THE CLEARING

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

19/10/2019 - 19/10/2019

Opera House, Wellington

24/10/2019 - 24/10/2019

Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North

26/10/2019 - 26/10/2019

ASB Waterfront Theatre, 138 Halsey St, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

31/10/2019 - 31/10/2019

TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

02/11/2019 - 02/11/2019

James Hay Theatre, Christchurch

31/07/2019 - 31/07/2019

Nelson Arts Festival 2019

Christchurch Arts Festival 2019

Production Details



From the creative brilliance of Arts Laureate Ross McCormack comes a darkly cinematic new work performed by renowned national dance company, Footnote New Zealand Dance. The Clearing is a dance-theatre work inspired by the mysterious energy that exists within forests, hollows and hills, and the supernatural stories we tell ourselves about these spaces. Set against a compelling score by acclaimed sound designer Jason Wright, the occupants of The Clearing are caught, sheltered and threatened within an otherworldly terrain. Here, in this precarious environment, they wrestle with the elements and with each other.

Like a beautifully shot, indie thriller film, The Clearing overflows with vivid imagery and mesmerising performances.

“An absorbing piece of dance-theatre.” Dr Ian Lochhead, The Press

“Every dancer is beautifully controlled, totally committed, and clearly connected to the piece and to each other.” Kerri Fitzgerald, DANZ

“Footnote…can place this work on the world stage.” Kerri Fitzgerald, DANZ

Please note: Warning: this performance contains smoke, haze and references to hunting.
Parental guidance recommended for children under 13 years old.

NELSON ARTS FESTIVAL
19th October
Theatre Royal

Book Tickets

WELLINGTON
24th October
Wellington Opera House

Book Tickets

PALMERSTON NORTH
26th October
Regent on Broadway

Book Tickets

AUCKLAND
31st October
ASB Waterfront Theatre

Book Tickets

NEW PLYMOUTH
2nd November
TSB Showplace

Book Tickets

South Island Tour – JULY 2019

 

ASHBURTON
20th July
Ashburton Trust Events Centre

QUEENSTOWN
23rd July
Queenstown Memorial Centre

INVERCARGILL
25th July
SIT Centrestage Theatre

OAMARU
28th July
Oamaru Opera HouseCHRISTCHURCH ARTS FESTIVAL

31st July
James Hay Theatre


Dancers: Georgia Beechey-Gradwell, Tyler Carney, Joshua Faleatua, Anu Khapung, Adam Naughton


Performance installation , Dance-theatre , Dance , Contemporary dance ,


1 hour

A perplexing shadow world

Review by Taryn Utiger 03rd Nov 2019

eThe Clearing is many things. It’s perplexing, it’s at times unhinged, it’s eerie and otherworldly, it’s exceedingly interesting, and yet there are moments when its meaning slips through your fingers like sand slipping from a mound. 

The Clearing is a conjuring of Ross McCormack’s and throughout this one-hour work, elements of fantasy and dark fairy tales are woven together with the magic of contemporary dance. 

For McCormack, and for many in his audiences, natural clearings are curious places, embodying the essence of the supernatural and evoking a peacefulness that is peppered with the rise of the hairs on the back of your neck. 

The Clearing takes its viewers through a series of strange events that may happen in these natural spaces, if only we are attuned to the right frequency. A body is unearthed, seemingly birthed from a mysterious mound, chaotic animals fight, a hunter preys on the environment and its inhabitants, and a strange green light nods to a peculiar other world.  

Dancers Georgia Beechy-Gradwell, Tyler Carney, Joshua Faleatua, Adam Naughton and Anu Khapung are mesmerising. They use everything at their disposal to tell this weird and unexpected tale. Speaker stands become wings, a fur coat is a creature, bodies contort and writhe into weapons, and later pulsate with an adrenaline-pumped heartbeat. Each dancer helps to create moments that are beguiling, and images that are frightening. 

