Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

27/02/2010 - 01/03/2010

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2010

Production Details

Are we comfortable with not much…
Can we find calm and unity in full spaces?
What makes us feel empty or full?

In 2008 Director Deirdre Tarrant realised an ambition to invite Claire O’Neil home from Brussels to make a new work for the 2008 Footnote Forte Season. The result was MTYLAND, a work that won acclaim and awards and proved a showcase for the six very individual dancers of the Company.

After extended national and international interest Footnote Dance was then invited to Brussels to further develop MTYLAND. Four dancers travelled to Brussels in June 2009 where concentrated work with Claire and her dramaturgs at Pianofabriek Cultural Centre resulted in a showing to invited guests. The trip more than realised its objectives and an invitation to revisit this work as part of the New Zealand International Arts Festival’s Restage initiative sees the Company re-explore the production and Claire herself return to New Zealand.

Winner of Best Choreography by an Established Artist or Company at the 2008 Tempo Awards, this intoxicating dance production is a moving exploration of the search for calm amid life’s chaos.

This adrenalin-charged work has evolved from Claire O’Neil’s interest in random events, journeys of survival, and the practice of defence and attack. Relationships between characters and states of emotions morph fluidly in MTYLAND, highlighting how unexpected collisions can sometimes result in the most beautiful transformations. 

Vocal and physical pandemonium can ensue at any moment as the dancers boldly move from mighty to vulnerable, in the search for genuine gestures and states in dance performance. Hiding a protest against war and violence, MTYLAND searches for emptiness in a world already fit to burst.

In nothing there is everything…we are making the rules.
If you had an empty space what would you do with it?

Soundings Theatre
27-28 February, 6pm
1 March, 7.30pm 

Sound Design by Herman Martin, featuring music from Battles
Original Lighting Design Maia Whittet
Costumes Second Hand
Quote from Walt Whitman ‘Leaves of Grass’
Lyrics ‘Seasons’ by Anonymous
Original Texts by the performers
Footnote Dance is Directed by Deirdre Tarrant
Dancers Anita Hunziker, Sarah Knox, Jeremy Poi, Francis Christeller, Lucy Marinkovich, Jesse Wikiriwhi 
Trumpet Alexis French  

Excellence and irritation

Review by Mark Amery 13th Mar 2010

Claire O’Neill’s work sits nicely alongside fellow dance theatre work Sutra in artistic director Lissa Twomey’s opening weekend festival program. Both explore the individual’s struggle – and the respective Belgium-based choreographers’ own struggle – through movement to find a space within which they can be comfortable. O’Neill calls this place MTYLAND, MTY standing for ‘moving towards yourself’.

Six casually dressed individuals try to find stability in a wide open landscape – to try and steady themselves as they teeter from the pressures of their social environment, conveyed by the punchy movement of the group around them. Before a bare white canvas the dancers stride nonchalantly up and strip back theatrical walls one-by-one, between themselves and the audience and between each other. [More]
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. 


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Post-modern dance theatre of vast philosophical theme

Review by Jennifer Shennan 07th Mar 2010

The Festival’s new category, ‘Restage’, for the return of New Zealand theatre pieces developed since a premiere season, is a welcome one, as multi-resourced and important homegrown work often does not get sufficient exposure here the first time round.

Choreographed by Claire O’Neil for Footnote Dance Company, Mtyland was first performed in the Opera House in 2008. Claire has returned to New Zealand from some years in Europe and Deirdre Tarrant, director of Footnote, is thus giving her and us an opportunity to see how her work might develop in this different home and context.

Mtyland is a work of vast philosophical theme and the dancers did well in the somewhat bare space of Soundings theatre, and without support of designed set or costumes, to create an emotional atmosphere for the variety of moods, ranging from dark frustration through to the caring support of friends, that the work encompasses. The chorus-like ensemble pieces in tight unison or canon were very well performed, and show clearly the strong rapport these six dancers share.

The choreography adopts a European model of post-modernist dance-theatre, with deconstructed episodes that deliberately avoid any sequitur of development other than a pattern of light and shade. This places further demands on the dancers to be the aesthetic anchor of the work, and they do rise impressively to that challenge.

