Touch Compass Triple Bill
Choreographed by Carol Brown, Jeremy Nelson and Suzanne Cowan
Music by Russell Scoones, Charlotte Rose and David Watson
Artistic Direction by Catherine Chappell
Touch Compass Dance Trust
in association with STAMP at THE EDGE
at Concert Chamber - Town Hall, THE EDGE, Auckland
From 18 Aug 2010 to 21 Aug 2010
Reviewed by Jack Gray, 19 Aug 2010
Touch Compass is one of New Zealand's most hardworking and diverse companies, comprised of mixed ability and able-bodied dancers, exponents of a special style of integrated physical dance theatre since 1997.
The opening night of their new production Triple Bill – featuring a repertoire work by a TCDT company member and two commissions by internationally established ex-pat Kiwi choreographers – at the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber is sold out and full of chirpy audience members made up of friends, family and loyal supporters.
As the darkness descends, there is an ominous hum, clink of a dropped glass, and flash of a cellphone as it is turned off.
GROTTESCHI, by Suzanne Cowan (Music by Charlotte Rose, Costumes by Costume Company)
A lady (Suzanne Cowan reprising her role as ‘Ava the Amazing Spider Woman') in red polka dot, frilly O'Hara-style dress, stares at us, as we notice her pile of stripy, stockinged ‘legs' propped neatly around her tuffet. Her slow, deliberate body shifts float her torso above her spidery tentacles.
Far away in the corner appears an upside down grasshopper dude (Adrian Smith in his cut-to-fit role as ‘Argyle the Magnificent Mantis Man'). In black and white striped trousers and a chequered vest, reminiscent of vaudevillian garb, he bewilders us with an array of tricks that seamlessly draw upon capoeira and acrobatic physicality. Tongue in cheek, he uses his legs as feelers and keeps twisting and inverting himself till you are sure he has no skeletal limitations whatsoever.
As Argyle approaches Ava, she stares seductively and reaches for something invisible from in between her cleavage… a spider web. As accordions play, he spins her web threads around her arm and, using them like puppet strings, lifts her elbows and legs in comic play.
Tango music begins prompting him to kiss her repeatedly (like Gomez Adams to Morticia) before binding their hands together. He drags her around on her moveable ‘tuffet' before embarking on some Magnificent Mantis Man handstands. In this performance Smith's gestures and cartoonish portrayal read delightfully and energetically.
“This is so sweet,” whispers a neighbour as the characters desire for each other froths up. He spins her like an octopus on his back as she rides him defiantly. Smith moves Cowan around the space with gusto yet care. The last sequence is a double-hand grip tango-style dance full of angst, awkwardness and unknotting.
Finally, almost nonchalantly, Ava bites him and Argyle's demise is quick and fatal. I wasn't convinced she had had it all her own way though. I was inwardly cheering for Mantis Man. Much like the Fantastic Mr Fox, he seemed the type of loveable rogue who could find his way out of any sticky situation!
SIX, by Jeremy Nelson (Music by David Watson, Costumes by Luis Lara Malvacias, Hector Rodriguez and Sophie Hams)
Jeremy Nelson is an ex-pat Kiwi whose dance work clearly reflects his purist influences from having worked and lived for a long time in New York. He developed this piece in collaboration with the dancers in various workshops, looking at how “apparent limitations are keys to open doors.”
The dancers assemble themselves in a blue light, seated on the floor. A high-pitched noise initiates a simple shift from the crew. The work has a clean look with a repetition of shapes shared evenly between the three able-bodied (Julia Milsom, Emilia Rubio, Adrian Smith) and three mixed-ability dancers (Suzanne Cowan, Daniel King, Alisha McLennan). Simple changes, release, leg shifts.
They arrange themselves on a diagonal and wear mix and match costumes in faded teal, corset type shorts, navy pants and tartan print. Rubio is striking to watch. Slick, long and lithe, this Argentinean native immediately commands attention when she moves. King also moves beautifully, presenting his unique physique with limbs shaped like rough pearls.
An interesting quartet of lying and shifting is sharp and tight, in trademark Nelson form.
The mixed ability dancers, when they are not moving gracefully on the floor, retreat to specially positioned wheelchairs at the side of stage, eloquently emphasising the point of this integration in a subtle way.
Cowan dynamically scoots across the stage in her chair, causing the dancers to spin, slide and roll off. Milsom has a clear intensity and an inviting softness, while Smith brings a grounded core to the ensemble. In a moment, beautiful long legs go cartwheeling freely as Cowan shifts herself and also moves her body. I notice ruffles, some on arms and some on legs.
Industrial to ambient, the score keeps creating a spatial dimension for the dance to move through. Three wheelchairs whirr, swirl and race each other in a gleeful spree of energy and life. Gorgeous formations go forwards and back with inspiring sternum releases and head spirals. That's the word: gorgeous.
Three dancers enter the space. The movements of each dancer catch the other's movements with changes of timing. There are backwards rolls as King stands looking in the middle (later I am told this is a sequence where he is fishing). These beautiful arrangements in space show Nelson's oeuvre: a trio of two chairs and one dancer rippling in the background; King standing on one leg, both precarious and secure in his balance.
