Downstage Theatre, Wellington

02/11/2011 - 05/11/2011

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

12/10/2013 - 13/10/2013

Middleton Grange School Performing Arts Centre, Christchurch

14/10/2011 - 15/10/2011

The Print Factory, 35 Kings St, Newtown -, Wellington

23/04/2009 - 02/05/2009

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

25/10/2012 - 27/10/2012

TEMPO Dance Festival 2013

Body Festival 2011

Nelson Arts Festival 2012

Production Details

Plight of the exiled revealed in ‘her-storical’ new work    

Her mother was a refugee form war-torn Poland, her father sought a new life from the ashes of post-war Holland and their stories sparked a voyage of discovery for award-winning choreographer Maria Dabrowska, culminating in her bold new work Carnival Hound.

Carnival Hound was inspired by the life story of Maria’s mother and the stories of similar women escaping the tyranny of World War Two – and of those exiled from their home country to the abject bitterness of Siberia. It is both a serious look at the position of women amidst male-written histories and a surreal and humorous investigation of New Zealand identity.

In Dabrowska’s exciting original dance montage, three characters emerge from the remains of an excavated carnival site to confront what is left among the ruins and find their passions and joy amongst their loss and fury at injustice.

“What began as a funding application for a different idea became somewhat of an odyssey as I started to simply write about my mother’s experiences,” says Dabrowska. “In turn, that lead me to want to learn other women’s experiences of the War, and what I discovered was just how much of our history is written with a man’s eyes, full of war and competition and glory.

“That history is nowhere near the real plight of people, so with Carnival Hound I seek to explore women’s unwritten histories and their intuitive perspectives through family, war, change, suffering and survival.”

Carnival Hound will be a bold, creative and playful examination on these ideas, influenced by the female body, place, past, personality and representation. Dabrowska’s flair for original choreography drives the production, embodying beauty, style and a love of the ludicrous.

With this new production, Dabrowska (Heavenly Burlesque, Sleep Wake) teams up with dancers Mariana Rinaldi and Joshua Rutter (The Settlement) composer Eden Mulholland (Motocade), and dramaturg Jo Randerson (New Zealand Arts Foundation’s 2008 New Generation Artist).

Designer Stu Foster will transform Wellington’s The Print Factory (used for the award-winning production Sleep/Wake) into a macabre post-apocalyptic carnival ground, complete with dismembered mannequins that evoke the most harrowing images of war. Iconic Wellington bar The Southern Cross is supporting Carnival Hound.

Loft at Q Theatre, 

Carnival of Souls – return season 
Friday 11 and Saturday 12 October 2013, 6.30pm  


Dancers:  Maria Dabrowska with Mariana Rinaldi and Joshua Rutter (2011); Mariana Rinaldi and Alex Leonharstberger (2012, 2013)
Set Design: Stuart Foster
Lighting: Piet Asplet
Producer: Aimee Froud
Production Manager: Glenn Ashworth

Cast and Crew for 2011

Lighting Designer - Nathan McKendry
Production Manager - David Goldthorpe
Lighting Operator - Sean Hawkins 




Distorted realities

Review by Sue Cheesman 15th Oct 2013

Carnival Hound dance theatre collaboration was developed in 2008 directed by Jo Randerson and choreographed by Maria Dabrowska. Maria informs us in the programme note that initially the piece was a response to her Mother’s childhood story and stories of those who have been irrevocably changed by war.

Between then and now, this work has developed into the journey of a lone man trapped in the surreal unable to distinguish between past reality and his dreams. Alex Leonhartsberger embodies this character superbly.  His gestural solo reverberates with jerks, ticks, twitches and a variety of facial expressions and repetitive hand gesturing. We witness a man haunted and struggling in a distorted reality. There are two other characters, both female, danced by Maria Dabrowska and Mariana Rinaldi, they straddle a range of roles – victim, hooker, tormentor, plaything, rag doll… These two women imbue these different characters through articulate, skillful and precise dancing.   A stunning musical score by Eden Mulholland adds greatly to the mood and intensity of the piece.

