Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

01/10/2008 - 05/10/2008

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

13/10/2008 - 19/10/2008

Tempo Dance Festival 2008

Production Details


TENT: A structure held aloft by tension. Like ropes and poles our very muscles and bones sustain our bodies against the fall. We live our lives strung between freedom and necessity, beauty and terror, memory and desire.

TENT is a major performing arts event – a new work from acclaimed choreographer Michael Parmenter performed by a company of leading contemporary dancers. Pitching into the wild realm between order and chaos, TENT is dance in a state of flux. Charting the fragile and precarious space between bodies, TENT is about life when there’s nothing to hold on to….except life itself. 

"Parmenter can organically process emotion into physical movement with a dynamic lyricism and joy that just overwhelms the viewer." – Capital Times 


Wed 1 – Sun 5 Oct 2008
8pm daily
Matinees 4th & 5th October 2pm

Programme:  Dance Your Socks Off 2008
Cost:  $45, $35 – Matinees $30
Book online:   www.ticketek.com
Webpage:  www.michaelparmenter.net.nz
Venue:  Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre
11 Hutchison Road

The Company:
Craig Bary, Victoria Colombus, Sarah Foster, Claire Lissamen, Moss Paterson, Christopher Tandy

Original Music: Eden Mullholland

Design: John Verryt, Elizabeth Whiting, Nik Janiurek

Artist pitches Tent on solid ground

Review by Raewyn Whyte 15th Oct 2008

It is a brave move for a long-established artist to abandon his signature style in choreography and his standard mode of production and hand over a good deal of the responsibility for the timing and pace of the performance to the dancers. On the face of it, that is what Michael Parmenter has done with his latest production, Tent.

So if you go along expecting extended sequences of heroic partnering, and passages of driven, densely packed, high-energy, high-risk dancing, you may be disappointed. These have only a fragmentary presence in the new work.

On the other hand, the vitality, musicality and sensuousness we have come to expect from Parmenter productions is still fully present in the dancing, which has a more mellow pace than we have come to expect, and he has assembled some stellar performers to delight us with their artistry. [More]  
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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Silence with intent intensifies; void/avoidance pervades

Review by Jack Gray 14th Oct 2008

TENT marks the arrival of Michael Parmenter’s latest new full-length dance theatre production, his first new company creation in a decade and a work he has hailed as one clearly demonstrating his current and personal shifts as a choreographer.

Performed already in Wellington, TENT comes to Auckland amidst a buzz of reviews, both good and bad, seeking to find some kind of connection for all dance lovers during the Tempo Festival.

The stage opens as a dim campsite, a white tent set in the middle of the floor, surrounded by the faint sound of crickets. One male dancer crawls out, groggily awaking, and stands looking out at the audience (maybe contemplating the view of the night?).

He is soon joined by another half dressed male, sparking (subliminal?) suggestions of a possible ‘intimate’ relationship. The rest of the cast, all young, some unfamiliar to NZ audiences, then crawl out one by one, dressed in an array of sleepwear- standing in their own manner while looking outwards.

After a while, they efficiently dismantle the tent and leave behind a lying figure (Craig Bary). Light (by Nik Janiurek) carves itself into the muscles of his back, to the dark undertones of a violin. Parmenter’s composer and collaborator Eden Mulholland, gives him plenty of strings and piano in a score that is sometimes stirring, grim, clashing.

The scape is also interspersed with times in between that are silent. This quietness however draws our attention ever tighter within the performance, perhaps removing a safety net for both audience and performer, explaining a detached voyeuristic feeling that arises now and again.

TENT has some specific performance details that are revisited over and over.

Simple transitions occur as dancers walk onto the unmasked stage, to stare either blankly, blindly or still-like at another performer and then at some (given) moment start to move, dance, to partner and/or manipulate.

In one scene a blindfolded figure (Bary) is caught, held and passed from dancer to dancer in a series of ‘duets’. We see the supposition of a dancer’s autonomy yet this freedom is belied by an authoritarian other/presence of their ‘partner’.

Likewise the firm choreographic vice of the precise patterning and timing becomes another omnipresent player in this unwitting power play.

The cast then change into clothes (by Elizabeth Whiting), pedestrian and not very special: stripy tops, leggings, shirts, brown corduroys, jeans and shorts. This situates them somehow in a ‘no mans land’ of being either ‘real people’ or ‘bodies’. We often wonder if they are characters or not? It is hard to tell sometimes.

There is a black dance floor edged by a white floor on the outside (designer John Verryt). It is in the inner zone where most of the action takes place.

One scene, a bit ‘hit and miss’ for me, is an acting/dialogue moment where the cast all walk towards each other to greet and chat. We see ‘friends’ (real/characters?) who cuddle and frolic in a pantomime-like way. Maybe it was a scenario that actually happened during the workshop and was recreated, but the spontaneity is not quite ‘fizzing’.

Playing on a "hongi/hangi/haka" cultural misunderstanding by a Welshman, then a subsequent comparison between a long Welsh versus a Mâori place name, made me feel weird.  Accompanied by music by Fats Freddy’s Drop, its kiwi clichéd-ness was kitsch.

The next scene is abstractedly about changing spatial arrangements, through running and private games, in some kind of reverse follow-the-leader. Though nice to see so many people onstage, again it was a curious departure from the seed/concept of the story.

It seems that the major interest and the most sophisticated work of the choreographer lies in the intense partnering phrases, which obviously show a mountain of skill, focus and hours of training to achieve that finesse.

One duet (Justin Haiu and the marvellously fresh Destiny Stein) is sensual and lyrical and offers a taste of feeling, while at other times there is a mechanical-ness from Parmenter’s trademark drilling and the seeking of perfection. Don’t get me wrong: this is fine NZ dancing and incredible, really, in all its detail and manipulation.

Though aspects of the work lack some sense of subtlety, perhaps a sensitivity of sorts can be glimpsed by the dancers’ effort, who push and push to give their all (physically and mentally) to the cause.

The dancers seem to isolate/insulate themselves within this ‘world’ yet it is also this strict adherence to the rhythm, timing and dynamics that wrests their hearts out of them. This gives an impression of emotional self-containment to survive the vigorous onslaught.

TENT expresses a sense of social unease as we see the ‘tribe’ interact on a surface level, yet delve into the deeper territories that lie ominously and ambiguously below. 

Race, sexuality and religion are poked at, exposing the raw nerve of these core elements of humankind.

There is a ‘fun’ questioning of someone’s sexual preference, which elicits a yelp of happiness from two ‘pro-gay’ dancers.  I’m curious about these labels and consider their relevance to today’s society.

A netball scene ensues, again an outlet for competitive war between different groups. Do we cheer our support for their team divisions (male vs. female, Christian vs. gay), or wonder about the messages behind this portrayal?

In a following dance scene a beautiful solo by a female dancer (the hardworking Sarah Foster) gradually becomes ‘disestablished’ by a trio of ‘men’ who unpick her movement causing her to feel violated. The outcome is not made apparent.

It is this same sense of civilised aggression that filters through in another scene. Part contemporary ‘Krump’/ part mosh pit at a Prodigy concert, the dancers are pushed to boiling point and maybe tipped past it – but to what consequence?  

The company is made up of four male and four female dancers. There is at times a sense of implied hostility between males towards the women, yet between the men we read a contrasting, softer, athletic yet more yielding quality. It is an interesting disparity.

Overall, the work at 90 minutes is relentless, with a language that is widely varied, released, fluid, continual.

I remind myself of how complex the sequences must be and want to love the work and also admire the dancers’ tenacity. A solo by Christopher Tandy is uniquely virtuoso.  

I imagine that the dancers are wholly focussed on mastering the required speed and timing, yet there is something not quite there. The body is seen as a structure much like a tent, but for me it feels empty and I yearn for emotional connection. It is this desire that distinguishes our need for humanity beyond our corporeal objectivity. 

The final group dance is meant to be light, jazzy and relaxed but there is still a pervasive sense of void/avoidance and a disconnection (mostly in the eyes), revealing something else about the range of choices they are allowed to make within the broader picture?

The dancers receive three curtain calls, to much appreciation from the crowd – and rightly so. They are truly ‘winners on the day’ and perhaps hold the key to unlocking this highly designed world in Parmenter’s ambitious (and hopefully evolving) first edition.  
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Celine Sumic October 19th, 2008

It has been with much interest that I've read the various reviews and comments leading up to last night when I saw Tent myself.  My observations below are in part a response to, and in appreciation of, Juliet Shelley's detailed questions (to be found in the discussion thread under Ann Hunt's review).

I am born a temporary structure.
I shake and unfold without vision - tensely fluid, as are my dream thoughts;
but if you move
make sure it is inevitably, inexorably
beautiful, so as to not look too much like the agony and ugliness of real life...
but enough to provide a glimpse.

A picture of the conundrum of cause and effect.
Yes, this show made me feel sad.
It speaks of an aesthetics of departure.

The skilful beauty of the choreography is in direct contrast to the social nuance explored at length within the work.  In dealing with the contemporary issue of the dissolve of our humanity, Tent wrestles lightly but exhaustingly with the themes of pack mentality, meaningless savagery, patterned behaviour and cycles of violence and isolation.

My question is, for those who have seen Tent, but claim to have no emotional reaction to this work; what have we become?  Are we really so perversely lost - so consummately suffocated by the scientism and self-serving violence, the hyper-individualism of our era, that we honestly find no emotion in Parmenter's sobering parody of contemporary social and sexual politics?

Would it not make you cry?

Are we so fundamentally and blindly anchored in the very 'us and them' thinking this work draws attention to - that we find nothing deeper here than beautifully choreographed moves?

This dance work, in my view, through its presentation of awkward, superficial social construct juxtaposed with the grace and lyricism of the choreography, forms a brilliant counterpoint in style to the concept explored.  That being, the exhausting lengths we go to in our efforts to connect with one another, in the face of the enormous difficulty posed by a pervasive social philosophy of greed, distrust and dissolve that could be said to characterise the current era.

Effort, rejection, attack, fall, effort, rejection, attack, fall, effort, rejection, attack, fall.
Knots and sworls of attempts - to stand up, to connect, to be a part, to make something.