This dance gives you a chance to appreciate small details. I love seeing the dancerly coordination of a torso spiral with a practical arm push to spin a chair (Alisha McLennan). Julia Milsom is a stand-out in this dance, looking super clear and crisp and having moments of space and presence (I notice her quietly at the side of stage facing the wall or backing gently off stage).
The timing is so organic, like an array of dominoes falling and creating gorgeous formations in space. Tinkles, a clean and clear top light, arm swipes and rolls, fading out to a stationary Cowan looking plainly at the audience – these images are mesmerising and magical. Six is a sumptuous and satisfyingly performed dance work that gives the company a chance to take a bigger bite of the apple. Bravo Mr Nelson!
During the half-time break, six dancers set up the space for Carol Brown's work in full view of the audience. Wearing black coats and bare legs: three able bodied, slick black-haired women (Kerryn McMurdo, Julia Milsom, Emilia Rubio) join three mixed ability dancers (Jesse Johnstone-Steele, Daniel King and Alisha McLennan) as guitar music plays, coats/dresses are hung up and parcels of clothing are laid out around the space. As the lights fade to black - the curtains are drawn back off the windows of the Concert Chamber, allowing outside light from Queen Street to shine through the frosted coloured glass designs.
SLIP: I'm not falling I'm just hanging in for as long as you hold me, by Carol Brown (Music by Russell Scoones, Costumes by Emma Ransley, Sophie Harris and the Costume Studio)
Silhouettes of the dancers in their underwear to whirring strings (Wagner's ‘The Valkyrie'), fuschia pink, turquoise metallic dress, they strip. Racing to different piles, they sort through purple tights, red dress, yellow coat, unravelled clothes, bared abdominals and all types of body shapes. Black tops with grey hoods start to appear gradually in amongst the cacophony of colour. King dresses himself with one hand as the group grapples to dress McLennan. There is a rough and tumbleness in this set up that is maintained throughout, as a pervasive energy in marked contrast to the precise aesthetic of the previous work.
The flavour changes to something a bit more street style, as Rubio balances a huge pile of clothes in her arms that cover her face. Company founding member Johnstone-Steel is his usual impish stage persona and joins her to counterbalance before allowing the pile of clothes to drop to the floor. Three hooded people come in to the funky music and show us how cute contemporary dancers can look when they try to Krump! Though the musical feel is more hoe-down than Hip Hop, they each show us energetic solo moves to suit the style.
The lights come up and I notice a blonde woman sitting up in the balcony looking at the audience. “My life changed,” starts Rubio, as each company member expresses a personal revelation. I realise how startling it is to hear how peculiarly different their voices are. It is probably the quickest way of instantly responding and connecting to a person,perhaps.
They sit in their seats in the space while we listen to a song – ‘It's the Happiest Day of my Life' (apparently the lyrics of the songs were written by the dancers, this one by Johnstone-Steele and rehearsal assistant Ai Fujii Nelson) – and they show the inner lining of their jackets in multi coloured swathes of satin sheen.
‘Who is the mystery woman?' I wonder…
In pairs they mirror each other, which makes me wonder what it might be like if the able bodied dancers tried to imitate the movement pathways and patterns of the mixed-ability dancers. The able-bodied dancers are obviously well trained and fluid, while the mixed-ability dancers are more jaggedy crystal than polished stone. Both are beautiful, however.
King hops and moves his chair and the rest respond. The dance becomes full of deconstructed, shattered and splintered bits. The two men hide in a constructed chair-castle while the women do a dramatic hair-swishing dance, breaking, dropping and flicking their hair in increasing tempo.
A white cotton dress is ripped apart in McMurdo's solo, ‘The Little One', as she lip-synchs like being at a late night Karaoke bar in Cuba Mall maybe? In duets they start bopping and playing, clapping. Johnstone-Steele fits in a little bit of a Robot. There is also a duet with Milsom and King, of spiralling, kicking and hopping. When she lifts him it becomes quite endearing.
Meanwhile in the darkness, a few shadowy figures at the side are getting changed while the blonde woman (Tracy Z) sways on the balcony. She sings, “I was waiting at the top…ready to drop…. I follow your trace, squeeze your embrace.”
The dancers sleep on piles of clothes, jackets are hung on the walls, chairs rearranged at the back, rolling to different positions, a wire is dropped.
McLennan is hoisted into the air on a harness, a floating angelic and broken image (Icarus?). As she spins and careens in the air, her golden hair tossed in her face, I watch the taut attention of the dancers counterbalancing her from below. The practicalness is again shown (wires being unclipped) in full view of the audience (even though it is a black out, the light from outside still finds a way to seep in). Untied.
SLIP is an interesting and ambitious dance/spatial proposition from Brown and Scoones, both Kiwis formerly based in London for a long time but recently moved back to New Zealand. Though this work seems to be a bit on the brew for now, after more performances and time to grow and steep, it definitely has the potential to be everyone's cup of tea!
Congratulations Touch Compass for making Triple Bill a really interesting event, showcasing some new forms and ideas. The show highlighted a settled sense of performance maturity from the company with strong choreographic work that could sit anywhere in the world from London to New York!
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Raewyn Whyte (New Zealand Herald);