SKY CITY Theatre, Auckland

16/03/2016 - 19/03/2016

Auckland Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

Another letter from Earth
Choreographed by Neil Ieremia

Death – the bringer of change, liberator from pain and suffering, a keeper of its own time. Distant and close it touches everyone, brutal and peaceful, quick and slow.

Is it a doorway to rest, nirvana, everlasting life or is it simply the end?

How do we wait for it, how do we accept it when it comes?

Physical, spiritual, the death of curiosity is the death of mind. A sense of belonging is intrinsic to the human spirit, without this, are we culturally dead?

I have watched death reunite those relationships broken by distance and time, bring out the best and the worst in people. Can death truly heal the bruised spirit and the broken heart? Will it bring rest and forgetfulness when it finally comes?

How should I wait?

I will try to wait well.

變化與恆常 Change and Constancy 
Choreographed by Kuik Swee Boon in collaboration with Dancers

Change and Constancy explores the parallels between Swee Boon’s Singaporean society and the different cultures, backgrounds, and nationalities of Black Grace’s dancers. Swee Boon’s fluid, evocative movements, often underscored by melancholy, are melded with the raw energy, natural athleticism and spirit of the Black Grace dancers and Zhuo Zihao and Wu Mi from T.H.E., to deepen an enquiry into society’s tolerance of difference and whether we are mature enough to celebrate diversity. 

Kuik Swee Boon is the first international choreographer invited by Neil Ieremia to work with Black Grace – a fitting way to celebrate this groundbreaking dance company’s 20th anniversary.

These new works are part of the Asia Pacific Dance Project, an Auckland Arts Festival initiative bringing choreographers from the Asia Pacific Region together to create and present work.  

Black Grace company dancers: Sean MacDonald, Gabrielle Thomas, Sarah Baron, Otis Herring, Tupua Tigafua, Callum Sefo, Maressa D'Amore Morrison, Ruby Alai'i, Demi-Jo Manolo, Roymata Holmes, Shane Toefano

Maipihi Rerehau-Kelland - cultural performer

T.H.E. dancers:  Zihao Zhuo, Mi Wu and Billy Keohavong

In collaboration with Dancers
Artistic Director / Choreographer Swee Boon Kuik
Music: Simulacra I from Sólaris by Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason; Wonderful Seagull Song
B1 from Stare-Ep by Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm
Costume Concept: Swee Boon Kuik
Lighting Designer: Paul Lim
Stage Manager: Alice Fleming

Artistic Director / Choreographer
Neil Ieremia
Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten, Arvo Pärt, played by the Staatsorchester Stuttgart, Conductor, Dennis Russell Davis
Tabula Rasa, Arvo Pärt, played by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, Conductor, Saulus Sondeckisi
Costume / Props Designer: Neil Ieremia
Lighting Designer: Paul Lim
Make Up Designer: Lochlain Stonehouse, M.A.C
Stage Manager: Alice Fleming

Dance , Contemporary dance ,

1hr 20mins

Moving in contested spaces

Review by Francesca Horsley 22nd Mar 2016

Despite the joy and intimacy of sharing our diverse worlds, people will always have to stand against the braying mob that seeks destructive power. This was the overriding message from Changes 變, two dance works that premiered at the Skycity Theatre as part of the Auckland Arts Festival.

The programme was a joint production by choreographer Neil Ieremia, Black Grace, and guest choreographer Kuik Swee Boon, T.H.E. Dance Company, Singapore. The works, Changes and Constancy by Swee Boon, and Another Letter from Earth by Ieremia combined dancers from both companies and the talents of each company were given full expression.

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Cross-cultural work ranges from intimate to explosive

Review by Corazon Miller 19th Mar 2016

The curtains lift, revealing a dancer seated solemnly to one side. All is quiet barring the sound of audience members settling into their seats.

It’s an unassuming but effective start to a show featuring the world premiere of the co-production between one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary dance companies, Black Grace, and Singapore’s T.H.E Dance Company.

The first piece, Change and Constancy, begins with little drama but gradually builds to a crescendo of primal, raw movement. Choreographer Kuik Swee Boon’s aim is to explore the parallels between his Singaporean/Malaysian society and that of the Black Grace dancers. [More]


Editor March 20th, 2016

Fair enough, Susan. The initial purpose was to question the validity of a Herald headline and article that had stirred up a storm on social media. Then when further information came to light from a reliable source, it would have been remiss not to pass it on. And beyond the details of this particular incident, the question of whether NZ audiences are too passive and polite seemed valid enough to put on the table. I could delete the whole thread but its out there now and we can't pretend its not.   

Susan Traherne March 20th, 2016

Has the comment section here turned into an archive for gossip?

I don't really see how this is relevant to the work, a critical discussion of the work, or even this particular review of this work. It's Theatreview, not Theatregossip.

Editor March 20th, 2016

On the other hand, we are now advised that Douglas was asked to leave, and escorted out – by a producer of the show and manager with the Auckland Arts Festival who was sitting few seats along from him – as “he would not shut up after being asked to by numerous members of the audience”.  So maybe the Herald got it right after all. 

Editor March 19th, 2016

Again perception is not necessarily the whole truth. We are advised that Douglas was not "asked to leave by the Auckland Arts Festival organisers" but was asked if he was all right and then decided to leave. Hence the headline and article are misleading. 