There is a parallel rather than symbiotic relationship with the music, though the choreography in places does seem rather dependent on the lyrics of song texts. The device of displaying from the stage a series of reference numbers linked to listings in the printed programme of strategies from ancient treatises of Chinese martial arts might have done better to display the titles themselves, as it’s a long stretch from our pre- or post-reading of the extensive background notes to the onstage action.

There is no doubt that Footnote dancers are performing strongly. Jesse Wikiriwhi has a new energy, but my eye is as always compelled to follow Sarah Knox’s dancing for her intuitive sense of line, yet fully energised quality of movement. I wait patiently to see the major choreographic commission I suspect she is capable of. Next Festival perhaps?


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Multi-layered and powerful

Review by Lyne Pringle 28th Feb 2010

That Footnote is included in the international festival with Claire O’Neill’s work Mtyland is cause for celebration. It has been a long journey of negotiation and faith. Why should it be this hard and this rare to see New Zealand artists in this context, particularly dance?

The Soundings Theatre offers a more intimate engagement with the work. Right from our entrance into the auditorium O’Neill challenges our conventional expectations with a pared down stage and pensive dancers on or moving into the space; the house lights are up, a radio station blares Sihad. We are part of the work, throughout the dance we are invited in, stared down, perused, and at one point told to leave.

O’Neill has always been an exciting mover herself and in this work she transfers that abandoned, dangerous, sensuous movement compulsion to the wonderful dancers in this feisty company. It is thrilling to see her particular brand of corporeal genius magnified six fold.

The performance space is often expectant, waiting for the bodies to inhabit it. Sometimes this emptiness is deeply resonant but at other times it feels impoverished, as it there is not enough burn in the previous moment to justify our wait for the next event. Tightening of the theatrical screws would alleviate this.

O’Neill demands much of the dancers: they must deliver text, sometimes whilst moving, sing and send out an unmistakable challenge to the audience. They are fantastic, totally committed to the whirlwind of dance, theatre, music and space. The work is edgier this time around, less funny; the multiple readings available are dense and cryptic as I search for meaning.

On first viewing one of the things that impresses is the sense that the performers are really wearing their own skins within the context of the ‘characters’ of the piece. The work invites them to fully inhabit fresh uncolonised bodies and consequently we are invited into their struggles, their concerns, their need for contact with another, their wrestles with fullness and emptiness. As the stridency of first night nerves settle the performers will again find this confidence.

There are many stand-out moments due to the beautiful logic in O’Neill’s movement phrases. In an assured unison section early on, the dancers hold an unusual focus which draws their heads skyward as they navigate a liquid crawling sequence. Limbs fold and unfold as their bodies shift their relationship to gravity with ease. It is refreshingly unique choreography.

An extended sequence is full of persistent jumps and angular extensions building to a desperate sense of futility; bodies twitch as if possessed and physical limits are pushed, battered and cajoled, leaving the dancers on the edge of frenzied despair. Sometimes there is nothing left to do but sing, voices providing the pathway to continue on in this intense investigation of emptiness.

A quartet where Sarah Knox is held aloft whilst reciting sayings is beautifully realised as the text and movement fuse.

Once again I appreciate O’Neill’s ability to turn things on their head to create strange juxtapositions: a particular emotion can suddenly switch; anguish to joy, confidence to paranoia. In these moments I’m on the thrilling crest of a theatrical wave as bodies relish the challenges in an orgy of flungness!

A dark humour pervades the piece. At one point Francis Christeller, who is highly convincing as a dangerous nerd, is held aloft talking about weapons – fingernails or flamethrowers – then the dancers sing about seasons coming and going as they all try to avert a hostage crisis, by placating and diffusing. 

Jeremy Poi is an excellent natural comic and a dynamo onstage as he moves from gleeful ownership of the space to paranoid manipulator.

Jessie Wikiriwhi, who has returned for this season, is an assured presence throughout the piece as his performance reaches a new level of maturity.

Anita Hunziker falls with abandon into the space, her tight compact and amazing body relishing the choreographic and theatrical challenges.

Sarah Knox holds nothing back as she expresses deep and tender moments – her duet with Poi is exquisite.

And newcomer Lucy Marinkovich is a welcome addition to the company with her lyrical presence.

It is wonderful to see Footnote Dance Company take their rightful place in this international festival and I appreciate the opportunity to revisit this multi-layered and powerful work and hope that it will live on to grow and develop.

Please see my previous review for an in depth analysis of the structures of the work and the production elements.
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. 


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