a keystone of New Zealand contemporary dance but whose ability to create new works is compromised by debilitating health issues.
The opening image of a man, strung upside down from an inverted tree that is suspended over the stage is at once alarming and beautiful. Despite his inversion, the dancer, Luke Hanna, chants an eloquent karakia and then spinning in slow arcs, produces a haunting waiata tangi. Once released and his heavy collar removed, he is cradled by the cast who stroke him tenderly.
So begins a series of paradoxes; small vignettes, autobiographical moments, glimpses of contemporary life and the human capacity for beauty, delusion, kindness and savagery. Like paintings in an exhibition each one is complete in itself. They reveal or conceal, cruelly wound then profoundly heal; are carnal, absurd, sacred, make us laugh.
The dance response to these fragments has the dancers set free to fill the space with passion and momentum. In intense, robust and gritty sequences, they fling or dive into the stage, whirl on their knees, shake wild and formless.
The Kiss Inside is a discourse on the workings of the mind and body, with Wright teasing and mocking, often at himself. The dancers walk backwards with books covering their faces, pages are torn from a book, then soaked in water to become dressings. Blood oozes onto the face and breasts of a supplicant, then tenderly washed off.
The juxtaposition between imagination and physical power is demonstrated poignantly when Wright himself dances. Watched over by a nurse, and dressed in plain hospital-like garb that barely conceals his whippet thinness, he executes a flowing narrative of gesture, witty and restrained. This interlude is a pause from the work’s vitality, focussing instead on pattern, nuance and vulnerability.
All time super-woman, Sarah-Jayne Howard, wields powers with Valkyrian force. It is through her extraordinary talent and commitment that Wright channels his own unrelenting determination to succeed. Her solo in red dress is a tour de force.
Howard’s presence is balanced by two newcomers, Simone Lapka and Tara Jade Samaya who bring a coiled-spring energy to the work. Their on-stage personas confidently embrace the choreographic and theatrical demands, and empathetically connect to Wright’s vision.
Craig Bary, also a Wright favourite, is an outstanding dancer with a luminous and expressive physicality. His clear humanity connects with the audience - even when testing the cut of the knife on his tongue in an ISIS inspired image.
Hanna is a powerful protagonist and the fall guy. It is he who slumps in a chair, lost in narcotic dreams, or in the finale, naked, painstakingly bent, hobbling across the stage under the weight of books precariously balanced on his back.
The final scenes bind the work into a poetic whole, leaving a residue of elegiac stillness. For sure Wright has conquered many of his demons, and those left have lost much of their sting. While the theme of The Kiss Inside is stated as the search for ecstasy, there is a more profound edge to the work. The pursuit of ecstasy may be a motivation to explore our inner selves, but ultimately it is the graft and struggle of creative endeavour which yields the true rewards.