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Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2013
Choreographer: Karen Barbour
Produced by: Waikato Contemporary Dance Projects Trust

at Hamilton Gardens Indian Char Bagh Garden, Hamilton
From 22 Feb 2013 to 24 Feb 2013

Reviewed by Sue Cheesman, 24 Feb 2013

On a balmy summers eve we process into the Indian Char Bagh Garden to see Bliss choreographed by Karen Barbour as part of the annual Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2013.

As we enter the Indian walled garden, my visual senses fire up as I am greeted with a stunning sight of blocks of purple and yellow flowers in full bloom. Dancers sitting crossed legged on the white marble floor welcome us from the far end of the garden. Costume designer Kartika Leng uses hues of aquamarine tinged with yellow for the costumes, adding to the initial visual feast. Throughout the piece I keep noticing these colours and textures as they are caught by the sunlight or move in the gentle breeze. The dancers throughout the piece are bathed in light and shadow as the sun slowly creeps over the garden. This acts as a foregrounding of those in sunlight, at times highlighting the sculptured shapes and balances they are making.

Five dancers journey their way through the garden in a series of yoga asanas interspersed with contemporary dance vocabulary. Building on from her previous work Dancing in Paradise 2010 in this same garden, with strong symmetrical architecture, once again Karen Barbour effectively uses straight lines as dominant pathways to cross the garden. The dance this time seems to forefront the Yoga postures more, with many variations on the familiar asanas such as Salute to the Sun, Tree pose, and Down Dog. Dancers' poses recur in different ways throughout.

The dancers begin the piece at the far end of the garden and progressively move closer to the audience. The concluding section ends on the same platform we are seated on, within touching distance.  This means that the dancers become more life-like and we witness their physicality and strength as well as the mechanics of getting in and out of the challenging postures the closer they get. At one point dappled light reflects on the dancers different body shapes in a tableaux line made an exquisitely pleasing moment very close to us. A duet performed by Karen Barbour and Helene Burgstaller concludes with a stunning supported balance shape. Breathtaking! This shape performed at close proximity to us clearly highlights the power and physicality of the two female performers.

At another point four dancers are seated on the edges of the inner square facing each other in a moment of rest allowing them momentarily to blend into the visual feast. 

Often dancers are paired, and the movement vocabulary complements, contrasts and replicates one other in well-crafted choreography.  This also offers possibilities for postures to become more complicated and aerial as dancers support one another, moving the piece beyond replicating a yoga class.  However like any yoga class, the concentration is intense, and I felt like the dancers needed to breath more through some of the postures.

All five dancers perform with lyricism and strength throughout.  Changing relationships to each other and the garden are seen through the variations of duets, trios, two verses one and solos. The music chosen, by Prem Joshua and Manish Vyas, gives a meditative ambience in the background, creating a dynamic constancy, which for me is only broken with the water sounds.

We meander out of this beautiful garden having experienced a luscious harmony between the garden flowers, the symmetrical architecture, the moving bodies and the whispering monarch butterflies. Overall the work has a meditative and mesmerizing quality, allowing the audience of all ages to experience the magic of both the dance and the garden simultaneously. Karen is very skilled at making work that is accessible to a wide range of audience members, and we were left contemplating our own piece of Bliss and peace exuded by this work. 

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