That we only seem to see - I mean, really notice - our men (lights up immediately) - when they fall?  And when they fall, with what harshness we throw the spotlight on them, wasting no time in yelling to the world - LOOK - look at them, locked in a pattern, writhing on the floor...

And for her, he came.  To try to contain?  To comfort and calm? her isolated animated pattern of gestural noise, her result of the cumulative injury inflicted by the earlier group of he.  But that now, she refuses - or is incapable of? - seeing this new him, or what he offers in his awkward and inarticulate way?  And so she walks away; blind, deadened, leaving him to stand alone in the dark.

I mean, just quietly, who wouldn't feel sick?
Sick, with sadness.  Sick with truth. 

I think this is a brilliant work.
It asks a lot of questions.  It's central theme somehow delicately rammed home.
Thank you Michael.

Gavin Drew October 16th, 2008

Sorry, since what written below presupposes that one has seen Tent. But Jack Gray has, and this is a response to him.

Jack Gray wrote, "The body is seen as a structure much like a tent, but for me it feels empty and I yearn for emotional connection. It is this desire that distinguishes our need for humanity beyond our corporeal objectivity".

BUT, in Tent, the tent was not empty! It was a plenum – it was packed full of inter-twined, tensioned, living bodies, persons together.

There is indeed a desire that distinguishes our need for humanity beyond our corporeal objectivity and, in/by Tent, Parmenter is gesturing precisely in the direction of that yearning. The body does yearn for emotional connection because the body IS person, not an object. Tent, as a whole plenitudinous stretch, from beginning to end – from alpha to omega – seeks to point in that direction.

It is indeed the desire for emotional connection – albeit often thwarted by the moves we make on each other – which distinguishes our need for humanity beyond our corporeal objectivity. But Tent is not about the false myth of corporeal objectivity; rather Tent is about corporeal inter-subjectivity – that's what they were all "doing" in the one tent! That is what they are "trying" to do throughout the whole performance. Indeed, it is that trying to do which Parmenter gestures towards and which underlines the tension – release – tension motif, fundamental to dance, upon which Tent is masterfully grounded.

It seems that Jack Gray continues unwittingly to conceptualise the body in (binary) opposition to the person – and, it would seem, therefore in opposition to the so-called "soul". Even now to talk "body" is to imply "soul" also, just as to talk about "objectivity" implies a dualism whereby "subjectivity" is the ghostly, unspoken, other. But the tent is not the clothing of the "soul", the flesh is not that which can be abstracted from the person. Rather, the tent is an expression of our indwelling.

Tent expresses our indwelling of one another and the necessary tension that arises within the dynamics of our perichoretic social embodiment. Our indwelling is necessarily the indwelling of each other, for better or for worse.

We are encamped in the world together and together we move in and through the en-fleshed life we share, as flames in the fire.

Thus, Tent asks questions concerning the "location" of the boundary of body, the limits of the (inter-connected) "self", the ex-tension of the person in, though, and by the other.

It is of note that the image Parmenter uses is of a tent not a temple. Our being is being on the move; our tent is our location in the tension between here and where together we are going.

Life becomes flesh in our midst, in the tension, in the stretch of space and time. What I’d like to know is what flesh might have been cooking on that fire.

Ursula Bell October 14th, 2008

I went to Tent last night and was absorbed from beginning to end. As an audience member I enjoyed the fact that I was denied any narrative of movement, character, music, movement texture  or dynamics. There was a sense of space and time to the work that I don't think dance audiences are used to experiencing. I liked the fact that I had to surrender my ready-made expectations that the dance in some way ought to acknowledge me (the all powerful spectator) by feeding me food I am familiar with. Having dispensed with the idea that I was there to be fed at all (a sorbet of emotion, say, or a dob of chillied up arousal, or a nice long refreshing draught of pattern recognitions and predictions) I became all gaze, all ears, all focus, and all flesh and blood. I loved it. At times I had to wait, - so did the dancers. At other times I had the sense of wanting to move, as one, with others, - and so did the dancers. At times I wanted a little light relief (nervous relief) - and so did the dancers. At other times I forgot myself, forgot everything and everyone around me, and felt the ordinary miraculousness of my life, - and so (it seems to me) did the dancers.

Nothing sentimental, nostalgic, or thematic. Nothing transcendental, striving, or promising. Nothing grotesque, transformative, nothing that was meant to resonate with something else. No tears. No grimaces. No shocks.

And no aching existential emptiness.

Just the ordinary miraculousness of life.

Thank you to Michael, and thank you to the dancers. Harder to pull that one off, truly pull it off, than anyone could imagine.

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Review by Deirdre Tarrant 14th Oct 2008

This is a work that has been long in the making and long awaited as it has been nearly 10 years since Michael Parmenter, arguably one of New Zealand’s most illustrious choreographers has made a substantial new work.

Expectant murmurings amongst the audience are matched by murmurings within a tent, pitched centre stage and illuminated from within. Muttered voices and morepork calls set the scene and a shadowy evening light outlines the dancers as they emerge one by one into our world. As the tent is dismantled and shrugged away the foetal curve of a curled sleeping figure is discovered.

