Dark Tourists

Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

20/02/2008 - 24/02/2008

NZ Fringe Festival 2008

Production Details

Choreography and direction: Malia Johnston
Dramaturgy and co-direction: Emma Willis
Live music, sound and composition: Eden Mulholland

Movement of the Human

"Profound and intelligent" Raewyn Whyte, National Radio 

"Powerful, evocative, moving and beautiful, this seamless collaboration between playwright / dramatist Emma Willis and choreographer Malia Johnston is ephemeral in craft and themes." Alexa Wilson, Theatreview 

Roll up, roll up; the last bird on earth is for sale.  A distinctly ecological work, Dark Tourists takes the phenomena of tourists’ attraction to death and disaster – or ‘end of the world’ tourism – as the point of departure for a meditation on how we respond to loss, whether personal or global.

The audience is led through a world on the brink of disappearance by a string of narratives that focus on the personal relationships and bonds between performers: three old crows who fight over the remains of a barren landscape, a man who cannot escape his past, a woman who only wants to know "where it happened", a mischievous tour guide and an unseeing tourist. 

Movement, theatre, music and song are woven together in a delicately balanced investigation of aftermath.  Alternately poignant, funny and confronting, this is a daring new work by some of New Zealand’s most important young artists. 

This provocative piece of dance theatre, staged as part of the 2008 Fringe, is co-directed by award winning contemporary choreographer Malia Johnston and Chapman Tripp winning theatre artist, Emma Willis and features a stunning sound score and live performance by Eden Mulholland.  The ensemble cast includes Peter Daube (Madigan’s Quest, Orange Roughies, Taki Rua, ATC) Sean MacDonald (Black Grace) Claire Lissaman (Soapbox, Maui – One Man Against The Gods) Paul Young (Touch Compass, Outlaw Creative) and Julia Milsom (Touch Compass, Outlaw Creative, Soapbox)  

Dark Tourists will be performed at Te Whaea Theatre, 11 Hutchison Road, Newtown, Wellington, 20th – 24th February at 8pm; 23rd February at 10pm; 24th February at 4pm & 8pm.

Tickets are $15-24 plus booking fee and can be booked through Ticket Direct by calling 0800 4 TICKET, or via www.ticketdirect.co.nz  There will be door sales. 

Cast and co-creators: Peter Daube, Paul Young, Malia Johnston, Julia Harvie, Claire Lissaman, Sean MacDonald, Eden Mulholland, Sally Stockwell, Paora Taurima, Mia Blake

Producer: Michele Powles
Lighting: Paula Van Beek
Set design: Grant Wackrow
Marketing photos: James Ensing-Trussle
Performance photos: Philip Merry

Dark Tourists was developed over an extensive creative development period and presented in the Auckland Arts Festival in 2007, and subsequently re-developed and toured. Dark Tourists was made possible by the support of Creative New Zealand funding.

Dance , Dance-theatre , Music ,

1 hr 10 mins, no interval

Ensemble cast of stars creates a galaxy of images

Review by Lyne Pringle 26th Feb 2008

This work raises the benchmark locally for performances that explore the elusive interface between dance and text. It is a testament to the commitment of Malia Johnston and Emma Willis to marry the two. They have masterminded the invention of a unique world.

Many things carry Dark Tourist to its summit: a provocative and poetic text, an understanding of the rhythm and craft of theatre as a choreographic art and a soundscape that supports this, the power of imagery, brilliant segues, a cast who are at the top of their game, dancers who act and actors who dance, performers who move between movement and the spoken word with ease, moments of improvisation that give the production room to shift and breathe, and a willingness to risk everything for the sake of finding the new.

Sean McDonald is the restless and lost younger brother who seeks something beyond the horizon and remains disconnected from the disillusioned tribe who inhabit the zone outside of his plastic haven/prison. A wistful presence throughout the work, he finally bursts forth in a stunning solo that brings the trajectory of the show home to roost. Utterly connected to his internal impulses and emotionally embedded in his character, he dances poignant shamanic twitches and broken extensions full of yearning.

