Stripped Bare - Jennifer de Leon
10 June 2016, The Studio, Grey Lynn, Auckland

Reviewed by Merenia Gray

 

 


Stripped Bare

Tonight I viewed Jennifer de Leon in the flesh – for the first time, having read reviews and seen photos of her work over the last 30 years. I am humbled by her solo performance of two works Stripped Bare and Grace in her home studio in Grey Lynn.

Her near nudity in her solo work Stripped Bare, is arresting, almost alarmingly so. Yet there is reason for her immaculate tautness. She is a perfectionist in a now ageing body.

Her perfect technique is a binary fundament of her strength.  Her body goes into striking poses; handstands and bridges, which are transformed to reveal her ritual of precarious athleticism. Classical technique is clean, lines are  deliberate to center  her roots. The veins in her arms  are pumped with her passion.

Her bird like movements, darting beady eyes and coy smile hide a tiger or panther that I can sense lies beneath her downward glare. Her body is an instrument that is finely tuned as if it is a manifestation of her life’s  work. The motor is still humming at an incredible pace.  Her instrument is  held together with bone, ligament and tendon and some true grit -  all of which is revealed in every movement, which has been prescribed to add meaning to her story. Her spine – tahuhu – that carries her DNA is supported by the most intricate trapezius I have ever seen.

The backbone of her whare is  her studio upstairs. The stark functionality of the structurally engineered beams in her studio hold her ceiling up as much as Jennifer’s work is the life blood of her whaanau. Her daughter is collecting koha at the door where we take our shoes off. Her son is on AV.  Her personal  welcome to the audience mentions an inner strength, which “ does not come from me”, it is from an outer force. I believe her.

Every movement is driven from not just virtuosity but also from her faith.

Communion. Dancer, Watcher. She is stripped
Bare.
Gaunt,
Bony,
Old.
Youth is beauty.

Jennifer’s beauty is inherent in her bone structure and mana, which are her anchor. There is a lot to be learnt from her strength. Mana is a gift from the gods and it is also gained from wisdom and experience, from giving birth and nurturing our own – even if they rebel. Providing, providing, until there is nothing left but an empty shell that relies on the spiritual warrior to deliver the next meal or class.

Stripped Bare is timeless and I would love to see it also performed on one of our master’s; Kilda Northcott and Mia Mason spring to my mind.

Now that she is clothed, is she any more clothed
is she any more covered.
Is she any less
stripped bare?

Grace
This is a work that needs to be seen and is the antithesis of grace. Harsh garage soundscape, her body is like a drug addict hanging out for her next fix. Trembling, searching, retrieving. This is no walk in the park.

Track pants and hair loose – Mia Mason again…. You need to see this woman dance. There is no perfection in this work –it is a stark contrast to Stripped bare.
Where does grace come from?

Her body is her temple and through the cathartic process of ridding her demons, she stumbles upon – Grace. The world, or at least Jennifer’s is at peace. Balance and harmony and communication with ancestors are perfectly poised and reach a conclusion of satisfaction…for now.

These works need to be photographed and videoed and kept in our archives. Jennifer belongs to be honoured for longstanding commitment to dance in Aotearoa.
She is a true taonga, whose friends sometimes come with her or often they go in the other direction. What does accompany Jennifer in her solo journey of life and dance is most certainly, grace.

Stripped Bare Review

 
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