Among the most frightening of all is the almost harrowing use of a blank vinyl sheet, covering two dancers. They struggle to break free of this ominous prison, creating a series of striking and horror-filled tableaux. The meaning of this piece isn’t entirely clear, but it calls to mind images of birds struggling against oil spills, and animals fighting to survive in an environment suffering the ill effects of climate change. 

One of the unexpected and yet masterly things about The Clearing it the sound design of Jason Wright. This work is a monument to the power of soundscapes, to the bizarre potential of a microphone on a concrete floor, and to the imagination of a technical team. 

Snippets of recorded voices bookend this work, immediately making you aware of the eerie in-between vibe of this clearing, as well as harking back to some of Pink Floyd’s greatest work. Speakers are turned on their heads, flipped upside down, spun from side to side and carried around the stage. The effect is stunning. It is as if you are indeed walking around an enchanted clearing and hearing noises move, and approach from different angles.  

The Clearing is complex and at times its meaning isn’t always clear, perhaps deliberately so, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps about this perplexing shadow world. A post show Q&A would certainly help for those who wish to have more clarity about the piece. However, there’s also something to be said for a work that leaves you thinking and pondering its meaning.  

The Clearing is many things. It’s beguiling, it’s at times frightening, it’s complex, it’s strange, and it even has moments of being uncomfortable. Most of all it is a gripping and unique piece of art that deserves to be seen. 

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Perplexing, intriguing, ambiguous, unknowable

Review by Chloe Klein 01st Nov 2019

The Clearing, choreographer Ross McCormack writes in the programme, is a space with an underlying sense of the supernatural. How perfect that the Footnote’s Auckland performance lands on Halloween.

The Waterfront Theatre stage is preset: a painted backdrop depicting an autumnal clearing, a performer draped over a mound in the dark, and deliberately placed speakers on tripods shaping an ethereal boundary. The eerie sounds of the clearing start in the bar downstairs and continue into the theatre.

The work opens and closes with tuning- from the natural white noise of rain gradually into another plane of frequency. This tuning seems to continue for the duration of the work as new visions are realised, and new properties of the space are layered, blurring incomprehensibly between parallels before eventually passing out of range again on the other side and distorting back into the heavy closing curtain of rain.

The cast of The Clearing are a well attuned team. Georgia Beechey-Gradwell, Tyler Carney, Joshua Faleatua, Anu Khapung, and Adam Naughton each carry their own subtle characters with interests and habits, but these also blur with these shifts in space and energy, they easily fuse together to work as one, melting away again in a moment. The work has standout images that are both haunting and gripping, brought to life through the dynamic execution of the cast. These images include the birthing of Khapung from the mound, a Transformers-like sequence stuck on a loop that builds in complexity each time that gives us a more mythic image of a clearing – the hunter and the creature. A writhing presence under a black leather-look sheet strains for freedom before being absorbed by the mound.

Sound designer/operator and Muscle Mouth contributor Jason Wright’s sound engineering is the highlight of this work, and holds the synergy of the other choreographic elements. The score guides the tension, conflict and release through the work, and pivotal moments of shift, question, and play hinge on sound. The speakers are turned, overturned, cradled, dropped, and muffled. The sliding perceptions of direction and source spark curiosity and engagement in me as an audience member as I find myself paying attention to how my own body is experiencing the shifts in these moments. All this work is seamless and crisp, despite the complexities that come with directional shifts of sound in a theatre and a travelling microphone that spends most of its time in front of speakers. Ka pai.

Footnote promised the work would be perplexing and it is. I find it difficult to connect to at times and get frustrated by the seeming incoherence in the shifting properties of the space. This is something I often feel in McCormack’s work, where the agency of the performers adhering to the invisible and oscillating rules of a space and set is a common theme. The Clearing is then a space for the unexplained, where unknown things might happen, and where things that happen might not happen again. The Clearing is an intriguing, ambiguous, and unknowable work, and a poignant close for this chapter of Footnote.

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Delivers virtuostic performance

Review by Lyne Pringle 27th Oct 2019

Footnote New Zealand Dance continues to present robust cutting edge contemporary dance theatre with The Clearing.  

