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POWERFUL, DARKLY BEAUTIFUL WORK

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Latisha Sparks - photo Stephen A'Court
Latisha Sparks - photo Stephen A'Court
The Residents - New Zealand School of Dance Choreographic Season 2014
Director: Victoria Columbus
Student Choreographers: Jeremy Beck, Tessa Hall, James Wasmer, Paige Shand, Amanda Mitrevski, Michael Ramsay, Mark Semple, Roymata Holmes, Eliza Sanders, Lauren Byrne

at Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington
From 16 May 2014 to 24 May 2014
[1 hr]

Reviewed by Ann Hunt, 19 May 2014


This programme of ten choreographies created by third year contemporary dance students at the New Zealand School of Dance is outstanding. Original, articulate, amusing and professionally performed, it could tour immediately, such is the quality of the entire production.

The work is surely directed by Victoria Columbus and danced by second and third year students, with design input from students from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. The latter's contribution in terms of set, costumes and lighting are of a very high standard indeed, and coupled with the excellence of choreography and performance, contribute equally to the production's cohesion and success. The hour and a half programme consists of ten pieces with no interval.

The world of The Residents is deconstructed and strange. Grunge rules.  The palette is grey, dirty white, black and pale blue. Staircases lead to nowhere, doors float and a fireplace is an entrance for peculiar beings you may or may not wish to meet. People scuttle like beetles or spiders across the floor, dressed in a ragbag of costumes (Jane Boocock, Donna Jefferis,) that appear to have come from different time periods. Short skirts may carry a bustle. There are sleeveless deconstructed tail coats and mini crinolines. Within this dystopia, the individual dances are informed by the student choreographers' own backgrounds.

Interestingly, the set was designed by last year's students from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School for a film project and re-cycled for this year's choreographic season.

One of the production's pleasures is the seemingly random way the residents of this odd world have acquired aspects of previous cultures.  Standards by Cole Porter vie with Du Bist Die Ruh by Schubert, Sempre Libera from La Traviata and pounding disco beats. The dancers  move like Charlie Chaplin one minute and Gene Kelly the next. They often seem like beautiful automatons, within predestined roles over which they have little or no control. Colour and individuality is leeched from newcomers to their world.

If this is the students' comment on New Zealand 2014 it is indeed a bleak one. And yet, in spite of,  (or perhaps because of,) within this sombre outlook, they have created this powerful, darkly beautiful work, which is surely a warning cry to beware the future, and act now.  

The standard of choreography and performance overall is excellent and all deserve mention. But Michael Ramsay's Supreme Arcitecture (Sic) (correct title) stood out for the originality of its conception and the intense performances from James Wasmer and Mason Kelly.

Fade, (choreography, Jeremy Beck,) secured The Residents' surreal world and was a good opener.  It was followed by Mark Semple's What is Touch which underlined the insecurity of the inhabitants in a world not of their choosing. 

Eliza Sanders Pink!ish featured a powerful duet by Chris Mills and Mason Kelly, as well as weird and somewhat disturbing crinolines on two men, from which women's heads suddenly and freakishly protruded. Wonderful!

Sophie Gargan was memorable in Roymata Holmes' Born Under a bad Star. Her fluid lovely movement contrasting with jerky, anxious ones.

Paige Shand's In the Mood is a fast, effervescent homage to old movies. Jacob Edmonds' whimsical clown-like character, first Chaplin, then Kelly, is very amusing and the work's ending delightful.

In Tess Hall's The Game, Eliza Sanders performed a strikingly dramatic solo and Alexandra Clarke's ‘Ally' was arresting.

!#@?!* (choreographyLauren Byrne,) let the dancers rip in a full-on, fierce disco-like number. While Amanda Mitrevski's Line utilised long strips of cloth to form spider web-like strands or chains, across the stage that caught the dancers', sometimes choking them and sometimes preventing them from speaking. They symbolised “...laws like spiders' webs, that entangle and hold the poor and the weak, while the ... powerful will easily break through them.” This work ended on a positive note with the webs breaking apart and falling to the ground.

James Wasmer's frantic Fasnet (a German carnival,)concluded the evening. William Keohavong was a passionate, disturbing fool/jester, inciting the crowd to greater extremes of wildness. Again, the costumes were striking, especially the masked men dressed in aproned skirts with scarves tied under their chins, resembling weird harridans or witches from twisted folk tales.

The standard of this production is indicative of the high quality of teaching that makes the New Zealand School of Dance one of the foremost dance institutions in Australasia. 

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