Culture, science and spirituality are the sources from which these choreographers (and all others) mine material for their work. The potential is infinite, and sometimes, unfortunately, the painting is thrown at the palette (and we all know what happens when too many colours mix together). Here we have two 30-minute works, which occupy polar (possibly polarising) ends of the dance spectrum. Most audiences will also sit at either end of this scale, as credit at one end will be seem to be detriment from the other. A third shorter piece provides a fulcrum between the two longer pieces.
Perch, Fleur de Thier’s reworked piece from 2009, presents humorous social stereotypes, likening women in a bar to birds in a cage. What was quite successful then, seems deconstructed and less colourful now. There is less diversity in the cast, and the addition of a man simplifies the relationships. Perch has lost its pathos. The movement seems less refined and when it gets too bird, the metaphor loses traction and I start to wonder why there’s so much twitching?
Young, fresh Andrew Miller (another first class secondment from the NZ School of Dance) should fare as well as a meat patty at a cougar party in this plot, but it is never clear who holds the power in the work. Hannah Tasker-Poland does a good job committing to her end-of-night melt down. We have all seen this character. She’s revved up and flying like a kite. This work needs a certain understated weirdness, which she delivers. Perch is a lively quirky audience favourite. I can’t argue with that.
Venus and Sailor, Maria Dabrowska’s duet for Miller and Erica Viedma, sits comfortably between the two longer works. While the title implies the literal, the programme notes suggest the abstract, and it is farther along that abstract path I would prefer to see it go. I guess the gist of the narrative before it starts – male plus female = sexual tension. Viedma is the dominant partner and casually murders poor Miller at the end. The woozy, wheezy music works. How would I describe it? It’s organ grinder jazz, mixed by a camp Caribbean pirate! That might be OTT but it is close.
Venus and Sailor exploits the voyeuristic pleasure we experience watching hot bodies seamlessly executing fluid partnering, and it really is beautifully executed, but it also makes me wonder why we find work like this in particular so satisfying. I suspect it comes a lot from our vicariously experiencing erotic sensation and athletic freedom. A friend once told me that all she wants to see in dance are things that she could or would not do herself. The warm audience response is testament to their appreciation. I enjoy it too because I’m as big a voyeur as the next guy!
comment from behind riles me (“I cannot yet afford a private booth”). A woman who obviously likes the piece says it is ‘more human’ than the previous work. Umm! Surely you meant to say ‘more relatable’. Everything happening on stage is unequivocally human.
Riki von Falken and I have something in common.
On 4 September 2010 she was standing shaken underneath Neil Dawson’s 1981 sculpture ‘ECHO’ . The sculpture echoed her experience that the line between positive and negative space has been broken. On 22 February 2011, the buildings of central Christchurch were shattering around me. Neil Dawson’s 2009 sculpture, ‘Skylens’ hung above me like the sky blue iris of an eye. My sensation of space was that it had been broken and redefined, and that is is my enduring memory from that day. And now the broken-ness of space is the theme of von Falken’s masterful new work Echo I.
This is a difficult piece to write about and for some, difficult to watch as such pure abstraction is not a familar form here. To me it appears to me to nudge that area where dance succeeds independently of theatricality, but is still vital and humane. While it may seem that the work is based solely on contrasting binary values, such as internal and external, that is a simplification. Rather, it is the flow between the poles, the use of middle ground, that is striking.
Defined by cohesive integration of space, body and energy, Echo I gives ‘external form to internal impetus’. Movement and pathway appear by turns gaseous and crystalline in character. The dancers move with gestural and postural clarity, economically refined: their focus is pliable and tentacular.
The liminal spaces becomes charged with value as the onstage traffic seems to be negotiating a phantom architecture, maybe recalling it in memory, maybe conjuring something from nothing. The clarity of movement and clearly observed spatial parameters weave something almost tangible from the empty space.
A sculptural form is beautifully projected to scale above the stage, and provides a constant reference point. The lines of it are referenced in turn by a blue cord demarcation of space at the front of the stage. At the rear, the curtain is open revealing the venue’s bones and detritus, a bisection of the structure suggesting that reconstruction and deconstruction are two mirror images of the same process. I closely watch what is happening in the space as the boundary between positive and negative space is being challenged and hope I will see the breakthrough. Sculptural light creates some texture and, ironically, the setting sun causes the stage lights to gradually ‘dawn’ on the performers.
The dancers exhibit a connection, a deliberate relativity, sometimes apparently triggering each other. They watch each other, I sense their investment but there is nothing at stake, they are waiting to make a decision but there is no anticipation. This is precision. I have been involved in abstract work before, but how this quality of easeful synchronicity is achieved, I don’t know. There is no beat or beat or pulse in the sound-scape — the score conjures images of rain sticks, electric bubbles, tinkling hollow glass beads, and alarming hammer blows (we all jump at this).
Riki von Falken has been a soloist throughout her career and I would love to see how her choreography is manifest in her solos. Judging by Echo I, it will be rich work, and I would like to see more of it. Thinking back over what she presented here, and re-reading my attempts to make sense of it, I suddenly realise that I totally get it. The expression of the movement is the enduring idea, rather than details about the movement itself. I’m sure having Von Falken’s residency for Southern Lights 2011 will have a positive impact on the quality of Christchurch dance, dancers and audience alike. And thanks also to Neil Dawson for the inspiration and protection.
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