Choreographer Ross McCormack, like a toothy medieval alchemist, gnashes at the form with unrelenting and uncompromising ingenuity.

The dancers in the company bring sophisticated creative power to the work. In the seasoned ensemble are Georgia Beechey-Gradwell, Tyler Carney, Joshua Faleatua, Adam Naughton and Anu Khapung. [More]

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Descending to apocalypse

Review by Tania Kopytko 27th Oct 2019

The Clearing is a brilliant piece of movement theatre. Thought provoking and intriguing, it fully invites you to take part in its unfolding journey, drawing you in creatively and intelligently and allowing the audience to bring their own life experiences and thoughts to the work. Everyone will see a slightly different work, as the ambiguity of The Clearing allows you to complete the unfolding performance “movie” with your thoughts.

Choreographer and NZ Arts Foundation Laureate Ross McCormack’s dense movement vocabulary creates an apocalyptic work with tinges of War of the World, Back to the Future or the weighty tomes of HG Wells or Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man. Except, this is the descent of humankind to the sort of world that we seem to be rapidly hurtling towards.

In the programme notes McCormack says “Natural clearings hold an element of fantasy for me. These curious formations fill me with wonder and an underlying sense of the supernatural.” Just like the clearings or sacred places that all our ancestors created and have gathered in since ancient times, in this work we are collectively brought to such as space, the theatre of life, to learn, to confront the progress of humankind. Will we or you be shifted by this collective experience?

The set design by McCormack, is simple and economic – a mound, three speakers on stands and a screen at the back showing a dense forest. The mound, the speakers and their stands all become part of the narrative. Are the speakers alive? Are they people?

The work opens with a body slumped on the mound and a dancer wearing a speaker on his head making muffled sounds. Later the speakers on their stands are moved and when they do the sound created is fascinating – are they talking to us? Is this a world where we cannot tell robot man from real man? Or are we so obsessed with technology that we have lost our human capacity for kindness and love? Or is it just absurdist? The work allows you to think these things or many other stories depending on your imagination and experience.

Many brilliant phrases of group ensemble work and theatrical techniques stand out in the work, such as the birth/creation myth emerging from the mound; the wind-back sequence from creating the gun to an ever growing rolling group; the hunter or explorer with his binoculars, the sci-fi reminiscent human machine, augmented by the metal legs of the speakers.  Poignant is the wild animal sequence and the clever use of the fur coat as the harvested skin and as the domesticated, exploited animal.

This is not pretty but challenging theatre, but it does have lighter moments. However, its strength is that it draws you actively into the work and narrative.

McCormack creates a big picture of the world, any snatches of humanity seem dwarfed by the relentless march of destruction and greed – the rape of the earth perhaps. Human relationships are fragile.  At the end the childlike “will you take me home?”, “can you pick me up?”, seems a naïve and hopeless response to the scale of exploitation and destruction we have seen. It is a salutary reminder of the self-obsessed, narcissism that has become standard human behaviour for so many in our world.

This is the work of a mature and skilled group of artists. The creative team (sound design: Jason Wright; lighting design: Lisa Maule; set design Ross McCormack and the lighting and sound operation: Josh Tucker and Jason Wright),  have worked together strongly in The Clearing, so that sound, lighting and the set are integrated with the narrative. The timing of sound and movement, with no perceivable music score and rhythm count to follow, was impeccable.   The dancers all stood out. Congratulations to Georgia Beechey-Gradwell, Tyler Carney, Joshua Faleatua, Anu Khapung and Adam Naughton. Good luck and much success on your future dance careers as we know that some of you will next be pursuing careers overseas.

We live in a world of climate change, human and animal exploitation, violence and human obsession with communication technology rather than deep human interaction. Yes there are those who care and make their voices heard – but it does seem that the world marches on relentlessly and there are larger forces than the little voices. So where are we going?

These artists and this company have added their voice to the major questions of our time. McCormack’s work opens another opportunity for us to judge how far we have come in all ways and at what cost.

