THE STATUS OF BEING
16/10/2014 - 16/10/2014
20/10/2014 - 20/10/2014
22/10/2014 - 22/10/2014
24/10/2014 - 25/10/2014
A challenging new full length work from Footnote New Zealand Dance, The Status of Being by Berlin-based New Zealand choreographer Alexa Wilson creates three possibilities for our world in a dance piece presented in three shorter versions. In an effort to question our overall evolution, the pieces are each created to represent the state of our world based upon important events in history, the world today and possibilities for the future. The audience is directed to choose from the three performances which they think is past, present or future, as well as their favourite. In a provocative, satirical and layered approach to the fluctuation of our species, The Status of Being aims to find freedom and compassion in the questioning of power and the value of understanding.
Through confrontation and humour, attention is focussed on the power of choice within ourselves over to how we respond to the world, an awakening of decision-making inherent within our own views, and empowering a sense of responsibility for ourselves and our planet. Ultimately, The Status of Being questions an engineered sense of control: how much choice do we really have in our given systemic choices?
To see a sneak peak of The Status of Being watch the trailer here.
Show time is 7.30pm – Hannah PLayhouse Wellington.
Dancers: Emmanuel Reynaud, Emma dellabarca, Alexandra Ford, Lana Phillips, Kosta Bogoievski
provocation, polemicism, playfulness, physicality
Review by Sam Trubridge 25th Oct 2014
A title like Status of Being, despite its double-entendre, is rather a big catch-all: as ambitious in its scope as calling a work “The Meaning of Life” or “Everything I Have Ever Known”. It suggests a play with hierarchy and a broad existential opus.
The structure of the show presents three sub-titled acts to the audience. Then the dancers invite the audience to dictate the shape of the final act, before promptly doing just what it will. This clearly reflects a provocation provided in the programme notes “How much choice do we really have in our choices?” There is also reference to philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek’s essay on ‘Violence and Terror’ that reveals the dictatorial tendencies of democratic politics.
I am excited about this work. I am excited that Footnote is making it. I am excited about the risks that were taken by the company, by the dancers, and by the choreographer. I believe that art should wrestle with politics like this. We need it more often, because this is stronger and more necessary art than the comforting repetition of the known formulas found more commonly here in New Zealand. Status of Being is a performance that kicks, bites, scratches, and tries to be different.
Choreographer Alexa Wilson is an experienced NZ artist who has never shied from polemic in her work either, moving between the worlds of dance and performance art. Making work in NZ, Europe, and soon Beijing – hers is a varied and dynamic career across various thresholds of art production. However, her work on Status of Being demonstrates a very basic literacy in visual/performance art forms, deferring to clichéd tropes and imagery that are familiar in any second-year students’ attempt at political protest art. A coffin. Roses. Toy guns. A chimpanzee mask. It feels like a 90’s music video.
This aside, it is a bold work, and Wilson is a clever choreographer. From early on it was a pleasure to see her taut lines of dancers marching together and changing direction in a heartbeat. The mostly newly recruited company of Footnote dancers work with the fizzing, electric soundtrack to produce an energetic, spunky, and lively performance. Costa Bogoievski presents some terse, punchy and very athletic movement. Lana Phillips is brilliantly liquid and powerful. And it is fantastic to see Emma Dellabarca really growing with grace and confidence into this company since her debut earlier in the year.
The first act is titled “Everything is in Order”. It introduces various political themes for the work using projected images of famous brands, progressing through line-work to crescendo with a fantastically violent struggling dance that tangles Phillips in flags and throws her across the stage. This ends with an awkward and reflexive interview with the audience, and dancers referring to their (mimed) cell-phones for quotes from online reviews and Youtube comments. Whatever was intended here is really undermined by the mixing of mimed objects with real objects (microphones and a real guitar), which demonstrate a lazy approach to composing a consistent or rigorous stage language for the performance.
The second act “Re: (e)volution” proceeds with a satirical meditation sequence, a fight over books, and some interesting play between movement and spoken word. Here Alexandra Ford’s charismatic and captivating stage presence is really able to come forward. Manu Reynaud also shines for his fantastic delivery of script and his wild staggering characterisations in this show.
The really stand-out sequences occur in the third act when the dancers occupy individual movement spaces on stage, thrashing and dancing freely to the music with wonderful abandon. They collapse from time to time, falling always close enough to catch one another. As this desperate and jubilant sequence develops, the bodies condense, knotting together tighter and tighter, until they form a large embrace. There is something hopeful and incredibly beautiful here when the dancers, the audience, and the choreographer lose themselves in a moment and entertain some possibility that despite all the political angst – there is maybe something that can be done. But of course it must fall apart. So the knot of bodies separates as the dancers begin to tangle and climb on one another, maintaining elaborate conversations as they do. This is Wilson at her very best – weaving her biting irony through dance with consummate wit and brilliant choreography. “A change is as good as a holiday” one dancer intones as they shift around one another, cradling arms, twisting over legs. “Is that sustainable Emma?” one asks of Della Barca as she balances awkwardly on her head and twists around Reynaud’s leg. It is a fantastic conversation as much for its actual scripting as in the terse physical dialogue between the straining bodies that maintain it.
It is the most convincing moment in the evening: a choreography of words-twisted-around-movement that is absolutely seamless, and perhaps reveals Wilson’s greatest talents. This is where I enjoyed the work the most: where it seemed to put aside its attempts to be political or reflexive and occupied a more playful space.
The fourth act proceeds to repeat choreography from earlier sequences, smashing them together at a faster rate, switching roles, stressing the movement regimes that are now familiar to us. Following the audience input, it is a nice comment on the repetitive cycles of political regimes. However, the work remains eternally cynical and unconvinced with everything, including itself. In the end any greater realisation or understanding is lost in this sense of general anomy. Ironically, this produces the same inaction that it critiques, the “revolution without a revolution” that Robespierre describes in the cited chapter by Zizek. The audience clap politely, and seem nonplussed by the mash-up of political affectations that has been paraded in front of it for the last hour or so.
Despite the attempts to make this an edgy, provocative, and different work I am just not sure if it really is all that different. Certainly it draws on the usual pool of provocative actions – nudity, asking the audience for feedback, playing ironically with the word ‘nigger’, and reeling through various political concerns in a big current events montage. But despite all of its contrariness, controversy, and polemic – it seems rather forced, and underneath it all a superficial work with lots of angst but little to say. Yet, within the third act there seems to be a strong voice taking form: one that can intertwine powerful movement with biting satire, mixing the meanings of movement with the meanings of words in a powerful dialogue between (1) the ‘pre-verbal’ physical space of movement and dance, and (2) the analytic rationalising space of language. This is a wonderfully political action, and the beginning of the real activism in this work.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Striking, confronting, profound and delightful
Review by Holly Shanahan 23rd Oct 2014
Footnote Dance never disappoint with their profound, contemporary and challenging work. ‘The Status of Being’ is a further departure from previous works, continuing to challenge the line between theatre, dance and performance art in powerful, relevant, and in this case quite delightful, ways.
The work is divided into three parts, of which the audience are asked to make a choice – are these depictions of our society past, present or future? ‘Everything in Order’ begins the show with a startling exploration of corporate control and evolution, to which no one, nor no creature, is safe. A performer with a microphone is leashed by her neck to four dancers moving joyfully with international flags. It is startling symbolism. A tongue in cheek forum to end that section surprises the audience with humour and social comment on our YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and self-reflection obsessed world.
In the second part ‘Re:(e)volution’ frenetic movement gives way to ‘quiet’ meditiation. Footnote always make excellent use of recorded and existing music, and here, the juxtaposition of Rage Against The Machine, and the delivery of each performer’s inner dialogues as they ‘peacefully’ meditate, comments on our perhaps inane efforts to find serenity in chaos and depravity. A sequence of the five performing repetitive symbolic and literal actions, from Jesus, to supermarket workers, to war and drones punching at computers, is a beautiful piece of contemporary choreography.
