When Sweaty Heart Productions first put on a show at Auckland’s grungy Galatos Theatre, I felt as though I was watching some of the early works of Unitec BPSA programme (from the Chris Jannides era of NZ contemporary dance). The works are experimental, not quite finished, and slightly oriented around personal, professional aesthetics. These same orientations ar at the forefront of still evolving perspectives in last night’s Joan of Hearts at Gundry Street, Newton. In Zanetti’s words, “Like Joan, there is always an original vision”.
This time round, Joan of Hearts is presented by Sweaty Heart Productions as a collective “with a focus on supporting and encouraging” dancers, “namely women”. I thought of the evening as more of a compilation. I admit I was searching for Joan of Hearts, embodied, essentialist and thematic from the entirety of the programme and a tiny bit disappointed to see that each dancer/ choreographer maintains an individuated focus on their own particular work.
Lydia Zanetti, self professed curator and producer has brought together a mix of experience and aesthetic values. At times I felt I was watching some hastily put together work. I too have performed work that I made in a rehearsal vacuum with loosely improvised sections. Last night I saw a show of frequent moments that relied on performance witchery to carve the indelible impression of each work, rather than an engagement with the coordinates of a lightly structured journey set to leave lasting impressions. Perhaps with a higher degree of experience, the producer will bring her artists into their performance space earlier and take heed of connections that audiences are likely to try for.
I was looking forward to the soft sensitive creations of Val Smith as she had been advertised earlier, and wonder (in hindsight) if some of the slightly disorienting structure was achieved by overly hasty programme changes? In the meantime, if Zanetti is to reference stalwart feminist collectives such as Curve (NZ) and Lea Anderson’s The Cholmondeleys (UK) (I would delicately suggest Merchants of Venus (NZ) as another reference?) She may also need to delve deeper into researching the sensibility of her title and media descriptions. Her obvious enthusiasm notwithstanding, my review takes account of her stated issues of permanence, activity and challenges within the dances and each as a separate work.
A young Indy/ country/ pop duo, Joseph and Maia were set as a musical backdrop to our entry into the rather cramped space at Gundry Street. Great atmosphere and music, and I think we could have actually stopped our chatter and listened to them. The difference between theatre and rock audience cultures is highlighted here as an uneasy way to start the ‘performance’ section. As much as the dancers claimed theirs, I think that the two songwriter/ singer/ musician performers deserve their moment too.
Amber Stephens opens the show and draws on a second solo, third up, to reveal an increasingly watchable performance persona. Her first work, “Disconnected” to familiar music by solo Cellist, Jami Sieber claimed too much of a focal vocabulary to meet the needs of an expressive orientation with a battling Joan. Stephens is a capable, strong dance force, and my curiosity – piqued by dance vocabulary decisions in the first solo, is fully satisfied by an evocative and stirring experimentation with her body’s aesthetic in the second. The music for her second solo, Pick Up (4tet mix) by Bonobo and Zodiac S**t by Babylon Circus may well have supported improvisation decisions in relation to expression and intention. I look forward to seeing more of her choreographic work.
The second work of the evening is Emily Campbell’s Notes on Water, to music by the Hot Toddies, with a sequence of photographic images projected on a corrugated wall and a choreographic study of her signature movement precision. When I last reviewed her, I was excited by her narrative threads. This work may have been better presented in a different light and almost certainly the photo images would have fared better on a flat wall, but there is definitely something unpicking from within her world. Her Joan story unfolds and I for one look forward to a whole evening from her – a Campbell Live of an entirely different sort!!
What makes an evening like this work has something to do with the enthusiasm of the audience and the underlying desire for the performers to want to have us watch them. Zahra Killeen-Chance exploded on stage with a cool, dynamic dance solo named after and danced to Johnny Cash’s signature I Walk the Line. Now I love that song and I love watching Killeen-Chance dancing, but this was one of the works where installation of a kick start performance or thematic intention was lacking. Her programme note suggests an improvisation about yearning: between equanimity and unease. Movement pauses, audience provocation and a more obvious connection to the overarching evening’s title may have drawn us deeper into her search?
The truth is Gundry Street is an “in your face” venue. Dancers Shanelle Lenehan and Zanetti (with help from Nash) produce an uplifting and exciting choreography with another approach to improvisation, reformed moments from the initial section as detailed duet sequencing. What becomes the highlight of the evening only just fits in the space. Dance five, “6 to 10” may be describing the number of minutes it takes to perform the dance ~ or perhaps the time of night it was completed, but either way the satisfaction about this piece comes from watching the dancers’ ease of interplay. A sophisticated, subtle dance performance by Lenehan, closely matched by Zanetti’s effort gave the evening a much welcomed zenith from which to observe the whole.
The next dance, TURF; SOD, choreographed by Zanetti and her dancers is simply evoked by Georgie Goater and a very funny nose wiping Molly McDowall. It moves me from just watching the evening’s offerings objectively to watching with a state of perplexing and increasing desire to locate a central transformative theme. Goater is awesome as soon as she stretches her arms skywards or falls seamlessly into the floor, I just want someone to let her viscerally direct the night. It is as though her body knows the whole. The sensible the artistic, the much need connections are all welcome: as a relief is to an abstract sculpture.
Last dance – nearly there – sorry about the length; I have been trying to make my way across an important showcase that highlights some critical shifts in our contemporary dance world. Kelly Nash, more recently seen dancing exquisitely in Douglas Wright’s profound artistic gem rapt, at the 2011 Auckland Festival of Arts, most overtly portrays a Jean d’Arc figure. Nash demonstrates an awesome ease and simplicity with the job of performing dance. Her extreme use of speed and immediacy in movements in the air cut progressive arcs through another largely improvised work. Her performance history and mature artistry sets her as the finale star.
Combined, Campbell, Goater, Killeen-Chance, Lenehan, McDowall, Nash, Stephens and Zanetti are as much a contemporary force as was the beleaguered historical, mythical figure of Joan of Arc. They are as one such strong, creative “woman”. As much as I wish Chris J back for our deep and fiery conversations about the art form’s equitable need for technical rigour and experimental force and to take up some of the artistic reins of these abstract practices, I know he would be proud of the experimental, courageous outcomes of the Joan of Hearts event.
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