Artefact - How to Behave in a Museum
20/03/2022 - 27/03/2022
Auckland Arts Festival 2022 | Te Ahurei Toi O Tāmaki
The New Zealand Dance Company
Auckland Arts Festival and Auckland War Memorial Museum
From the visitor hosts to the security team, the people who run the iconic Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum offer rabbit holes of possibility. The majestic nature of the Museum’s architecture, the relics that are housed within, and the tireless efforts of those behind-the-scenes open up enchanting portholes of imagination to explore.
Featuring New Zealand Dance Company performers Carl Tolentino, Chrissy Kokiri, Katie Rudd, Ngaere Jenkins, Kosta Bogoievski, and Katrina Bastian, Choreographer Ross by McCormack masterfully uses his signature elements of physical theatre and comedy interwoven with his iconic style of movement to reveal some irresistible secrets of the human experience.
Digital Premiere Sun 20 March at 4.00pm and available to watch until Sun 17 March at 11:59pm. Tickets: Minimum $20 /individual tickets, and $45/household tickets.
Katrina Bastian, Kosta Bogoievski, Ngaere Jenkins, Chrissy Kokiri, Katie Rudd, Carl Tolentino, Darrell Daglish
Swiss Horn Player
Composition and Sound Design
For The New Zealand Dance Company
Executive Creative Director
James O’Hara & Tor Colombus
Physical , Experimental dance , Digital presentation , Dance-theatre , Dance , Contemporary dance , Comedy ,
Charming Funny and Human
Review by Julia Harvie 23rd Nov 2022
The last time I visited The Arts Centre to see a dance show was in June earlier this year. It was bitterly cold, and the audience gathered reverently in the dark in the South Quad. Now it is a particularly warm spring evening and there is a different atmosphere entirely. A sense of delight fills the clocktower where we gather, smiling at each other, a collective giggle of anticipation is in the air. I have come with my two children aged 8 and 10, and I see other families here too with babies, and toddlers, through to my lot, and teenagers all the way through to grandparents. It is a joy to see such a range of ages here to see the show.
ARTEFACT is a work created to be performed in art galleries. The company have been touring the country and in each centre, the work has to be adapted and nestled into each space. This evening, there is the regular night market at Christchurch Art Gallery down the road and I suspect that might be the reason behind using the gothic buildings of the Arts Centre instead. It also feels ironic that the city’s gallery has to prioritise a market over a dance show – commerce ahead of art -albeit charming, sustainable, arts and crafts commodities that draw a crowd, and dance never quite managing to get itself above the status of ‘Entertainment’ as opposed to ‘Art’. Added to the irony perhaps is that ARTEFACT is here to delight and highlight ALL OF THIS IRONY. And yes, the crowd drawn to the show is small, much smaller than the night market crowd. Ōtautahi is always a challenging place to present contemporary dance, even though it has produced some of our best, including Malia Johnston, Emma Murray, Raewyn Hill, and none other than Ross McCormack whose work is being presented this evening.
Ross has had a stellar career dancing here in Aotearoa, Australia and Europe. He has lived the dream. Now he has returned to Aotearoa as one our most significant contemporary choreographers and I reckon he has really nailed it with ARTEFACT.
I cannot emphasise how FUN this show is, but also how clever it is. Clever in the sense that it manages to bridge a divide between those in the know and those here for a show. It manages to ironically poke fun at the art world, contemporary dance’s existential crisis, be an entertaining delight and also somehow be a very personal, almost memoir-like text all at once, and dare I say it quintessentially ‘Kiwi’, with a kind of self-deprecating wit and charm.
The Arts Centre has had many lives over the years, originally as Boys High School, then Canterbury University, and pre-quake it had been for some time known as the Arts Centre, synonymous with the Court Theatre, weekend markets, buskers, craft studios, cinemas and cafes. It was also where I went to ballet school and began my career as a dancer myself performing for Sheryl Robinson in the tiny Southern Ballet Theatre. In recent times post-quake, it has had somewhat of an identity crisis of its own, having to pour huge amounts of money into restoration and becoming a precious heritage site, it somehow lost its ability to be gritty. I say all this to explain that the building is steeped in both civic history and countless Cantabrians have personal connections to this place. So, in many ways, while the night market rocks on at the Gallery, maybe The Arts Centre was a more apt home for ARTEFACT for this city’s audience.