Slowly the articulated limbs of a dancer unfold and we watch seemingly newly found points of balance and connection to the floor as this blindfolded figure discovers the space above and beneath him and ultimately stands upright. It is Craig Bary, the epitome of disembodied energy and a mesmerising performer who tantalises and surprises with superb control but an almost impossibly fragile fluidity.

A rather long and mundane greeting sequence ensues and we are introduced to Chris, from Wales. The uncomfortable reality of a new kid on the block, a usurper, not one of us, "Fancy him?" provides social inter-action within the group. Chris Tandy is welcomed and this acceptance jettisons the work forward via an improvisation exercise in which all eight dancers find patterns in walking then colliding, sharing and shadowing. They add confrontation, collision and curiously twisted leaps into the air as if to ultimately avoid each other. 

The effective staging by John Verryt provides a bleak and contained black floor outlined in white that defines their space. A series of relationships ensue and dances in pairs, solos and trios are structured. Taut, effective phrases are male dominated as sinuous movement is crafted in space and held to the floor by invisible tent pegs….a ball game starts with an interesting reverse ball bungy but seemed to go on too long and became a token ploy to reality complete with canned crowd commentary?

Unison sequences were beautifully danced with each dancer retaining gestures of individuality within the vocabulary and a deceptively easy-going style in their bodies. At times they became passers-by who hovered at the sidelines to observe each other. Relationships developed or failed to spark against the stretched lines just outside the lit space where changes of clothing hung and were plucked as required.

Improvisation was a key feature of the process of Tent but there were Parmenter trademarks at many junctures. Throws and collegial catches, wonderfully intricate and caring partnering, scintillating precision in Sarah Foster’s solo (in fact in all she did) – and the glimpse of an unfulfilled relationship between Claire Lissaman and Destiny Stein.

Parmenter’s aim was to explore a transient concept and the dance moved in much the way that real life does. So many possibilities, some breathtaking and sweeping in their conclusiveness and some that fail to ignite, asexual, sensuous by turns, caring females rewarded by aggressive volatility, four men dropping in separate squares of light and throughout each dancer taking turns in the patterns and environment made by the others.

Craig Bary with stunning clarity and strength was one hundred per cent in the moment and it was exciting to see the matching excellence of Chris Tandy who seemed always on the verge of some life changing discovery about himself. Together they created some of the best moments within Tent.

Specially composed music by Eden Mulholland using strings was glorious but the overall effect was of a collage of musical pieces.

The ending was muted and back to where it all began with eight dancers still unattached and a return to the opening ‘meeting’ scenario. I felt that the Tent had become a time capsule, not only stretching the movement but also containing something to treasure.

Great dancing and great to see this fulfilment of an idea that has been long in the realisation.
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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Improvisations of compelling beauty

Review by Jennifer Shennan 04th Oct 2008

This new work devised by Michael Parmenter  is built from studio improvisation techniques with a cast of eight dancers – Craig Bary, Victoria Columbus, Sarah Foster, Justin Haiu, Claire Lissaman, Destiny Stein, Adam Synnott, Christopher Tandy. The dancers work in a strong team, anticipating and relating to each other’s moves as though they had been performing together for years.

There are some sequences of compelling beauty, particularly solos and duos. Craig Bary phrasing his movement to music of Bach, and Sarah Foster to her own heartbeat, are exceptionally memorable.  Other sections with more dancers range in atmosphere from social interactions, humour, competition, and a lively sports match ( for which the Commotion Company should acquire a patent.)

Although some text is spoken by the dancers there is no attempt to storyline the work.  Most of the dancing is itself about dancing, as in "we are dancing therefore we exist". The stylized sequences allow us to read and shape meaning or mood as we wish.  The various gender combinations are fecund in this respect. 

Perhaps some of the sections seem long or repetitive as choreographic structure, but that is a natural feature of improvisation – and truth to tell, dance this competently and confidently performed sits outside of time considerations.

The lively score composed by Eden Mulholland uses a wide range of resources; set design by John Verryt and lighting by Nik Janiurek, are fully and impressively integrated.  The stage space is used particularly appropriately with all performers remaining close by, even if in the shadows – thus eschewing the conventions of frequent exits and re-entrances that can so often weaken an abstract work of this nature.

Each performance will differ to a degree as some sections remain based on improvisation. A bit like life really


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A new vitality and youthful exuberance but lacks cohesion

Review by Ann Hunt 02nd Oct 2008

This eagerly awaited work by Michael Parmenter is a collaborative choreographic effort by himself and the eight dancers that comprise Commotion’s current line-up.  As such it is a mixed bag.

As an ensemble, the company dances supremely well. It takes a great deal of effort to make dance like this look as effortless as it does. There is also outstanding work by Craig Bary, Sarah Foster and Christopher Tandy.

Parmenter has stated that Tent is "all about reaching and stretching and being pulled outside yourself … it’s also about the aspect of (being) temporary and fleeting." This is all well and good.

It also seems to be about the collective recollections of those New Zealand summers we have all known: the beautiful, the ugly, the funny, the flirtatious. Sexual experimentations, tender and disastrous couplings, playing ad hoc games on the beach and sitting around campfires telling stories and watching shadows come and go. 

