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Pacific Skin - Geoff Gilson & Mark Pulsford
10-11 April 2015, Q Theatre Loft, Auckland

Reviewed by Jenny Stevenson




The collaborative approach to creating the multi-media event entitled Pacific Skin is both its strength and its ultimate weakness.  The many and varied approaches to crafting the performance sets it apart and creates considerable interest while at the same time the lack of a single, coherent vision  counteracts the work’s smooth progression.  There is however, no doubting the commitment and integrity of the many participating artists which as far as I could ascertain numbers about 24.

The thematic content of each of the five segments of Pacific Skin is realised through dance, voice, dramatic action, music, artistic projections and interactive video art so that each work can be viewed as a form of installation art transforming the Loft space into a series of shifting panoramas.  There is audience manipulation and participation where the watchers become the watched, but the air of jovial informality as this plays out sometimes detracts from the inherently serious environmental or political messages.

The opening segment Wai me? created by Cathy Livermore is described as a “ceremonial activation of being present and connected, as water”.  It is joyous in its approach as Livermore and vocalist Caitlin Smith fill the room with their powerful voices accompanied by the music of Sam Hamilton.  An Avatar projection by Mark Sagar of a woman’s face, the eyes containing a tiny real-time projection by Pete Vosper of the dancers onstage, is a powerful piece of artistry conveying a sense of the hypocrisy of merely watching as the precious resource of water is squandered.  Livermore’s device of concealing another dancer under her dress enables her to perform seemingly impossible back bends and balances with ease.

In Baku, Japanese dancers and choreographers Tomomi Watanabe, Yoshihiro Horie and Aska Suzuki create a dream-world haunted by the Baku, a supernatural being who devours dreams and nightmares.  Led into the dream/nightmare through a kaleidoscope and the intricate art of painting characters, the dancers are given an added dimension through the interactive videography of Mark Pulsford who creates realistic barriers out of light to contain the dancers’ actions or washes them with intricate design motifs like those of the kaleidoscope.  Poetry by Helen Sword and vocals by Smith are interspersed with a techno-music score.  The dancers’ performance provides an interesting contrast energy-wise to that of the other New Zealand dancers.

Stephen Bain’s Antarctica initially creates the mysticism of the landscape of the “weighty void” and of “all there is to see”.  He then uses bathos to shatter the spell as a group of roped-together explorers grapple blindly in the white-out, comically conveyed by buckets on their heads obscuring vision.  Robert’s impressive sound creation Jeriquoi Yah Wangettik Mnuutah, Jeff Henderson’s sound boards and Portrait 6 (Japan) by Gruenrekorder provide the otherworldly ambience of the work together with Janine Randerson’s videography.  A butoh-esque dancer, Tallulah Holly-Massey moves slowly through the space and another dancer speaks with her mouth submerged in water, her unintelligible verbalising perhaps more than anything conveying the awe that such a landscape inspires.

A short abstract work entitled Elements shows the dancers transformed into shifting works of art, created by the digital wizardry of Pulsford.  The performers are responding through movement to the question of “What is love to you?”

The final work TPPN/A by Geoff Gilson protests the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement - perhaps in line with the March protests last year which posited that the Agreement was not about trade at all.  Gilson’s own persona is a rock-star wannabe caricature wearing a stunning LED costume by Mark Vosper, who gyrates suggestively to music by Flavio Vilani, Billionaire Peaches, Your Next Bold Move and Ani DiFranco.  The dancers are often obscured in this segment by the large tent-like structures assembled with much hilarity by members of the audience.  But the tents invert and join together to form a screen on which to project footage of the actual anti-TPPA demonstration.  The dancers’ vocabulary when seen, involves a complicated folding and unfolding of their limbs as they twist and turn on the floor in what could be conceived of as a metaphor for entrapment.

See Theatreview Review

Pacific Skin Review

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