The performance incorporates the ‘Great Hall’, which is more like a theatre space than a gallery, as well as the South Quad, and the small dealer gallery in the middle of the South Quad. We are led into the Great Hall where seats are laid out in a semi-circle. We encounter a performer dressed as an invigilator, white-gloved and lanyard brandished around her neck. She is polishing a single class case which appears to hold precious artefacts – perhaps they are fossils? Innocuous classical music fills our ears as another invigilator enters the space (Kosta Bogoievski), he is carrying a larger artefact. Just as he reaches the glass case to mount the object, he trips. The artefact shatters. ‘Was that supposed to happen? Is that part of the show?’ asks my ten-year old son. An excellent metaphorical action to punctuate the show and set the tone.
Cue new music with the chorus: ‘All this lying has to stop” a dust buster sucks up the damage, while two invigilators lip-synch to the song. YES! They are lying to us, but also telling the truth. That is art right? You can have it both ways?
Language is used to excellent effect throughout the show. Both in the aptly chosen lyrics of the music, to the delivery of spoken word. I am a big fan of the choreography of words: How can words become bodily in a way they’re not in a play or a poem? How can they be more than simply spoken or delivered? How can words dance through space and time? McCormack has done exactly that. He uses lip synch to great effect. Sometimes it is used as we know it – mouthing the words to the music, but also between dancers where one speaks the words and guttural utterances that the other mouths. A scene from Top Gun is re-enacted, a Health and Safety briefing is whispered and then bellowed, sped up and slowed right down, and Jag Popham delivers the most indirect direct address I have ever seen or heard. Nothing lands, gets finished, or is actually delivered – like a lot of art…and a lot of art lovers…but it is also charming and funny and human…like a lot of art and a lot of art lovers. It is like we are hearing and seeing the words. We hear the words: ‘She is becoming the truth. Just look at her’ juxtaposed with a woman imposing her own hand over her own mouth, and then repeated and re-shaped and morphed, passed between performers throughout the show. All this use of voice is juicy and virtuosic.
And then there is the play with the crowd. The audience, like language, gets choreographed in a multitude of ways, and as we warm up to the fact that we too are the Art, we get more and more willing to play along. We are watched by the invigilators – who perform looking at us, looking at them, looking at Art and we think about our own bodies, and the socially choreographed behaviours and roles we play out when viewing art. Some of us get the security pat down which morphs into tiny and fleeting vignettes of human exchange like high fives, and the duet position for a waltz, one audience member has his mind and actions read and predicted. For real?
A precious art work is veiled in faux red velvet and then reverently unveiled to present a classical painting of a classical sculpture in a gilt frame. Kosta removes his walkie-talkie and lanyard, he removes his gloves, his jacket, he unbuttons his shirt and removes his pants. He mimics the form of the sculpture in the painting, he adjusts the light, he breaks the art and tries to salvage it, only to destroy it further. Art imitating life.
“She looked at me….the structure is changing”
We finish where we began seated in the Great Hall, but in a different chair, transformed and changed. Pedestrian actions of the spectator viewing an art object are slowly morphed and revealed as dance language, the object is described in all its glory and then the description transforms to be the voice of the dancer – their internal doubts, the doubts of dance itself and then……David Bowie: “Let’s Dance”.
This work is addressing that question we are often faced with as choreographers: “I liked it but I didn’t really get it”. Well Ross and NZDC. I liked it and I get it and so did everyone in the crowd. The ten year old says: “Best show you’ve ever dragged me to Mum”. I’d say this is high praise. Bravo.
3 November 2022, The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Analyse for deeper meaning or simply enjoy first-class dance and humour
Review by Melanie Stewart 29th Oct 2022
This intriguing, piece of dance/theatre was created by Arts Laureate Ross McCormack and is performed by members of the New Zealand Dance Company.
