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Photo: Stephen A'Court
Photo: Stephen A'Court
NZ School of Dance Graduation Season 2013
Michael Parmneter, Elie Tass, Antony Hamilton, Rafael Bonachela, Val Caniparoli, Jo Funaki, Sir Kenneth Macmillan

at Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington
From 20 Nov 2013 to 30 Nov 2013
[2 hours]

Reviewed by Jillian Davey, 21 Nov 2013

2013's NZSD Graduation Season opened with “Rise”, a contemporary ballet work by former RNZB dancer Jo Funaki.  A handful of sections were set to music by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber and required the students to hone their musicality, which they did with finesse.  Arms were held strongly and fully and legs were quick and precise (a testament to their youth and fast-twitch muscle development) but a bit more extension through the torso would have finished the lines.  “Rise” is a visually impressive piece to start with and the intricate leg work and complicated changes of direction were not lost on the audience.

Funakai describes an interesting twist on the choreographic process in the programme notes; “Rise” was created by listening to the music to the point of synaesthesia [a sensation or action experienced in one part of the body independent to the part being stimulated]… there were no choices to be made...I am merely the translator.”

“Ivory”, by Belgian Elie Tass, followed in stark contrast.  Third year contemporary students showed their range of movement styles, dictated by enforced limitations or permissions.  The first coming from a startled, twitchy soloist.  Her blade arms, fused straight and limiting her upper body's range of motion, created some interesting shapes and ways of getting in and out of the floor.  The second was created by the repeated short, sharp breathing of the full cast of six...  to the point I feared they would pass out from hyperventilation.  But instead of limiting them, the breath allowed them find deeper movement in their torsos and created great heaving motions.  In the final minutes of the work, they were driven by tension and convulsions that reminded me of a Baptist exorcism or a race towards nothing.  Even if the dancers don't, you'll be holding your breath through this one.

“Aria”, a solo performed by Tynan Wood, showcases Wood's firm grasp of ballet technique and control.  It's a short work and a slightly creepy one at that.  In a white, blank-faced mask, he hides his facial expressions.  With grand music from the opera Rinaldo, he appears aloof, royal, and disconnected.  It's only when the mask is taken off that we recognise him as human.

After a short intermission we return to Michael Parmenter's “No Lost Islands”, barely noticing that the performers have been sifting onto the stage as we fan and rehydrate ourselves.  It's a sparse, meditative piece of choreography, with lovely tableaus and partnering work but doesn't build to anything in particular.  It was a treat though, to watch a full stage of 15 male dancers… something we rarely get to see in the dance world.

Ballet duet “Façade” displays more beautiful lines and strong ballet technique, but with tortured faces, arm-grasping, and hand-wringing, it could be accused of being overly dramatic.  Especially as it's set to the most melodramatic piece of music known to man; Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.  The sighing women behind me obviously loved it though, so it will appeal to some.

“Façade” is switched out for “First Light” on alternating shows.  I'm tempted to go back to see Loughlan Prior's take on a tertiary-institute-appropriate duet.

“The Land of Yes and the Land of No” comes from Sydney Dance Company's Rafael Bonachela, a current sensation in the world of dance.  The third year contemporary students do a fine job of tackling the excerpts of this technically demanding work, holding their own with controlled strength.  Short solos and a lengthier duet were characterised by large, sweeping undulations juxtaposed with small hand movements.  The ‘soft strong' style was retained even in the final, more intensely crescendoed section.  The timing of the ending is an important and sometimes elusive task to tackle.  “The Land of Yes and the Land of No” does it perfectly; ending after the audience has a chance to settle into the movement but before they've had enough.

I wish I hadn't read the programme notes before seeing the next piece; “Patter Study II” by Antony Hamilton, assisted by Sarah Foster-Sproull.  Without giving too much away, I can tell you it's filled with repetitive counting, barking, barely decipherable whispering, has very little “dance” movement and has no music.  Do yourself a favour and read into it, make a story of it, or pick it apart with only the use of your imagination.  When you do read the programme notes, you'll have a giggle.  Even during the piece, you'll probably have a laugh at this absurdly fun work.

As the audience verge on breaking, we're given the final piece.  (I know this is a student showcase but perhaps a bit of thought could be given to the heat of the room v. length of the show ratio.)  The ballet graduates bid us farewell with a quirky (if not odd) piece of choreography by Kenneth MacMillan; “Solitaire”.  Although it looks classical enough at first glance (tutus, pointe shoes, corps, soloists) it's peppered with little bum wiggles, shoulder shimmies, jigs, and oddly placed arms resting just on top of the head.  However, it was created in the mid 1950's, when contemporary ballet was still in its infancy, so perhaps this was a study of contemporary vs classical for MacMillan.  It's cute and the soloists have visible talent but it's the longest piece of the night and doesn't have quite the impact that one of the other pieces may have had as a finale.

Go to witness the next wave of dance talent and a range of work…there's something for everyone…but know you're in it for the long haul - and arm yourselves with a large bottle of water and a wine. 

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