heel ruby

Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

24/03/2010 - 27/04/2010

Dunedin Fringe 2010

Production Details

Evocative, raw and sinisterly cheeky 

We all have three masks: that which we present to the world, that which we present to ourselves and that which is our truth. In an ever precarious balancing act we perform the act of living.

Set to premiere at Allen Hall; Otago University – 7pm, 24 – 27 March, as part of the Dunedin Fringe Festival 2010, heel ruby by HATBOX productions will prove as an absolute delight.

Produced and performed by emerging choreographers Camille Boyte, Emily Campbell and Zahra Killeen-Chance (HATBOX productions) heel ruby presents as a quirky, evocative, raw and sinisterly cheeky contemporary dance work.

heel ruby explores the psychological architecture of an individual, drawing inspiration from the life of Judy Garland (period 1935 – 1945) who was thrust in to incomprehensible fame as she was molded into the childlike Dorothy, in MGM’s The Wizard if Oz.

Seeking to uncover the act of being, heel ruby takes the audience on a journey so compelling that, unlike Dorothy, they may not wish to return home.

heel ruby by HATBOX productions is an innovative piece of contemporary dance which seeking to extend the realms of movement vocabulary. Part performance art, part physical theatre and always with roots firmly set in dance, heel ruby is a work steeped in… shoes… an awful lot of shoes!

Ruby slippers play a role of great significance in The Wizard of Oz as they represent Dorothy’s means of returning home. They are obviously a huge point of interest to us also as we pose the question ‘how Garland does return from Dorothy? HATBOX productions

Used by MGM as a commodity, not able to be woman or child, Garland became the fictional Dorothy, the child wanting to go home. Staying for appearances sake the young girl, Garland reality was of a young woman encased in the shell of a twelve year old. Through heel ruby we see these many contradicting facets of Garland as HATBOX productions explore her as the image, the character and the woman.

heel ruby is produced, choreographed and performed by contemporary dance graduates of the New Zealand School of Dance and Unitec, whose prior credits include the Auckland Fringe Festival, Tempo – NZ Festival of Dance, MAU Forum and Dance Your Socks Off. The work emerges as a spirited, innovative, resoundingly human and ultimately engaging piece of art.

Add this piece to your must see works of the Dunedin Fringe Festival 2010.

heel ruby

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2010
24,25,26,27 March
7pm (Duration: 45min)
Allen Hall, Otago University
(Corner of Union & Leith)
Adult: $15.00
Concession: $10.00 (Senior/Student)

Open, abstract style sometimes somewhat shambolic and lacking in clarity

Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 05th Apr 2010

Heel Ruby is a short dance study by young graduates of Unitec and the New Zealand School of Dance who have recently moved to professional practice. It is in this sense an ambitious work, devised and choreographed by two of the three performers (Emily Campbell and Zahra Killeen-Chance).

The work uses the life of Judy Garland—famously a child star before becoming a WWII girl-next-door pin-up and singer, who later spiralled into alcoholism and premature demise—as the inspiration for a series of episodic, movement vignettes. Performances are often delivered without musical accompaniment, the waft of cloth and the clap of limbs punctuating a tensely silent theatre. The movement combines elegant extensions, and curvilinear flourishes and trajectories, with everyday actions and poses.

The artists eschew directly dramatic material, so the performance functions largely through a diffuse sense of affect and emotion. Hints of character and/or trauma suffuse the movement without ever being fully located within a single performer or action.

Killeen-Chance is in this sense the most assured of the trio, having nailed the studied blankness now the standard form of self-projection in dance based on post-Cunningham styles, post-modernism, pedestrianism and/or high formalist dance. Her taught, long-limbed extensions give a formal clarity to her movement, whilst her expression creates an open space onto which that emotional content which arises from the movement itself might be cast.

Carly Townrow has a similar physique, but performs with a furrowed brow of apparent anger. This creates quite a different affective ambience and, with her leonine mane of flowing blond hair, helps to suggest an overall haughty demeanour. In terms of referencing Garland, this reads as expressing Garland’s rage at a society that forced upon her such roles, making one feel in the audience as though a series accusatory glances were being cast in our direction.

Where eroticism or more overt sensuality arises, this creates a contradictory effect, rendering all such movement in fairly negative terms. The pleasures of the body—which is, to my mind, central to the performance and reception of nearly all dance—seems only reluctantly accepted here.

Campbell’s presence is different again. A shorter dancer with a less sharply articulated or bony physique, Campbell seems best suited to the elements of so-called Contact Improvisation which the performers at times draw upon. Here, bodies collapse full into the stage floor, or the dancers rest and share their weight between each other in lifts and rolls. Although this is not a large portion of the movement vocabulary, and is executed in a somewhat tenuous manner (Contact was initially devised to be performed by highly trained, athletes), these moments help dramatise the push and pull of styles within the work.