McCormack was inspired by the work of the security guards, visitor hosts and other workers at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, where this show was premiered in March 2022. It is designed to be site specific – set in an Art Gallery, Museum or Library – and is based on the concept of how we react and interact with the objects in a specific space. In our case, the Art works in Nelson’s Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū.
The performance is a unique and captivating combination of dance, drama and vocal soundscapes. The dancers lead us through the gallery in promenade fashion accompanied with a speaker, and two microphones and a couple of dispensable art pieces. Each area conjures up its own little bit of magic that is interesting, skilful sometimes bizarre, and always entertaining as it brings to life the different characters we might see in these spaces.
I enjoy the juxtaposition of McCormack’s choreography against the artwork on display. The way we view some of the more abstract art and try to find meaning in contrast to Rita Angus’s landscapes and portraits is reflected in the performance through the contrast between the sharp, beautifully executed choreographed dance and the sometimes-harsh collision of vocal soundscapes and dialogue.
A hugely appreciative audience dutifully plays their part in submitting to security guards, forming straight lines and in general doing what they are told.
Whether you are intrigued by this performance and want to analyse it for the deeper meaning in exploring the human psyche or whether you just fancy enjoying some first-class dance and humorous entertainment, this is a show worth seeing. Nelson’s pay what you can policy has ensured it is accessible to most and is certainly worth the effort.
Next time I visit an Art Gallery, Museum or the Library I just may pay great attention to the people around me.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
An Experience of Seeing Art
Review by Hannah Molloy 24th Oct 2022
Artefact by the New Zealand Dance Company is a comical and questioning take on the expectations placed on viewers of art in traditional spaces, in this case, the beautiful spacious Dunedin Art Gallery.
Beginning in the foyer, with a pensive dancer dusting a perspex case containing an indeterminate (but clearly very significant) sculpture. An officious cough from the balcony several floors up, followed by the arrival of the equally officious ‘supervisor’, triggers movement, which in this first piece culminates in the sculpture crashing to the ground and shattering. The audience stops its desultory chat, a slightly shocked collective laugh puffing out into the space as the poor dancer sheepishly collects a dustpan and brush and places the larger pieces back onto the plinth from which they fell.
From here the performance accelerates and decelerates, with the audience invited to follow the performers to different spaces and resettle ourselves onto differently arranged seats, standing in a semi-circle or spread along balcony railings, to take a different view of the dancers unpacking the experience of viewing artworks. I’m amused by the irony of passing a cordoned-off artwork with a large and assertive sign saying, “NO TOUCH AREA”. I’m equally amused by the elderly woman who seats herself next to me at one point and asks whether I’m finding the work entertaining – she isn’t and wonders huffily what her $43 was for. She was having a very different experience of viewing a piece of art to mine – I was entertained but perhaps also open to the idea of being entertained in a way that I hadn’t assumed I would be.
Watching the dancers from above gives the opportunity to see things from a different perspective – the point of the moment I suspect – which included noticing that they all had matching parts in their hair, although one was shaggy/golden/brown rather than smooth/dark/white. An insignificant and probably meaningless detail but I suppose if you’re going to look at something from all angles, you’ll notice and consider the small details and that’s surely the point of both spending time with an artwork in an art gallery and participating in the human experience.
I’m not sure if it was deliberate or something to do with the rules around experiencing art in a formal space, but it wasn’t lost on me that the performance took place well away from any ‘actual’ artworks.
- Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Soothsayers of subtlety and nuance doing ‘laps around the sun’.
Review by Lyne Pringle 24th Mar 2022
The New Zealand Dance Company has a hit on its hands with Artefact: How to Perform in a Museum. Originally created as a live promenade event for Tāmaki Paenga Hira/Auckland War Memorial Museum, it has morphed into a fabulous filmed version.
Once again the Covid-19 virus has opened up compelling new possibilities for dance events. Choreographer Ross McCormack has always had a filmic quality in his works. His oeuvre shifts naturally to this idiom.
The company are in good form. It is clear that the slow-down in performances, touring and the tyranny of the box office has been beneficial to their development: time for experimentation, time to contemplate the nature of the work they choose to present.
