For a hopeless pedestrian like me the Rudolf Steiner School is kind of off the beaten path (not to mention down a dark St Martins cul-de-sac and across a paddock). I’m slightly nervous to let the taxi go, but the big bright Body Festival poster confirms that I’m in the right place and I will hold the festival morally responsible should I end up in a ditch. I can hear frogs by the way. Frogs in Christchurch!
Outside the theatre are two young women who are selling programmes. They are barefoot and which is really bizarre considering how cold it is. It turns out that they are some of the dancers! I’m trying to recall if any of my employers have ever made me stand outside in the cold twenty minutes before the show in bare feet, welcoming the customers. Um, hell no! Maybe I’m a spoilt princess but seriously, performers need to be warm and focused. How well would you expect the All Blacks perform if they had to sell tickets to their own games?
From the advertising, I expected an international show with international performers. Yes, the artists are listed as Afro Fusion (NZ) but also the programme also talks up the international credentials, calling the piece "a collaboration of artists from around the world" and also plugging one of the UK’s best original dance DJ’s’. The musicians are clearly culturally diverse, but the dancers are all kiwis from what I can tell, and they all look about 16.
A guy on guitar is creates pre-show atmosphere. Despite subjecting us to one of the most gut wrenching feedback sounds ever unleashed he is pretty nifty. Next up DJ Verdi gets some Afro Caribbean beats happening. It would have been nice if this had segued directly into the show as by the time the dancers come on I feel there has been one musical interlude too many.
Equanimity presents roughly sixteen items of contemporary and traditional African dance linked by a clear narrative, which is explained blow by blow in the programme. Twelve young women, one young man and nine musicians on a variety of instruments tell the story of an Island community caught in a superficial cycle of bacchanalian over indulgence and gross resource mismanagement. They might as well have called the island ‘New Zealand’.
If not professional or mature the cast perform with admirable professionalism and maturity. Some sections push the earnest cheese a bit too hard, some are genuinely moving. Although there are accomplished contemporary dancers, in the troupe, notably the fair soloist whom I cannot identify from the tiny black and white profile photo, the work becomes more successful the farther it moves from familiar contemporary style. Their strong rhythmic lower legs, released torsos, and well integrated heads and arms are worked into some pretty complex choreographic patterns. Real commitment and attack means the pace the only occasionally lags and more often than not I can read the story being delivered (with a little help from the handy programme. One of these should have published for the world cup opening ceremony instead of that funereal commentary). ‘Kuku’, a female celebratory ritual is particularly wonderful ending with a perfectly struck pose resembling African flavoured arabesque. A section called ‘The Escape’ is the highlight as the dancers maximise the energetic and spatial possibilities to deliver a riveting performance.
There are no weak links in this cast and they are fit! Although it seems unfair to single anyone out, Tuau Love as the representative male can expect to be under scrutiny in this line up. He does himself proud with a virtuosic display of locking and popping. He has swagger and a natural connection with his partner. Also Michelle Walker catches my eye with her relaxed and effortless delivery. She was very watchable.
For anyone with young dance enthusiasts in the family, this show is lively enough to keep them entertained and maybe give them something to aspire to. Despite being little misrepresented in advertising it is infectious, colourful and worth supporting.
But for God’s sake, these girls work hard enough! Just put the programmes on the ticket desk.
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