Southern Lights Dance Company

Ngaio Marsh Theatre, Christchurch

09/10/2009 - 10/10/2009

Body Festival 2007

Production Details

New Dance Company set to take off in Christchurch

A newly formed Contemporary dance company, ‘Southern Lights Dance Company’ is set to take this year’s Body Festival in Christchurch by storm.

In its world premiere debut season the company, with the support of Creative New Zealand and the Christchurch Arts Centre’s Artist in Residency Programme, will present three new works by New Zealand choreographers Shona McCullagh (Arts Foundation Laureate Artist) and Fleur de Thier and American choreographer Zöe Scofield (Christchurch Arts Centre Artist in Residence).

With performers Will Barling, Charene Griggs, Julia Milsom, Hannah Tasker Poland, Erica Viedma and Nancy Wijohn, this promises to be a splendid night of contemporary dance and a debut season to remember.

The company is the brainchild of Body Festival director Adam Hayward and he sees it as a strong addition to the Christchurch and New Zealand dance scene. "The aim of the company is to commission around three new works each year from emerging and established New Zealand and International choreographers.  The works will go into repertoire and in time we hope the company will tour these collective works which will all be showcased by a small, and easily tourable, group of New Zealand dancers," Hayward says.

"I’m hugely grateful to Creative New Zealand and the Christchurch Arts Centre for their support in helping this project come to fruition and also to the US Embassy and Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation for their support in aiding Zoë’s participation in the company. I can’t wait to see the results of the first season during this year’s festival"

Southern Lights Dance Company
performs during the Body Festival
Ngaio Marsh Theatre
Friday 9th and Saturday 10th October
tickets available through the Court Theatre booking office (03) 963 0870

Performers: Will Barling, Charene Griggs, Julia Milsom, Hannah Tasker Poland, Erica Viedma and Nancy Wijohn

Brave new choreographies

Review by 12th Oct 2009

I slipped away from Dunedin’s forecast snow and headed north to Christchurch’s Body Festival, the brainchild of Adam Hayward. He is also the producer for Southern Lights Dance Company.

If you have seen the poster for the inaugural season of a three tier programme simply named World Premier Debut Season, do not be alarmed, and take no notice. This dance material is not gumboots and madcap bodies in vast empty spaces but a most sophisticated evening; perhaps the most sophisticated evening of contemporary dance produced in this country in the last few years?

I have recently been submerged in a different career line south of the Cook Strait. Massage therapy is a burgeoning healthcare area and much of my time spent in Dunedin is taken up wondering whether the internal depth of the psoas muscle has actually got a lot to do with human breathing. It was great to switch focus, listen to dancers’ breath and wonder whether their gasps are likewise partitioned from physiological machinations, or rather more soundscore specific, and if this is the case whether dancers really do deserve to breathe freely. As convoluted as it seems, this reverie became an initial mindset for me whilst viewing the launch of a new dance company on Saturday night.

Southern Lights Dance Company’s inaugural performance opened with Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey’s collaborative and evolving work. Mixed music scoring by Morgan Henderson, Holcombe Walter, Johann Johannesburg and Schubert (bless him!) did not define the inventive borders of A Crack in Everything.

The music selection is not particularly experimental and better evidence of detailed avant garde crafting surfaces in the choreographic use of cross media tools. Smoke hits and dissolves against a frontal screen and sets the scene and pace for the dancers’ bodies as layers, diffused and fragmented. A set in two rows at the back becomes hideaway spaces as well as film screens. Bodies merge against each other like tissues. Interestingly Scofield’s rather beautiful dancing gets lost in her own vocabulary. Sheets of body movement and light across the floor distract from her more worthy and virtuosic moments.

Much of the dance movement throughout the evening bears similarity from work to work and this first dance needs editing and possible pacing adjustments to really provide a shape of things to come. That is, a longer work does not need to fuse from moment to moment. Like an art lover taking in an exhibition, I think I would have been happier to take my own breath between sections. And through differing pacing perhaps each piece could have built on the other?

The second dance in is by well-respected choreographer Fleur de Their, doing what she perhaps does best. Perch is a sort of nightlife-come-feminist display of gorgeousness with specific soundscore vibes by bytone, ilpo vaisanen, alvo noto & ryuchi sakamoto and boomhip. Themes split between caged chooks and nightclubbing beauties never make for a moment dull. As audience we get to revel in the sight (or should I say site?) of the individual dancer.

Charene Griggs makes a most welcome return to stage, mature, very sexy and vibrant dancer that she is, making every single movement danced clean and available for expression. It is great to see her out of a studio and on her performance space. She does not need the heavy breath patterns that punctuate most of the other dancers’ grace.

In the third dance, Tethered choreographed by the charismatic Shona McCullagh, there is never a dance moment too long or too short; this is not display either but an apt animalist passion that is her movement hallmark. Gareth Farr’s music for the most part captures the entangled harshness dancers Erica Viedma and Will Barling portray in this version of a travelling performer’s story.

As another recently returned to stage dancer, Erica Viedma makes me ache when watching her sensitive, fibrous world. The way she places her feet is enough to make you know that she breathes dance throughout her day. Equally watchable are Julia Milsom, Nancy Wijohn and Hannah Tasker Poland.

Costumes, for the most part designed by Andrew Shepherd, ensconced the character quirkiness of both choreographer and dancer and are sufficiently theatrical to capture half exposed narratives and sinewy torsos. Lighting designer Helen Beswick marks these same bodily spaces with a definitive élan.

Although the production elements far outclass the Body’s selection of theatre venue, I realise from about a third of the way into Scofield and Shuey’s work that I am witness to an important shift in dance company focus in New Zealand. I have waited a long time to watch contemporary dancers featured onstage. (Flashes of this kind of satisfaction emerge from watching Jeremy Poi’s dance work in Wellington’s Footnote Dance Company and Justine Hohaia of Auckland’s Atamira Dance Collective).

Each of the brave new choreographies encapsulates the vivid ‘meaning making’ of each dancer – finally. Hayward expresses an ambition to see this company create new works by New Zealand and international choreographers over the coming years. I for one want to see Southern Lights take hold of their dancers, let them breath beyond the need for rhythmical climaxing and set them free in the real world of theatre. I want to see Southern Lights Dance Company in twenty years, not just in Christchurch, but everywhere. I suggest that festivals start booking them in.
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Jack Gray October 12th, 2009

 Really nice review Felicity!

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