13/03/2014 - 16/03/2014
20/02/2014 - 23/02/2014
26/03/2014 - 29/03/2014
30/09/2013 - 02/10/2013
04/10/2013 - 05/10/2013
Fellow homo sapien, the pinnacle of your success is a civilised appearance. Play human. Avoid taboo. Shed the primordial skin. You know these rules. Why are we suppressing our inherent desires? The fact is, our bodies and minds are degenerating, caged perpetually in an ignorant, insane society. One that refuses to acknowledge the most honest self: the tired, hungry, lust-ridden flesh. And so the insatiable predator becomes dependent on his prey; the exhausted prey mutually dependent on her manipulator.
20 – 23 February, 6.30pm
Dunedin Fringe Festival 2014
13 – 15 March, 8.30pm
20 Princes St.
Online Tickets: $12 Door Sales: $15
26 – 29 March, 7pm
Dance , Contemporary dance ,
A deep sense of hopelessness
Review by Hannah Stannard 29th Mar 2014
As the audience squishes into the intimate bleachers of The Basement Theatre, the show has already begun. We enter a very prepared space displaying half naked bodies suggesting a fetus or possibly corpse… And patches of apples dwarfed in the shadow of a hanging skeleton and black faceless figure.
Choreographer Shani Dickens has very clearly created the atmosphere and executed her disturbingly profound work in a shocking way right from the outset. In some ways this takes the element of surprise out of the picture, and gives a deep sense of hopelessness, as the dancers seem only to be manipulated by an unseen force rather than have any independent choice or free will.
The work sets off with reference to original sin, as Dickens takes a bite of the ‘forbidden fruit’, realizes her nakedness, and as if realizing her worst nightmare has become reality, proceeds to put on black underwear thrown to her from the faceless figure. She dresses herself in a black garment fitting of what she’s done, but rather than showing remorse, seems to gain a dominating presence and becomes the observer or instigator of the unfolding conflict.
Dancer Rosa Provost, the seemingly manipulative, faceless figure, then engages in dance combat with Jahra Wasasala. The two use a cloth as a sort of weapon to strangle and cover, that ends up bonding them together like an umbilical cord in a strange, confusing relationship. Interesting movement sequences are made by the constant struggles from each other, and struggling together in moments of unison that bring aesthetic relief. Could this represent the spiritual, unseen reality when we do what our conscience forbids? They both become puppets of torment,allowing any growth for one another only to flow to the domain of death. This is where the cloth ends up, finding its resting place; on the shoulders of the skeleton that they begin to look up to, and in a way dance for.
The audience, as the witnesses, are faced to reflect on this shocking scene of how human nature can degenerate with one wrong choice. Or they can choose to focus on the technical dance and theatre elements.
The dark soundscape by James Risbey climaxes in a hip hop beat, where the dancers can finally show off their technical skill in unified sequences of choreography that obviously have taken much time to workshop, develop and perfect. This is a piece many might be reluctant to see again, however, is bravely executed by these artists and profoundly reflects the human struggles common to all, but pondered over by few.
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Bold and impressive first full-length work
Review by Anna Bate 14th Mar 2014
Demigod/half Human’s skilled trio of dancers held the space with drawn tension in Dunedin’s Community Gallery last night. They were accompanied by: apples, boxes, a skeleton, a yellow scarf, soft dark costumes (Fraser Mildon) deep and majestic music (James Risbey) and subtle precise light (RubyReihana-Wilson). Their bodies shifted through forces and were shaped by, and shaped space, into ever changing and ever engaging animalistic, grotesque forms. The performers (Rosa Provost, Jahra Wasasala & Shani Dickins) embodied images that produced imagery that resonated clearly in, their bodies, our bodies, and with the context of the work. This is impressive for a first full (what is ‘full length’ anyway) work by Shani Dickins.
For me this work relates both aesthetically and contextually to German expressionist choreographer Mary Wigman, who is, in part, famous for her fabulous ‘Hexentanz’ (Witch Dance) (1914). Like Mary, Shani’s work physically questions the reinforced codes of behaviour that dominate our physical landscape by embracing the ‘other’. Specifically, Demigod/half Human questions how we might be caught between the expectation to act civilised and our desire to embrace our animal tendencies. It intrigues me that relatable themes explored 100 years on, by another young female choreographer, might conjure a similar aesthetic.
For the most part, I am struck by how bold and well edited this work is. How images are thoughtfully chosen and precisely framed and how the choreographer gives value through stilling (Andre Lepecki, 2005) scenes so that they might shout their presence loud and clear in the Community Gallery of Dunedin. I would be happier yet if the images could linger a little longer and if the shifts between were given more attention. The occasional awkward transition, whilst so tiny, is too loud in a work like this. However, the gutsy choices made show sophistication and a sharp intuitive eye for knowing what works. In particular I am drawn to Jahra’s gabbling plead, Shani’s slithering near nude body, the prelude to Rosa’s hair flinging solo and of course the golden skeleton.