The trouble seems to arise out of the word "collective". There is simply too much collectivity here and not enough of a single firm choreographic thread. The work lacks cohesion. On one hand there are simply too many ideas and on the other not enough – certainly not enough to warrant its excessive hour and a half length. Judicious pruning would help immeasurably.

It begins on a stage devoid of set, save for a small white tent, with rows of lights grouped on either side. The dancers emerge from inside the tent and proceed to dismantle it, leaving Craig Bary curled up foetus-like, alone centre stage. He begins to dance blindfold, a sinuous unfolding solo. This is the first of many brilliant Bary moments. He is an outstanding dancer and is the lynchpin of the production. 

This expressive and focussed solo segues into a fairly prolonged group sequence of walking by the company. They appear to be ‘shadowing’ each other, until the walking becomes dancing and a quite thrilling group passage follows, full of thrusting vertical leaps and quirky twists and turns. As an audience, we do not know which passages are improvised or set. This sequence would appear to be improvised. But it is of little matter. It works. 

The same simply cannot be said for all that follows. There is a brilliantly danced and disturbing section by Foster and three men; a wonderful solo by Tandy who is a fantastic dancer. His extremely flexible body is capable of spaghetti-like back bends and high extensions, unusual in a male dancer. But equally there are some unnecessary and far too long passages such as the interminable ball game and the duet for two guys whom we can only just see anyway.

Choreographically it is definitely different from previous Parmenter works. The elegance we have come to associate with his work is less visible here, although given the theme that is appropriate.  Instead there is a new vitality and youthful exuberance apparent. Martial arts which have always informed aspects of his work, are still in evidence, and even  jazz dance. 

So much New Zealand choreography is preoccupied with floor work, close body coupling and little actual dance. After a while it becomes a trifle grim and repetitious. This is no exception.

So, a mixed bag and one that definitely appealed to the opened night audience. It would be most interesting to see it more than once, to see what changes do occur.


Juliet Shelley November 21st, 2008

Hey Josh

I just wanted to say many thanks for the above comment.

You were pretty much spot on in terms of describing what I was experiencing when I saw this show and the reasons why.

Im so glad that you wrote the above and that you were able to articulate it in the way that you did.

It was exactly because of my perceived discrepancy between the dancers' feelings and their actions that led to my responses as an audience member. 

And behind that is the pedagogical dance story you described so well.

We perceive and engage with all life from within the place of our own unique experience and history.

It is now known that the perceiver and the perceived engage and affect each other. Hence, in this context,  the unique relationship between witness/audience member and performer/performance.

As individuals, we are responsible for our own experience and nothing and no one exists in isolation.

There is no wrong and no right way to view or experience anything. We can be inclusive to both our own experience and perceptions and to others', and accept that we are all different and unique.

That to me, is something to be celebrated.

Many thanks Josh. �

Celine Sumic November 3rd, 2008

For further clarification, see my comment under Jack Gray's review of the Auckland showing of Tent.

Kristian Larsen November 3rd, 2008


Celine Sumic November 2nd, 2008

Hey Romeo –

Your critique of Juliet’s apparent absence of responsibility within her state(ment) of presence when witnessing Michael’s work Tent would seem to beg the question as to where any of us actually are when we watch a performance.  Beyond the parameters of one’s present moment, which are inevitably coloured by one’s personal, past experience and brought to bear on the performative exchange, what is there? 

A good question perhaps in the context of Tent, and an echo of that raised above by Keiran, who observes, “Dancers seemed to couple up at random, without any particular justification:  the complex relationships formed during one section were meaningless when overwritten by different energies in another,” and continues; “When dancers changed costumes, were they supposed to be different people, or the same people at different times?”... and further that, “rather than coming across as a collection of discrete memories, rather passed me by in a blur of "what's going on now?"   

This, I’d like to suggest, is perhaps the very point.  Or – the blurred series of points /and lines;  that we together occupy an indistinct, shifting intersection of embodied relationality; i.e.,the over-writing was intentional... 

Kristian Larsen November 2nd, 2008

Oh Juliet…when you watch a show wherefore art thou actually? You took no responsibility in your relationship to the event that took place in front of you, nor any responsibility for even being there. The only thing you were present to were your own conflated feeling responses. Go work on those issues you exhaustively advocate in your own choreographic practice and then make work that transcends them.    

‘Tent’ was a dance show – plain and simple. Directed by an experienced choreographer trying to work outside of his usual Michael ‘Parameters’ (sorry Mikey P, couldn’t resist that). Featuring highly competent performers, music, and all the usual stuff that a dance show has (but minus the stretchy fabric on the poster however, which really seemed to bum a couple of the punters out). But look, on its own improvisation is not an effective intervention to habitual working process. It’s too plastic, too easy to manipulate aesthetically even though it might seem like one is taking ones hands off the wheel. Get a dramaturge Michael, someone who will interrogate and support your practice from a different artistic paradigm, then listen to them! Thanks for your work by the way, I appreciated it.

