Pick-A-Path Dance in the City is a collection of short dance works sprinkled around Dunedin’s inner city area, making succinct use of unexpected spaces.
Gasp! Dance Collective describes itself as “a new contemporary dance collective dedicated to community enrichment, unique performance, interdisciplinary collaboration and professional development.” Pick-A-Path adheres to this description as it exposes contemporary dance to an unsuspecting Saturday morning ebb and flow of people going about their usual business. For the active audience, following obediently after the guides, it is perhaps a little more public and exposed than the usual audience experience (in a darkened auditorium for example).
As I followed my guides, I thought about this and how it made me feel uncertain – I’m definitely a devotee of contemporary dance but having my joy in this art form displayed so publicly felt different. I got over it pretty quickly.
The first piece, Put Together, The Instance of Getting Up, choreographed by Severine Costa and performed by Miriam Marler and Costa, took place up some absolutely beautiful wooden stairs that I had never noticed before. The walls were sprinkled with photos of models and signs for a travel agent located further up the stairs. We were asked to stop on a landing and the fairly large group squeezed itself around the walls and up the next flight of stairs. Costa and Marler drew an intensely tense response as they emerged from a doorway and climbed the stairs only to disappear into another doorway, draped and bound with strings of white beads. This exploration of anxiety, depression and the human bond was very simple but wrenching at the same time.
We wandered to the next place, the group having split into two (picking our path), outside the Dunedin Town Hall, an imposing building next door to the library. Difference is our Strength, choreographed and danced by Jenny Newstead in collaboration with Hahna Briggs, was a more energetic display of how little it can (and should) mean to be differently abled in terms of actually living life to the full. Newstead explained afterwards that she can’t actually walk (I hadn’t noticed) and had spent three months teaching Briggs how to jump around on crutches. The two women’s movement was supported by a narration of paragraphs of stories about people’s experience of others’ reaction to their difference. While the audio was a little quiet with its backdrop of traffic and people walking past chatting, there were lines that stood out, bringing pause to my thoughts.
Next we walked through to the Octagon where Nicole Wilkie performed her work Harbouring Histories, an exploration of the physical and social processes that formed this part of the Dunedin landscape. Wilkie’s performance was truly in the round with spectators, not just those part of the group, watching her from above, behind, to the side and in front of her. She seemed a little hesitant at first, which made me revisit my own sense of being exposed and made me wonder if it was equally exposing for the performers to be showing their work to an audience not hidden in a darkened auditorium. Brave.
The Importance of Play, choreographed by Miriam Marler and performed today by Lizzie Hewitt and Severine Costa in a play area in the city library, was intriguing and in many ways validated a lot of what I try to think as my own children rough house – it’s part of boys growing up and it’s good for them. Yes, them maybe but what about my furniture?
Taking turns to read aloud and to manifest the words as movement, Hewitt and Costa engaged cheerfully with the several young members of the audience seated at the front, some of whom had been playing in the space just moments before.
Finally, From Conversation Part IV was performed just outside the library’s front doors, making use of a curved brick wall. Briggs’ choreography was delicate and poignant as the dancers – Briggs, Marler, Ella Robinson, Saira Lal, Toni Seidel, Megan Wilson, Raphael Sadowski. – wove their way through Briggs’ play on “the gesture and gaze of our everyday negotiation of public space”. It was a lovely note to end on and had drawn a large crowd of passersby who looked pleased and relaxed as they looked around and filtered away afterwards.
‘Contemporary dance’ intimidates many – what if I don’t get it or my reaction is different to everyone else’s… Imagine if I laugh or clap in the wrong place… But really, how many of us completely understand what the choreographers and dancers are telling us with their bodies. And do we need to? Is it okay just to enjoy it? After all, every single one of us brings our own experience, moods and interpretation to any show we see – but the beauty and the skill contained in the work can be enough of a story and understanding that that can make any performing arts accessible to anyone.
The ethos of Gasp! Dance Collective (as I understand it) is to bring dance to the people and show them that it’s good and Pick-A-Path was a particularly effective way of doing just that. I like this company and I look forward to seeing these artists again, both as part of this collective and as they progress through their careers.
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