This iteration is seasoned and ripe; depth, invention and surprise fizzes freshly from the screen like the energy of a live event. In McCormack’s work, performers are invited to inhabit humour, character and scene as well as delving into the intricate and idiosyncratic potential of their voices. Company regulars are Chrissy Kokiri, Katie Rudd, Ngaere Jenkins and Carl Tolentino. Strengthening the line-up are newcomers Kosta Bogoievski and Katrina Bastian, who bring their own mature and vibrant practice to the ensemble.
McCormack is a clever, intriguing artist. This version of Artefact captures, with crisp production values, a moment in time: performance art, deftly and creatively welded with an august venue, replete with Apollonian columns and gorgeous symmetry. Willing and able collaborators conjure magic. As this company, along with others and major festivals, pivot (the verb of the moment) to make the work available online, good quality recordings of normally ephemeral performances are emerging. This is rapidly rectifying the dismal lack of such resources in Aotearoa. The performers have fun, mischievously disrupting the expected etiquette of the normally austere surrounds. Staircases become surfaces for bodies to meltdown headfirst or to tumble down to a melodramatic death. Spaces become playpens for these physically astute performers who are soothsayers of subtly and nuance doing ‘laps around the sun’.
Choreography wavers between, tight sequences with unusual movement pathways, complex spatial relationships and gestural constructions where vocal ums-ahs, stop-start-stutters and snippets of text are articulated into visibility as pent-up energy in the body. This kind of physical/vocal dithering is something of a McCormack trademark. It is both powerful, to see these performers embrace all that this choreographer has to offer, and reassuring that his unique cache of performance skills can be passed on to another generation.
Muscles twitch, sometimes emulating the sounds of the mover, other times sounds and text materialize from another performer and are lip-synched, like a nervy ventriloquist’s dummy – these moments are oddly fascinating. This marriage of sound and movement is reminiscent of the Sidi Larbi – Akram Khan work Zero Degrees, but it is very much its own thing as well.
Camera angles capitalize on the architectural splendour, one overhead shot captures a ‘Busby Berkley’ type number around the central star on the floor of the foyer. Cameramen Benjamin Booking and Andy Farrant frame the show well and Caroline Bindon edits the whole into a satisfying concoction.
The unwavering irreverent tone of the work is a stylish and witty commentary on the precious objects housed in a museum and the kaupapa surrounding them. The contemporary milieu bounces off ancient perceptions and icons. Even the choreography itself gets an ironic poke in a snappy duet between Tolentino and Bogoievski where they comment on the content as it is delivered – a ‘post-post-post-modernist’ twist, perhaps, where even as some ‘thing’ comes into existence it has, in its appearance, already become an artefact that is immediately outdated.
At one point the inclusion of a 4 metre Swiss horn, played by Darrel Daglish, bellowing through the echoey space, reinforces the disconcertingly strange, yet welcoming world we have stumbled into. A place ‘where everybody gets to have fun in the weekend’ as the soundtrack commands. It is as if the building has ‘selfhood’. Its secrets, murmurings and behaviours – to turn the title of the work around, Artefact: How Museums Behave given free rein!
The patchwork of composition and sound design by Alistair Deverick is eclectic and lush. In early scenes a loopy harp riff threads the work together in a tentative and goofy way. Most musical choices give the work forward momentum whilst some teeter on the edge of upstaging when action swirls about in an investigative eddy to a pop tune.
A guard disrobes and emulates the Dying Gaul, a plaster replica of the original Brucciani sculpture. In 1878 the museum received a gift from Thomas Russell of 33 full-size casts of antique statuary. Oddness abounds with this replica of a replica lolling about beside ugly modern directional maps as post-colonial empire decays.
To end, the camera zooms in on a plinth beneath the ruins of an artefact, accidentally destroyed in the first scene.
There is a quote from the choreographer Ross McCormack ‘Some of my better work comes by way of accident.’ His tongue is firmly lodged in the inside of his cheek as the credits roll and Ngaere Jenkins unleashes an exhilarating and kick-ass beatbox rap at the desk that usually welcomes visitors to the building. This pumped-up banshee sends us off into the night with a smile on our faces.
Artefact: How to Perform in a Museum is available online until March 27th – it is definitely worth tuning into.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer