The Hungry Attic

NASDA Theatre, E Block, CPIT, Christchurch

07/10/2010 - 09/10/2010

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

09/03/2010 - 12/03/2010

TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland

29/09/2010 - 01/10/2010

Body Festival 2010

Tempo Dance Festival 2010

Production Details

A place where memories are lost and possessions are left to turn to dust. 

BackLit Productions opens the shutters and sheds light onto a magical world, pitching light against dark and good versus evil.

Let yourself be taken on an excursion of the Basement Theatre in a collaborative dance event that brings you rousing dance, wit and class, a dash of politics and striking imagery.

In March 2010 Award-winning dance company BackLit Productions will present ‘The Hungry Attic’ at the Basement Theatre in Auckland.  

The Hungry Attic is an exploration of light versus dark and attachment versus liberation, expressed in the company’s unique theatrical dance language. ‘The Hungry Attic’ takes the audience on an excursion into the Basement Theatre with surprising use of space. Collaboratively choreographed and danced by eight of the company members this show promises dynamic performance, wit and class and just a dash of politics.

This performance follows on from the company’s acclaimed ‘The Story of Stuff’ (Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, Tempo 2008) and ‘Made-to-Break’ (TAPAC, Tempo 2009) both which dealt with the topic of consumerism.

In ‘The Hungry Attic’ BackLit pare back this topic and take a look at the most basic of human conflicts, the struggle between light and dark, good and evil, and finding the one thing in life that keeps you going. Shafts of light dissect the space as dancers move over and around boxes that crowd the ‘Attic’, rubber bands snapping against their skin. Dancers battle for possession in aggressive duets, fossilized creatures and lost souls inhabit the dark spaces whilst fragmented images of lost memories emerge. 

Having worked together since 2005, Backlit Productions has built a strong stylistic approach to dance with rich costumes, satirical humour and highly technical ensemble work.

Directing ‘The Hungry Attic’ is Shannon Mutu and Janine Parkes.

Janine Parkes says of the process of creating the show: “For ‘The Hungry Attic’ the company has returned to their style of collaborative choreography. This way of working is what excites and inspires the company the most, producing dance material that is altogether more fascinating and challenging for the audience.”

For all lovers of all Contemporary Art, music and dance, this show promises to be at the cutting edge of new arts practice.

The Hungry Attic
9th – 12th March 2010, 8pm
The Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland City
Bookings through:
Tickets: $20/$15

The Hungry Attic is made possible by Arts Alive and Auckland City Council.

tempo 2010

Performance Times: 
Wednesday, 29 September 2010, 7PM
Thursday, 30 September 2010, 8PM
Friday, 1 October 2010, 8PM
Duration: 1 hour

100 Motions Rd, Western Springs
Free Parking and Station Cafe Bar will be open

Adults $25
Concessions $22.50
$1 for online bookings
$4 for phone bookings

Click here to book online
Ph: 09 845 0295
Phone Bookings are open Mon – Fri: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Box Office open 1 hour prior to show  


Why such emphasis on the female form?

Review by val smith 03rd Oct 2010

Backlit Productions were invited to remount their full length dance work The Hungry Attic for Tempo Festival 2010. It was presented at TAPAC over three nights from 29th Sept to 1st Oct and was originally staged at The Basement in March of this year.

The show was made-to-fit The Basement venue, so one of the challenges Backlit was dealing with for this work’s remounting, was the translation of the work from its small, gritty and intimate birthplace, to the clean, expansive breadth of the TAPAC theatre. Whilst I did not see the original production in The Basement, so I can’t compare the differences, I can imagine some of the images in the show working really in that smaller space.

Eloquent descriptions of The Hungry Attic have already been posted in reviews of the March season by Raewyn White [here] and Felicity Molloy [here]. So instead of re-describing the work itself I would like to focus my discussion on how The Hungry Attic might be contributing to a contextualising of Backlit Productions into the ‘New Zealand Contemporary Dance scene’, and issues around representation inherent to this work and to this dance company. 

How might this work in particular be contributing to a definition of Backlit as a company? Before the show started I was curious to know how the company saw themselves, how they describe themselves. I searched the program notes for a mission statement that outlines aims or some sort of defining point for who they are as a dance company.

I wanted to know more about their politics; not satisfied by “a versatile, creative and exciting Company”, I decide to look to the work to find my answers. My first impression, as I walk into the preset image of six reclining female bodies, brings out thoughts around ‘beauty’ and the body. The concept of beauty seems pertinent to this work and in this case I mean a conventional concept of what ‘beauty’ might be. The Hungry Attic does not specifically address commentary on these ideas but, none the less, statements are being made about ‘beauty’ via choices in costuming, casting, and performance content. 

I have seen other Backlit productions and in comparison I really noticed the difference in company casting for The Hungry Attic. The company itself was ‘saying’ something different just by the nature of who was performing. The state in the program notes that some company members have other commitments at this time and so the piece was performed, in this case, by 6 female performers: Annabel Harrison, Mandy Leckie, Lucy Miles, Tracey Purcell, and two new company members and recent Unitec Graduates, Amy Mauvan and Serene Lorimer. I was aware of the absence of Janine Parkes, Shannon Mutu and Georgie Goater, three core and original members of the company.

