Dance Lab Open Performance

St Michael's Church School Hall, 249 Durham Street South, Christchurch

11/09/2014 - 11/09/2014

Production Details

Dance Lab Open Performance is an one-off programme of contemporary dance showings from local choreographers curated by Movement Art Practice. Dance Lab Open Performance will be centred around facilitated audience feedback. See cutting edge dance works in progress and hear insights into the work from the artist’s perspective.

The key showing will be from MAP the BODY Artist in Residence Madeleine Krenek alongside smaller works in progress and improvisations from Sarah Elsworth, Nicola Collie, Philippa Cosgrove, Julia McKerrow and guests.

Movement Art Practice is a not-for-profit arts organisation that nurtures the study of movement in Christchurch from a contemporary dance perspective and will also be presenting MAP the Body in association with the Body Festival. For more information on contemporary dance classes, workshops and discussions email

Date/Time         Sat 11th October at 8.00pm

Cost     $15, $12 concessions from Dash Tickets or  ph 0800 327 484, booking fees apply.

90 mins

Opening insights into performance research

Review by Coralie Winn 12th Oct 2014

Movement Art Practice has been up and running for a few years now in Christchurch, headed up by dancers/choreographers Julia Harvie (formerly Julia Milsom), Erica Viedma and Paul Young. MAP aims to explore movement and performance, running a range of classes each week to allow people to develop their own movement practice. They speak of research, practice, process and performance and relish conversations, challenges and explorations of their field.

I write this review as someone who has participated in some MAP classes. Furthermore, I am someone who has a background in physical theatre and performance. So, I come to this Dance Lab session as a viewer and reviewer but also as someone who feels like they connect with the open style of the session.

I don’t want to use the word “performance” to describe my experience of this event. The everyday use of the term connotes a finished product that’s ‘ready’ for public consumption. That is not what is on offer here. We are offered ideas, thoughts, possible future directions, experiments, insights and more. Does it work as an event to go and view? Yes. Is it without bumps, flaws and jarring moments? No. Does that matter? Not really. The MAP team communicates both through the literature provided to the audience and through the format and words spoken, their expectations. This helps to manage audience expectations of what we are going to experience and what our role is to be in this unusual format.  The evening is a part of their research. Our questions and comments are wanted and of value as part of that research.

The evening takes the form of five choreographers presenting a mixture of concepts, propositions, pieces and exercises within the St Michael’s Church Hall, a high-ceilinged, wooden-floored space in the city. Pieces are by Julia Harvie, Sarah Elsworth, Julia McKerrow, Phillipa Cosgrove and Madeleine Krenek.

I arrive five minutes prior to the start of the session at 7:55pm to encounter dancers already working in the Church hall, audience in a variety of locations: seated in rows facing front (most), seated up front towards the back of the space (some) and amidst the dancers on the side of the room (some). Musicians (double bass, saxophone, percussion) are towards the back of the space too, playing as dancers move around them.  Dancers are in small groups, working it appears, on a range of discrete physical tasks. Who is a performer and who isn’t?  The space allows the line between audience and performer to blur and for the audience to be right amongst it. Are these people up the front on chairs deliberately there? Or not? One dancer has a long length of fabric they are pulling against another dancer who holds it, another is using voice as she works in tandem with a partner. This spectacle looks like the work of Harvie to me; and so it is. She has dancers working on a range of ideas or thoughts, physically. They are playing, testing and pushing concepts from her past work that have never come to fruition; the failed ideas. Here, in front of an audience, she has her dancers revisit these concepts. The result is quite cacophonous and immersive.

I wish I could have arrived earlier (as I was advised!) but a prior commitment made that impossible. So, it feels that as soon as I am beginning to understand what I am seeing, it ends. Harvie takes the microphone and begins to speak. Those people who have just arrived and are standing up the back making sense of things find seats. Harvie begins to explain the evening’s proceedings, encouraging us to move around the space throughout to get a different view should we wish.

