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MEDITATIVE STORIES WOUND AROUND A STELLAR CAST

Print Version

New Zealand Festival 2014
AGE
Choreography and concept: Ross McCormack
Producer: Melanie Hamilton
Performers: Muscle Mouth

at Soundings - Te Papa, Wellington
From 13 Mar 2014 to 15 Mar 2014
[1ihr 15 mins]

Reviewed by Jillian Davey, 14 Mar 2014


Ross McCormack is introduced as a rising star in NZ contemporary dance choreography, but it seems he's already risen.  With 13 years of performance and choreographic experience in New Zealand, Australia, and Europe (dancing with companies like Douglas Wright's here in NZ,  Australia's Chunky Move and ADT, Belgium's Les Ballets C de la B, and choreographies for Dance North (Australia) for Footnote, UNITEC and The School of Dance here in NZ) you could say he's a big deal.  According to a Dominion Post article and tonight's programme, the making of AGE signals his return to NZ and his intention to make work from Wellington.

His years of experience have allowed him to pull together a stellar cast for AGE; his first full length production made here.  I was lucky enough to see the showing of this work last year, after just a few weeks of workshopping.  Top artists from NZ, Austria, and Australia, as well as a talented behind-the-scenes crew (producer Melanie Hamilton, rehearsal director Victoria Columbus, composer Jason Wright, and lighting designer Natasha James) have turned that initial showing into a fully fleshed, complete work.

Without a hint of bravado or ego, the show folds out into a meditative story; one that the audience can read as deep or shallow into as they wish.  One of the encompassing highlights of AGE is that it never seems to try too hard.  The performers are dressed in sweat pants and cotton shirts, the set is comprised of just one large cardboard box, there are no flashes of light or sudden scene changes.  It creates a feeling of familiarity and allows us to see the work for what it really is.

McCormack's introduction to the show in the programme is relatively vague.  It begins, “I once watched a cardboard box die on the side of the street” and gives us little more about AGE than “[it] explores the connections, trust and curiosity intrinsic to our relationships”.  This gives us permission make what we will of the characters.  There's a definite familial feel to it… we can identify grandfather, son, mother, father, brother, and sister-like characters, but each performer may be playing several of these roles at once, or switch roles all together.  Questions increase when you notice physical similarities between performers (such as between Alex Leonhartsberger and Mick Rose, and between Luke Hanna and young performer, Harry Eathorne).

Here's a rough idea of one of the possible stories I got from AGE: An aging father looks back on his struggle to control and love his family and himself while he watches his younger version create the paths to where he is now.  A mother craves to bring her children back from adulthood, a sister creates mad scenes that her family attempt (but fail) to understand, a brother/son is torn between keeping his family together and retreating into his super-hero fantasies.  Meanwhile, the brother's friend is fascinated by the sister, creating a rift between friends but a possible relief for the rest of the family.  Sounds confusing, yes? And that's just one of many possible stories.

While McCormack requires his audience to think for themselves, he creates an often meditative pace, allowing us to contemplate several options at once; all while being affected by the calibre of dancing.  There is not a weak cast member among them.  Mick Rose, Alex Leonhartsberger, Claire O'Neil, Nicola Leahy, James O'Hara, Luke Hanna, and Harry Eathorne give equal believability and talent to whichever character we decide to bestow upon them.  (Though particular credit goes to Mick Rose who is trained and works as an actor, yet holds his own among the rest of the crew of trained dancers.)

By the final scene (a touching and gorgeous trio of generations) I was so caught up in the story I followed in my head that I found myself tearing up.  And we all know the highest accolade for a choreographer or performer is to make the audience cry.

McCormack is so far staying true to his wish and his word to make work in New Zealand.  A new show, The Maker, is already in the works.  I look forward to crying in more theatres
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