Strasbourg 1518

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

23/03/2021 - 28/03/2021

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

19/03/2021 - 20/03/2021

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

12/03/2020 - 15/03/2020

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2020

Auckland Arts Festival 2021

Production Details

Directed and choreographed by Lucy Marinkovich
Written and composed by Lucien Johnson
Featuring Michael Parmenter

Borderline Arts Ensemble

Strasbourg, 1518. A city on the brink. The triple threat of escalating inequality, rampant misogyny and a devastating drought threaten to break the town in two. When a lone woman steps out of her house and begins to dance, everyone is bewildered. But within days, hundreds more have followed her lead. As the authorities invent ever more bizarre ways to resolve this new crisis, the city falls one by one into a delirious hypnosis of a real-life dance with death.

Directed and choreographed by Lucy Marinkovich and written and composed by Lucien Johnson, Borderline Arts Ensemble’s world premiere explores the unsolved and enigmatic true history of the 1518 Strasbourg dance epidemic. With live music and an outstanding company of dancers including the legendary Michael Parmenter, this production is a visceral, explosive exploration of the limits of rationality, the power of the subconscious and the pivotal need for dance in human lives.

Commissioned by New Zealand Festival of the Arts. Supported by Creative New Zealand, Wellington City Council, Wallace Arts Trust, Wellesley Studios, The University of Auckland Dance Studies programme, Wellington Community Trust and the Australian High Commission.

Directed and choreographed by
Lucy Marinkovich

Written and composed by
Lucien Johnson

Michael Parmenter

There is a free post-show talk with Yadana Saw for this event on Saturday 14 March 2020 at Circa Theatre.

Download the event programme here.

Cast (2020)

The Rational Man: France Hervé
The Choreomaniacs: Jana Castillo, Sean MacDonald, Xin Ji, Katie Rudd, Emmanuelle Reynaud, Hannah Tasker-Poland
The Musician: Lucien Johnson
The Maiden:Lucy Marinkovich
Death: Michael Parmenter

Cast (2021)

Death:  Michael Parmenter (MNZM)
The Maiden:  Lucy Marinkovich
The Rational Man:  Nick Blake
The Musician:  Lucien Johnson
Choreomaniacs:  Hannah Tasker-Poland, Katie Rudd, Eliza Sanders, Sean MacDonald, Xin Ji, Emmanuel Reynaud


Production Design: Lucy Marinkovich
Set Design:  Poppy Serano (2020); Meg Rollandi (2021)
Lighting Design:  Marcus McShane
Costume design:  Lucy Marinkovich, Sheila Horton, Lauren Hooper

Multi-discipline , Dance-theatre , Dance , Contemporary dance ,

1hr 15mins, no interval

Mystery and Frenzy

Review by Brigitte Knight 25th Mar 2021

Partners in life and in work, creatives Lucy Marinkovich and Lucien Johnson as Borderline Arts Ensemble present Strasbourg 1518, their largest major full-length work to date. A tumultuous example of life-imitating-art or vice versa, Strasbourg 1518 is a production that opened in Wellington in March 2020 as Covid-19 infiltrated our shores, closing early due to a pandemic-related scare. Following its recent Auckland season with the full weight of the Auckland Arts Festival’s marketing machinery behind it, Strasbourg 1518 finally gets its full hometown season, a year and a week to the day it first opened.

The “dancing plague” of 1518 has been explored by other choreographers, including Dancenorth Australia Artistic Director Raewyn Hill’s Fugue in 2012, and Jonathan Glazer’s lockdown dance film Strasbourg 1518 in 2020 (commissioned by Artangel and Sadler’s Wells on dancers from Pina Bausch’s company Tanztheatre Wuppertal), the identical name causing Borderline Arts Ensemble much consternation. Borderline’s version sits between these two productions in both chronology and size. Dancing mania (also known as choreomania) was recorded as a social phenomenon in Europe from the 14th to 17th centuries. It’s the type of unlikely event which captures the imagination: part earthy mystery, part supernatural curse, part early modern history. [More]


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Powerful ruminations on the original event and our current situation

Review by Sam Trubridge 25th Mar 2021

I can’t stand dancing.”

These are the first words of The Rational Man, played by Nick Blake. They call an end to the opening duet in Strasbourg 1518, performed by NZ dance legend Michael Parmenter with the choreographer and director of this work, Lucy Marinkovich.

