Music and Dance in the Garden of Earthly Delights

St Columba’s Anglican Church, Grey Lynn, Auckland

14/03/2009 - 21/03/2009

Auckland Fringe 2009

Production Details


Kick off your shoes, spread out your picnic blanket and spend a summer afternoon in nature’s lush surroundings with a band of frolicking nymphs.  Music and Dance in the Garden of Earthly Delights is a celebration of early 20th Century modern dance, accompanied by the Auckland Mandolinata Orchestra. 

Presented as part of the Auckland Fringe, performances are Saturday, 14th and 21st March at 4pm in the gardens and outdoor labyrinth at St. Columba’s Anglican Church (92 Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn).

Inspired by the styles of modern dance pioneers such as Isadora Duncan, Doris Humphrey, Loie Fuller and Mary Wigman, a band of barefaced and barefooted nymphs will take you back to the early 20th Century to where it all began. Producer Carrie Rae Cunningham and choreographer Dee Landon (who has trained at the Isadora Duncan School in San Francisco, CA) take inspiration from pioneers of the form to explore how a love of nature, a connection with gravity and an outright rejection of the established form of ballet dance sparked a revolution that would eventually lead to the creation of a new dance form – modern dance.  Music and Dance in the Garden of Earthly Delights features award-winning dancers Janine Parkes, Shannon Mutu and Colete Arnold (Backlit Productions) and Kate Bartlett (Yours Truly Productions).     

The Auckland Mandolinata Orchestra, directed by Bryan Holden, features a 25-strong company on mandolin, mandola, mandocello, mandolon (bass mandolin), guitar, contra-bass, flute, and accordion.   Nimble fingers provide accompaniment to nature-inspired dance with an impressive repertoire of folk and traditional music of Europe, Greek classics, waltz and much more. 

Music and Dance in the Garden of Earthly Delights is intended to embrace the summer weather, and the thriving gardens at St. Columba’s encourage audience members to relax and take in the performance on visual, aural and sensory levels.  Both performances will be followed by tea and cake service. 

Isadora Duncan, regarded as the founding mother of modern dance, believed humans had a spiritual connection with nature and that movement was a direct expression of this connection.  Rejecting the established traditions of ballet, Duncan shunned its rigid movement vocabulary and instead practised what she called ‘free dance,’ her own style of movement based on ancient Greek statues and drawings.  She danced barefoot and dressed in a white tunic, causing quite a stir among some social and cultural circles of the time who thought her style to be lewd and offensive.  Some 100 years since her first performance, her impact on today’s forms of contemporary dance is still evident.

St Columba’s Anglican Church (92 Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn)
In the gardens and outdoor labyrinth at St. Columba’s Anglican Church
Saturday 14th/Saturday 21st March
4:00pm – 4:45pm
Tickets: $10/$5. Children under 12 free (cash door sales only)

The Auckland Fringe runs from 27th February to 22nd March 2009.
For more Auckland Fringe information go to

Janine Parkes, Shannon Mutu, Colete Arnold and Kate Bartlett  

Saturdays only

Artful, gentle and historically reflective

Review by Celine Sumic 15th Mar 2009

Weaving historical references with the current moment, Music and Dance in the Garden of Earthly Delights is both a celebration of the Modern Dance style as well as a reference to a famous painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

While Modern Dance is founded on the philosophy of the harmonious integration of the human spirit with nature, Bosch’s triptych, painted 1503-1505, depicts the history of mankind according to medieval Christian doctrine, and is a work that art historians remain divided in opinion over as to whether it represents a moral warning or a panorama of paradise lost…

The afternoon’s performance, initially planned for the St Columba’s garden and labyrinth, is moved inside the church hall due to unstable weather.  While the loss of the natural performance environment is regrettable, upon entry to the hall we are greeted by large-scale photographs of the dancers in the labyrinth, which successfully communicate the nature-inspired ambience of the work. 

Arranged in a sweeping curve to one corner of the hall in cursive contrast to the rectangular shape of the room, is the Auckland Mandolinata Orchestra.  Music provides the springboard for motion, as the orchestra opens the afternoon’s program with the Troika overture.  The scope and emotive colour of the music is impressive as a dramatic rolling and melancholic brooding alternate with light-footed leaping of notes. 

The dance work that follows is divided into six sections; all accompanied by live music from the orchestra.  Respectively titled Air, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire to represent the various elements of nature, the work draws upon the vocabulary and spirit of the Modern Style, reflecting Isadora Duncan’s prescient rejection of the Cartesian divide. 

Duncan’s revolt against balletic "puppetry" as a form of "stiff and commonplace gymnastics" at the turn of the 20th century, in favour of a dance in harmony with nature, broke with all tradition.  Her free flowing movement and unstructured, thin costumes were considered revolutionary in the context of the Victorian moral code that defined the era.

The six elements of nature are brought to life in the afternoon’s performance through the use of breath, weight, flow, musicality, and emotional depth characteristic of the Modern Dance style. Producer Carrie Rae notes in the program that the work is not intended as a recreation of Modern Dance works by Isadora Duncan or those that followed her (Loie Fuller, Ruth St. Denis and Doris Humphrey), but rather seeks to embrace the spirit of their work. 

In this way Dee Landon’s choreography pays homage to Duncan and her Modern Dance compatriots through the interpretive artistry of contemporary dancers Colette Arnold, Kate Bartlett, Shannon Mutu and Janine Parkes.

A notable feature of the Isadora style was her integration of nature with references to classical antiquity.  Greek art, sculpture and literature were interwoven with her dance and incorporated into the principles of her dance schools established in France, Russia and Germany. 

These references are clearly visible in Landon’s choreography.  Earth opens with a line of dancers, flowers in each hand, transitioning to statues in classical poses as one steps forward to enact a ritualistic series of movements that convey a sense of the earth’s gravitational ebb and flow. 

Billowy costumes, designed by Vicky Pethybridge, further reflect Duncan’s love of the antiquities and bear a strong resemblance to costumes worn in performance by Isadora and company in the early 1900s. 

As I reflect upon the freedom sought by women through the Modern Dance movement style, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel comes to mind; a revolutionary of the same era, in the related world of feminine attire. 

Interestingly, both Duncan and Chanel were raised in abject poverty, without the security or influence of a consistent paternal figure.  Their genius therefore, could be said to have unfolded as the result of their shared position within a social interstice, the absence of patriarchal control allowing for an artistic flowering rarely granted to women of this era. 

While Metal brings softly shifting friezes that alternate with lyrical scarf sections, Water and Wood offer glimpses of Duncan’s Dionysian / Bacchic dance movement.  This is a dramatic movement of the entire body where the head is tossed back in ecstasy, the chest raised in an arch and the back leg lifted with bent knee as each step rhythmically connects and disconnects with the earth. 

Notable in the expressivity they bring to this work are Shannon Mutu and Janine Parkes, who respectively embody the sensual, released and at the same time uplifted body movement, and the serene, transcendent face associated with the Modern style. 

Fire concludes the work, revealing the Spanish influence embraced by the choreographic style of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn.  Red scarves are employed in swirling bolero patterns as the company alternately spin the air as if conjuring the large candy floss of life, then pause to frame their faces with bold ovals of colour.

I note this performance feels a bit hurried…  and I wonder whether, in keeping with the Modern style where breath is all important, perhaps more time could be allowed for the dance to unfold – for the audience to inhale and exhale, and for the musicians to luxuriate in their beautiful sound.

Overall however, this is an artful, gentle and historically reflective work, at the conclusion of which we are encouraged to visit the garden thereby allowing nature to complete the performative experience. 


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