Repeated falls and turns with lots of recurring motifs comprise Maria’s opening solo which commands one half of the stage. On the other half, red light shines on an assortment of mannequin parts while the lone male dancer casually examines them.

After picking through the pile of mannequin parts, the man stacks several in a wheelbarrow and transports them to a table. Already seated at the table and waiting is a broken-pieced mannequin torso. He attaches a head to an extended arm.

An intriguing array of props is utilised: mannequin body parts, cascading in and out of a red sofa/bath, a wind up music box plays happy birthday ; a table set with plates and eggs as well as many different chairs. These add to the piece in a functional and metaphoric way, sometimes being used as functional objects, but becoming  a weapon or plaything, or just setting the scene.

The disjointed relationship between the man  (Alex) and woman (Mariana) at the table is cleverly played out over the dividing of eggs with both dancers using mannequin hands which extend over their own. In this particular battle,  the man dominates and gets the lions share of food. The clever comic timing and drama of the scene makes us laugh.  I wanted to see more.

In another section, a tower of chairs crashes to the floor, providing the vehicle for playing out the children’s game of spotlight (catch me if you can without being caught out.) Girls versus boy!  Game on, and chairs scatter, pile up, upend, are balanced on and jumped on.  This section culminates in a physically exciting duet using a single chair ending with the man dropping the woman to the floor to be the victor yet again.

The work  concludes with all three characters positioned individually, each framed by their own square of light and cycling through their own specific movement phrases . This device reinforces their separation as characters by unaware of each other, and also suggests the metaphorical reality of a lone male in a single frame. 

The piece is not a linear narrative and sometimes I found it hard to see the connections between parts.  However realities are distorted and the piece is intriguing to watch and I could see links to the cabaret era and central European theatre genre which have influenced the choreography. All three performers bring clarity and skill to the disparate movement content and dynamic ranges which give depth to their characters. The dancing and carnival howling  (at one point) by all three, are stunning. 


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Loss, struggle and conflict lightened by wit and humour

Review by Janet Whittington 28th Oct 2012

A feature of this year’s Nelson Arts Festival seems to be the frequent use of an active stage before the performance begins.  Carnival Hound is no exception and held my attention from start to finish.

The  male dancer (Alex Leonhartsberger) is on stage as we seat ourselves. He is leisurely playing with mannequin parts. I assume this is symbolism for the war the choreographer Marias Dabrowksa’s mother lived through, which is by all accounts  the impetus for the dance. Being of a more upbeat and cheerful persuasion myself, I choose to take this scene literally while finding my seat.

The mannequin stiffness persists in the first scenes with a dinner sequence – also not what I expect of a dance performance. Leonhartsberger is jopined by Mariana Rinaldi and Maria Dabrowska.  Humorously fighting over food, the dancers are further handicapped by using the mannequin hands instead their own.  This may be the only dance performance I will ever attend where a dancer plays happy birthday on a wind up toy. Activated by the sound, and increasingly more active, the pace of the movement builds as it moves from the dining table, onto the full stage.

The dancers fight in a manner reminiscent of children fighting over toys, except they are fighting over half a dozen chairs. Wanting what the other has, pouting, sulking, dominating by getting their own way overtly or deviously, the chairs as trophies become secondary to the triumph of winning.

Symbolism and motivation aside, it is the movement of the dancers I have come here to see. Dabrowska has a refreshingly individual dance style. The development of the piece is different to other dances I have seen. I feel myself connecting with the three performers as the tension between them encourages first tentative then direct eye contact, with long pauses between connections between the three. Their movements with the chairs and amongst one other are heightened in drama by the punctuation of stillness after each set of moves, with an effect similar to that which you experience  when a magician constantly seeks applause throughout the knifing of his poor assistant – not what I normally expect in dance.

Another unique technique is tactile connection made with feet lifting the bodies by the head, face and neck, implying simultaneously a dysfunctional distance and a yearning for touch. Lots of interesting choreography around this idea left me with a feeling that the dancers were exploring a loss of intimacy, by shifting action to the feet rather than the hands.

