Mary Hopewell Theatre, Dunedin

04/04/2008 - 06/04/2008

Wellington Performing Arts Centre, Wellington

29/02/2008 - 02/03/2008

NZ Fringe Festival 2008

Production Details

Dancing the journey of grief

Crows Feet Dance Collective, Wellington’s unique all-women contemporary dance group for mature performers, has created a work that reaches out to audience members who have experienced profound loss in their lives.

Director and choreographer of the group, Jan Bolwell, created Requiem in memory of her younger sister who died of cancer last year at the age of 52.

The emotional power of this dance quickly became obvious during their first season in September 2007, and they are bringing Requiem back for the Wellington Fringe Festival in February 2008.

Bolwell is herself a cancer survivor. It was the experience of breast cancer and a double mastectomy that got her back on the stage once more at the age of 50 in 1999.

“I knew the only way I could recover some sense of my physical self was to dance again. I created a solo work Off my Chest, and it was seeing this dance that inspired leading NZ filmmaker Gaylene Preston to make her marvellous documentary on breast cancer Titless Wonders,” said Bolwell. 

Women who saw the documentary approached Bolwell and asked her to teach them to dance. Crows Feet Dance Collective wasborn, and now numbers 18 dancers between the ages of 35 to 67 years old. Each year this community dance collective stages a concert featuring a major new work by their director.

“They are the most wonderful bunch of women, and I love creating dances on them. Some are experienced dancers, but many have no training at all. It doesn’t matter. They bring so many personal qualities to the work, and the challenge for me as the choreographer is to meld them into a cohesive ensemble.”

Requiem is not a gloomy work. Some parts are intensely touching, others confrontational. But as a whole audiences find it inspiring, dynamic and healing. “Finally tonight I wept for my father”, said one audience member; “I was swept away from the very first bars, thinking about my friend who died last summer,” said another.

Karl Jenkins’ stunning east-west music sets the tone, exploring the cycle of life and death.

“[Crows Feet is] an intrepid band of women who brought dignity and integrity to some very beautiful sequences of group movement. Clearly the work’s themes of courage and companionship in grief and loss were heartfelt by all, and a quiet heroism surrounded the work. […]Costumes by Jane Ferguson, in persimmon, pale gold, rich red and burning bronze silk, were an affirmation.”
– Dominion Post dance reviewer Jennifer Shennan 

Proceeds from the opening night of Requiem at the New Zealand Fringe Festival will be donated to the Wellington Cancer Society.

February 29 (8pm), March 1 (2pm, 6pm), March 2 (4pm)
Wellington Performing Arts Centre
36 Vivian St, Wellington
$18 / Conc. $15 / Fringe Addict $12
Bookings: DANZ  or 04 384 9885

For further information go to

Crows Feet Dance Collective
Sue Leask, Jo Thorpe, Tania Kopytko, Elizabeth Isaacs, Jenny Cossey, Elise Anderson, Denise Hitchcock, Daphne Pilaar, Barbara Brownlie, Sally Latham, Rachel McAlpine, Carolyn McKeefrey, Jennifer Holdaway, Lynne Klap, Meg Bailey and Liz Melchior
- with Isabelle and Simone Leask

Dance ,

Inspired and inspiring

Review by Barbara Snook 10th Apr 2008

The program begins with Quintet by Jan Bolwell. This beautifully crafted work begins joyously with Bolwell dancing a solo introduction, radiating strength and experience.  Her eye contact with the audience is cheeky and challenging.  The quintet, featuring Meg Bailey, Sue Leask, Elizabeth Isaacs, Tania Kopytko and Jo Thorpe enter the space, repeating many motifs from the introduction, enjoying themselves in the playful game-like sequences. The sequences capture the spirit of youth through the beauty and simplicity of the formations and movement vocabulary.

The second item, Voyage is choreographed and danced solo by Suzanne Renner, who is often described as the enigmatic Peter Pan of New Zealand dance.  Her youthful looks and personal style add weight to this observation as she circles and twists through the space. The purple costume, blue lighting and music by Adair Bruce enhance what is a thoroughly enjoyable solo work.

Dunedin’s own Shona Dunlop McTavish speaks onstage as the choreographer before a reconstruction of Gertrud Bodenwieser’s The Blue Danube. Shona speaks in German, re-enacting what Bodenwieser said to her dancers. Although she repeats what has been said in English, it is easy to understand the German through Shona’s gestures and expression, and at times, not being able to contain her love of dance, bursts of movement. 

It was an absolute joy to see the reworking of Bodenwieser’s Blue Danube that contained all the emotion and feeling of the style of a bygone era. Terry McTavish, Pippa Brash, Suzanne Renner, Bronwyn Judge and Kilda Northcott captivate the audience with their expression and gesture, the very essence of this style of dance. The expressive qualities of the music are interpreted in movement as the dancers float, turn, whirl, and wave in flowing blue dresses. The audience in attendance on Friday night appreciated the fact that they were honoured to have seen such an important historical dance performed live.