The lights and music drop, and they walk off stage.

Something is about to begin. The programme names Parmenter’s character as Death, and Marinkovich’s as The Maiden. Death and the Maiden. This pairing comes from the medieval concept of ‘The Dance of Death’ or ‘Danse Macabre’, where desire and fate intertwine, and youthful virginal figures are painted alongside skeletons to provide a reminder that we are all mortal[i].

As we entered the theatre there were many dancers like this – a chorus of slow-waltzing couples filling the stage as we shuffled our way into the auditorium. We watched them swaying together in the hot red light, as an ominous musical score bloomed all around them.

Then one by one, they departed, to leave these two alone together. Death and Maiden propell the slow waltz into a beautiful ballroom duet, full of pleasant sweeps across the stage, romantic lifts, and triumphant turns –  they wrap and unwrap each other in their arms, furl and unfurl their limbs. He lifts and he steers, because he is Death and she is the Maiden.

With this prologue so abruptly dismissed by The Rational Man, we are then welcomed with an expository monologue about the 1518 phenomenon in Strasbourg, called ‘the dancing plague’ – where members of the citizenry rose up to dance, danced wthout stopping, and danced until several actually died. At some point a frozen goose also fell from the sky and confused the locals.

The show opened a year ago as part of the NZ Festival’s 2020 programme, to excellent reviews. But the season was cut short after opening night, ironically by the spread of another plague into Aotearoa NZ. Now Wellington audiences who turned up to the closed doors of Circa a year ago finally have the opportunity to see what they missed. And it is worth the wait, making an incredible work to mark our year of contagion, fear, frenetic energy, protest, isolation and uncertainty. It provides powerful ruminations on the original event in 1518 as well as our current situation, to make other attempts to work under the same title seem trivial. Hopefully many others will get to see this work in years to come.

The set design by Meg Rollandi is an asymmetric swathe of curtains that sweep across the stage from one side, to fall just short of the Rational Man perched on his scaffold pulpit – from where he issues his analysis of the baffling phenomenon. Further off in the shadows, composer, sound designer and script writer Lucien Johnson tinkers away at producing an incredible soundtrack to the performance. Sometimes he enters the action with his instruments to play amongst the performers, at other times his compulsive beats drive the performers into a frenzy. Text and music are woven together in this well-researched journey from speaking and knowing to dancing the unspeakable. Music plays a vital role in taking us there.

But we are not there yet. The Rational Man is still trying to understand dance from his books. He explains the limited combinations of movement and expression there must be in the human body, and concludes that dance is worthless. But he cannot pinpoint something, something is missing from his thesis. He conjures up an image of a woman (Katie Rudd) dancing in what looks like traditional Alsatian dress. She attempts to depict the original ‘choreomaniac’, Frau Troffea. But there is irony in her portrayal, and it comes across as twee or well-behaved, like some Oktoberfest barmaid’s balletic recital.

“She is a fiction. This is not what happened,” the Rational Man tells us, as he summons another attempt to bring this 500-year-old story back to life, this time with the more expressive, loose-limbed and explosive movements of Eliza Sanders. As he continues to narrate this story, the cast of dancers work at physicalising the various measures that town authorities and publics undertook to try and understand their strange affliction.

The tempo lifts with the entrance of the bishop (Sean Macdonald), whose attempts to exorcise the fiendish spirits only serves to add a religious fervour to their mad thrashings. Choral voices blend beautifully with insistent percussion, as the momentum builds. The Rational Man is amongst them now, still seeking his answers as he tries to understand this rare contagion. Yet he also seems to be trying to understand what dance is too – shadowing the movements of the dancers as he moves among them, talking from the centre of the town’s astronomical clock – always the centrepiece of his mechanistic universe; pitching the rationalism of the renaissance man against something more expressive, uncontainable, and beyond words.

These two forces in the work, analysis and expression, collide with tectonic power as the clock is followed by a perverse tribe of plague doctors, then a party designed to purge the energy. But this results in a wild surge of angry sexuality that bucks and ruts and fucks on rolling tables in weird combinations of coupling bodies and vigorous movements.

