Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre - Aotea Centre, Auckland

08/03/2024 - 10/03/2024

Auckland Arts Festival | Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki 2024

Production Details

Choreographer: Stephanie Lake
Composer: Robin Fox

Stephanie Lake Company

Nine dancers. Nine drummers. Nine drum kits. One exhilarating, heart-pounding show.

On a striking pink set reminiscent of Busby Berkley, a team of explosive drummers sits behind a troupe of astonishing dancers, in an impressive show of percussive and physical force. It’s an irresistible embrace of music, rhythm and motion you must see – and feel – for yourself.

Sold-out across Australia and fresh from its triumphant international premiere in Germany, this whiplash of pure, combustible energy comes bottled for the Festival stage. An infectious ‘tattoo to optimism’, Manifesto slams together electrifying dancing and huge, raw sound that will leave you shaking.


Choreographer Stephanie Lake
Composer Robin Fox

Rachel Coulson, Tra Mi Dinh, Marni Green, Samantha Hines, Melissa Pham, Harrison Ritchie-Jones, Robert Tinning, Kimball Wong, Jack Ziesing

Alijoscha Felber, Maria Moles, Tina Xuan Nguyen, Rama Parwata, Rohan Rebeiro, Alex Roper, Jennifer Tait, Rachel Trainor, Mathew Watson

Lighting Designer Bosco Shaw
Costume Designer Paula Levis
Set Designer Charles Davis

Sound Engineer James Wilkinson

Assistant Lighting Designer & Operator Rachel Lee
Production Manager Lisa Osborn
Producer Beth Raywood Cross

Dance , Contemporary dance ,

90 mins

Wild, unadulterated joy.

Review by Jenny Stevenson 10th Mar 2024

The absolute power of drumming and its ability to elicit movement and heightened emotion in response to an insistent beat, cannot be underestimated. Multiply this effect exponentially, with nine dancers responding to the sound of nine drum kits and the result is a whirl of untrammeled rhythmic dance that is underpinned by wild, unadulterated joy.

Certainly, the audience at the opening night, Auckland Arts Festival performance of Melbourne-based choreographer Stephanie Lake’s Manifesto respond with huge enthusiasm to this scenario. The performers win them over from the very beginning, with their shock explosion of sound in the opening minutes of the work. From then on, it is a trip through various heard and demonstrated emotive states, which are either created by composer Robin Fox’s score as interpreted by the drummers, or by the dancers themselves as a visceral response. It makes for great theatre.

As the work gets underway the dancers, initially seated on chairs, adopt poses of varying intensity, reflecting the single, sharply defined drum strikes of the musicians. It could be viewed as a warm-up perhaps, a preamble to bring into sharp focus the strength of the relationship between dancer and drummer. This intrinsic connection is defined by Paula Leavis’ starkly white costume design for the dancers, contrasting with the black attire of the drummers and the visual appeal of the pink folds of pleated fabric at differing heights, as designed by Charles Davis. Bosco Shaw’s lighting design pinpoints the drummers with absolute precision as they perform a series of brief pass-the-rhythm solos successively, moving the beats backwards and forwards along the line. Then, at various points Shaw re-directs the focus by lighting the dancers only, with the drummers in muted darkness.

Instead of a drummer’s circle, the four-piece drum-kits are placed at ascending and descending intervals either side of the lead drummer. It certainly appears to be an effective acoustic tool, as the sound is ably engineered by James Wilkinson for maximum impact. Lake’s choreographic vocabulary amalgamates ballet and contemporary dance forms into a blend of energetic movement and sharply defined placements. The trio formation features prominently with the dancers intertwining their torsos, heads and limbs into intriguing shapes, held only briefly, before transitioning into yet another configuration. Several solos are moving explorations of strong emotion as transmitted through the dancer’s body and the tone colour of the drums.

Lake uses humour throughout and the dancers are always communicating through their faces and body posture, milking the comedic moments for full effect. But the low-key more serious sections when they occur are powerful and it is a revelation to hear how a collection of drums can produce a sombre, other-worldly sound.

The nine dancers are superb performers and it is a joy to witness their explosive leaps, high extensions, multiple variations of turning steps and inherent joie-de-vivre in action. When moving in group formation their timing is impeccable, but they always keep their individual performance personae in play so that they present as a group of personalities rather than a homogenous mass of bodies. They dance full-out for the best part of an hour and still emerge smiling at the finish. The drummers also perform non-stop throughout, with absolute clarity and focus.

Lake says of her work “it is optimistic – a rallying cry for solidarity”. I would add that it is also an Ode to Joy and a fitting antidote to the anxieties of our time.” As a postscript it is interesting to note that the outgoing Auckland Arts Festival Artistic Director Shona McCullagh, herself worked as a choreographer with a group of live drummers, Strike Percussion NZ in 1998, in her commissioned work for the Royal New Zealand Ballet entitled Smashing Sweet Vixen.


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