Requiem was choreographed in memory of Fiona Blair Bolwell, choreographer Jan Bolwell’s sister, who died of cancer in June 2006. The dance begins with simplicity of movement as the members of Crows Feet enter the space dressed in Japanese styled costumes. The ages of the dancers range from 51 to 68. This dance is real in the sense that there is a dignity and sense of purpose both in the choreography and performance.

On reflection, it is possible with life experiences to interpret youth, but is more difficult for youthful dancers to interpret what may relate to an older age group without the benefit of experience.  Formations characterise the first section of Requiem, leading into a stronger section highlighting a determination and fighting spirit.  A ritual washing of hands takes place in silence as the audience hears the dropping of water, and is able to see the water dropping  through lighting effects. Karl Jenkins’ music with an eastern influence adds to the sense of ritual as dancers move through the space scattering petals.

The next section includes a martial arts influence with slow sustained movement, a pan flute and single voices overlapping in the musical score. The dancers move into a section where beautiful tableaux shapes are created as the care and concern are evident not only through the movement but on the faces of each dancer.  Their bodies relate the narrative without the need to resort to the telling of a story through literal movement.

New life is seen when two younger girls, Isabelle and Simone Leask, enter the stage space to run round joyously with flags held high. The women of Crows Feet perform with dignity and solemnity in formations in a dance style reflecting Tai Chi movement.  The two opposing energies are juxtaposed nicely to send a clear message about the continual cycle of life.  This is reinforced when the mother of the two girls, Sue Leask dances with her two daughters.

The final section repeats the turning skipping, winding and jumping of the first section. This dance work is both inspiring and inspired.  

The members of Crows Feet Collective are Sue Leask, Jo Thorpe, Tania Kopytko, Elizabeth Isaacs, Jenny Cossey, Elise Anderson, Denise Hitchcock, Daphne Pilaar, Barbara Brownlie, Sally Latham, Rachel McAlpine, Carolyn McKeefrey, Jennifer Holdaway, Lynne Klap, Meg Bailey and Liz Melchior. Congratulations girls, keep dancing.

[Apologies for the time it has taken to publish this review; and oversight on my part – J.S. ed.]


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Ground-breaking work

Review by Lyne Pringle 03rd Mar 2008

Crows Feet Dance Collective, directed by Jan Bolwell, has developed a well-deserved reputation and following as a community dance group for mature women. They attract enthusiastic full houses.

These women are mothers, grandmothers, working professionals, writers, designers, and CEO’s who in their dancing together present a profound celebration of the place for dance as a community event to enrich the lives of participants and audiences alike. This group dance magnificently and go from strength to strength as they near their tenth anniversary. 

The evening begins with Quintet choreographed by Jan Bolwell to excerpts from Piano Quartet in G Minor by Faure. Bolwell in a fiery red solo whips about the space with dexterity and surety to introduce us to the choreographic themes to follow: she is an inspiration to us all having recovered from a hip replacement less that a year ago. I sensed the presence of Jan’s teachers here and the threads of the great modernist traditions of dance. 

Meg Bailey, Sue Leask Elizabeth Issacs Tania Kopytko and Jo Thorpe relish the considerable challenges of their quintet as they dance in tight unison and counterpoint. Great dancing!  It is wonderful to see the joy and expressivity they bring to the choreography – there is something wonderfully girlish about this piece that leaves a twinkle in the eye. Bolwell’s choreography offers a precise and sympathetic interpretation of the dynamics and themes in the music.

Suzanne Renner makes a guest appearance on the programme dancing with litheness and feeling to a piece of music by Adair Bruce with lyrics by Bill Manhire. What impresses are her jumps – high off the floor and soft into her landings. Again it is inspiring to see a mature performer with so much agility and expressivity.

The central work in this programme by Jan Bolwell is entitled Requiem – to excerpts from Karl Jenkin’s composition with the same title:  it is dedicated to her sister who died recently of cancer.

Requiem is a gorgeous piece; the particular qualities of each of the 17 dancers are skilfully woven to make rich and moving imagery. Wearing silks of sunset hues, which were specially selected in Vietnam by the costume designer Jane Ferguson, the group is an impressive sight.

Bolwell follows the structure of the music very closely to structure each movement as the mood of the piece swings from tenderness, to rage, to nostalgia, to hope.  Dies Irae (This Day of Wrath) begins with stamping feet and strident movement as the entire company, silhouetted by Katrina Chandra’s beautiful lighting, progresses towards the audience. Water, silk and petals are used to great affect in the following sequence as the company moves patiently, precisely and with great feeling.

Sue Leask takes a central role and dances with grace and dignity; in one memorable passage she is passed lovingly from person to person, held up by the support of her community. Another section uses tai chi movements juxtaposed against two young girls in stunning yellow playing with kites and in another Chandra’s lights dance with a sustained and well executed quartet producing a meditative quality.  Bolwell manages to articulate the anatomy of grief by using central characters and strong unison from the chorus.

Each year, since its inception in 1999, Jan Bolwell has choreographed a major work for the group – she has become an expert at this. There is no doubt now that Crows Feet Dance Collective will continue to make ground-breaking work, they have such solid foundations and an unshakeable commitment to each other. Look out for them in Dunedin as they take the Dunedin Fringe by storm in April – their first tour!


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