The Rational Man howls declarations into a microphone as his suit belches clouds of smoke across the stage, engulfing him in it and obscuring him. The lighting pulses, bodies convulse, and curtains are wrenched down. As the dam of decorum breaks, piles of literature are thrown into the air, filling the billowing cloudy space with fluttering pages and tumbling books. As the drums march through this fire and brimstone, figures rush forward with banners brandished in their fists, and mayhem erupts. Some are naked. Slogans twist and dance in the air in front of us.






The incredible lighting design by Marcus McShane is a physical, sculptural presence in this chaos – where swathes of thick smoke and light boil around the frenzied figures like a painting by Gericault, Goya or Turner. Lamps at the back of space burn through this pall like distant flames, or a hellish sunrise. We cannot see the back walls for it and the dancers are still going. They have formed arches with their arms held high, and others dance therein. The body is architecture, the light is architecture, and the set has been torn town in in rags and torn pages at the edges of the space. The music is that insistent beat of the dance floor late at night.

Bodies are used to order space in these archways. Bodies are used to make order and keep the peace. Other bodies resist that order, they dance instead. It goes on. We all get tired. It is 5am somewhere, and bodies are dancing like this there. Or they used to. In other years, in other times. Before this latest plague. Now we recoil from the touch of another’s sweat, from bodies glistening like these infected dancers. We flinch from flying spittle and from the whip of their hair on our cheeks.

It goes on. It persists. It exhausts. Dance IS a plague, and although we cannot resist it, this boundless energy, expression, and desire to thrash and splay our bodies to the furnace will be the death of us. We started with a man and a woman dancing: Death and the Maiden. Now there are six, and they won’t stop. They call to one another as they dance. Encouraging one another. Willing themselves on, to dance like dancers at the carnival (the farewell of flesh). Their eyes are glazed.

The priest returns, casting his blessings around him desperately. There are masks – a death’s head and something else. The Rational Man accordions a paper cut-out strip of the figures who had danced in lines before. He comes back with the frozen goose carcass in his arms. There is vomiting. Someone tries the Charleston. That doesn’t work either.

And throughout it all the beat keeps driving us deeper into this nightmare, like a hammer that has lost the nail in the wood, or a mallet on minced flesh. Feathers fly in the air and stick to sweaty bodies.

Why are we still dancing?

Maybe this is why we dance.
To forget why we started dancing in the first place.
To lose ourselves and come back.

It is about then, when I am asking myself these questions, that the dance finds itself too. The reverie seems to find a new mood. It lightens with a incredible spinning by Hannah Tasker-Poland across the stage. And suddenly there is beauty and tenderness again, as they partner then form trios. This gorgeous use of three bodies has all the intimacy of a traditional duet, all of the weight shared and given, being held and lifted, then holding and lifting in return. Katie Rudd is raised on both sides by her partners and lets herself hang there between them as they move across the space with her – enraptured in the movement with others, the movement between.

Then there are four: arms linked in a line, spinning, with the outer figures taking off, their feet leaving the ground as those (Emmanuel Reynaud and Xin Ji) in the centre take their weight. We are forgiven perhaps. We aren’t cured, but the disease is no longer an affliction or a curse – it is a blessing.

Goya’s famous 1797 etching suggests that the sleep of reason produces monsters. But instead we have found angels. The Rational Man’s voice returns but he is no longer looking to understand, know, classify, or condemn. Instead there is a gift to give the dancers, “one last act of kindness.” Red shoes. Red ballet shoes, with their red ribbons wound around the calves of these dishevelled bodies on the edge of collapse. Now they walk with bloody feet, in a line, hand in hand, like paper cut-outs towards the figure of Death.

Death dances alone in the fading light of a single lamp at the back of the space, shining directly at us. It is a stunning epilogue by Parmenter for this outstanding work, danced in a duet with McShane’s lighting. The control of Parmenter’s movements, his restraint paired with perfect precision and virtuosity is there in every twist of the hand – to beckon, to present, to move fast or slow.

It is as skilful as I ever saw Baryshnikov in his later, contemporary dance works. Like a conductor he slowly marks the beats of these final moments out to a rising drone and Johnson’s gentle saxophone. He pays homage to the abandon from earlier with his own leaps and flourishes. But bit by bit, he brings it down, down to the shaping of air between his two hands – and one last beam of light that shrinks around him, just as he shrinks, moving away from us. Eclipsing, the light shapes him, he shapes the light, he is a shadow only, a cut out.

