Do you still think of me?

Paramount, Wellington

24/02/2011 - 25/02/2011

NZ Fringe Festival 2011

Production Details

A new experimental dance – physical theatre by Maria Dabrowska, Wellington’s own uber kinetic movement inventionist, and hyper fluid improvisation savant Kristian Larsen.

A charismatically mad homeless middle class white male and his asexual bisexual A.D.D. female companion, find themselves in an abandoned cinema without a thought in their heads or a reason to leave.

Exposing the indestructible vulnerability of two eccentric characters, Do You Still Think of Me blends highly inventive movement vocabulary with humorous images of madness, banality, and crass beauty.

Paramount Theatre
25 Courtney Place, Wellington 
24-25 Feb 10:30pm (Thu & Fri)  

Entry by Koha (Donation)
Tickets: At the door  

Connection, disconnection, sexuality, loneliness …

Review by Jo Thorpe 26th Feb 2011

Occupying a three and a half metre strip of the Paramount Theatre stage, this ‘experimental dance physical theatre work’ consists of a series of alternating solos culminating in a skilfully executed – if somewhat disconcerting – duet. 

Set against a wide, white screen flanked by a ladder on one side and low table and chairs on the other, and aided by a range of props which include a roll of sticky brown parcel tape and a staple gun, two eccentric individuals (Kristian Larsen and Maria Dabrowska) speak, act, sing and dance.

There is frenetic tension in the fast-paced, inventive choreography. Dabrowska’s jerky, alternately rag-doll and robotic-like movements, and her repeated body wraps and spins, are precisely executed. Larsen’s cross-step solo builds in intensity and speed to reveal some kind of inner mayhem. And later, his viscerally vibrating body shakes and ricochets as if volts of electricity run through and out his very fingertips.

There are touches of wry humour and poignant character portrayal. In the opening scene, the male character gives a slide presentation of his trip to some unidentified country. Perfectly pitched at ‘deliberately understated’ (and at times, almost inaudible), Larsen conveys a sense of diffidence and confusion. As he speaks to the disproportionately small images projected on the screen, his trailing sentences and half-formed thoughts invoke our sympathy. 

Visually interesting is the scene in which the female flings a barrage of footwear over her shoulders. From the far side of the stage, sneakers, boots, shoes and ballet slippers fly past the male, who dodges, parries and kicks at these missiles. But it is unclear whether she is hurling them at him, or past him, or whether he is simply irrelevant and in the way. 

To music ranging from Indian and Middle Eastern-sounding tracks to a Suzanne Vega-ish song entitled ‘I knew he needed me’, Do You Still Think of Me explores themes of connection and disconnection, sexuality and loneliness, control – or lack of it – and bizarre gratification. 

When the two characters finally do dance together, they are like isolated body parts alternately wrapping around and pushing away from each other. A cell phone call is resolutely ignored. Machine drills whirr. She guzzles wine from the bottle in post-masturbatory release until it spills over her chest and onto the floor. And in the final scene, she breaks out into loud, inappropriate song. 

Because Larsen is billed as an ‘improvisation savant’, I had half expected chance coincidences and unplanned events to occur. But the work appears to be tightly scripted and choreographed, and the music is pre-recorded. 

While the title implies a couple who have once known each other well, they could equally be two people who had never met till this moment and just happen to be occupying a common space. Again, the publicity material describes the male as ‘charismatically mad’, but apart from his overlong, flapping sleeves and dishevelled clothes, he seems to be more lost and disorientated. Nor is there any indication that the female is ‘asexual bisexual’. She comes across as a dysfunctional heterosexual. 

The final song ‘Looking Back’ invites us to reflect on the relationship between these two individuals. But instead, I find myself looking back to Dabrowska’s 2009 Carnival Hound – a work I found far more textured and compelling. 

Dabrowska has 30 or more choreographies under her belt, and Larsen holds the Best Choreography by an Established Artist Award from the 2009 Tempo Festival. Coming 48 hours after the Christchurch earthquake and the extraordinary developments in Egypt and Libya, I had wanted this work by two mid-career dance artists to be somehow more ‘important’. But perhaps this is unfair. Do You Still Think of Me? is a half- hour, late-night Fringe Festival show, and admission is by koha.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Sylvia Giles March 3rd, 2011

Andy Warhol and Oscar Wilde both would have agreed with that!

Michael Smythe March 3rd, 2011

Some years ago an Australian author told me that he and his colleagues had stopped worrying about the content of reviews - all that mattered was the colmun inches. Maybe this has been a cunning plan ...

Sylvia Giles March 2nd, 2011

 Well, regardless of the particulars, if you put stuff into the public arena you relinquish control, I think. Like tweets and FB photos that get people fired!

Dane Giraud March 2nd, 2011

I find a great irony in this debate. How many times have we, as theatre makers, cursed the empty seat of the critic who never made it! No doubt someone in this company has had this experience, yet now... Utu maybe? Funny. 

John Smythe March 2nd, 2011

Thank you for clarifying your point of view, Kristian.  

This situation has been a casualty of our trying to spread the load while Theatreview remains unfunded (apart from a welcome grant from the Wallace Arts Trust to cover management of the Auckland Fringe Theatre schedule).  I did put up a clear message that dance reviews were being handled by Raewyn then, for reasons of expediency, I took back managing the Wellington dance shows (which in hindsight has caused more problems than it solved) – so all the blame must be directed at me.

