Self Portrait

City Art Rooms, Auckland

07/03/2009 - 08/03/2009

BATS Theatre, Wellington

10/02/2009 - 13/02/2009

Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

31/03/2009 - 03/04/2009

NZ Fringe Festival 2009

Production Details

Award-winning New Zealand choreographers and a film maker each create solo works inspired by Rita Angus’ self portraits. How they are influenced by Angus is entirely up to them. Watch the resulting idiosyncrasy explode and move you. You may discover something of yourself!

A moving testament to one of New Zealand’s most cherished artistic icons, choreographers Julia Milsom (2007 Female Contemporary Dancer of the year & Tup Lang winner), Katie Burton (Best Dance NZ Fringe 2007) and Paul Young (2006 & 2007 Male Contemporary Dancer of the year) respond to the beautiful works of Rita Angus through dance.  The works are intertwined with the outstanding film work of Rick Harvie (Belmont Productions Ltd) and original soundscapes by Andrew McMillan, Josh Tilsley and Sally Nicholas.

Self Portrait is a new show and will complete seasons at three Fringe Festival’s around New Zealand; Wellington, Auckland and Dunedin.

Self-Portrait was inspired by Gaylene Preston’s documentary, Lovely Rita – A Painter’s Life.  Rita Angus is one of our most cherished and recognized artists and was particularly prolific in regards to self-portraiture. She was intriguing, inherently ‘kiwi’ and considered herself married to her work.

Self-Portrait is not only an exploration of Rita Angus herself, it is also alluding to our perceptions of ourselves: as New Zealanders, and as artists. These themes: what it is to be a New Zealander, an artist and what we reveal to one another are all areas of exploration for Self Portrait.


Hamish Keith: ‘Art is not about who or what we are, it is about who we think we are. The continuous little dance between reality and perception is what makes works of art so engaging and so immediate.’

Self-Portrait pays homage to Rita Angus and the way she chose to live her life, as well as giving the audience an inspiring night of moving contemporary dance, film and music.

New Zealand Fringe Festival 2009:
10-13 February, Bats Theatre, Wellington

Auckland Fringe Festival 2009:
7-8 March, City Art Rooms, Auckland

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2009:
31 March-3 April, Allen Hall, Dunedin

Tickets: $16 / $12 / $10

1 hr, no interval

Intriguing if a bit too explicit

Review by Sofia Kalogeropoulou 03rd Apr 2009

Inspired by the renowned New Zealand artist Rita Angus, Self Portrait is a fusion of dance, music and film created by the Corrupt Productions Company.

The evening starts with a tableau of three of the artists on stage, and progresses into their individual solos that transition from one to another, creating a choreographic ensemble. Each work is inspired by a particular self-portrait that appeals to their idiosyncratic style and persona and leads to a unique interpretation.

Paul Lee Young’s solo is a response to Angus’s Rutu, which represents an idealised society of mixed races. With a series of spirals, hovers, and falls performed in a narrow stream of light, he states his Pakeha influence. The soft claps and stumping of the feet become louder and more deliberate as his Māori side responds to the sounds of homeland, sea, and drumming rhythms. In this way his ongoing search for self and discovery of his roots is played out.

Rita Angus was unique in transmitting emotional states through her sharp drawings. Likewise, Julia Milsom’s solo, based on Angus’s nude self-portrait of 1942, explores Angus’s emotions after her miscarriage that year. The soft wash of light outlines her body curves and intensifies her awkward body shapes on the floor. The music by Andrew McMillan and Douglas Lilburn and the cries of a baby make the piece disturbing, as intended.

The film by Rick Clifton Harvie lightens the mood with its witty interpretation of Angus’s Self-Portrait (with Moth and Caterpillar). In his exploration of absence and presence we are presented with sped-up film of a wiggly caterpillar and powerful moments of a moth flapping its wings.

The last work by Kristian Larsen, inspired by Composition with Self Portrait of 1937, incorporates text and dance to reflect on the process of composition. Like an artist exploring the potential of drawing, the dancer gradually discovers the possibilities of movement, which become more expansive as he gains confidence and enlarges the canvas by opening the curtains on the stage.

Overall, the works are intriguing, paying tribute to Angus’s work; but sometimes the ideas are spelt out a bit too explicitly and are expounded for too long so that they risk losing the sharpness of Angus’s painting.
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. 


Celine Sumic April 7th, 2009

Self portrait.. by definition something intentionally explicit perhaps?
Rich territory, roundly explored - I loved this work, marked it seems by a tension between containment and release. Infused with Angus' deliberation of taking herself on - and taking that self beyond what might be considered a 'normal' reflective capacity - a meditation of self perhaps? 
For this reason, the sense of extended time given to moments in this work, and aspects of sound or descriptive quality to movement that might be considered explicit, were for me, poetically resonant - in the context of the theme and character celebrated.

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Self-portraits of an artist danced

Review by Sue Cheesman 10th Mar 2009

Self Portrait features four artists’ responses to individual works of the Rita Angus. 

We view a two fold response from Katie Burton to the drawing Composition with Self- Portrait, 1937 and to Rita’s life at that time in Christchurch. Katie dances an abstract solo full of rises, falls, of balances and suspended moments. At times it seems she is swotting something around her head.

This soloist is joined by the other two dancers who then perform a light hearted jiggle to the big band jazz music of Count Bassie. We laugh at these partygoers; the night wears thin as they drape over one another hinting at the dance marathons of that past era. The solo returns with the addition of turns and jiggles accompanied by different music with a more up beat tempo and we recapture the physical moments with renewed clarity and confidence.