And then nothing.

[i] Critic Marcia B Seigel and theorist André Lepecki have both written about dance in relation to mortality, death, and ‘funeral rites’, thus bringing this medieval trope of ‘danse macabre’ to bear on contemporary forms. Each in their own way ask versions  of The Rational Man’s own working question “Why do we dance?”



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Dancing in nude sign of protest

Review by Ines Maria Almeida 25th Mar 2021

Is it a case of demonic possession, overheated blood, or the fungal disease Ergot, known to cause convulsions? The jury’s out on the causes of the Dancing Plague of 1518, an actual event that happened, yes, in Strasbourg, France, where hundreds of people were infected (or possessed) and danced uncontrollably for around two months. Despite the fact that outbreaks like this take place under circumstances of extreme stress, this is my kind of plague.

It just so happens that this plague is kicked off, not by bats, but a woman, specifically Frau Troffea, who in the summer of 1518, kicked open her door and began dancing in the street until collapsing from exhaustion. Now, choreomanics Hannah Tasker-Poland, Katie Rudd, Eliza Sanders, Sean MacDonald, Xin Ji, and Emmanuel Reynaud follow suit, writhing, twirling like dancing cobras to Lucien Johnson’s sweet serenades on the sax, clarinet and more. [More]


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A thrilling wealth of creativity and skills

Review by John Smythe 24th Mar 2021

When your world is plagued by escalating inequality, rampant misogyny and a devastating drought that leaves the poor starving and sick, what do you do? Dance! In 1518, that’s what a lone woman did in Strasbourg, Alsace (when it was part of the Holy Roman Empire). And when hundreds of people joined her it was dubbed a Dancing Plague: Choreomania.

Was it stress-related hysteria, had they eaten psychoactive mushroom or was it a way of liberating their bodies and minds from anxiety? While historical opinion remains divided on the whys and wherefores, in their programme note, Lucy Marinkovich (Director and Choreographer) and Lucien Johnson (Writer and Composer) state: “When Frau Troffea walked out of her home in 1518 and began to dance, it was an act of rebellion. However unconscious it may have been, it was a political gesture, rallying against the oppression of the poor, the disease and the hunger, the violence of the patriarchy against working class women in particular.”

The sight that greets us as we enter Circa One, however, is of languid ballroom dancing – the full cast augmented by a locally sourced Community Chorus, in elegant garb, waltzing in a peaceful haze. Is this the ‘last waltz’ at a posh ball or are they competing in a dance marathon redolent of the Depression-era novel and film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

As the houselights go down, couples peel off leaving Michael Parmenter and Lucy Marinkovich – named in the programme as Death and The Maiden, respectively – to pick up the pace and break out, occasionally, into brilliance bordering on the compulsive, fanatical even, before settling back into a gentle waltz. If this is a prelude to death – what a way to go! Or maybe they are just reminding us how joyous dancing can be.

Either way, The Rational Man – Nick Blake, perched aloft above a pile of old books – has had enough of this repetitive nonsense that fails to achieve progress and is restricted by the limits of the human body. He claims dance will become redundant. Meanwhile he is writing a book about that notorious Dancing Plague because for all the theories so far advanced about its cause, no-one has investigated what it actually looked like.

What follows, then, is a manifestation of his investigation. The perky woman in the bright peasant skirt with red velvet bodice over a white puffed-sleeve blouse isn’t right – although she does lead him to reference the Tarantella (which evolved in the Middle Ages when a woman in Southern Italy, claiming to have been bitten by a tarantula, danced in a whirling fashion – either caused by the venom or to cure herself, or both).

A lone woman in more ragged garb takes over and her movements are less neat, more random, raising the question of who or what is in control as other similarly cavorting ‘Choreomaniacs’ join her. Thus begins a dance marathon of epic style and quality, performed with astonishing ease despite the levels of mania reached, by Hannah Tasker-Poland, Katie Rudd, Eliza Sanders, Sean MacDonald, Xin Ji and Emmanuel Reynaud – with Blake’s Rational Man sometimes getting involved in order to research his topic.

Lucien Johnson’s visceral composition and sound design, with glimpses of classical tunes amid the welter of electronica ranging from heighted to doom-laden, is the engine that drives the compulsive dancing. Dressed in black with a flat-brimmed hat, his appearance at the edges of the action while playing woodwind instruments suggests he is an adjunct to Parmenter’s Death character. 