Post-golden skeleton the work changes tack. The dancers join in unison for a significant period of time, and then the work ends. I like their moves and they are exceptionally skilled at executing their moves, but I am confused as to why three suddenly became one and how this string of vocabulary (stylistically derived from earlier sequences) adds to the work in a generative way. I’m unsure how to read this flow of material and am left feeling as though, what, for the most part, was a captivating, specifically detailed work drizzles into less challenging terrain.
None the less, I leave the Gallery a buzz; feeling chuffed to have witnessed what I perceive to be a Mary Wigman (esque) revival in NZ in 2014! And knowing that I have watched some exceptionally dexterous young makers and shakers be bold and beautiful.
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Another view of Eden
Review by Jillian Davey 21st Feb 2014
Demigod/half-human is visually stunning. The moment you walk into the theatre; with apples spilling from ceiling and floor, ABC crates scattered around, and a looming skeleton in the corner, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a demonic garden of Eden.
The imagery doesn’t subside as the work begins, as a barely draped/nearly nude Shani Dickins (choreographer as well as performer) inches her way across the stage, an intriguing plastic exoskeleton wrapped around her ribs.
Lighting (by Ruby Reihana-Wilson) is suitably dark and simple, as is the music (by James Risbey).
Dancer, Rosa Provost, emerges as proselytizer; offering up a tempting apple to Dickins’ Eve-esque character, and soon after, a pair of underwear. Dickins’ facial expressions as she realises her nakedness are brilliant.
As “Eve” wriggles out of her exoskeleton, the proselytizer turns abuser as she wraps and constrains the third of this trio, Jahra Wasasala.
These vignettes in the opening set a scene nicely. The movement is kept at a subdued, yet strong, level; allowing the audience to take in these beautifully horrid images.
For the rest of the show’s 40 minutes, the imagery stays strong but its auxiliary components become staid. The characters, now clothed in black, lose their individual traits and become a morphing, 3-point character; part abuser, part victim, part onlooker. If they are three parts of the same person, I would have liked to see that clarified. Likewise if they were separate entities.
They explore taboos; lustfulness, pride, manipulation, but they eventually meld into just one Taboo; one that encompasses baseness and uncivilised desires. I’m reminded of the 18th century witch persecutions, when women were thought to be lustful, evil creatures of the devil. (And perhaps, if this is a show exploring human taboos and conditions, as the programme suggests, I would have liked to have seen at least one male performer included in the mix.)
And it’s perhaps because of the show’s strong imagery, that the dance elements don’t quite fit the mix. The overtly sexual, sometimes violent nature of the dance phrases give them an air of ridiculousness, which is a shame, because there are some interesting movement motifs in there.
Eye contact with the audience too, is slightly confusing. Are we invited into the scene or are we merely a gazing point for the performers?
I hope this new artist (winner of the Wallace Arts Emerging Artist award at Auckland’s Short and Sweet Festival) continues to hone her craft. She obviously has strong ideas, a great eye for the visual, and an innate knowledge of theatre and spectacle. Go see the first in, what will hopefully be, Shani Dickins’ long career of great imagery-driven choreography.
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Provoking audience responses
Review by Dr Debbie Bright 05th Oct 2013
Fringe: something edgy, working outside of the mainstream of creative work, highly trained, skilled and energetic performers, limited budgets, earnest and visionary artists (often young) who attract a following of equally edgy enquiring (often young) people prepared to go down dark alleyways to hunt out their artistic treasures. For me, this work exemplified the concept of Fringe Festival: contemporary dance with attitude, presented in a wonderful but well-hidden performance space, located upstairs in an ancient warehouse-like building, down a dark alleyway in Central Hamilton.
In the programme notes, the creators go to some length to prepare the audience, with images hinting at the intensity and controversial nature of the work, by explaining, promoting and credentialing:
“Play human. Avoid taboo. Shed the primordial skin.
Fellow homo sapiens, your success depends on a civilized appearance. You know the rules. With heaven above and hell beneath, your duty is to act the in-between: human, orderly.
The fact is, our bodies and minds are degenerating. Caged perpetually in an ignorant, insane society, we refuse to acknowledge the most honest self: the tired, hungry, lust-ridden flesh. So the insatiable predator becomes dependent on his prey; the exhausted prey dependent on her manipulator.
“…in a dark place, Dickens’ trio is very, very scary… alien meets exorcist, in an Heironymus Bosch garden of earthly delights and horrors.”
– Linda Ashley, Theatreview
Demigod/half-Human is a haunting, revealing and provocative new choreography that looks at what it means to be human, stuck in conflict between animalistic desires and an expectation to act ‘civilized’.
Demigod/half-Human was winner of the Wallace Arts Emerging Artist Award at Auckland’s Short + Sweet Dance Festival earlier this year.
The above programme notes are re-inforced by an inserted Audience Survey form each patron is urged to fill out and return. Reminiscent for me of extended explanations and high-risk extremes in student dance performances, for many in this audience, the explanation may have been essential. For myself, I was not disappointed – I had been warned and the artists duly delivered.