Sarah Elsworth presents  the most polished and fully rounded pieces of the evening: a collaboration with mesmerising young dancer Nicola Collie. They perform two pieces with clear starting and end points to recorded music. Elsworth chooses not to speak about her work. According to the programme it is about creating a piece pf work from a conceptual place.

McKerrow then leads an open practice session that is an example of work that is done every Thursday evening in a class environment. These women vary in age, size, shape, ability and confidence. They take instructions from McKerrow and put them into practice. It is an exercise familiar to the dancers whereby they are to find and develop a pulse. McKerrow throws in a new instruction for them to try for the first time. The task requires some bravery and there are some that are clearly more confortable than others with this prospect. The vulnerability and sense of the unknown makes this interesting for an audience to witness. It is not just the dancers who are vulnerable here, but McKerrow too, who seems somewhat ill at ease with the microphone, over compensating with too many words. It gives an insight into how MAP works and is an effort, perhaps, to encourage some of those in the audience to give it a go.

Phillipa Cosgrove starts out dancing in her piece but then steps out to be able to comment on the two dancers (one male, one female) still continuing with the movement. I find this format quite interesting. As she speaks and explains her process, I can observe dancers going about it, i.e. I can apply her comments to what I am seeing. And I quite like that.

After a short break, Madeleine Krenek, who has been choreographer in residence with MAP for three weeks, presents a number of concepts or pieces of work for more than thirty minutes. Musician, Greg Malcolm creates a musical accompaniment to the work on his multiple guitars, playing, looping and scraping as the dancers move around the space. After a time, as the work mesmerises the viewer, one breaks the pattern of what they are doing and laughs suddenly and loudly. Her dance partner reacts awkwardly. This is both a natural expression of the awkwardness of the situation but also a performed response. Other dancers then start talking to one another about what they ate for dinner and so on while continuing with the same set of physical movements. What is being attempted is the weaving of an element of the banal and everyday, with the movement practice.  Yet, these moments are not natural, they are performed for the 60+ person audience. The problem: one cannot be natural when 60+ sets of eyes are on you. I am sure Krenek is aware of this; it just makes for a somewhat awkward atmosphere.

A question and answer session with Madeleine Krenek after this piece leads to further disruption where dancers physically respond to questions, screech and scream; clearly the performance is still going. It is funny and somewhat awkward and tedious, leading to laughter amongst the audience, but it fails to do more than just entertain. I’m not fully sure what it is trying to achieve. We are watching some of the outcomes of the research Krenek has been doing during her residency; not all of it is going to make interesting viewing. That’s OK. She admits her nervousness at showing this work; it is a hard thing to do. I think the audience can appreciate that, but I do think this part of the evening goes on for too long.

Harvie’s work is the most experimental and interesting of the evening. A curious and brave artist, she is fascinated by conventions and expectations and therefore, by how to disrupt them. What she presents are concepts or propositions that the dancers are to interpret and discover. Something that might happen within a studio space is now something for many eyes to view. This can’t but change the experience for the dancers. Rather than performing just for themselves and others, they’re performing for an audience, perhaps trying harder or emboldened by the adrenalin of being on show. 

The night is for the most part interesting, with moments that range from being awkward to engaging, confusing and revealing. The Director of the Body Festival, Adam Hayward, is present and speaks at the end of his excitement about the format of the evening, calling it a first for Christchurch’s contemporary dance community. I too welcome more open laboratory-type events by MAP or others here. I think people are interested to see and experience the creative process. Christchurch’s performance culture has long been dominated by pretty limited understandings of performance, in my view and more opportunities for education and conversation can only be a good thing. I do think such sessions like this one, could benefit from having one person to facilitate the discussion in a more focussed manner, to get the most out of the evening.

To me, the problem of how something that is unfinished and perhaps not intended for an audience is changed by putting it in front of said audience is challenging and unavoidable. It is deserving of more discussion, but this was not really touched on in this particular event. There’s a lot more to unpack…


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