Throughout, I repeatedly felt the themes of loss, struggle and conflict lightened by wit and humour. 

Highlighting [pardon the pun] the surreal, and an unusual feature in itself, I particularly liked the lighting technique of casting light below eye level horizontally across the stage. Often an invisible, integral part of any performance, this lighting style is noticeable for its point of difference and is an enjoyable element in the mix.

I also like watching the willowy Dabrowska who is healthy and luscious rather than Balanchine-reed thin.

The music written especially for the performance by Eden Mulholland is thunderous and warlike intermittently amongst more complex and groovy sequences. The choreography and the music blend and transition well together.

I go to dance performances for style and movement, and Dabrowska delivers satisfaction is spades for me. Symbolism and meaning take second place. Like others I heard chatting after the performancem, I was puzzled about the relationshipof the dance to the title, Carnival Hound, but  personally I decided it wasn’t relevant to my overall enjoyment of the show.


The choreographic style works well, is interesting and different. It is not often I laugh in dance. I was impressed with this performance because I did find the humour unexpectedly funny and I enjoyed it. Dabrowska doesn’t need an excuse to hang a performance on for me – her originality is a visual treat in itself.


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Contemporary dance/theatre at its best

Review by Greer Robertson 04th Nov 2011

We all lead such busy lives.

There’s so much to do and so much that one would like to do, can do or should do in a day. It’s all about time. Time, is there ever enough? Grind, push flourish, grind, push, flourish, grind, grind. Is it midnight yet? Midnight means that’s there’s another day happening, another day to get back on the treadmill of life to grind, to flourish, to live another day.

But, every now and then, something happens to break this cycle. Something that changes it, something that can. For me that something was the opening night of this years’ production of Carnival Hound.

 Abruptly life is pulled to a gigantic full stop, screaming to a halt –  this production uncannily causes to cease everything insignificant and unnecessary outside of it. The jolt is dramatic and then, sitting in the dark one is forced to explore a world of a different life, a life of intrigue, awe, dismay and disgust.

On entering the theatre, dismembered mannequins bodies are piled up on the stage bringing an immediate angriness and expectation. A body lying separately moves with frenetic fervour and fluidity, telling us of her angst. There is nothing that Dabrowskas’ body cannot do. Scenes of bizarre but normal behaviour around a dinner table depict power, love and control.

There are only three performers on the stage but the intensity of emotions and succinct deliverance makes one feel that there are at least 10!

It’s a contemporary dance/theatre work at its best.

Possession, adulation, annihilation, it’s all tchoreographer/ performer Maria Dabrowska displays a rendition of “her mothers’ childhood stories of those who have had their lives irrevocably changed by war.”

Superbly and innovatively crafted, this mature compelling work has many tiers and layers.

Silence is used as one person becomes the other.

Haunting music commands the space and it stays in your head.

The dancing is outstanding.

Not only does Dabrowska leave a lasting impression, but Alex Leonhartsberger uniquely commands the air and space about him as every fibre of his being is buoyant in articulation. There is a stillness even in his profound energy and technique. A stillness so rare in his solo that dramatically captivated my emotions to the point that I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to breathe! I could have watched him forever.

Mariana Rinaldi also adds her strong physicality and impeccable timing into the mix.

And even the resting Downstage Theatre comes alive with its exposed concrete walls and cavernous openings as it also seems to support the story. It is a very suitable venue to mount this work as from next year and beyond it will continue to attract world class artists and productions such as Carnival Hound.

A  rare find, this raw production is a definite must see and one definitely not to be missed.

Be ready to stop life’s treadmill even for a brief moment in time.

Be ready to accept the mental, emotional and physical journey of a difference.

Be ready… 


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Intellect and emotions challenged with athleticism and conviction

Review by Lindsay Clark 15th Oct 2011

‘Crossover theatre’ was the term which took me there and cross over one must, beyond the conventional language of the stage and into territory both dark and illuminating.