Joshua Rutter October 15th, 2008

I think Juliet raised an interesting area of discussion - the often visible dichotomy between a dancers actions and feelings.
In Modern/Contemporary dance expressivity is often sought through codified, technicalised body movements - a vocabulary is created from bodily configurations that are deemed aesthetically interesting for whatever reason, they are then chained in sequences and manipulated endlessly to create a language, or maybe statements/questions in a language.  These linguistic/somatic artefacts are then considered in space, time and in relation to other bodies etc to create dance.
In this kind of process I think the body of the dancer is seen as a tool, a technical resource that is exploited by the choreographer in aid of their current fascination with some aspect of the abstract set of rules/possibilities mentioned above.
But on stage we don't just see a tool, we see a person and a body too. 
And, regardless of the actions it performs, the body will speak its own meaning. 
I think the individual body's own meaning is often overlooked in contemporary dance, but it sings on regardless of whether it is considered or not.
You can see how a body feels about what it is doing.  Sometimes these feelings are at odds with the intended effect of the movement.
Is it this kind of situation which contributed to Juliets sensations of confusion and nausea?

Celine Sumic October 9th, 2008

Hmm.. what an interesting range of comments resulting from Tent, which I have not yet seen.  I am thinking however, that the comprehensive response from Juliet is rather marvelous in its detail ... and that perhaps, considering Michael is undertaking a PhD in Dance and Philosophy, that this work is without a doubt, intentionally complex and layered in a tensile net of ideas.  I shall have to wait and see (and hear, and feel, and smell...

Cils October 9th, 2008

Why are some of you so obsessed that dance must be deep and meaningful.  I'm not sure whether "Tent" was supposed to have any deep meaning as Juliet and others seem to require.  I  absolutely loved the fact that I took nothing more from this show than a pure sense of pleasure in the enjoyment of wonderfully clever movement, physicality and music with a smattering of humour thrown in.  I simply enjoyed the entertanment.  Thank whatever good entity any of you believe in that some of us can feel uplifted by being entertained by wonderfully talented people for no better reason than the entertainment itself. 

Raewyn Hill October 7th, 2008

I wonder when it will be celebrated that we have a distinct dance vocabulary in New Zealand? Why is that when you put New Zealand dancers or choreographic work on the international stage people admire the depth of movement and the 'grounded' physicality so present in our work? I think too easily 'seasoned' choreographers are criticized for not presenting 'new' dance when instead they are remaining committed to their practice and consolidation or development of their aesthetic and movement vocabulary. That process and that commitment is what makes definitive voices in any artistic form. On a personal note I would like to celebrate the fact that Michael has committed himself to the New Zealand dance scene in so many different ways for so many years when a teacher and a choreographer of his calibre could so easily have left our shores.

Welly Watch October 6th, 2008

Gosh Juliet, you certainly got exercised at that show, confronting, questioning, wondering, disputing, running the full gamut of emotions – all through your engagement with a created work of make believe. What more can we ask of a show?

And how very different to the non-experience I and others endured at yours, In Living Memory. As the critic said, tedious.

The question I want to ask about TENT, since no-one else has, is how come all the publicity imagery involving dancers stretching fabric in intriguing way turns out to be totally absent from the show? How many people’s enjoyment was marred when their sense of anticipation turned to disappointment?  

Juliet Shelley October 6th, 2008

Hi Mr Parmenter.

I just returned from seeing Tent at Te Whaea. I went to see it as a gift to myself on my sons seventh birthday. I left in tears and spent most of the performance feeling nauseous.

I dont exactly know why.  I felt confused about my role as a witness to this event,  why I was there, and why you would want me to come and see your dance creation. 

My first impression on entering the theatre, taking my seat and seeing the space before me, was of somehow trespassing on what seemed to be an intimate kind of event, or little party, between a happy group of people in a tent.  I felt uncomfortable, voyeuristic and curious, as if I was involuntarily gatecrashing, yet I hadnt gatecrashed because I had just paid $35 to enter the theatre. 

When the dancers came out of the tent they looked slightly confused and a little bit unhappy about the audience being there. They looked disoriented, and there was a look of being intimidated on their faces. And yet their physical stance was defiant, as if to say, ' what the hell are you doing here? ' This apparent dichotomy may have set the tone of my experience as an audience member for most of the piece.

How did the dancers feel when they left the tent and came out into the space and saw us there watching them?  I felt like I had disturbed them. Why did they leave their party in the tent? Because of me?

The silence during the opening minutes of the show was enjoyable. For the most part, the sound tracks that followed were extraordinary. They felt like they were sledgehammers to my senses.
It felt to me as an audience member as if the sound/music was being laid on like a spatula. Like I was being hit over the head with the music just about every time it came on.  Why, I do not know exactly. I cannot fathom why you would have wanted me to experience this in the context of the opening scene with the tent, or any of the dance scenes that followed for that matter.
I can remember one place where this did not happen and it was the piano music for the solo with Craig Barry towards the end of the piece and the music from thereon was fine.

