There is little doubt that the selected choreographers in this programme are in their prime – and that they for the most part, make the cut – as far as delivering work that is stimulating and enervating. What gives the programme its edge, however, is that all of the choreographers have chosen to employ a degree of humour in their work – ranging from the sardonic, through to slapstick – with many variations in between.
The standout dance work is the enigmatic Brunhilde Observing Gunther, Whom She has Tied to the Ceiling, which is directed by Mia Mason and co-created by its two dancers: Sarah Foster-Sproull and Alex Leonshartsberger. Theirs is a partnership of equals. Beautiful dancers, who each have the ability to own the stage – so that when they dance together, it is dazzling.
Their duet sees them weaving around, below and above each other using circular movements that in turn suggest yearning, entanglement or entrapment – but never quite meet the urgency of desire – leading to the inevitable conclusion, that this is why she has strung him up.
Mason’s inspiration from the 19th Century art-work of Johann Heinrich Füssli, would appear to suggest an alternative scenario however, inspired by the epic medieval poem Niebelungenlied – in which Brunhilde is “de-flowered” by her invisible lover Siegfried, loses her strength and then submits to marrying Gunther. Whatever the message, this is seriously interesting dance that could develop into an evening-length work.
The soft released technique of Mason’s choreography creates dance that has a continuous flow of energy – so that the defined shapes are fleeting – small islands in a sea of movement.
Foster-Sproull’s own work Tragic Best, performed by nine students from the New Zealand School of Dance uses slapstick humour as its point- of-departure, before delving into some lovely ensemble work that is danced with mega-watt energy by the students. Their technique is crisp showing excellent placement and they invest themselves fully in owning their characters and delivering well-rounded performances.
Foster-Sproull has fun with the mini-scenarios created in response to the art of Camille Rose Garcia that see the dancers sling-off at each other, cavort inanely and protest their aches and pains with exaggerated cries of agony. Their delightful costumes are a multi-coloured dell ‘arte assortment that underscores the humour of the work.
Dancer Francis Christeller performs an excerpt from There There, a work choreographed for him by German artist Antje Pfundtner, last year. At times it is a work of heightened reality such as when Christeller continuously repeats the words ‘again-again” while he dances a solo that appears to be one of self- discovery.
At other times it involves sharing the minutiae of his life – an origami swan, a yoga mat and a pile of white stones which are cleverly manipulated to create alternative realities. There are numerous non-sequiturs such as the 100-plus tuck-jumps he does – perhaps just because he can – followed by numerous attempts to start a story. Perhaps it is the stuff of dreams – with the references to the Wizard of Oz, an obvious clue. Christeller is however, compelling in performance and shows a fluid, yet precise style in the dance sections of the work.
Cat Ruka gives herself exactly 20 minutes to satirise the Treaty of Waitangi in her work NEW TREATY MILITIA – a “theatrical protest” against perceived identities in Aoteaora, which she performs with Josh Rutter. The laid-back personae of the two performers, quaffing beer, chatting with the audience and pre-occupied with how they are going to fill in the 20-minutes, is a clever device used to mask the seriousness of the intent behind the words and the actions.
It ends with Rutter apologising profusely and offering Ruka mega-bucks in compensation for his violence towards her, while she smiles a Mona Lisa smile and walks backwards on her hands and feet, her pelvis gently swaying. The Treaty as a comedy of errors, perhaps?
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