ALTOGETHER A DIFFERENT “SPEED OF SEEING”
NZ Fringe Festival 2013|
Footnote Forte Series 2013 - We Have Been There
Choreographer: Lisa Densem
Composer: Andrew Thomas
Dancers: Lucy Marinkovich, Manu Reynaud, Emily Adams, Olivia McGregor, Levi Cameron and Alice Macann
at Opera House, Wellington
From 6 Mar 2013 to 7 Mar 2013
Reviewed by Sam Trubridge, 7 Mar 2013
Lisa Densem is a kiwi born choreographer and dancer who lives in Berlin, where she has worked regularly on her own works as well as with acclaimed German choreographer Sasha Waltz and guests. She last made work in New Zealand with No Such Place in 2005. It is a treat to have artists of this calibre return to make work in New Zealand with local artists: to bring some of our international talent home, and to share their unique experience and interests with our audiences and artists. Certainly a lot of work that is made in Europe does not make it to our biannual arts festivals in Auckland and Wellington, given the great expense and high expectations that come with taking a work around the planet to be shared with our audiences. With these burdens on a programme, works that are more experimental, contemplative, risky or sophisticated in their construction often get left out of programmes for fear of reprisal or attrition from indignant audiences, uninformed reviewers, or people just expecting ‘a good night out at the theatre'.
Let me start this review by saying that We Have Been There is a great night out at the theatre. It is a gentle sussuruss of movement that slowly builds its textures to a point of almost overwhelming tension, before it subsides again to the place that it came from. It is not always an easy piece for its audience, because it does take a little patience to engage with the work, but the rewards are great, and we are left with a feeling of having stepped out of familiar time for a while.
In the 2002 Dance Umbrella in London I saw Dutch company Rosas dance Rain by choreographer Anna Theresa De Keersmaker, based on the novel by NZ author Kirsty Gunn. We Have Been There is of a similar style to this work: one that slowly gathers its energy in an inexplicable, tightly woven build-up of energy and feeling. As with Rain, I am left trying to articulate something that is so native to its own art-form that literature and words are rendered inadequate.
The Opera House is emptied, stripped away from wall to wall: right to the rear of the large stage, creating an empty black field or void within which the figures of dancers in various contemporary garments sit, warming up. When the auditorium hushes it is more in response to the drop in house lighting rather than any distinct shift of energy on stage. The dancers continue to roll, wander, stretch, squat, crawl, and occasionally sample a posture or movement from some predetermined vocabulary. The soundscape by Andrew Thomas pans the space with a rustling static activity and off-stage industry.
To say that this continues for a long time might seem off-putting. But we are too-often used to being served sensational or gratuitous drama, imagery, action and event when we frequent such darkened rooms of spectation. Dance, theatre and opera try to keep up with the caffeinated, hyperactive babble of the cinematic moving image, but often forget the quiet contemplation that can be found in sharing time with a painting, a piece of music, or some other art work of profound simplicity.
This is altogether a different “speed of seeing”, to steal a concept from American director, designer and painter Robert Wilson. It is an approach that requires intense discipline from the Footnote dancers as well, who are probably used to faster, more rewarding processes. Instead Densem entrains uncertainty into her dancers, deconstructing movements in their bodies and only allowing them to build the energy on stage in slow meticulous increments. The uncertainty this creates allows us the audience to see each movement coming before the dancer does. The stage takes on the character of a lobby or waiting room, where figures shift through attitudes and positions trying to find comfort, interest, and diversion in a space of great emptiness. At first contact is almost incidental, a winding of actions around one another, then more deliberate. Sometimes they seem to copy one another, trying to find a common movement, which usually breaks down at the very point of coalescence.
No one dancer is singled out from the others. Instead there is a constant weave of action on stage, an assemblage or ‘choreo-scape' of slowly building energy. All the same each of the Footnote dancers are immaculate in their patience with the work, almost seeming to haunt their own movements as their bodies start to move faster, gathering in a tight social flurry of movement that circles the unornamented stage. Throbbing sound-scores and tight knots of arms, fingers and hands create a density of action in this vast space. Bodies come apart and recombine in a tangle of purposes and different directions. It is dramatic and meaningful in a way that bypasses language, evoking the many ways that bodies communicate and interact through physical and emotional proximity.
At its peak of turbulence the dancers' individual natures intertwine within a group nature, where no single act is identified above the others but succeed in creating a up-welling of emotion or feeling. After the show some audience members spoke of a sudden desire to shout or yell at this moment, while others experienced a brimming up of feeling and anticipation. Then, just as the work reaches this catharsis, it subsides. The work melts away in a slow exhalation as the dancers slowly retreat back into atomized patterns of movement, still sculpting the air around them, but slowing, slowing, slowing until we return.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.
See also reviews by:
Ann Hunt (Dominion Post);
Bernadette Rae (NZ Herald);