The work has been shaped in response to refugee stories, notably from Maria Dabrowska’s Polish mother’s childhood, but there is no narrative thread to the material. Rather, it is a series of strongly assertive images where superlative dancers, some evocative sound and set elements are revealed by clever lighting.

The opening statement is a powerful one which informs the whole piece. A pile of discarded mannequin limbs is being systematically added to by the male dancer (Alex Leonhartsberger) of the trio we will see. He trims them with deliberate half-caressing movements, before placing them and fetching the next from a barrow. The grotesque image is about control and something more sinister, suggesting bones and war.

Something alive seems to escape and Maria Dabrowska flings into the first of many extraordinary sequences. Her long limbs sometimes respond to invisible strings and at others flail or dissolve as she melts from one extreme position to another until our attention is directed to a small side table where a partially assembled mannequin faces the male, soon to be joined by a woman (Mariana Rinaldi) who is pulled up from her collapsed position across the table. There is food – eggs – which the man can scoop up for himself with his long prosthetic forearms, but for the woman there is only hunger, obstruction and rejection. 

By now it is clear that women are not going to come off well in this brilliantly choreographed world, but they go on with the struggle and in one sequence – the closest we will come to comedy – they gang up on the male, working closer to him with chairs as he is alternately distracted. At other times one or other will mimic him or tempt him as the images dissolve, along with changing sound and light, until the pile of dead or dismembered is revisited. 

It makes for intriguing viewing, where admiration for the athleticism and conviction of the dancers is as strong as the intellectual and emotional challenge of the material and choreography. Festival stuff indeed.  


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Impressionistic reverie

Review by Kristian Larsen 05th May 2009

In my (predictably) forthright opinion this show is a technical, theatrical, collaborative, and personal breakthrough for choreographer Maria Dabrowska. Despite being in step with offshore theatrical progressions Carnival Hound is of a lineage that hasn’t really taken hold round these parts. And that’s the anomaly. This is essentially theatre where dance and choreography are the meta language. [More]
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Refugee saga not for the faint hearted

Review by Jennifer Shennan 27th Apr 2009

The original idea for this work related to the choreographer’s mother’s experience as a wartime child refugee, the specifics of which were Poland, Siberia and eventually New Zealand. However the work’s title and enigmatic programme notes offered instead a  " … macabre, post-apocalyptic carnival ground, where three characters explore women’s unwritten histories in their intuitive perspectives, through family, war, change, suffering and survival." 

These are such vast themes that the work’s episodic form achieved only atmosphere rather than connection between them.  There were bleak images involving dismembered mannequins and a sense that death is just one more body to be dealt with. Chairs were weapons and barriers, not places of rest. Surreal encounters between the performers were asymmetric and unkind. There was black humour in a meal masterfully served by two sets of puppet hands. Although many in the audience found things to laugh at, I did not find the work in any sense lighthearted.

The saga by which 734 Polish children, mostly orphaned, arrived in New Zealand in 1944 is one of the most remarkable and inspiring stories in our country’s history of migration. Those experiences have been rivetingly if modestly documented in a collection of 101 narratives by the resilient survivors, and published in 2004 to mark the 60th anniversary of their arrival here. There is also a striking animation film based on the story of one of those families.

It seems a pity not to have incorporated some fragments or sequences from these resources  into Carnival Hound, to create a stronger choreographic framework for its explorations. As it is the dance sequences sit somewhat apart from the rest of the staging, allowing no companionship, resilience or sense of completion for the journey. 

Maria Dabrowska is an enterprising, driven performer capable of often surprising movement. She has staged the work for herself, Mariana Rinaldi and Joshua Rutter, to music by Eden Mulholland. It is a courageous undertaking, and its impressionistic metaphor reminds that bullying is what eventually leads to war. Lest we forget. This is a somewhat amorphous theatre-piece, with powerful and often challenging imagery not for the faint-hearted. Powodzenia!  
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Inspired to leaps of imagination and interpretation

Review by Jo Thorpe 24th Apr 2009

There is a moment in Carnival Hound when a man hauls up the body of a dead woman, opens her slack mouth and checks her teeth, presumably for gold.  It is done in such a way that all the images and ideas which have preceded this moment seem to coalesce: the body as thing, death, waste, male exploitation.