As performers we convey information about our histories and back stories just by the nature of inhabiting our bodies; our bodies read as political cartographies of our upbringing, our values, and lifestyles. So intentionally or unintentionally, Backlit is sending a lot of information to their audience about their personal politics.

For me, the company casting was not as diverse in personality and unintentional back stories, somehow it seemed homogenised not only by a predominance of long, blond, well kept hair (a superficial note but one that stands out), but with a certain similarity in performance quality also? Backlit is quite obviously composed of a group of youthful female dancers who easily fit into modern ideals of beauty and the body. But is Backlit inadvertently normalising stereotypes around the gendered female body? As irrelevant as this may seem to the discussion of this work, for some, my reading of the piece was certainly coloured by these issues.

The costumes emphasised the shape of the female body, drawing our attention to one characteristic: the breasts. Strangely, whilst we are very aware that we are looking at women, the voice of the work seems to come from, more often than not, a child’s perception of, and existence in, the world of The Hungry Attic.

Why, then, the emphasis on the female form? Here I consider a continuance of a tradition not talked about, that of coupling Contemporary Dance with a romantic vision of a graceful and ‘feminine’ female beauty. 

The show’s subject matter is the ideas, images, and memories conjured by the title. The material is wide-ranging, and lives up to being ‘fragmented images’ and ‘several stories’ interwoven. For me the stories are again predominated by a child’s voice – an innocent and vivid imagination, one that associates with a familiar white middle class culture.

The audience is assumed to identify with the shows content, and judging by the forum after the show, the audience that stayed to talk did seem to ‘get it’. But by the end of the show I am left feeling like mainstream conventions of representation are not being addressed or questioned by the company and that their position of privilege has perhaps not yet been fully self realised. I feel somewhat alienated by the work as if I don’t fit in, or just don’t get it.

I would like to get a more of a sense of Backlit Productions’ specific identity, politics, and see them claim what makes them unique as a Contemporary Dance company. I wonder what it was that originally inspired the forging of this company and what keeps them together now…? In any case I am certainly inspired by their tenacity as a collective company model and look forward to seeing what next steps they make together. 


val smith October 11th, 2010

oh, on the contrary, sexuality is very important in my considerations of this work, but not one that i mentioned in the 'review', i have many thoughts, but oh where to start...? i dare not assume anyones sexual identity, for how complicated we all are, and one never really knows, or at least i don't, about my own sexuality status, it always seems so in flux, but indeed how we choose to represent gender in performance inevitably says so much about sexuality, so i choose to try to address these things, though its so filled with difficulties and misunderstandings, people just see what they see from their own world view in the end, i'd love to have a mini conference around these issues one day...

despite my assumptions re the company's class backgrounds, i still think the content of this show reflects a somewhat white middle class view point, ... but please do disagree with this by all means.

how exciting to have sparked such discussions, hoping for us all to enjoy all of our passionate responses...

Nic Farra October 5th, 2010

 Hi Annabel!

Refugee from the activism of sexualities here, and I appreciate your comments. My point was that the reviewer was making assumptions about the class make up of the company. As she didn't mention sexuality it seemed to me that it was not important to her interpretation. Men and women come in all flavours and to impose a class analysis in the context of your show makes as much sense to me as making one based one sexuality. What does a lesbian 'look' like? Is there a badge that identifies the middle class? Does my pale skin make me less of an African than my ancestors? I am annoyed by critics who see a show and complain because it doesn't match their world view.

Annabel Harrison October 5th, 2010

I am a dancer in the company who is a 'Dyke'. Unfortunately not a sterio-typically easily identifiable one, that in this situation, may have been helpful it seems ;)

Some very interesting observations and comments Val. Not how I think we see ourselves at all, but important for us to consider that that is how we may be viewed/read.

Thanks Annabel

dancedancerevolution October 5th, 2010


Nic Farra October 4th, 2010

 I'm intrigued why a 'child's voice' is necessarily white and middle class. Is this company being taken to task because of their casting? How many dykes are in the company? And would that make a difference?

carrie rae October 4th, 2010

Could you expand on what you mean by 'position of privilege?'  I am most intrigued by this term.

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Sensitive, mystery-filled evening of dance

Review by Felicity Molloy 15th Mar 2010

The Hungry Attic is the latest production for the maturing Auckland based group, Backlit Productions. The Basement Theatre becomes like an attic for their latest collaborative show. Even in the confined space of this tiny theatre their work stands out as a must see event. A programme note “a place where memories are lost” is a perfect description for a sensitive, mystery-filled evening of dance.

As dancers Annabel Harrison, Colette Arnold, Georgie Goater, Janine Parkes, Lucy Miles, Mandy Leckie, Shannon Mutu and Tracey Purcell all deserve mention. They really strike a satisfying chord with my watcher sensibilities. Each dancer brings subtle characteristics to reveal self-narrated movement portraits. From the lithe delicacy of Lucy Miles, Shannon Mutu’s hilarious attempt to fly with cardboard wings, the extreme precision of Tracey Purcell to the generous, calm length of Georgie Goater, every single movement is designed to be seen, every juxtapose of position examined and each scene delivered like a silhouetted contour of feminine grace.