Julia Milsom has a striking appearance on stage. She is strong, lithe, full of vigour and utterly present. She dances in taut duets with Claire Lissaman where the arms are flung and bodies propelled into the air only to fall rolling and crumpling back to earth. She is the carrier of others with deep gravitas; at one point she astonishes with a deep squat cradling Peter Daube – a sad pieta – as he sings a lonely country and western tune. She is also the lady of the hammers swinging them wildly and riding the momentum pathways they make in space until, desperate for flight, she tries hopelessly to jump against their weight.

Peter Daube works with such commitment and verve that he almost has sparks coming off him. In this performance he pushes his physicality to the limit and it is amazing to see him dancing! His silken voice begins the show as we are introduced to a running dialogue he has, as older brother, with McDonald. Through eccentric oyster beaker, to monument covered in shit doubling as a white elephant, to absurd bather, to predatory voyeur, he is brilliant throughout and utterly crucial to the logic of the performance.

Claire Lissaman brings a quiet beauty and luminous grace. She is the innocence of the work and we are grateful for her presence. She dances with feeling, fluidity and gorgeous pathways through space. The duets with Milsom are memorable, particularly a backwards cabriole dropping immediately to the floor whilst circling. A heartfelt solo on diagonal, away from a scruffy pile of shoes, sets a melancholic tone that resonates all the way to the end and later she transforms into a breathing version of the striking publicity images: bent naked and vulnerable on top of a ladder.

Paul Young asks, at one point, "Is this my voice?" as if he can’t believe he is speaking like this. But he has cracked it, this dancing/ talking business, and it is so pleasurable to experience him relishing the challenges of the text; he has some great lines. One particular moment is stunning when, after a dynamic solo where he slashes and jumps and pushes off his hands, he roars out of movement in to a fantastic monologue: "Roll up roll up, buy a piece of the last bird on Earth – get hold of her mother muffins." Here the marriage of text and movement has truly arrived.

Eden Mullholland plays the soundtrack live, mostly on electronic guitar with haunting vocals and electronic textures; our ears are swirled/ lost/absorbed/transformed in this genius soundscape. His abilities to compose for dance go from strength to strength, undoubtedly fed by the fact that he dances himself. So, unbelievably, after coaxing the show along with fantastic sounds he gets back in his dancing body with style and precision. What an extraordinary talent.

Paula Van Beek lights the show with sympathy and intelligence and there are many inventive ideas.

Malia Johnston appears bravely naked beneath jacket and boots to be flung haphazardly, dangerously, by three others in a brutal and shocking scene.

"Were having a little party," says Young sickly, and the taste in the mouth is like something out of Clockwork Orange as Johnson so utterly surrenders herself to the will of others. She makes another appearance as a bikini-clad tourist with a propensity for turning into a nasty, pissy little dog who incites bad behaviour from the other bikini clad gals. This is a shocking scene as well and completely ‘left field’ but Johnston pulls it off with total commitment.

Thank goodness for these artists who maintain their practice under harsh conditions here in New Zealand. This cast of stars works as a beautiful ensemble to create a galaxy of images. At the centre of this performance beats a tender, sorrowful heart.

This is what I saw: miles of salt, a retreating sea, the last bird to leave, humans as doomed birds leaping then squatting with coats over their heads and funny voices, beautiful women in trench coats, humans in piles exhausted, two hands reaching skyward, a small white peace crane in a pocket, a bird on a shoulder, chants that make the air bulge, a swirling plastic house and an old rickety shed on wheels with four heads in the window, arms flung wide wistful and captured, a brother walking backwards, a transistor on a ladder that yearns to be cradled then turns nasty, a rag doll sunbathing, one bird squawking "I’m an endangered species!" and his mate saying "Evolve! Evolve!", a bird flying in formation with itself, fuzzes of sound, big shadows, a woman looking for the ‘spot where it happened’ then mauled with two hammers, people waiting Hammondesque, the ghosts of Red Mole, brothers taking turns hanging in a plastic room, dying in each others arms, a big shitty sundial pompous and ineffectual, stillness, a pile of bodies on top of a singing man, a bird being eaten, a side show, ‘penguins as meat pies with feathers’, a bevy of falling coats, the dead being picked over, "Like the sea you came rushing back. You brought optimism home, how do you do that? Do you take it with you?"  says older brother to younger, 3 women sunbathers in a field of old coats being raked up, a brother on the water tank attracting crows, the "evolution of our memories", a bikini clad woman on the top of a rolling shed that ends up in the plastic room, a white paper bird in the palm of a headless hand.