As for ‘The Maiden’, the divesting of already flimsy clothing as the marathon continues evokes images redolent of Death & The Maiden motifs of the Middle Ages, albeit less demure. 

The Rational Man’s enquiry includes exposing how wealthy young aristocrats prey on peasant women, suggesting the women’s reaction is a dance of revenge. A Catholic Priest with a lascivious tongue, and two Nuns as acolytes, attempt to exorcise the dancer demon. The dancing becomes mechanical as Strasbourg’s famous Astronomical Clock tick-tocks and Astrologers express their dislike of the dancing.

Yet still it continues. The next resort for fixing the perceived problem is the very rich Guildsmen, who deduce this dancing in groups of six denotes the sign of the Devil. Then come the black-beaked, black-hooded, raven-like Physicians who, ironically, prescribe vigorous exercise as the remedy. Books go flying as the Rational Man concludes poisoning is the cause, evidenced by spasms and twitching.

But the ‘Choreomaniacs’ advance the idea of mass protest by wielding banners that highlight hunger, ruthless landlords, homelessness and even rising oceans … Now aligned, their dancing becomes more interactive, coherent and lyrical – creating more as a group that each did alone. ‘Given their freedom, the poor create’ I scribble in my notebook.

And the dancing continues, in pairs … Couples peel off and vanish … A woman freezes, rigid, and is carried off, crying for help … And the whirling, spinning, almost flying dancing continues … A simple act of kindness is proposed – resulting in the offer of red silk shoes for the dancers (is this a nod to the blood of Catholic martyrs, as symbolised in the Pope’s red shoes?).

This is where Michael Parmenter returns as Death, manipulating by gesture their synchronised movements as they file and pile onto a table, to be wheeled off – to where? – by The Maiden. Death’s exquisite solo dance bears no malevolence but rather suggests the inevitability of our departure from Earthly suffering and/or delights. Indeed Death himself moves inexorably into the light … Fade to Blackout.

All the design elements have been as intrinsic to the whole and as intertwined as Marinkovich’s richly varied choreography, and must be individually acknowledged: Production Designer, Lucy Marinkovich; Set Designer, Meg Rollandi; Lighting Designer, Marcus McShane, operated by Hāmi Hawkins; Costume designers, Lucy Marinkovich, Sheila Horton and Lauren Hooper.

The standing ovation that welcomes the Borderline Arts Ensemble’s performers back to the stage attests to the collective thrill we have shared as witnesses to the wealth of creativity and skills that coalesce in Strasbourg 1518.

And are we any the wiser now, than those who have tried to make sense of the Dance Plague phenomenon in the past (it happened more than once in various locations)? Our vicarious experience in watching this work unfold bypasses the rational mind, leaving memories of actions and images to be decoded, consciously or unconsciously, each according to our own beliefs, values and lived experiences. 


John Smythe March 27th, 2021

Thank you for asking. While the performer designated 'The Maiden' (Lucy Marinkovich) does not appear nude, the initial divesting of already flimsy clothing by some of the female Choreomaniacs, as the marathon continues, does evoke images redolent of Death & The Maiden motifs of the Middle Ages, albeit less demure. Later the male dancers are also naked. 

Karin Elizabeth March 25th, 2021

Does "The Maiden" appear nude?

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Dance to Live

Review by Cynthia Lam 21st Mar 2021

Combining dance, theatre and storytelling, Strasbourg 1518 is an exhilarating contemporary performance that explores ideas of revolution and the arts within both a historical and contemporary framework. Directed and choreographed by Lucy Marinkovich, with Lucien Johnson as writer and composer, Strasbourg 1518 is based around the dancing plague of 1518 – begun by a lone woman, up to 400 people joined and took to dancing for days.

The show poses that timeless question regarding the relevance of the arts to humanity, when The Rational Man (Nick Blake) interrupts the opening duet of Michael Parmenter (Death) and Marinkovich (The Maiden) and addresses the audience: ‘Enough! I can’t stand dancing… what’s the point? Dance is completely redundant. And yet…. I’m drawn to this history… there’s something important, vital even’. As Death Michael Parmenter combines grace, charm and macabre, manipulating his human subjects like that of a skilled puppeteer. [More


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Breath-taking, intriguing and so generously exhibited.