Some memories of the piece are of watching a beautiful solo by Christopher Tandy happen in the delineated rectangle  in front of me and my eye being drawn towards Sarah Foster doing her hair at the side of the space, standing, moving her elbows up, to the side and around her head.
She is lit up, doing her hair, while Christopher Tandy rolls and flips like a superflexible dolphin before me.  Am I meant to be watching Sarah doing her hair? Why is she doing this within view of the audience?  Are the dancers at the side watching the dancers in the middle of the space or the audience?  I am beginning to feel a bit like the tent or at least, wondering where everyone has gone, even though they are in front of me.  Is the audience meant to be the tent?

Then theres the three men that Sarah Foster dances with. She seems to enjoy it at first, then for some unknown reason, she decides she doesnt like it, and slowly starts flipping between being a graceful dancer in the lifts and pushing the men away in between lifts once shes on her own feet, and then seemingly happily and gracefully succumbing to the lifts again. The men finally push her away and walk off in disgust apparently. Again, confusion. Why did they walk off and why did Sarah decide she'd had enough of the men and why did she seem happy to be lifted by them when she wasnt really?

Did they walk off because they didnt know what the hell she was doing? For me, watching this, I felt the quartet was unresolved on a gut level.  I know that Sarah and her character is made of better stuff than this, and I know that the other dancers are too.  Why was the ending or resolution of this quartet so contrived and half hearted?  Why should the dancing make excuses or be used as a substitute for another reality which is unrevealed and unresolved? 
As if people need an excuse to dance whilst actually feeling something else entirely. 

This apparent chasm or dichotomy between the use of the dancing and the feeling tone beneath by the dancers, or the choreographer, I dont know which, was unresolved and blatant throughout the show. I was left as an audience member to deal with and experience this.
Hence, I suspect, partly the reason for the nausea. 

Next first one, then two, then three women dancers come on and eventually Sarah joins them and we see four perfectly matched heights. How delightful! They dance together and its strong and physical and they are going for it together. What a wonderful moment in the show it is to see all the women dance together.

Then the men enter and stand behind the dancers and put their arms around them from behind and for no apparent reason whatsoever, the four women, with their physicality and gutsy, glorious dancing, struggle vainly for a couple of seconds and then go limp, as if they are patients in a psychiatric unit and the doctors have arrived with their straitjackets. WOW!

Like, who are you kidding Michael?  Try reversing that scenario!! Would you have the guys going quietly limp just because the women quietly walk up to them from behind and put their arms around them? You've got to be joking!  My sense of disbelief of that scene, and the injury to my integtrity marred my desire and ability to witness and be present to the following quartet of the blokes throwing themselves around so athletically.   Which was a shame. The unspoken drama of the previous scene, and the unspoken, unresolved feeling communicated within all of that was HUGE!!! And quietly ignored.

The music was subsequently again applied with a trowel as if that would somehow make it all palatable and OK.  And then the women slowly walk around the edge of the space as the guys dance, looking extraneous and basically, distracting.  Why? 

You choreograph glorious work.  Its so beautiful to watch. There are no reasons for this dancing other than for itself and it is so strong and so generous and so beautifully crafted and executed.  Same with a lot of the other dancing.
These guys are happy doing this. I am happy watching it.

When there are emotional or relational dynamics going on inside of the dancing, the physicality and truth of those dynamics needs to be honoured, revealed, developed, exposed, communicated in the movement. Even if its messy, raw, shocking or unsophisticated.
To see the dancers' truth as people emerge in those moments. What is real for them?
THAT is the choreography!

I suspect the truth or hidden truth is left for the audience, or me in this case, to somehow feel and make sense of.  However, in my opinion, dancing and movement cannot be used in this way any longer.  Transparent truth is what makes me feel as if my presence is wanted there.
Physical and emotional truth. This is what I take away with me into my life, to my seven year old son, to my world. 

To pare things away and reveal what lies beneath the complexity that obscures my ability to witness what is before me. To see honest, open, vulnerable and truthful humans dancing from a place within themselves that is real.  And if they dont know what that is, let that be seen too and let us feel as if we have a relationship to that person on the stage.

Which means the dancers themselves need to be honest about what is happening for them on a moment by moment basis.  If they are to be part of the composition of this piece, which they clearly are, they need to be honest about their feelings about their dancing, why they are dancing, with whom, the piece itself, the work, what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Not just because they are told to do it by the choreographer, or because they are participating physically in a score created by someone else, or being paid to perform.

The dancers' feelings needs to be accessed and voiced and made as clear and transparent as the choreography because they communicate them every moment anyway, silently and the audience picks them up, equally silently, in their guts. 

The secret world of the dancers feelings about everything was like an unspoken, invisible world. They sometimes spoke quietly and sometimes spoke loudly but they were not incorporated, which meant, for me, the dancing was not always easily digestable.

Id like you to make another version of Tent where the dancers get to follow through with their real responses and their real feelings to each other in their dancing, and to the audience, from the moment they leave the tent.

And see what happens.  

Thank you. 

Ann Hunt October 4th, 2008

Dear Michael,

Thanks for your comments.  In reply, I would like to point out that I actually did not say I thought ‘Tent’ was incoherent. I said it was “not cohesive.” By that I meant that it did not hang together fully as a whole. I presumed that this was because it was a group creation and that perhaps a firmer hand by you was needed as to which sequences were left in and which were removed.

