Changes 變 - Neil Ieremia (Black Grace) & Kuik Swee Boon (T.H.E Dance Company)
16 March 2016, SKYCITY Theatre, Auckland
Reviewed by Francesca Horsley
Despite the joy and intimacy of sharing our diverse worlds, people will always have to stand against the braying mob that seeks destructive power. This was the overriding message from Changes 變, two dance works that premiered at the Skycity Theatre as part of the Auckland Arts Festival.
The programme was a joint production by choreographer Neil Ieremia, Black Grace, and guest choreographer Kuik Swee Boon, T.H.E. Dance Company, Singapore. The works, Changes and Constancy by Swee Boon, and Another Letter from Earth by Ieremia combined dancers from both companies and the talents of each company were given full expression.
This is the first time Ieremia has collaborated with an international artist and the initiative of the Auckland Arts Festival to link leading choreographers of both countries is to be applauded. It was enriching to see the contrast in weight and energy of the two aesthetics expressed in the dancers’ movements and bodies. Each undoubtedly explored new ground in the process and it was a forceful statement of connectivity to the creative voices of our Asian neighbours
Although the approaches were different, ultimately both works were an elegiac exposition on the fragility of life, power and inevitability of death. Individuals lost their own authenticity as they were swallowed up by the supremacy of the mass, whether it was street crowds, mob violence or the sinister omnipresence of the state.
Swee Boon focused on the private spaces where exchanges between two people were intimate and revelatory; where difference and personality sparked a new understanding, a joyful place where the dawning of recognition transformed each person. Inevitably, this was a contested space as the babble of the everyday enveloped them.
In a segment of the work, two dancers from different traditions, Mi Wu and Ruby Ala’l, shared a witty encounter. The process of recognition and acceptance was initially tentative as the protagonists resisted and then yielded to each other. This whimsical mood was swiftly dismissed by a running, circling collective which periodically transformed into an aggressive, mindless force.
Swee Boon’s movement was finely wrought with subtle and fluid extensions, formal tai chi moves and sweeping hip and torso flows created a distinctive, empathetic language.
In Another Letter from Earth Ieremia focused on personal tragedies in an extended meditation on death and its many manifestations. Each was profoundly life-changing and deeply wrought; an aging body no longer able to recapture youthful agility, the sacrifice of the innocent in military engagement, the cruel heartbreak of the death of a new born child, the passing of a life-long partner. He cleverly positioned these everyday calamities of life against the larger and darker canvas of political gamesmanship and state-based belligerence.
While there were interludes of Ieremia’s hallmark combustive physicality, with dancers flying through the air, more often dancers found themselves immobilised by the depth of grief - to stand stricken, clutching a totem of a baby, to lie spread-eagled on the paper remnants of a past career, or to cradle the body of a loved one.
Lighting designer Paul Lim sent bands of light slanting across the stage that spotlighted the work’s segments - perhaps suggesting the clear pathway we all must take. Two motifs linked the work; the shadow presence of performance artist Mahipi Te Rerehau Kelland, and a backdrop of outsized war game models of a military platoon, guns ready, engaged in war.
Mahipi, was a lone voice, keening, a mesmeric angel of death. Adorned in a full-length black gown and a head-dress festooned with a red feathers suggestive of traditional funeral rite, she glided slowly back and forth, escorting the proceedings.
The action was set against an anonymous collective of the military death machine. It menacingly encroached as an unnerving Tupua Tigafua strategically rearranged the figurines into the centre stage. It was both poignant and brutal.
Both works carried powerful messages and suggested that collaboration had created new choreographic insights. The dancers embraced each style with flair and sensitivity. However there were gaps with the integration of dancers, and some ideas within the works needed to be more fully realised. These will be smoothed out no doubt as the works mature.