Between works the dancers return to a chair posing as if being painted. Although this somewhat obvious device does provide the dancers with ways to transition it seems very simplistic from what follows or precedes it. 

Self- Portrait (with moth and caterpillar) 1943 is captured by Rick Harvie in a quirky film made by beginning with an amusing sight of a black caterpillar speeding across the green grass. This image returns several times in the film and ends with the caterpillar on the lapel emulating the portrait chosen with Rita having a caterpillar on her lapel. Other shots are of a moth at very close range hovering on a leaf, the seaside and the filmmaker with wild hair sticking straight out from the sides of his face.

Julia Milsom’s choice of image was Self-portrait(nude seated) 1942 which she describes as having juxtaposed messages of vulnerable and innocent, yet defiant. Undressed Julia dances semi naked capturing a sense of being exposed. Her powerful body arches and contorts over a platform, drops to the floor accompanied by baby sounds directly referencing Rita’s miscarriage just before this pencil and wash drawing was made.

Head against the wall at an awkward angle, she moves up and down as though wrestling with the thoughts within. Standing with cradled arms she moves with a rocking motion, a motif which intensifies with repetition. She travels across the space low to the floor stopping in powerful deep lunges gazing at the audience. Andrew McMilian and Douglas Lilburn music add to the poignancy of this powerful solo.

Paul Young, who describes himself as a Pakeha Māori New Zealander, chose Rutu 1951: Rita’s idealistic vision of New Zealand as a merged society, manifested in a multi ethnic divinity. He enters the space with a kete over his head and navigates the space cautiously.  Although contemporary, this solo is infused with many references to Māori, for example wiri hands and haka stance.

He also uses humour as he plays with the music going on and off. Paul moves with ease across and in and out of the floor in the contemporised movements chosen, with clear symbols and images interspersed throughout, raising questions about their relationship to each other and Rutu.


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Celebrating a seminal artist

Review by Jennifer Shennan 18th Feb 2009

Self Portrait, four solos inspired by Rita Angus, was an impressive response to Gaylene Preston’s striking documentary of the artist’s life.  The three dancers shared a strong opening frame, then each performed a solo in response to a selected self-portrait by Angus, exploring the image for particular resonances in their own lives. 

Katie Burton showed the youthful companionship of friends, then the drive and quest for choice of which path to follow in life, with recurring upward-pointing motifs that paused after frequent circlings.

Julia Milsom made reference to the miscarriage of a baby, and was able to depict that experience, attendant emotions and subsequent acceptance in an impressively sculptured performance of great strength. The beautiful fluidity of her stylized arm movements suggested strokes onto a three-dimensional canvas.  

Paul Young explored the theme of his Māori and European shared identity by referencing the portrait, Rutu. Some movements began with haka-like thrust and force yet were deliberately lightened and tossed away in free-flow movement quality that made unusual contrast of these gestures. 

The film by Rick Harvie was a stunning little gem of wit and wonder, with a perfectly judged score including quotes from the music of Douglas Lilburn. The screen used for its projection was unrolled and held throughout by two dancers, giving a memorable image of the nurturing and gratitude with which the performers relate to the work and life of this seminal artist. 


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From the ennui of jazz-age youth to unresolved inner conflict

Review by Jenny Stevenson 11th Feb 2009

An intriguing premise – the inspiration to create dance works and a film from the iconic Rita Angus self-portraits – forms the basis for Self Portrait, from Auckland’s Corrupt Productions Company.

Artistic Director Julia Milsom describes how Angus "painted herself as a way to express, present and understand herself" and it is this impetus that underlies the choreographies and film that are created.  The four self-portraits are presented chronologically rather than being selected in order of strength, which is usually the case with group showings such as this.

Milsom’s choreography, which she performs herself, is the strongest of the four works. It is inspired by Angus’ nude self-portrait, a pencil and wash drawing made in 1942 after she miscarried.  Milsom skilfully explores chiaroscuro in her collaboration with lighting designer, Robert Larsen, creating the disembodiment of grief by partially illuminating the curves of her semi-naked body as she moves – firstly framed by a doorway on the balcony, then hanging upside-down and finally dancing on the floor.

 This segues into a section of grief that is less raw – contained and delineated by an umbilical-cord rope line, which is slowly drawn across the stage and over which Milsom finally steps at the conclusion of the work.  Milsom uses a beautiful score of Andrew McMillan’s and Douglas Lilburn’s music to gently underpin the strongly emotional content.

Rick Clifton Harvie’s delightful short film explores absence and presence in its witty commentary on Angus’ Self-Portrait (with Moth and Caterpillar) made in 1943.  This is a sort of dance of images using speeded-up film to depict the dance-caterpillar and exquisite lingering shots of the moth gently flapping its wings while delicately poised on the film-maker’s own chest.

Katie Burton opens the show with a feel-good reflection on the life and times of Rita Angus in 1937 inspired by her Composition with Self Portrait made that year.  There is an exuberance to the work depicting the social hub of life for Angus in Christchurch at that time.  Performing with Milsom and Paul Young, Burton creates a hilarious dance to Blues for Alfy by Count Basie, showing the understated ennui of the bright young things of the jazz age.

One of Angus’ most famous self-portraits Rutu, painted in Waikanae in 1951, depicts her utopian vision of a truly bicultural society in New Zealand.  Paul Lee Young, himself a Māori/ Pakeha New Zealander, creates an abstract response to this work using a personalised vocabulary that ducks and weaves through space to suggest an inner conflict that is as yet unresolved.

The four works are well linked through a series of entr’acte choreographies that set the scene for each piece.


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