Dark Tourists

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

09/03/2007 - 11/03/2007

Auckland Festival 2007

Production Details

Choreographer: Malia Johnston
Director: Emma Willis
Composer and musician: Eden Mulholland


Dark Tourists is a provocative dance theatre work, which takes its audience on a journey of aftermath. In a world filled with birds and salt, empty coats and exploding television screens, visitors arrive: tourists ready to pluck souvenirs from the crusted ground.

In this dry and spectral land the birds gather, waiting for the return of the sea; waiting for the water, the eternal mirror in which to catch sight of their faces.

The last bird flew today.
We are left with this barren country.
Nothing to keep but the miles of salt.

Dark Tourists is a collaboration of internationally acclaimed New Zealand artists. These include innovative choreographer Malia Johnston (Best Choreographer and Female Contemporary Dancer 2004, NZ Listener); director Emma Willis (co-director of Jealous Theatre Company, Chapman Tripp winner Most Original Production 2000); and composer and musician, Eden Mulholland (Motorcade).

This new work features some of the most talented performers of contemporary dance and theatre, who create a devastated landscape tinged with hope.

When: Fri 9 to Sun 11 March 7.30pm
Sat 10 March, 2pm

Where: ASB Theatre Stage
Aotea Centre

Price: Adult $35
Friend $30
Group 6+ $30
Concession $28

Duration: 1 hour 10 minutes
no interval

Bookings: TICKETEK
Ph (09) 307 5000 or book online


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: Martyn Roberts
Set design: Grant Wackrow

Dark Tourists was made possible by the support of Creative New Zealand funding.

Music , Dance , Dance-theatre ,

1 hr 10 mins, no interval

Ironic, self-imploding, commenting, interesting

Review by Alexa Wilson 12th Mar 2007

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

Engaged conceptually in an aftermath undefined, it organically interweaves dance and theatre using traumatised characters, absurd and mysterious, half bird ‘gone south’, half recovering humans, who fleetingly map a madness and poignancy of post-trauma and deprivation. With the sea and birds gone, they desperately grasp at remnants of hope, internal salvation / reflection as well as interaction. And they embody ‘dark tourists’ of their own and (each) other’s suffering, trapped as well as liberated to express this alienated pain in transformatively sublime ways.

Typically the subject matter belongs to nihilistic theatre and film reflective of the last century’s apocalyptic overtones. But reflections and future projections, the breaking of convention worked in the use of smoothly interweaved dance and choreography amidst the dramatic moments and text, as well as music and song, never descend into easy or obvious mimicry. Whether taken as earnest or absurdist, the work is sophisticated and layered in craft to complement the ephemeral and at times overt themes.

Voice and song, but also moments of dance with the music inspiring its passionate swirling and virtuosic turns and leaps, radiates a mesmeric beauty in expressions of internal pain released. The work’s third collaborator, Eden Mullholland, colours it with complex, virtuosically powerful, electronically distorted and sublimely beautiful music which shifts with each mood and medium. It dynamically restores dramatic desperation, replacing and replaced by silence or metaphorical and absurdist dialogue where interactions hang expectantly on quieter and heavier scenes of internal despair, isolation, fragmentation and lostness.

The details of the work and the enigmatic though evidently grim poetic imagery, tableaux, fleetingly glitchy and imploded movements and dialogue of the work are skillfully contextualised within a void, upheld by the slightly-too-loud-for-dramatic-effect music (which worked), eerie silence and high quality performances from all the cast.

Though all clearly embodying diverse characters – the fabulous near ringmaster Paul Young, the implicit, ethereal and gentle Clare Lissaman, the madly trapped though most free Sean McDonald, the dynamic, feisty, expressive though saddened Julia Milsom, the comical and stunning voiced Paora Taurima, the philosophical and interesting Peter Daube and the sexy though disengaged, most lost and most separated Mia Blake – the performers keep this not-so-distant world cohesive and connected within all its shifts and fragments.

The audience is seated on the ASB stage of the Aotea Centre along with the performance and set, awkwardly tiered to obscure some views of the work for the back rows, but interestingly deconstructed and disorienting within revealing the entire backstage, including structures and posters from former shows on the walls. The set – with a moveable plastic sheeted room, to keep self-entrapped Sean McDonald in, and finally the whole cast except him, a small moveable NZ style shed / dunny, piles of disused coats along with bird-like suspended coats from hooks and 3 ladders – creates a uniquely NZ setting whilst encapsulating images form WW1 and 2, the holocaust and acts of genocide for us to revisit consistently as ‘dark tourists’ of ‘dark human acts’.

In this world the sea has gone, the birds have flown south – though the humans are birds: the last endangered bird?, not even they know – a man is trapped in a plastic room though he can leave when he wants, three male birds terrorise and tell each other to ‘evolve’ in silly voices, everyone crams into the shed, there is a man trying to disrobe a woman, a woman moving from place to place with a tape deck which repeats ‘did it happen here?’, screeds of wild and gorgeous leaps and turns, a fleeting kiss amidst the chaos, a man who walks backwards and looks to the man in the cage, who punches him, one punch through the plastic, a woman who dances a light and gentle dance alone in the atmospheric backlighting, a man who sings a beautiful song, a man who stands on the others, a morose chorus singing on their knees, a man who seems to orchestrate the world and try to engage a totally disengaged woman in her own world completely – who won’t ‘come down from up there’, who walks in determined circles for far too long and watches the audience watch her mentally implode before them, this ‘bird’ who parades in the sun in a bikini seemingly unaware that she is having parts of her body sold, who has shut down, who acts and treats herself like ‘a dog’, who doesn’t care, doesn’t listen, doesn’t see her world at all, though still suffers the same strange anticipation and deep internalised suspicion that nothing is as it seems or as it should really be …

Though no-one really questions why. They move and fall and talk and express, emote, sleep, stop still, move again, move objects … and all end up caught up in or on the shed in the plastic room, while the trapped man escapes, and does a brilliantly eccentric solo improvisation with his beloved origami bird around the cage before falling and leaving out the Exit door.

The message? We are ‘dark tourists’ of our own chosen demise through an undeniable inability to be conscious or empathise or communicate with each other or really comprehend the world we live in because of our sense of superiority and aspiration for precious uniqueness and individuality. But it seems we are beautiful anyway, even in our ignorance, pain and suffering. Even when some tourist rubs salt on our wounds or we are the ones inflicting the pain. We like the pain. These are questions, ideas, tossed in the air, ironic, self-imploding, commenting, interesting.

See the DANZ website for Derek Teame’s personal response to Dark Tourists


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