Review by Jennifer Nikolai 20th Mar 2021

As a theatre lover I always go to the theatre to support artists and their art, while carrying hopes to see something special…. Strasbourg 1518 by Borderline Arts Ensemble is exceptional, spectacular and yes, genuinely, special. What a treat.

This show should not be missed! It is one of the very best pieces I’ve experienced in my years of attending theatre all over the globe. The subject matter addressed in Strasbourg 1518 (what is known as the dancing plague) is provocatively timely. We are so fortunate to have a performance of this quality available to audiences in Tāmaki Makaurau in this strange year and in any year, for that matter.

The Borderline Arts Ensemble makes its Auckland premiere with a polished, highly resolved piece, conceived and performed with dramaturgical insight. Strasbourg 1518 is a fascinating historical tale with contemporary relevance, told with refined conception, supported by generous performances that grace the stage by a talented and clearly invested cast.  The production values, including brilliant sound design, scaffold the production exquisitely.

The story of Frau Troffea in Strasbourg France (1518), seemingly randomly dancing in the street one night, was a solo dance with artistic expression.  Or was it physiological discomfort caused by bacteria in a domestic wheat that incited an artistic movement that still resonates as a political act? Illuminating the oppression towards working class women in particular, the solo dance initiated by Troffea ignited a revolutionary collectivism through dance; where dancing arms, legs and torsos became much more of a political statement than just dancing crowds in the streets of France.

One woman inspired a dancing mania. People joined in with swelling bloody feet. The death of the dancers caught in this choreomania also reminds us of the complexity of a diagnosis: be they physiological, social, political, spiritual in nature… what causes this swell? In this story dance is the conduit, the uniting force. The relevance of dance with this collective intention to inspire and to contextualise political commentary with such affect allows us as contemporary audiences to also experience this phenomenon.

The lyricism of the performed collective trance is only made possible by exceptional production direction by Lucy Marinkovich. Exquisite lighting and sound design and flawless commitment to divine performances are breath-taking, thank you to Nick Blake, Hannah Tasker-Poland, Sean MacDonald, Katie Rudd, Xin Ji, Michael Parmenter, Eliza Sanders and Emmanuel Reynaud, each deserve credit for their work, where credit is so profoundly deserved.

“Living in poverty and under the rule of the patriarchy, the people of Strasbourg revolted one summer against oppression by taking to the streets.” Yes, and the relevance of this historical scene as applied to our contemporary context is transparent and shockingly relevant. Not only does the narrator reference inequities between wealth and poverty, the treatment of women and poor working class citizens, this contemporary production set in an historical backdrop also illuminates during the Global Pandemic, our altered attention to Global Warming. During the climactic sequences performed in the rising arc of this work, the dancers, amidst their choreomania, carry placards underlining contemporary urgency. Stark slogans printed with black paint on light canvas ask, suggest and implore:

So the Earth’s Dying. Where’s our Daily Bread?

The Oceans are Rising. We are Falling Spectacularly Apart.

For audience members who have protested, who have signed petitions or struggled with social inequities while watching our natural environment beg for human forgiveness; we align… with the urgency of the attention required but also with an empathy for the frenzy elicited by dancing in street parties, house parties, DJs, endless music, dancing for hours with the pleasure of what dance brings us, of the music overwhelming our moving bodies, with fellow friends or loved ones joining us…..

We are reminded of our privilege in that today, 19 March 2021, in Tamaki Makaura we enter the theatre in crowds, we embrace friends we have not held for a year and we all come out of our bubbles to experience a world-ready performance of the highest quality, during a Global Pandemic. We need not wear masks, we have that choice. So we are reminded today that we have that choice that does not exist in so many other countries and cities.

As one of the most exceptional performances I have attended my years of loving theatrical works all over the globe, we as local audiences must embrace this fine, resolved work, and attend and support the arts and our artists who through this year and many years leading up to the Global Pandemic, are often toiling with beauty and making what we experience is euphoric – as is the case in Strasbourg 1518 by the Ensemble.

As an audience member and performer myself, ‘living’ this performance experience was one of full engagement in the arc of the narrative. Engagement in the  spectacle not for the sake of spectacle, but for the sake of well-conceived art, and refined and considered artistic choices…. I will never forget this audience experience on a warm March evening in 2021.