"A bold, risky and unpredictable show" as one punter said on the way out, "totally pushing boundaries."


John Smythe February 27th, 2008

Yes, this season did involve some radical reworking – which it why I separated it from Alexa Wilson’s review of the Auckland season. This may be found on: http://www.theatreview.org.nz/reviews/review.php?id=610 

THROW February 27th, 2008

Bernadette Rae didn't actually 'see' the same show that other members of the audience saw the night she went. She disgraced herself with that piece of writing. I've seen both incarnations of Dark Tourists and the second version is a more tightly structured coherent version of essentially the same material. Its a relief to a piece of contemporary dance developed and redeveloped in this country. All credit to Malia, Emma and all the crew returning to that project for not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Blair Cooper February 27th, 2008

That review stuck in my mind because it was one of the worst reviews I've ever read. Both in terms of saying the show under discussion was bad, and by standards of what a review should be. I found it amazingly mean-spirited. That the two reviews of the current season can differ from it so completely indicates how subjective the experience of a performance can be- to the extent, as I mentioned before, that one wonders if they saw the same show!

Thomas LaHood February 27th, 2008

Blair, it comes down to whether YOU believe that a reviewer's take on a show is the final word regarding its quality. Personally, I don't believe live performance can ever be reduced to a single appraisal, no matter how 'unanimous' the word on the street appears to be... ..hey, I know people who loved "The Holy Sinner"...

martyn roberts February 27th, 2008

and yet despite the poor review in the Herald paper the Auckland season was virtually sold out and well received by many in the audience. Goes to show that one opinion need not sway the masses. Besides the 'review' in the Herald was more about the reviewer than the show - expectations are the bugbear of any reviewer. In other words don't have any and you may very well be able to see properly. Any reviewers like to comment?

Blair Cooper February 27th, 2008

Dark tourists was scathingly reviewed by the Herald when it perfomed as part of AK07: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/topic/story.cfm?c_id=169&objectid=10428239 A sharp contrast to this year's crop of raves. Can this possibly be the same show?

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Emotional footprints

Review by Jennifer Shennan 24th Feb 2008

Dark Tourists is painfully well-named. Bleak and dislocated and caustic and critical and sharp and sinewy and voyeuristic and nihilistic and darkly comic and absolutely stunning. Its territory is a mix of Hieronymus Bosch, Bill Hammond and Samuel Beckett, in a post-modern, post-Al Gore era.

There is a white crane for peace but somebody eats it. Be warned, and be there.

Malia Johnston and Emma Willis have co-directed the work which proceeds in episodes of dance, text, music, song and sound effects (composition, Eden Mulholland). There is atmospheric design with sets that are rarely still (lighting, Paula van Beeck).  

The cast have command of many episodes of troubled nerves, surreal violence and pockets of graceful redemption.  Oh how grateful one is for the lissome beauty of dancers Paul Young, Claire Lissaman and Julia Milsom, who are allowed to dance like terns and gannets from time to time, which counteracts the acting out of mugging and murder and mindless whatever. 

Peter Daube and Sean MacDonald time their every move as though animated. MacDonald’s epilogue "chaconne", follows the time-honoured theatrical convention of that form but with a contemporary vocabulary of disjointed rhythm. It alone is worth seeing the show for – a post-Petrouchka rap by a dislocated hoodie who can’t see any way out. 

We are instructed to leave nothing but our emotional footprints. We do as we are told. 


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