This work is timely. It should be seen more in New Zealand and definitely toured overseas, to add to the current discourse on our world. It has resonance and depth. Thank you Footnote New Zealand Dance.

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Venture into the unknown…

Review by Donna Banicevich Gera 25th Oct 2019

Last night Footnote New Zealand Dance performed their latest work ‘The Clearing’ at the Wellington Opera House. From the moment you pick up the programme, which is a work of art in itself, with concept drawings and a poster, you know you are in for a treat. It is gripping, stylish, and convincing on every level.

The work explores the fantasy of a clearing in the forest, between the trees, by transporting the audience into another dimension. We are privy to being caught between the frequencies, watching characters waking up, being unearthed, and stumbling through a new set of rules.

Ross McCormack, the creator, choreographer and set designer, manages to balance the right amount of intrigue with superb skill, by delivering a performance where one is forced into a shadow world, providing flashing insight into the dark places of our psyche.

Dancers Georgia Beechey-Gradwell, Tyler Carney, Joshua Faleatua, Anu Khapung, and Adam Naughton bring the concept to life by a faultless execution, moving and morphing as one, where we are forced to question what exists, what is true, and what just happened. Their combined physicality is executed with perfect precision.

Nothing is as it seems. Bodies are emerging from a mound of soil to a soundscape of heavy breathing. People are fighting each other, loving each other, emotions crisscrossing through time. Questions are asked:  ‘Are you there? Can you hear me?’ We are made to think.  But the answers are sucked away, disappearing back into the dirt.

I need to know – are we hunting or are we the hunted? What are we searching for? The only thing I know is 70 minutes feels like 5, moments are gone in a heartbeat. Provocative from beginning to end. I’d go to any work with this creator’s name on it.

Venture into the unknown, for in the end the truth will find you.

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Mesmerising and provocative performance

Review by Melanie Stewart 20th Oct 2019

The first thing you notice when entering the theatre is a mound with a body draped over it. The set is simple, a backdrop with the vague outlines of trees, three speakers on tripods and the mound. As we were seated a good fifteen minutes before the start, I spent much of that time watching for the slightest movement from the prone body, but alas, there was none. A remarkable feat of self-control.

With the dimming of the lights, a man enters the stage with a speaker on his head, accompanied by the blurred sound of what appears to be radio broadcast, thus setting the scene for the context of the performance: a group of characters, caught between frequencies, stumbles upon a clearing with its own set of rules.

The characters gradually arrive in various forms, the body on the mound arises and darts around the stage in a very meerkat manner, a woman appears with a somewhat startled air about her and together these two assist another character to emerge through a gap in the mound. These three are joined by two others, one in a fur coat that has its own moment of evolution when it is given teddy bear status 

What follows is a barrage of performance, sometimes unsettling, sometimes frantic, sometimes slow, never boring. The incredibly slick, sharp, frantic choreography done individually, in pairs and in larger groups is mesmerising and the interaction of the characters with their props, fabric, the coat, the tripods, speakers and the microphone is a credit to the absolute precision of the choreography.

The soundscape, designed by Jason Wright uses a mixture of electronic and instrumental music and live sound. It is often jarring which adds to the general feeling of dystopia. It requires intricate timing to align with the dancers and the lighting plot. I would like to know more about the evolution of the performance and the order in which the sound and dance was created.

The three speakers and their three tripods are used in a multitude of ways on stage, culminating in two of the tripods being inserted upside down on the mound, looking a lot like TV aerials… maybe that’s what realigns the frequencies.

The buzz in the foyer after the performance denotes that, enjoyed or not, the performance will be a conversation piece for many in the days to come. Whether or not you want to read anything into this performance is entirely up to the individual audience member. For me it was an opportunity to sit back and watch a genre of contemporary dance rarely seen in our region, admire some imaginative and evocative choreography, and enjoy a great night out.

