Footnote New Zealand Dance
Aotea College, Porirua
1 May 2021
Reviewed by Mona Williams
Five dancers, three distinct choreographers, four visions, and a final work interwoven with contributions from five movement collaborators, all impacted by the potent force of COVID’s lockdown. The pandemic either prevented sufficient joint rehearsals on the one hand or permitted longer gestation of works pregnant with artistic possibilities on the other.
First, the projection on the backdrop of a hapless polar bear underwater, righting itself to swim, announced the environmental concerns of Forest Kapo’s Artefact, performed by Rosie Tapsell to Emi Pogoni and Kapo’s composition. The soloist’s exquisite body control expressed an emphatic protest against humanity’s potential reduction of the body to that of a cyborg’s. Mechanical jerks, distorted locomotion, breath-taking isolations, fluid floor work, unexpected jumps, interspersed extensions, quivering hands borrowed from Kapa Haka, all precisely interpreted a dense sound track of cyborg speech, disjointed English sentences, drums, Te Reo, the skirl of bagpipes, heavy breathing and disturbing sound effects. Jarring white strobe lights, dazzling and unsettling red bursts, a time lapse revealing a flower emerging to full bloom only to shrivel, these re-enforced the warning that human lives and voices, particularly those of indigenous peoples, are threatened by technological escalation. Humanity can be reduced to an algorithm, can become an artefact.
Rosie’s stark white short cropped hair, plain white top and white pants concentrated the focus onto the dance vocabulary, the varied vibrating minutiae of the fingers, the sharp snaps of the head, and the unerring interpretation of the score. The polar bear’s watery dilemma, projected again, bookended Rosie's intense, layered dance-pronouncement. This emotionally evocative New Zealand choreography is worthy of international attention.
Jeremy Beck’s This invited the audience to explore questions posed during a light hearted pas de trois, an ambiguous work two years in the making. Three dancers in streetwear encounter a red circular form. Should they step onto it? Should others be invited onto the round? Is its strength to be trusted? In silence first, then to the tinkling of flowing water, they mime the questions, “Is this structure reliable? Are we foolhardy to be on it? Will we three, on it, merge into an organic body of harmonious moving parts? Can we help each other?” The audience’s murmur of comprehension urged them into a confident intertwining, danced on a particularly limited surface. To drumming that evolved eventually into an insistent, compelling beat the trio built its patterned forward, backward and circular swagger into moments of frenetic, synchronised hip thrusts, upper body contractions, percussive stepping, flailing arms and a split second demi-point stop. The cacophony of the base beat, bell chimes, metallic clangs, reverberating electronic sounds, overlaid onto natural, wild laughter climaxed in a deafening passage, to which the trio responded energetically, powerfully. Then bathed in white light and clearly exhausted, they questioned whether that circular object possessed a force to invigorate their quest for Life’s dancing-answers. Rolling the object away, it both puzzled and fascinated their gaze, but left their inquiry unanswered. This was a delightful romp to Jason Wright’s sound design.
With Standing In The Threshold (Between The Void & Light) Amber Liberte’s choreography for soloist Nadiya Akbar begins with Nadiya’s entry, face obscured by a large rectangular mirror reflecting to the audience their presence as they engaged with the dancer. Emi Pogoni’s complex music, by turn an electronic drone, sometimes a rich, many layered vibrato, at the end a shrill electronic effect was interpreted by Nadiya in a slow, stylised entrance with the mirror held vertically aloft. Tilting this way and that gradually the mirror was lowered to allow an obscuring-and-revealing hide and seek sequence. The mirror was at one time moored horizontally at foot level, or astride her lap, then turned to face her. It possessed her even after she had laid it down; her arms embracing a phantom mirror, as if it were her lover as she swept away., This subject possesses myriad opportunities for a wider Contemporary dance vocabulary that could infuse Nadiya’s performance with a greater expressive range. Head, hand and foot movements cried out for variations. My own dancer’s eyes called for turns, greater elevation, and varied sweep, to exploit the spatial dimensions of the stage.
Apathy, A Horror Genre was more physical theatre than Contemporary Dance. Constructed by two Artistic directors and five dancers/collaborators it was an intellectual presentation of a dystopian, sci-fi world with which I struggled to make an emotional connection. Dressed in the drab-grey body suits of a totalitarian state, the five dancers’ uniforms distinguished them by ‘State-speak’ names such as It’s Heavy, Thrilling Thrilling, Seal Walk and Being Human. The performance borrowed movements pertinent to previous dances and did not always interpret the pulse and aural dimension of the heavy metal, breathy sound-design composed for the dance. The floor work of splayed individuals face down and the awkward lift of Nadiya did little to reveal the artistry of which the ensemble is capable. This excerpt, from a larger work, needs refinement to forge an incisive vision from the combined input of seven talented persons, and the aspiration to overlay Samoan, Fijian, Hip-hop and Palangi cultural influences, as well as political criticism onto the dance. Cheyanne Teka’s defiance as Wahine Toa showed some of this work’s true potential.
As always, Footnote New Zealand Dance must be congratulated for having afforded Artists the space to embrace risk, which lies at the heart of experimentation. No longer thwarted by Covid, audiences can be confident of performances to admire, to ponder and to discuss.
Cheyanne Teka, Sebastian Geilings and Oliver Carruthers in This. by Jeremy Beck. Photo: Kerrin Burns.
Nadiyah Akbar performing in Standing in the Threshold (Between the Void & Light) by Amber Liberté. Photo: Kerrin Burns.