The Print Factory, 35 King Street, Newtown, Wellington

19/12/2008 - 20/12/2008

Production Details

Settlement is a performance created in 2 weeks with a local group of professional performers from different ages/ origins/ backgrounds. From day one they construct a temporary village/ settlement with material found or collected.

The area where they work is inside ‘The Print Factory’ which was chosen as it’s a rough looking place that suggests an outside world. The creation process takes place in that environment. They associate around the notion of "settlement", a concept with many different interpretations and subjective outlooks.

The performance(s) are shown for an audience at the end of the workshop-period. It is not a work-in-progress, the aim is for a finished result. They try to perform the constructed outline 3 times in a row in one evening, to create the sensation of duration and a feeling of real life.

The first settlement took place in May 2007 in Sydney. The intention of this project is to explore and to create this performance in other cities. Part of the research is to know how other participants in other cultures/settings react on the notion of "settlement".

19 – 20 Dec 2008
Venue: The Print Factory, 35 King Street, Newtown, Wellington
Cost: Koha

Amber Stephens, Anuschka Von Oppen, Andrew Rutherford, Alyx Duncan, Callum Strong, Cathy Livermore, Claire Hughes, Claire O' Neil, Crystal Scia Scia, Elle Loui August, Francis Christeller, Hadleigh Walker, Hans Van den Broeck, Joshua Rutter, Juliet Shelley, Kerryn McMurdo, Kristian Larsen, Maria Dabrowska, Megan Adams, Merenia Gray, Rose Beauchamp, Sarah Knox, Sophia Elisabeth, Tessa Martin, Zahra Killeen-Chance

1hr 20 mins, no interval

Crazy camp ground for refugees of the imagination

Review by Lyne Pringle 22nd Dec 2008

Contemporary dancers are like weeds pushing up through the concrete – managing to survive even when conditions conspire against them. For the past two weeks in a warehouse space in Wellington, 25 hardy souls have been creating, under the direction of Belgian choreographer Hans Van den Broeck, Settlement.

A community project on a large scale, it was test driven in Sydney in 2007 then globalized in 2008: April, Harare; June, Bastia; July, Vienna; November, Sydney; December, Wellington.

Hence a slice of European dance/theatre practice hits Newtown bringing some nourishment to the aforementioned weeds, allowing them to see the other weeds pushing through and develop some flower heads for the next phase of their life cycle. Or maybe they are more like exotic orchids surviving in precarious places with a small amount of soil.

Anyway before this analogy gets completely worn out, a little explanation. It is hard to describe the pulse that keeps contemporary dance artists pursing the allusive thread of their practice, particularly when the audience who have the lens to perceive this unique language are as few and far between as bellbirds in Wellington. So, you could argue that the practice needs to change in order to meet the audience that exists in this particular locale; this happens and it is a valid consideration/ way to adapt.

But. At its heart contemporary dance is a laboratory that continually investigates the state/ meaning/ expressivity of human movement at this point in time; practitioners continue to sniff out this path despite being ‘misunderstood’ and paved over by a society that is largely disconnected from a somatic interface (not sport, not tramping, not Dancing with the Stars) with existence. 

The Settlement project was a much needed and unique professional development opportunity for these artists. (They didn’t pay to attend – neither were they paid to dance.)

Hans Van den Broeck has an impressive pedigree and is part of the vanguard of innovative dance coming out of Brussels including Les Ballets C de la B (a founding member, he was with them for 12 years); his company SOIT (stay if only temporary) shares an office and administrative staff with The Peeping Tom Collective and they are supported by Ulti’mates – an initiative that arises out of Wim Vandekeybus’s company Ultima Vez.

How did he get here? Through Claire O’Neil (Fidget Company) – an ex Wellingtonian who has been living in Brussels for several years now, endeavouring to work in both countries (she has danced with Van den Broeck’s company); juggling a 4 month babe in arms (majestically) she has pulled this generous workshop together directly after making Mtyland, a new full length work for Footnote Dance Company.

Essentially Van den Broeck brings a template. He describes, "The intention is to explore and to create this performance in other cities. Part of the research is to know how other participants in other cultures/ settings react on the notion of settlement.

"We work with a mini-team of artists/ performers from Belgium (in this case one other) and we collaborate with 15 local artists minimum. These artists participate in a learning process/ workshop where the outcome is essential and is shown to an audience.