Having followed the pavement-chalked signs and arrows to the venue, the audience members filled to capacity the seating provided. As befits fringe festival intimate theatre (no stage or curtains), the audience walks in to an intriguing yet non-challenging scene of apples, oranges and wooden boxes, and 3 still female dancers. The central, lit figure lies with her back to the audience apparently wearing a stripped top and draped pastel skirt. The audience lights dim and the work begins.
Demigod/half-Human: Slow-moving, gender blurring beginning, with strong echoes of a human-like life form emerging from a primordial swamp, merging into an explosion in which images pile up, confront and morph into abandonment, un-fettered-ness, and powerful intense physical expression. At the point of explosion, my thought is, “Let the nightmare begin!”
I see and experience a range of images, and I guess that each audience member had a similar experience drawn from her or his particular life history. My images include the Garden of Eden and other creation stories, of picking and eating ‘forbidden fruit’, realizing nakedness and covering it, religious ritual, adoration, flagellation, the Three Furies, women’s rights, oppression, constriction, voicelessness, powerlessness and slavery, all juxtaposed and transformed into expressions of wild abandonment, power, strength, freedom, and assertions of ‘being-ness’. I am reminded of trance dance (in which the dancer experiences self-abandonment in religious ecstasy), techno, house music and nightclubs, moshing, party highs, dim lighting and city nightlife.
Is this work particularly about women’s pain, oppression and enforced conforming to societal expectations, as suggested by the man next to me? Perhaps. Certainly, the programme identifies the predator as male and the prey as female, and the dancers are all female. The work as so full of the confronting, the unexpected and the taboo, delivered with passion, intensity and energy, that an audience reaction is inevitable. Intrigued, I note that audience members receive the thirty-minute work essentially in silence, applaud, shout and whistle at the end, and then begin to talk animatedly and loudly to each other.
My friend is seated next to a young woman who said she had never seen dance before and is appalled by this experience. After the man next to me talks of his sense that the work is about women’s pain and struggle, the woman next to him avers that she had seen something completely different and then proceeds to explain her take. Clearly, Demigod/half-Human does confront and provoke responses in audience members.
The sound track is a driving accumulation of voice, metal and bass, and, in its absence, the dancers provide sound through apples being peeled, human breath, body-slapping and dancers’ voices.
An intense, intriguing and provocative work that is well-suited to its fringe festival status and location, yet it deserves to be seen by many more people.
I commend Dickins for her vision and bravery and all three dancers for the intensity, energy and nightmare quality that they brought to this work.
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A novel way to portray ‘the fall’
Review by Paul Young 01st Oct 2013
Demigod/half-Human treads the fine line between being didactic and oblique that is often characteristic of contemporary dance. Served well by lighting, sound and a committed cast, Shani Dickins and Black Sheep Productions present a stimulating full-length work that equally appeals and appalls… with apples! Apples everywhere!
Set against a curtain of the aforementioned biblical fruit, choreographer Dickins lies prone beneath a draped section of fabric as the audience arrives in the theatre. Post blackout, she begins to emerge from her cover. She is a naked punk Eve with a stiff blonde coiffure. She is fresh from the rib and wears nothing except a sculptural skeletal vest. It looks like the ribcage of a small child. In a linear sequence we see her slowly experience a stylized process of awakening, expressing desire, becoming self aware and feeling shame. Haven’t we all been there? Amen! Religious imagery recurs throughout. It is bold and confrontational but more dramatic traction could be gained by clarifying the impetus of the individual characters.
I have a feeling that the carcass vest is all that remains of Adam. It’s not surprising that he’d have to give up more than just one rib, as there are in fact three Eves in this Eden and they are not the soft lion & lamb stroking apple thieves portrayed in the Bible. Well, actually they do eat apples and the effects are sometimes frightening. They also peel, roll and dodge them as they fall out of the sky, the latter being a set malfunction not entirely unsupportive of the action.
There is lot of tension in some of the movement sequences, which work best when performed with absolute precise unison and these dancers are well capable of that. All three have moments to shine, but tall striking Jahra Wasasala steals the show with a performance that could be virtuosic, for want of a slightly broader palette of expression. She bites into her forbidden fruit and we immediately see it’s bad… but she can’t stop! She brings to mind the freakishly fast zombies from the film 28 Days later as we see her body jerk, choke and change (what a novel way to portray ‘the fall’ I think… it’s an apple zombie!) Wasasala does mad, sad and bad very well but I would like to see that balanced with a little warmth.
Rosa Provost is affected differently, as is always possible with powerful food items where God Power is the active ingredient. Provost really gets immersed in her rather funny solo and the effort is rewarded by an appreciative audience response. Her long hair conforms to the biblical standard of beauty and serves her well as a prop to toss, comb flick and bury her face in. This ties into a strong recurring gestural motif involving the head and arms that is a combination of hair brushing and moshing. It’s a well-developed sequence that evokes a visceral response.
Although Demigod/half-Human Holds my attention throughout, I am completely surprised when it ends and I wonder if the structure is quite right. I am usually of a mind that dance shows are too long but there is something unresolved here, we are just getting to the crux only to be left hanging. On the positive side I am obviously prepared to see more and if Dickins can continue to bridge the spaces between all the more successful elements of this bold new work, I would enjoy the opportunity to see it again.
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