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Print Version
Capital E National Arts Festival
Down Beneath Below
Choreographer: Sacha Copland
Production design: Meg Rollandi
Music: Thomas Press
Lighting: James Kearney

at Odlins Plaza Marquee, Taranki Wharf, Wellington
From 11 Mar 2013 to 23 Mar 2013
[45 mins]

Reviewed by Lyne Pringle, 18 Mar 2013

Java Dance Company presents an assured and entertaining performance called Down Beneath Below in a marquee on the water front; a great venue for this show. Sacha Copland and the company have been commissioned to make this work as part of the annual Capital E National Arts Festival for young people. The festival is now in its 10th year and uses several venues, all within walking distance,  which creates quite a buzz in the city. The commissioning process leads to a mutually beneficial partnership.

Down Beneath Below has been inspired by the Far South Project initiated by the Morgan Foundation to bring awareness to the area south of Stewart Island. Consequently there is a spirited cast of 2 penguins, a sea lion and an albatross who tussle and frolic on a curious set by Meg Rollandi.

Michael Gudgeon (Pen) and Sam Wang (Quinn) are the penguins (unspecified which species). They are groovy rapping hip hoppy types each with a distinctive character and they even get to rap a bit to help us identify the other characters in the work. Wang's rap in Chinese is a standout, as is his dopey bird, whilst Gudgeon is insouciant and cool. Their dancing is vigorous and hilarious when, stiff legged, they endeavour to negotiate the ramps.

Isabelle Nelson (Celia Iron) plays a sea lion with gently curiosity and much warmth, she brings alive the wallop waddle and roll of a seal on land and the sleek streamlined shape of the creature in water.

Another standout moment is her very physical duet with the albatross played by Lauren Carr (Alby) when their rivalry explodes into a flurry of breath-taking lifts – two strong women going for it!

Lauren Carr's ‘Alby' is multi textured, one moment strong staunch and awesome, the next vulnerable, soft and alone. In the end she takes flight in stunning fashion. She is such a committed, strong and expressive dancer.

Piles of chests of drawers offer many opportunities for the dancers to pop out unexpectedly, use them as percussion instruments, and sometimes completely disappear. These jumbles of furniture led into ramps and performance platforms with the audience on all sides (production designer Meg Rollandi). At one point the sea lion moves at speed around outside of the audience  with the penguins in hot pursuit on skates, – evoking the slippery depths of the ocean where these creatures become lithe and fluid as opposed to their sometimes clumsy (in character of course) land-based exploits.

Eventually the set is reconfigured to evoke heading even further south, and the creatures undertake a long journey using the edges of the set to depict the sense of the vast distances they travel. This segment of the work is choreographically strong, and the dancers lift and move each whilst staying connected.

The costumes are well designed by Rollandi (constructed by Harriet Denby) to bring the characters to life, and the music composed by Thomas Press is clever and multi-textured, adding a real sense of ‘place' to the work.

The lighting by James Kearney is magical, particularly the gorgeous aqua gels.

In typical Java fashion, the dancers work with extreme physicality which delights the small audience who are generally transfixed throughout. The audience are very close to the action and can almost touch the dancers, which they love. Choreographer Sacha Copland has created a rich and playful world that offers us an opportunity to visit the home of these precious creatures.

It leaves plenty of space for the imagination to take hold as we look Down Beneath Below.

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