How much should one read about a dance performance before experiencing it?  I had read that as a choreographer, Maria Dabrowska likes to ‘tie threads together with images.’ I had learnt that in making this work, she was inspired by her mother’s story of being a refugee from war-torn Poland.  And I knew that her father had made a new life from the ashes of post-war Holland.  Intrigued by all this, I went along eager to see a new work, by dancers new to me, in a venue which took me out of the theatre and into a different performance space. 

I was not disappointed.  As the roller door opens into a cavernous concrete warehouse, the audience is led into a darkened smoke-filled space, past dismembered mannequins piled high in a red bathtub.  A dancer (Joshua Rutter) casually sands down a plastic leg, a torso with breasts, assembles body pieces.  In the opening sequence, a second dancer (Mariana Rinaldi) dressed in shorts and a man’s suit jacket, moves in ways which suggest part automaton, part breakdancer, part doll from Petrouchka yanked into the 21st century. 

Indeed, Carnival Hound contains echoes of many things seen before – Michael Parmenter’s Dark Forest, Pina Bauch’s Café Muller.  There are hints of the Holocaust, Dracula, Dante, Cabaret.  Yet it makes of all that something new:  a scenic collage in which the ideas themselves seem to move, giving us a choreography of profound images. 

In a nightmarish scene when a man tries to dance with a dead woman to the sound of bombs and stuttering guns, we feel his awful loss.  When earlier, he dons false amputees’ hands, as if putting on a surgeon’s gloves, it is as if he is about to make the cut -which he does.  In the ensuing slow-motion dinner table scene, we feel his power, her impotence, his greed, her hunger.  While this duet may not be ‘dancing’ per se, it uses energy, form, space and precise timing. And the symbolism of the eggs is not lost.

Not all in Carnival Hound is bleak, however. There are moments of humour, such as in the scene in which a collapsing chair tower starts to advance towards its ‘prey’, bringing to mind childhood games of Bullrush, Simon Says or Musical Chairs, and drawing laughter from the audience.  But the mood soon blackens again, and in a deft duet involving a number of wooden chairs, I feel a surge of anger as the man seeks to diminish the woman, yet again. 

Suddenly though, it is her turn.  In a beautifully choreographed sequence, she manipulates his prostrated form with her feet, the contact between them strangely degrading, as in an unhealthy relationship of co-dependency. 

As in the tradition of Pina Bausch, this work has no linear narrative.  But we see the theatrical imagination at work in the visceral soundscape by composer Eden Mulholland that is at times unearthly and grotesque, and in the stark lighting design by Piet Asplet, with its long angular shadows, geometric shapes and a bright doorway through which the dancers come and go.

Throughout, the dancing is clean and committed.  All three perform solos at different times (Dabrowska also dances), convincingly portraying their various characters – the bully, the hooker (in tight mini and high heels), the victim, the banshee, the scavenger who sees bodies as detritus, dragging one off by the arm to the accompaniment of a militaristic marching tune and tossing it onto a graveyard of bones. 

As the work resolves itself into the final scene, the three dancers, each in their own square of light, spin, whip their arms around, fall, gyrate, scythe and axe the air in a frenzy of movement.   One pool of light disappears, then another, until finally the third fades into darkness.  Is Dabrowska suggesting that the theatres of war move, from one place to another?  Or that they will eventually implode of their own accord?  Or that fighting to the end is important?  Or that when one attempts to get to the bottom of something, the abyss yawns? 

For me, this is the secret of this textured work’s success.  I am asked to make leaps of the imagination, to come up with my own translations.  And in the process, I am fully absorbed and moved.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.




Rhys Latton April 25th, 2009

The second dancer was Maria Dabrowska.

LX April 24th, 2009

the lighting design was by Piet Asplet
[Correct - and now corrected. Aplogies. Stuart Foster designed the set. - ED]

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