Had I got your message I probably would have acceded to it simply to lighten the load. But I didn’t, the Fringe office knew nothing of it, and the review was done in good faith. And when all is said and done thanks must be due to Jo Thorpe, who voluntarily brings a wealth of experience and skill to her review (as do all the reviewers). I realise you did not instigate this complaint, Kristian; I hope you find value in what Jo had to say – and even if you don’t, I believe she has contributed to the world’s awareness of dance practice in New Zealand.

In general terms I continue to champion the value of public discourse concerning public performances of professional performing arts, believing it helps to honour the commitment practitioners bring to their work – especially in a context (i.e. online) where debate can occur.

(And by the way, aren't we lucky that we have to luxury to preoccupy ourselves with such questions as this?)

Sylvia Giles March 2nd, 2011

Such as? Sorry... as someone who doesn't know the context of the request, or for what reasons you requested for it not t be reviewed, I guess I am rather more interested in the broader issue!

I just think like all media, reviewers can't fall into the trap of writing for the subject of their piece/article/review, rather than the reader. You still need to be fair to the subject, of course, but that's another issue entirely. Has this review been fair? That's all that matters, really.

Kristian Larsen March 2nd, 2011

This thread seems to be escalating into broader issues and there are some assumptions being made that I perceive to be misleading. 

Michael; I spoke on the phone to the dance editor Raewyn Whyte, no email was sent to John Smythe. Maria and I did not 'decline a comp' or 'ban' reviewers. We simply made a a civil request that the show not be reviewed, a request that I feel is reasonable and within our rights to make. That request was not an attack on theatreview, nor a subverting of public discourse or critical debate.

I note a line of text on the dance editors page of theatreview; "Please let her know well in advance of upcoming dance events which you would like to have reviewed". Clearly If I would like to have my show reviewed I can request that of theatreview. However does this institution give me a choice when i prefer not have a review on this site? What choice does theatreview give to the performance makers? The reviewers from the Dom Post and Capital Times did extend that option to us. 

Ultimately any member of the public paying their own money to see a show can publish whatever they like on their status updates and tweetfeeds Sylvia . But when they are representing an organization are there not other issues involved? 

Sylvia Giles March 2nd, 2011

I agree with Michael. Declining a comp is fair enough, but the idea that a paying audience member cannot publish a review is grossly naive - in the age of Facebook, twitter and blogging no less.

Michael Wray March 1st, 2011

John beat me to a response, but it pretty much sums up my own thoughts. I don't think that a performance can ask a paying attendee not to share their thoughts or record them in a review - particularly within a busy Festival where people are trying weigh up which shows to see and which shows to miss. They can decline to comp the reviewer, but that is not the same thing. The fact that this show was koha should not cloud the issue; there have been several koha shows in this year's Fringe.

Also, having spent a couple of weeks managing Theatreview and receiving a copy of all John's Theatreview account emails in the lead up to the Fringe, I can back up the statement that no "do not review" request came through to John.

John Smythe March 1st, 2011

Thank you Patrick. I take full responsibility for this being reviewed as, for various reasons, I am managing all the Wellington Fringe reviews including dance. The request not to have Do you still think of me? reviewed did not get through to me and the Fringe office accepted the booking.

Nevertheless it remains an interesting question as to whether people presenting a public performance are free to ban public response, given part of a critic’s role is to be an audience advocate.

Another part of the critic’s role is to offer constructive feedback to professional practitioners, most of whom, in my experience, value it enormously almost regardless of what is written provided it is an honest response from someone who loves the art form.

I note that in this case entry was by koha, which lessens the element of responsibility to those attempting to pick and choose between the many things on offer in a fringe festival. Even so, that aspect still applies in terms of the time audiences spend and the ‘either/or’ choices they have to make.

Nothing in the publicity for Do you still think of me? suggested it was a work-in-progress having a developmental season – see here. It therefore stood in competition with other shows for people’s time and attention.

I’m interested to hear other opinions as to whether producers have the right to ban public discourse on public performances.  

patrick graham March 1st, 2011

John I know for a fact that your dance editor was approached by the performers.

If performer do not wish their performance to be recorded then you should not record it.

Your site is not the be all and end all of historical refernce for the New Zealand theatre scene. It is a site full of criticism therefore it is not an acurate recording of history because it is not impartial.

You were not welcome to review this piece and no matter how you spin it John, you are in the wrong about this one.

John Smythe February 28th, 2011

The right to refuse arts criticism is an interesting ethical question ...

We received no such request.  I worked through the schedule, put it out to the reviewing team, got their responses, advised the Fringe office of our bookings and we all proceeded accordingly. 

As I see it the punters have a right to informed criticism (and Jo Thorpe is certainly informed), the Fringe has a responsibility to ensure the work is witten into history, and history has a right to record it in the form of critical discourse.  

patrick graham February 28th, 2011

well this is rather strange...

I thought the performers of this piece asked for reviewers not to review it.... in fact I know they asked reviewer not to review them.

So why did theatreview go against their wishes? Truly rude.

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