"To work, create and come to a final result in this short intense period of 2 weeks, is possible because a detailed work plan/ scenario is constructed beforehand. The interesting aspect of this way of working is that the process will take each time another form, depending on the city and the different participants."

How much research into settlement notions of another culture was carried out and how unique this particular incarnation was I am unsure – images from the Sydney performance look very similar to the work shown here. I was always curious to know how much this choreographer would learn from artists here.

What shines through in the performance/ showing is how much the group has achieved in two weeks and how much they are working together; there is a really good vibe and although it has obviously been hard work and intense, the group has arrived at the end as a consolidated tribe in their settlement.

It is an awesome and rare treat to see so many people on stage at the same time.  

Van den Broeck is a trained psychologist. The work struck me as the psychological architecture of a mass of people thrown together for an intense period: shifting and moving as they determined their place or archetype within this crazy camp ground for refugees of the imagination.

There is a spot of jogging and resuscitation before the diverse bunch are brought together by intriguing tasks such as: rolling in unison across the floor whilst taking off and exchanging clothing to hip hop – a crazed dressing ritual defining the mood of a community; running and screaming with blunt audio cues (throughout the sound track defines action and mood rather clumsily); a game of bull rush that is like a crazy exorcism of pent up frustration; music again (Missy Elliot) drives a quite limpid hand shaking sequence into a very beautiful water ritual that is completed by some effective head dunking; a woman’s combat sequence that segues into some layered choreographic sequences for the whole group using a chevron improvisational structure; sliding in a circle, the breeze fanning the audience whilst taunting dancers on the inside; recitation of rules including ‘admit and surrender to your deepest flaws, groups should not always be trusted, always share, hoarding is not acceptable, etc – defining the ethos of this experiment – ‘the rules are the rules – respect all the rules’; a blindfolded row facing the audience executing a kneeling prayer ritual that segues into a multidirectional choreography – the blind group sensing and feeling together; tents filled with stormy nightmares; a small group with bound ankles manipulated by the rest of group through breathtaking twirls and arm flailing hopelessness – blasé and resigned human playthings; moving in and out of being each others audiences as a cheesy dance routine drives the audiences into paroxysms of despair and a deliberately awful piece of theatre with pizzas, cardboard door and incessant sound loop that thumbs its nose at all things presentational.

Participants fight and applaud each other towards a conclusion of running running running for their lives in this post apocalyptic soup: many strong and startling images here, many questions in this settlement but not many answers.

After the audience had gone some of the company stayed on, wine fuelled, for one of the best improvisation sessions I have ever seen; full of colour, life and idiosyncratic personalities. Just before I left these Bacchanals, still dancing, I looked back into the space from the loading dock, framed by the half shut roller door and saw an exquisite scene of tender and joyous love duets. The rigours of the past two weeks had yielded this treasure.

Hans Van den Broeck and his team brought a great gift to the local dance community, giving them permission to see themselves and to dance. I understand the need to wrestle all of the egos into a common language to make the piece work but I would have loved to see some of this joyous expression seeping into the performance.


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Fascinating intrigue in a theatre of imagery

Review by Jennifer Shennan 22nd Dec 2008

Settlement, after a fortnight-long residency of theatrical exploration by 25 participants, invited an audience to see the results of their time together. The project was directed by Hans van den Broeck and Claire O’Neil.

A reviewer might describe the 80 minute-event as "25 actors in search of an author" and one imagines they would be gratified at this recognition of their broaching fundamental questions: "Where are we? Who are we? What should happen in this play? How should we proceed since we don’t want to do it in words?"

The event was a co-operative affair, with a score of scenarios suggested: a crowd of holidaymakers at a beach like Phuket, waking up and getting dressed though still asleep perhaps, daily ablutions morphing into cleansing rituals, martial arts practice building to surreal self-defence, wanting to build a commune and needing to make some rules, a tsunami maybe. Political prisoners disappear from a group of innocent, or unconcerned, breakfast-eaters, then follows a powerful danse macabre. There’s a crazy play within a play, and global distances are connected in midnight toll-calls from a phone booth on the beach.

The 1960s credo of Yvonne Rainer, "Say No to Audience" is thriving here, and there is also a palpable European angst in the nihilistic atmosphere of non-sequiturs.

All virtuosic display in performance of movement or sound is eschewed. Instead there is a continuous sound track of cicadas, birdsong, or waves, and there’s lots of running, though to or from what we are unsure. Only adults would find puzzle in this. A young child, daughter of a cast member, sat perfectly happily watching the intrigue through little peepholes of her fingers, simply accepting that movement in and out of shadow has its own fascination. 