What is great about Backlit is their capacity to leave each other alone, to let each dance section form out of their extended interplay and thereby release the work from familiar dance vocabularies. Although they are costumed similarly, in designs of soft flesh colours tops, white petticoats and bloomers, each dance section allows one then the other dancer to draw fragments of stories from out of their bodies and into the whole. At the same time each body’s difference is signature to the event. In these ways the evening becomes more like physical theatre than the abstract choreographic shapes of contemporary dance.

All but two of the dancers (Mandy Leckie and Tracey Purcell) co-choreographed The Hungry Attic. A range of music selections mixed by Amin Payne exposes an important choreographic allowance that Backlit have made to their interchanges.

As performers, Backlit seem less cluttered, more vibrant, less anxious, more sure. A more developed integration of sequences gives the dancers opportunities to not only flock in their dance space but to advance a strangely taut narrative. As choreographers their penchant for developing discontinuous short acts pitches the dance oddly into a world of generic lonely behaviours.

A nice, early staged add-on was the flicking of flour, like dust from the dancers’ bodies hands, costumes and set. Lighting designed by Ambrose! catches the swift flicker of the dust before it settles and emphasises each turn of bodies in space. This strange, mesmeric quality suspends the moment again and again and I find myself pondering the meaning of “instance”. As much as the title, the stacks of emptied boxes and the muted golden lighting draws the audience into the feeling of the quiet, long-left space of a dark attic, it was in one of their several repetitive flowing sequences I really did feel time was made still.

At the end of the work, sand pours from a bucket, flowing seamlessly like a lick across the dark air and lands as location for the next act. Earthy signatures are part of Janine Parkes’ sensuous vocabulary. Her Butohesque pace and subtle grimaces give the company a strong expressive pathway. This ending scene, beautifully paced and caught in an intense bundling of bodies and green silk skirts, became for me another beginning.

It is not so much in the formation of Backlit’s work; the hooked sections of choreographies and thoughtful concepts, that their ongoing success is assured. It is more in being able to witness their art on so many more levels. I know this company will be seen a thousand times and their choreographies more certainly revealed as the embedded nuances of clever and enduring artists. As I left the theatre, walking into the dense humid darkness of Auckland’s endless summer, I realised how much I look forward to seeing this company again.


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Eminently watchable discoveries

Review by Raewyn Whyte 12th Mar 2010

A chalked skyline steadily expanding across the theatre’s walls leads us from the lobby into the close confines of The Basement Theatre in Backlit Productions’ brand new collaborative experiment, The Hungry Attic

As we follow the chalkline into the theatre, the scritching of the chalk on the walls is echoed by Amin Payne’s ambient mix, along with muffled street sounds and quietly shuffling feet. As we wait for the work to start, the sounds slowly quieten to a meditative background hum. It’s as if we are in church waiting for more formal proceedings to begin.

Across the black floor, seven bodies lie as if sleeping, clad in buff-coloured Shapewear camisoles and white cotton skirts or petticoats or knickerbockers, their skin glowing in the slowly warming light which suffuses the space. The seven women slowly waken, stir, roll and crawl, rise to their feet and begin chalking shapes on the floor and walls. The group’s numbers ebb and flow until three remain, each surrounded by a corona of white dust raised as they fluff up their clothing or strike their bodies. The lighting slowly fades and we become aware of a room beyond them, behind a scrim on the back wall, filled with cardboard boxes and an eighth woman delving into the boxes.

This beautifully flowing series of episodes is followed by another dozen or so thoughtfully structured sections which lead us deeper into the realm of the attic. Along the way we discover what is hidden in the boxes, and get glimpses into the lives of these women. 

The mood for each episode is evocatively set by the ever-morphing soundscore which includes sources ranging from Kode 9 to Alex and Jonsey, Philip Wilkerson to Black Foldy. Lighting by Ambrose! is always sympathetic, combining racked side lights at lower levels and a small amount of top lighting which plays beautifully with chalk dust.

The pace builds and the soundscore becomes a rhythmic, driving force. The box labelled “Things” is raided and provides an array of brightly coloured clothing, rapidly donned. As the work reaches its climax, individual personalities emerge … and intense interactions result, providing rich contrasts to the preceding sections. 

As dancers, the eight women of BackLit form a cohesive ensemble throughout the work, deftly and confidently moving across the floor, securely lifting and supporting one another in partner work, and competently manipulating objects ranging from giant cardboard boxes and tiny toys to glasses of water and handfuls of chalk dust. They flow easily through the solos, duos and trios which are generously scattered throughout the work, and all are eminently watchable. 

Choreographic credit for The Hungry Attic – their third evening-length work and by far the most fully realized to date – is shared by six of the eight BackLit performers. Production and direction are also shared responsibilities, and the group is responsible for their own lighting, design and promotion. This unique model works very well for their team.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Jonathan Hodge March 12th, 2010

This was a fantasitic and compelling show and I'd reccomend it to anyone!

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