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A climate of unease

Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 01st Aug 2019

Ross McCormack began his dance career in Rangiora in North Canterbury so it is always a pleasure when he returns to Christchurch with a new work.  The Clearing was choreographed on the five dancers of Footnote Dance Company and, as McCormack made clear in the Q & A session following the performance, the work evolved as a result of a collaborative process with the Footnote dancers and was influenced by the close mutual understanding within the troupe.  The Clearing takes as its starting point the sense of unease and even menace that such spaces, surrounded by forest, can evoke but it was also influenced by the films McCormack has watched over many years and screenings with the dancers formed part of their preparation for the work. McCormack has created an absorbing piece of dance theatre with a loosely defined narrative structure from which every viewer will potentially derive their own meaning.  The work opens with the stage already set with a sandy mound to the left, an open space in the centre and a backdrop of trees receding into the distance.  Speakers on stands also help to define the space.  Initially we see a body draped across the mound and before the show even starts questions arise; is this person asleep, comatose, or even dead?  The climate of unease is established before anything has happened.  This is certainly no Forest of Arden or Athenian wood.

Integral to the production is the sound design of composer Jason Wright, whose blend of natural, instrumental and electronic sounds both drives and supports the unfolding drama.  The speakers themselves take on lives of their own, being placed on the ground or lifted onto their stands, sometimes rotated or cradled in the dancers arms.  Microphones lie on the floor and are occasionally draggled across the surface or dangled off the stage for percussive effect, or used by the dancers for brief monologues. A dancer even appears with a speaker box where his head should be.  Is this a dream world or some other reality? Speaker stands become weapons or, inverted on the mound, skeletal trees.

The clearing is gradually populated; a single figure appears then the prone body jerks into life.  The most dramatic entrance is that of the woman (Anu Khapung) who emerges mysteriously from the side of the mound, as if the earth is giving birth to a fully formed human.  Another woman (Tyler Carney) appears wearing a fur coat that becomes, as the work evolves, a prize to be struggled for, exchanged, and later, reclaimed.  Relationships form and break apart, struggles erupt to be followed by moments of reflective calm.  The space of the clearing can be seen as a metaphor for the world itself, at once a sanctuary and a place under constant threat.  There is little in the way of pure dance but Footnote’s dancers imbue their every movement with meaning.  The softness of the dance floor, representing the spongy leaf litter found in spaces surrounded by trees, also provides a surface that allows for movements that would be reckless on a hard surface.  In one sequence two entwined bodies roll forward from the rear of the space to the front then back again; the movement is repeated with three, then four and ultimately all five dancers.  If they are seeking the intimacy and security provided by joining together as a single entity it does not last.  The Clearing’s final moments are some of its most visceral, as the woman who emerged from the mound is enveloped in a sheet of black, elasticised fabric that is gradually sucked with her into the earth. The rising sound of torrential rain suggests that the clearing itself may also disappear in an apocalyptic deluge.

McCormack’s vision may be bleak but the passion and energy which Footnote bring to the work ensure that it is far from depressing.  At the conclusion a sizable proportion of the audience remained for the Q & A session, chaired by the company’s general manager, Richard Aindow.  What was very clear is the sense of enjoyment that dancers and choreographer shared in creating the work and the truly collaborative nature of bringing it to life.  We were left tantalised however, by McCormack’s playful refusal to reveal the secret of how a dancer could apparently emerge from and disappear into a mound of sand while leaving no visible trace of their passage.  The confident young questioner was promised an explanation after the rest of us had gone.

Footnote’s programme was the first theatre performance to take place in the newly repaired and restored James Hay Theatre, part of the Christchurch Town Hall complex.  While it is wonderful to have this performance space back in use the reconfiguration of the seating to provide an area of flat floor between the stage and tiered seats creates a curious sense of separation between performers and audience.  Increasing use of the space will no doubt enhance the understanding of the possibilities it offers but initial impressions suggest that further adjustments may be required to realise the theatre’s full potential.

The demise of the Body Festival following the Christchurch earthquakes has left a gap in city’s dance calendar which this year’s Arts Festival is helping to fill.  Footnote’s performance is followed by Rodney Bell’s Meremere on August 1st and Atamira Dance Company’s Onepū on August 2nd. Forget about the winter chill and see them while you can.

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