Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

20/02/2017 - 22/02/2017

NZ Fringe Festival 2017 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

“Wellington has a strong history of creating and valuing risky, innovative and quality art, and we are delighted to be supporting the next generation to contribute their ideas and talent to the city.”   -Felicity Birch, Arts Programme Advisor

Not just your average Fringe show; Incognito and Subsequent Slavery  explore the world that our young artists are emerging into and confronts the audience with a new way of seeing our environment, in a way that only brand new eyes can do. What this leaves you with is something powerfully courageous, gently groovy, delicately beautiful, and insightfully human.

Toi Poneke are proud to present the inaugural Dance Residency Show, as part of a new activation initiative at Toi Pōneke Arts Centre, designed to support Wellington’s fresh new dance talent in developing their creative and professional work. The recipients of the 2017 dance residency are choreographers Holly Newsome and Samuel Hall, and producer Brynne Tasker-Poland.

Subsequent Slavery by Samuel Hall

We are all trying to get somewhere, we are all trying to fulfil our expectations of life. But how are these expectations effecting our state of mind? What would life be like without expectations? What happens if we stop for a moment and allow ourselves to be imperfect? If we let the distant rumble come closer and rattle our bones. If we allowed our lives to fall apart and instead of feeling like a failure, would we feel more human than we ever have before?

Incognito by Holly Newsome

You may have noticed that bus seats are tragically zingy, bright and dramatically patterned. This is because they don’t want the public to see just how dirty they really are. A lot like the seats, never do we show all of our true colours, usually there’s one for every occasion. With this I give you something simply entertaining, but not necessarily necessary.

Incognito by Holly Newsome
Subsequent Slavery by Samuel Hall
Presented by The Toi Poneke Dance Residency for the 2017 Fringe Festival
Starring Jess Newman, Issy Istrella, Tiana Lung and Rowan Rossi
Sound Design by Will Evans and Holly Newsome

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee St Wellington
20 – 22 Feb 2017
Buy tickets through Fringe  

Dance ,

1 hr

Plastic animation vs technical chic

Review by Chris Jannides 22nd Feb 2017

By comparison to Auckland, Wellington lacks a vibrant independent dance community. This doesn’t mean it is completely lacking in this regard. It is simply that Wellington is not viewed by the dancers it produces as a destination for their initial growth and development when they emerge from their training institutions into the real world. Graduates, for instance, from the New Zealand School of Dance, which is based in Wellington, see Auckland as their first port of call, that’s if they don’t get contracts for companies in Australia and elsewhere overseas first. Auckland currently has the bulk of available work and employment, not to mention most of this country’s leading choreographers.

This is why I applaud the initiative by the Toi Poneke Arts Centre to sponsor a dance residency programme of which this is its inaugural offering. Two choreographers, with a small company of dancers comprising Jess Newman, Issy Istrella, Tiana Lung and Rowan Rossi, are the recipients chosen to fulfil Toi Poneke’s aim ‘to support Wellington’s fresh new dance talent in developing their creative and professional work’. The choreographers – Samuel Hall and Holly Newsome – have created a double bill that showcases two quite distinctive pieces of dance.

The first, by Hall, Subsequent Slavery, features a very large strip of plastic that is manipulated and animated by the four dancers in various ways. Its role is primarily elemental, with its persona shifting between geological, like a big bit of arctic ice, to amoebic, as in some kind of spooky alien blob or biochemical catastrophe let loose from a B-grade horror movie, to oceanic waves with undulating surges and swells of tidal disturbance and fury.

It is fair to say the plastic is the choreographic star in this work. The dancers animate and partner it excellently, imbuing its lifeless passivity with a continually changing and dynamically-charged life of its own from start to finish. I enjoy seeing bodies swallowed and birthed in endless ways by this threatening transparent blob with its ever-crinkly sound presence. One image, in particular stands out for me: the blob turns into an upside-down porcupine with arms and legs sticking in the air reminding me of a weird sea urchin or pin cushion of amputated human limbs.