An enticing historical event of the power and swell of art as uprising… told so beautifully by this homegrown cast.

Stunning direction with exceptional production and performance characteristics… this work is breath-taking, intriguing and so generously exhibited.

Strasbourg 1518 is riddled with socio-political underpinnings, astutely relevant, today.

Highly articulated, well rounded from conception to production, this work is of an international quality; something special to behold.


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Stylish, crisp and clear for most of the performance

Review by Lyne Pringle 21st Mar 2020

Borderline Arts Ensemble are a fresh creative voice led by choreographer/ director Lucy Marinkovich and composer/ writer Lucien Johnson. Their production Strasbourg 1518 explores the ‘dancing plagues’ of medieval Europe as a vehicle for social change.

The work is stylish, consummate, crisp and clear in its intent for three quarters of the performance. Marinkovich has an elegant aesthetic which shapes the visual elements, supported by Marcus McShane (lighting design) and Poppy Serano (costume and set design).

Opening sequences evoke an opulent ball room which is gradually stripped down to the chaos of an Hieronymus Bosch nightmare. Johnson brings his musical virtuosity to the tremendous score, which includes recorded and live components where he plays multiple saxophones and percussion. He is also responsible for the insightful script which provides the spine for the creative muscle of the work to leverage from. [More]


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Bravery in every aspect

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 13th Mar 2020

Commissioned for this Festival, this is one of the productions that is essentially truly Made In New Zealand and showcases a stunning cast and an extraordinary investigation into a phenomenon that is both historical fact and psychological drama. Add to this a world pandemic that we are all in reality in the midst of – this is heady stuff!

There is bravery in every aspect of Strasbourg – the staging is reminiscent of the Marat Sade with curtains, shrouds, banners and books. The research stands strong. Although it is difficult to hear the narrative at times,  France Herve literally tells the story and takes us back into a dark experience that frightened and plagued a city so long ago. The feel is European but the fear, frenzy and energy of what was a plague of dance is universal.  Music is live, created and played by the austere and very elegant Lucien Johnson. Interwoven and integral to the dance, he is the piper who calls the tune and his haunting and driving  music resonates as a huge part of the success of Strasbourg 1518.                                                                        

At the start there is a community dancing with close partners shutting the world from their personal lives and relationships. This transitions to  an exuberant waltz duet danced by Lucy Marinkovich and Michael Parmenter. What a treat to see this absolute icon of our dance industry onstage again, svelte in a velvet jacket matched by lyrical, luxurious, sinuous partnering as he dances with Marinkovich – every inch the glamour and beauty of dance personified. This ideal world is shattered as the streets of Strasbourg encroach and doubt and uncertainty spreads amongst the town. …. Is this dancer a witch? Possessed? Mad?

Religion and astronomy are consulted – and still there is dancing.  Extraordinary dancing, fearless and yes, possessed dancing.  These extraordinary dancers are Jana Castillo, Xin Ji, Sean MacDonald, Katie Rudd, Emmanuel Reynaud and Hannah Tasker-Poland. They take over and develop the scene of political and social protest with an orgaistic, desperate plethora of kicking, swirling pulsating movement . Marinkovich’s sense of the dramatic is unerring and her dancers deliver dance beyond imagining as they dance. Relentlessly.  They are exhausted, we are exhausted. I find myself not breathing as I wait to relax when they do. They don’t.

There is eventually an exhaustion and victory of sorts and the city quietens leaving the solitary spirit of recuperative Dance – a black shadowy figure just barely etched in the fading light – who vanishes. The Grim Reaper  His job is done. Mephistopheles? Left to linger in our psyche? The muse of dance and life? Figures from myth and religion seem referenced. We breathe. The dancers return glowing and jubilant in their survival.

Lucy Marinkovich stands smiling at the side – this is a premiere that feels like a real beginning and that lets us share the mystery, magic and madness that is Dance. The narrative is left behind, the little moves and folk-based patterns of ever more driven accumulations, the spokes of the wheel of life, the uncertainty and the triumph of humanity prevail.  There is much compulsion – slow down and let us feel the demons too. The moments of humour are very fleeting but stick with me – the Strasbourg Town Clock – a foot tapping duet.

A  brave new work from a stunning collaboration. Thanks to the Festival for these works that explore and probe.  Bravo.


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