The recurring theme chased the subject of the forces at work in a commune … individuals are not identified, ensuing forces might well lead to very different results from those intended, before anyone imagined, while no-one was watching. This is raw material for a theatre of imagery and political allegory.


Celine Sumic January 1st, 2009

I have an observation to make, for what its worth, about the discussion above regarding Settlement; specifically re dialogue between Kristian and Jennifer.  A little hesitant to make my point, but these are my thoughts:

I think Kristian’s initial questions were/ are valid.
I think Jennifer did not answer his questions.  I perceive her to have dodged the question and that is sort of in direct opposition to the point of theatreview, as I understand it.

The question of European vs local angst is relevant considering one of Hans reasons for traveling the work is to see how different people in different countries respond to the project; I'd be interested to know how the NZ experience of the Settlement project differed from its previous manifestations in other countries and where they overlap?

I agree with Kristian, in the context of Jennifer's review (she used the word credo and used speech marks around the phrase "no to audience"), that she appears to have misquoted Yvonne Rainer or certainly one could be forgiven for thinking so.  I can understand Jennifer’s desire to summarise, although the over-riding theme with Rainer, as relates to Settlement, would seem to be a neutralising of the relationship between audience and performer, or a dissolve of hierarchy between the two, as opposed to the rejection of audience implied in Jennifer’s phrase.

Speaking of hierarchy,  the way Jennifer concludes this comment, suggesting Kristian should consider himself fortunate ("thrilled" no less) to have been part of Hans' Settlement event, strikes me as strange.  From what I’ve heard from other participants in this project, Kristian’s contribution to the Wellington instalment of Settlement is something Hans was no doubt impressed with and appreciative of.  There's no hierarchy there, so why is Jennifer creating one here?

Kristian Larsen December 24th, 2008

Thanks Jennifer, I was actually well chuffed to be part of the Settlement project. It was rewarding on a bunch of levels.  Your sentence " Settlement's sub-text of searching for utopia, in a kind of terra incognita, including its little play within the play, should be acknowledged and taken seriously..." is exactly the kind of sharp observation in writing that I desire to see in reviews.  I got the general impression from your review that you were critiquing what wasn't in the work rather than what was there.  But hey,' disgruntled' is arguably my middle name!

'Conspiracy ' John? steady on mate.

jennifer shennan December 24th, 2008

Thanks John, and Hello Kristian Thanks for your comment. No I am not aware of the review of Sasha Waltz' work that you mention - but, as John suggests, it's not so strange that two reviewers would independently paraphrase the title of Pirandello's seminal play to help identify the nature, form and themes of a new work in review. In using that reference (intended as a compliment), I wanted to indicate that Settlement's sub-text of searching for utopia, in a kind of terra incognita, including its little play within the play, should be acknowledged and taken seriously... and yes, I am aware that Yvonne Rainer in her original manifesto used several phrases about the non-engagement between performers and spectators. In my review I paraphrased these down to "No to Audience" ( the word count on a daily paper's published reviews is strictly adhered to). I did it to describe the experience we had as an audience of a performance that deliberately remained enigmatic, and kept all its emotion oblique. I have thought about those features often since ... and discussed the show with several colleagues, one of whom had seen it, others not. I have also read Lyne Pringle's review and found particular interest in her concluding comments. National types of Angst? - well, I haven't time, even if I had the word count, to detail experiences of living in Germany and Poland and Denmark, attending theatre events there, and comparing those with many works encountered back here. Not something I would want to analyse ... more of a gut feeling really. You sound somewhat disgruntled about The DomPost review? I think you should instead be thrilled at the opportunity you had to be involved in a thought-provoking theatrical experiment. cheers Jennifer

John Smythe December 23rd, 2008

I doubt there is a performing arts critic with significant experience who has not felt moved to reference Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search of an Author (1921) at some point in their career, by way of making a succinct point. It’s hardly the stuff of conspiracy.

Kristian Larsen December 23rd, 2008

Yvonne Rainer never said "Say No to Audience" in the "No Manifesto" published in 65. Not that the manifesto was on Han's agenda for the making of Settlement anyway.  I'm kinda curious as to how 'European angst' differs from good ol' homegrown angst.  Also your line about '25 actors in search of an author' sounds very similar to a European reviewer who wrote about a Sasha Waltz work  '8 Dancers in Search of  a Choreographer. ' I wonder if these two reviews are perhaps related?

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