Editor March 19th, 2016

Douglas Wright heckled this show and was ejected. Here is the NZ Herald report:

Dance doyen booted out of 'boring' performance [More]

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Constancy and change, embattlement and death - new works in development

Review by Raewyn Whyte 17th Mar 2016

Singaporean choreographer Swee Boon Kuik was commissioned to make a work for Auckland Festival on Black Grace Dance Company. The result is a double bill of works, Constancy and Change by Swee Boon, and Another Letter from Earth by Ieremia, both made in a relatively short period rather than given the much longer period of development that international festival works usually require.

Given Swee Boon’s reputation as a choreographer of works which communicate insight into human relations, and the deft intricacy and fluidity displayed  by a trio of his company’s dancers in Constancy and Change, and despite the fully committed efforts of the cast for this new work, I can’t help but wish that our introduction to his choreography was a fully realised production danced by his own company.

The strongest elements of Constancy and Change, performed by six dancers he chose from Black Grace and the three dancers he brought with him, arise from the juxtaposition of often very stylistically different movement sequences of individual dancers, the melding of these styles into shared phrases in occasional group sequences, and an extended duet between Ruby Alai’i, in plaid shirt and jeggings, and Mi Wu in burgundy shirt and grey corduroy pants.

A very particular patterning of movement is at the heart of this duet, but each dancer initiates the sequence from a different part of the body, creating variations which frustrate the achievement of unison form from which more complex phrases can be crafted.  Wu’s version starts in the feet, bringing him much satisfaction; Alai’i’s version starts in the pelvis, and its mastery brings her pleasure. Her corrections to his movements hold for the moment before his own preferences are reasserted, and as the yoyo of correction and variation continues, the  mutating in-phase and out-of-phase sequencing creates tension between them, making you curious to see what will happen next.

Much of the work involves dancers running in huge looping circles around a central solo performer, with the loops punctuated by the tossing of chalk bombs against the back wall to leave coloured traces, Near the finale, a dancer stands against the back wall as the target for these missiles, and comes away stained by all the colours of the chalks.

The programme notes describe this work as “an enquiry into society’s tolerance of difference, and whether we are mature enough to celebrate diversity”, which is of course a fine question to pursue. It is too early in the development of this work for answers to be posed, but there is enough of interest here to suggest that a fully developed Constancy and Change would be worth seeing.

Neil Ieremia’s Another Letter from Earth, performed by 12 dancers of Black Grace, is inspired by an excerpt from Mark Twain’s ‘Letters from the Earth’, and centres around five scenarios in which death, or impending death, plays a central role. The work as a whole is backgrounded by a continuing frieze of passing figures silhouetted against colour washes and bracketed by larger-than-lifesize cut-out soldiers, and for at least the second half of the work, six of the dancers, dressed in flesh-toned underwear, lie amongst the soldiers as if dead.

The five featured scenarios are strongly contrasted, and all are episodic, interspersed with other sequences of activity. Only one has a direct connection to the battlefield scene, and overall the work lacks cohesion.

An elaborately, formally dressed mourner (cultural performer Maipihi Te Rerehau Kelland), with white face makeup, black clothing and an elaborate black headdress, carrying an urn containing long-stemmed red feathered sticks, opens proceedings with a dramatic series of sorrowing chants and deep wails and spoken phrases. She returns at particular moments throughout the work, as if to bring particular significance to some events over others, although what that significance might be is never entirely clear.

An ageing dancer (Sean MacDonald) , his once elegant, flowing movements diminished by stiffness  and lack of pliancy, continues to push himself to perform the best he can, welcoming the applause despite his aching body, doing whatever is needed to fulfil his performance commitments despite longing for release from physical discomfort. His final bows are followed by laying himself out over crumpled up sheets of paper, perhaps old letters of appreciation, reviews and clippings, or draftings of his will and letters of farewell.

An embattled couple (Shane Toefano and Demi-Jo Manolo) nag and fight and pick away at one another, exulting in moments of sensuous pleasure which come all too rarely amidst their relentless antagonism. Eventually, the death of the woman results, leaving the man deeply grieving his loss.

A socialite (Gabrielle Thomas) dressed in a glamorous gown and wearing a diamante bracelet and teardrop earrings, repeatedly wafts through the work, apparently without a care in the world.  But in due course it becomes apparent that she has recently lost a child, and is mourning that loss, desparately clutching a life-sized ragdoll to her breast.

A young man (Tupua Tigafua) plays with the larger-than-lifesize soldier cutouts, moving them about to fulfill the scenarios in his mind, alternately delighting and despairing at the outcomes only he can anticipate. He draws a large ellipse around their opening positions, marking it in black ash, perhaps suggesting gunpowder. Subsequently he repositions them outside the ellipse, and as he moves amongst them he raises his hands, or crouches as if reconnoitring the enemy’s position, or moves as if he too has a weapon fully ready for deploying. Perhaps he is mindful of the deaths of others on the battlefield, perhaps he is still puzzling over the mystery of his own survival in the face of battle, or perhaps he is beset by the living death which some former soldiers carry with them. Of all the scenarios, this seemed the most richly developed, and it was certainly engaging to watch.

While some profound point about the positive role death plays in human life may have underlaid proceedings, it never became clear what that point might be.

Our expectations are high for work presented in a major arts festival such as Auckland Festival 2016, even more so when a major commissioning process is associated with the work presented.  New Zealand work is presented alongside thoroughly developed international works on the world festival circuit, and we always hope that the New Zealand works will hold their own compared to the international imports. Works in progress, however, as the two works in Changes appear to be, have the odds stacked against them, and there is merit in the idea of presenting them in the same way as the RAW collection of developmental theatre works in this festival are, with the processes, practices and ideas which underlie these works shared with the audience as an essential part of the package.


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