Like many choreographers since the 1960s, Campbell and Killeen-Chance have worked to accommodate differences in body type and manner of expression, whilst bringing together the trio within an overall unified movement vocabulary. In Heel Ruby, the relation between unity and difference slips and slides—rather too much for my tastes—but it is nevertheless fascinating to watch elements and styles come together before diverging again in various ways. No single action or pose is ever executed in complete unity, and even the physical shapes adopted often seem slightly different from one dancer to another before suddenly coalescing into a trio of perfect repetition.

Unlike her colleagues, Campbell seems to give off a sense of raw emotional expression. She seems on the verge of trauma and overwhelming suffering. In those moments such as I have noted above, where the characters’ sexuality might be more at stake, Campbell’s performance persona seems to experience such actions as a kind of torment. Only Killeen-Chance’s more ambiguous self-presentation seems to offer the option of reading such moments in a potentially positive manner, which one would have thought would need to be at least a possibility for a dance-work representing the mature Garland. Campbell’s eyes here remain bright with a tragic tension, while Killeen-Chance retains a mannered coolness.

This is not to say that issues of sexuality represent the Achilles heel of this work. Rather a deeper questioning of such recurrent motifs reveals the somewhat underdeveloped approach to dramaturgical thinking pervading the work. Dorothy’s shoes from The Wizard of Oz, for example, do indeed appear, but for some unfathomable reason, not all of the footwear on stage during Heel Ruby is “ruby” red, let alone sparkled like those which Garland’s filmic character inherited from the Wicked Witch of the East.  

Again, the shoes seem to morph from their more usual significance as representing home and one’s most deep, inner-most desire (as in the film), to being symbols of feminine repression. The main use these shoes are put to on stage is to have the characters stumble about in unmatched high-heeled footwear. Given that Dorothy’s own shoes quite unambiguously did not have high heels, this seems a literally perverse addition which could, nevertheless, be justified by additional contextual development. In the absence of such a more thoughtful consideration of symbols and objects though, the reference to the shoes ultimately proves something of a distraction.

In short, although the model of dance theatre invoked here would seem to be the open, abstract European style epitomised by the likes of Pina Bausch and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (Cherkaoui’s work having been recently seen in Wellington), Heel Ruby is at once more diffuse—and so excitingly unresolved—but also at times somewhat shambolic and lacking in clarity.

One’s response to the work ultimately depends on how much of a through-line and interconnection between these short, lightly performed entr’actes one might be seeking, as well as whether one reads Garland’s life as unambiguously tragic, or whether one might see her as a more complex character, joining the child star with a complex yet still possible mode of sexuality (as gay, camp, queer and drag interpretations of Garland routinely suggest).

HatBox Productions have demonstrated that their members can generate fine, suggestive choreography, and also perform it with some aplomb. Issues of structural and dramaturgical integrity, though, could be further improved, and one can reasonably expect that future works will rise to this challenge.


Jonathan Marshall April 7th, 2010

Dear Kristen

Thanks for your feedback.

My citing of the names was based on an email received from hra Killeen-Chance of 16 Feb which specified (and I quote) "Produced and performed by emerging choreographers Camille Boyte, Emily Campbell and Zahra Killeen-Chance".My "inaccuracy" was therefore simply in reproducing this information. With looming deadlines though, and working away from my office, I did not have time to doublecheck if this had changed by using later sources. I do however greatly appreciate that you and others have updated and enabled correction of this. Thank you. 

Re. Paxton, I would demure that my statement is in no way inaccurate, but this is rather a matter of opinion.

As I specify, Contact was developed on highly skilled, athletically trained performers. Others --- mostly not Paxton I would add --- have transferred its use to (as you say) more "democratic" uses, notably in teaching movement to performers with little if any other movement training, including actors. This is, to my mind, a mistake, and I would contend, is neither consistent with Paxton's aim --- which while broadly "democratic", was not universalist, and indeed, "democratic" movement is better acheived through pedestrianism and/or work by the likes of Deborah Hay --- was not to suggest that one could adopt Contact unless one has considerable expertise. It is indeed very dangerous to do Contact without such expertise. Coming from Melbourne, I have seen this kind of application of Contact quite a bit, notably in the work of Al Wunder and Theatre of the Ordinary. I and others have and continue to argue that this is a misuse and misinterpretation of Paxton.

As far as Heel Ruby goes, my point was that, contrary to some popular belief, Contact is indeed a very complex, highly skilled and difficult form to master. The performers of this particular show have more than demonstrated a good command of its principles, and I look forward to seeing future performances where they should be able to go beyond some of these basics into more complex, acrobatic and/or weight shifting performance. Being a Melbournian, David Corbet is an example of such a performer whose work I have seen a lot of. I look forward to finding out more about the NZ scene, and who here has that kind of to my mind more refined approach to the weight-shifting body.

Jonathan M

Kristian Larsen April 5th, 2010

Nice to read an enjoyable  and intelligent piece of writing.  Could be bolstered by being a little more accurate:

Carly Townrow (not Boyte) is the leonine blonde.  [Fixed: Carly Townrow, not Camille Boyte ED]

Although Paxton's 'Magnesium', a key element in the conception  of Contact Improvisation was performed by athletic young men, CI was never designed specifically to performed by athletes.  Paxton's agenda was to create a democratic accessible dance thechnique. 

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