The dancing that is done when people are free of their captor is generic contemporary dance that allows each performer to showcase their skills and physically emote in bodily expressive ways. There’s a lot of writhing, reaching, hugging, struggling, frenzy and synchronised unison. Much exploration of the central prop has gone into the making of this work. The publicity notes state that the theme of the dance is something to do with us ‘all trying to fulfil our expectations of life’, but this bears no relevance to the final outcome, however, that’s ok, they were probably written before the studio work began. 

After a while Hall’s choreography tires of its ‘how many things can we do with this plastic’ theme and starts to look the same, rather than build in some structurally progressive or interesting way. No disrespect to the sound designer, Will Evans, but I can’t help thinking it might have been braver to have trusted the soundscape that the plastic itself makes as the main sound source or, alternatively, take from it inspiration for some kind of innovative musical composition. All in all, there are memorable images in this piece of work about a plastic rock-womb slithering towards us out of the dark at the start and then slithering away at the end having disgorged and then re-digested its angsty but sleek human payload.

The second item, with the same cast of dancers, is Newsome’s Incognito. Like the previous work, the publicity information is quite different from what we see. Well actually, not completely different. The written stuff talks about a metaphor involving ‘zingy, bright and dramatically patterned bus seats’, while the dance offers us the preflight buckling up and safety procedures of airline stewards on a plane, with us as its seated passengers. Either way, there’s the promise of a journey.

Between boarding procedures and take off at the work’s conclusion we witness a theme about there being something to hide. The expressions on the faces of the dancers are made to switch between two modes: warm smiles that turn into garish grins or sinister low eyebrows accompanying cold grim stares. These air hostesses and steward are in camouflage combat fatigues. Later they all don stocking masks with Mickey Mouse face markings. The whole thing is show-offy, but not necessarily in a bad way, and seems designed to fit as much dancing and choreography into itself as possible, shrouded in confrontational playfulness.

There is a comfortable ease between the dancers and what they perform, which points to good levels of familiarity in their working relationship with Newsome. The pleasure here is that they have all been pushed to the max, technically, and can revel in the fact that their training and skills are being given an ideal platform for display and appreciation. The danger, however, is that there’s an overkill of material whose diversity and eclecticism, while providing great opportunity for humour, virtuosity and surprise, starts to cave in on itself. 

Newsome states that her goal in this work is to give us ‘something simply entertaining, but not necessarily necessary’. She slaps patches of flashing coloured lights on top of an atmosphere of grunge. Technically demanding contemporary dance is mixed with boogie moves. A smorgasbord of music, much of it ‘cool’, is interspersed with public announcement voice overs that get warped. The male dancer does a birdie solo with feather clumps for hands. 

In the choreographic language of ‘motif’ where a particular image is repeated enough times for it to stand out and become significant in some way, one dancer lifts and holds her leg in a very high position to the side while balancing on the other leg and casually doing some gestural stuff with her hands. In dance, this move is always ostentatious. It is extremely difficult and is only ever done as a ‘look what I can do’ moment. Another dancer copies her. This understated display of physical extremism mixed with throwaway cool summarises an approach that contemporary dance has come to like for itself. It’s found a kind of comfort zone here. 

Newsome’s use of ‘technical chic’ is highlighting for me an identity dilemma that the art form might be experiencing. Does contemporary dance want to mostly make dance for dancers where they can feel good because it showcases the results of their many hard years of training and extremely high levels of physical accomplishment and skill? And when it tries to become accessible outside itself and excuse its narcissistic desire for self-display, does it necessarily, or even apologetically, have to become ‘unnecessary entertainment’? In a title like Incognito there is a kind of hidden superhero theme that dancers might be vainly adopting and wanting us to see.

In summary, if the first piece had an overkill of one theme and the second an overkill of steps and quirky snippets, the great thing in this double bill is that there is an abundance of energy, enthusiasm and dance-making exploration and imagination being revealed by these engaging artists. Toi Poneke has selected its inaugural choreographers and dancers well. Let’s hope initiatives like this are a growing trend that will lead to an eventual abundance of independent dance in this sad little dance-starved capital city to rival its northern compatriots. 


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