Also, I do not define dance as being “devoid of floor work and close body coupling.” Absolutely not. I totally agree with your comments about human beings and human bodies being inextricably intertwined and never completely free autonomous entities. However, I do not think these ideas were particularly clear on first viewing, which is what the majority of the audience who see the show has.

I think one of the very fine things about contemporary dance is that it can and does convey those ideas. By saying that I would like to see more ‘dance,’ I did not mean that therefore I thought floor work etc. was not dance. Of course it is! I’m sorry if that was what it sounded like. It was a kind of shorthand way of saying that I would prefer to see more variety of choreographic sequences used in this work and in NZ choreography in general. I am tired of seeing so much contemporary NZ dance that seems to be overly preoccupied with ground based and close body work. Much of your previous work has included these elements, as have many other NZ choreographers  - D. Wright for example - and I have greatly admired that work. I would simply like to have seen more variety in the movement used in ‘Tent.’

I also did not mean to imply and do not think I did, that I considered the dancers who perhaps as you say, do not prioritise those features that I would like to have seen more of in Tent, (ie less body contact, less floor work,) are therefore of lesser value. I thought the entire Commotion Company dancers were terrific and said as much in the second paragraph. (“As an ensemble, the company dances supremely well.”)

If I get the opportunity to see ‘Tent’ again, I will certainly take it. It would be interesting to see if your comments made me revise my initial opinion.

Ann Hunt

Kieran October 4th, 2008

Hi Ann, I thoroughly agree with you on most points there. The dancing was wonderful, and I really enjoyed the charged energy and vitality of the piece. The choreography, individual dancers and especially the music were to die for. I loved the edginess of the improvisation, and the blurred lines between preset and improvised dance. The ensemble worked fantastically together in the space: no dancer let the side down, in skill or in energy. The one thing I would fault, being a theatre person at heart, is the piece's general direction and cohesion. Viewed as a collection of disparate memories, I can see the production's ideas working: however for me, TENT set itself up to have some sort of plot or narrative, which was fascinating to me at first, but became frustratingly unintelligible. Dancers seemed to couple up at random, without any particular justification: the complex relationships formed during one section were meaningless when overwritten by different energies in another. When dancers changed costumes, were they supposed to be different people, or the same people at different times? How much time had elapsed between these junctures? It may be that these questions were not meant to be answered, but merely pondered over by the audience. Be that as it may, I think the nature of this piece demands a clearer story. There were so many ideas, which, rather than coming across as a collection of discrete memories, rather passed me by in a blur of "... what's going on now?". TENT is a brilliant display of youthful modern dance: graceful, intense and truly alive. However, from my perspective it set itself up as a piece of theatre as well, which was not so successful. I'm still very glad I went, though – definitely worth seeing!

Janis Claxton October 3rd, 2008

Hello to this reviewer..

mmmm? little 'actual dance' in a Michael Parmenter piece? Do you really believe that is actually possible? I doubt it! I saw a tiny preview of TENT on line & from over here in the UK I can surely see that the work is rich with full-bodied equisite and gutsy dancing .. musical, fully felt, visceral, earthy, sensuous ... Regardless of your opinion of the actual choreography/concept to say that TENT has little  'actual dance' ... wow! ... well I invite you to enjoy the floor, enjoy 'close body coupling' and DANCE!  

michael parmenter October 2nd, 2008

sorry about that interruption...

...and all was revealed to me.  If dancing is defined as being free of the floor and close body contact, then TENT is bound to be incoherent, for it is this very understanding of dance the TENT sets out to challenge.

Everything about TENT is premised on the notion that human beings and human bodies are inextricably intertwinned and never completely free autonomous entities. Your definition of dance, and your praise for the particular dancers you mention, is based on a presumption that dancing is about bodies being free from restrictions so they can perform certain unrestrained and expansive actions. This notion, it seems to me, makes it difficult for you to value and appreciate the extraordinary dancing of those performers who perhaps do not prioritise this feature of dancing but excell in the sensuously interconnected dancing that characterises our nature is interlaced beings. I am saddened that their extraordinary contribution is not recognised.

If a tap dancer were to define dancing as making lots of noise with the feet, then a ballet performance would be particularly incoherent, because it would be void of the very characteristic that such a definition requires. I can understand how TENT would be incoherent from the perspective that close contact with the floor or other bodies does not constitute dancing. TENT however, is premised on the very notion that our engagement with others and the envirnoment is the very heart of dance, not some intruding factor the prevents dancing from appearing.

I am heartened that you recommend the possibility of a repeat viewing, and I would suggest that re-viewed with this expanded understanding of dance in mind, TENT might possibly be the most coherent thing that I have ever created.

many thanks for your helpful comments

kind regards


michael parmenter October 2nd, 2008

Dear Ann,

Many thanks for your comments on TENT.  I am pleased that you found  it both difficult and unnecessary to know what is improvised and what is pre-choreogrpahed, and particularly thrilled that among the sections you noted as highlights, improvization features prominently.

However, I was a little disturbed that you found the work incoherent, until I came upon your comment that "much New Zealand choreography is preoccupied with floor work, close body coupling and little actual dance", and

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