‘Notes on Love’ takes us to a funeral, through eulogies and efforts to connect, reminders to appreciate what we have. The final sequence of five people moving, writing, clutching and holding each other together moved me immensely.
As we expect the work to end, the performers come out for audience reflection. We are asked to decide, and vote for our favourite piece, and then to make a choice as to whether our choice is ‘us’ past, present or future. Further expanding this, an audience member is asked to choose four memorable moments which are then woven into a final piece ‘The Status of Being’. A showcase of the skill and cohesiveness of thee five dancers and Alexa Wilson’s sometimes beautiful, sometimes shocking choreography.
There are so many moments that stick in the memory, and sections that range delicately from madness to beauty. Each of the dancers brings their own uniqueness to the piece while never feeling that there are individual moments that take away from the whole.
It is important current work that this company are making; work that does not need to be confined in the box we call ‘contemporary dance’. It is theatrical, humorous, beautiful, manic, and strident. With messages that resonate and follow you home. Everyone should make time to see this company and this new work. Let yourself be surprised, swept up, and challenged.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Extreme physicality, active questioning
Review by Dr Debbie Bright 21st Oct 2014
According to the programme notes:
The work creates three possibilities for our world in a dance piece presented in three shorter versions. In an effort to question our overall evolution, the pieces are each created to represent the state of our world based upon important events in history, the world today and possibilities for the future.
The audience is directed to choose from the three performances which they think is past, present or future, as well as their favourite section. In a provocative, satirical and layered approach to the fluctuation of our species, The Status of Being aims to find freedom and compassion in the questioning of power and the value of understanding.
Through confrontation and humor, attention is focussed on the power of choice within ourselves over how we respond to the world, an awakening of decision-making inherent within our own views, and empowering sense of responsibility for ourselves and our planet. Ultimately, The Status of Being questions an engineered sense of control. After all, how much choice do we really have in our choices?
As indicated in the programme, the work is in three sections, but, following these, the dancers present a fourth section that is an interweaving of previous segments, and highlights ideas and responses provided by the audience. In this fourth section, the dancers swap roles.
Music driving, energetic and loud, light flashing, eye-catching: this work grabs my attention right from the start. My expectations are disturbed – this is not going to be a peaceful, feel-good experience. The dancers are dressed in red: a warning? A celebration? Warm-blooded life? Images pile rapidly upon images. The action is often violent and super-human; after all, it is about controlling and violent ideologies, and the often invisible, non-benign power of the institutions, governments and ‘string-pullers’ of our world. The first section, Alles in ordnung, depicts human control and power over puppet humans, forced conformity, at times machine-like, national flags waved, worn and fought over, all despised equally for their inhumanity to man. Having said that, I am currently reading a book by Lyn Smith called Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust and so I couldn’t help but see tattooing of numbers on arms, stripping off of clothes and death in a gas chamber. I suspect that, in a similar way, each audience member experiences particular sections or images in light of her or his particular history and current awarenesses.
My attention is drawn from projected video of propaganda, advertising, and issues of war and child poverty, to driving music and aggressive lyrics, to violent and extreme dance movement, and to spoken commentary, conversation, and ‘reporting’ of often inane and even irrelevant social media feedback concerning the dance. In YouTube fashion, the dancers self-video and commentate, with use of a microphone, and the video is simultaneously projected on the back wall. I, meanwhile, see vulnerability, the trivialization of important moments, and expectations of immediacy, intimacy and voyeurism. Are these more examples of violence against personal privacy?
The dancers work incredibly hard; their physicality is extreme. I wonder how/whether they have learned not to hurt themselves or each other. Words spring to my mind like impressively, extreme, total: impressively articulate bodies, extreme fitness, total commitment to the movement. For me, the strengths brought by each dancer are inextricably interwoven with body shape, length of limb, and the ability of each to dance at high speed and with controlled slowness. Thus, while I enjoy the long-limbed sinewy articulations of Emmanuel Reynard and Emma Dellabarca, I also enjoy Alexandra Ford’s compact speed, strength and versatility, Lana Phillips’ bone-shaking, audience drawing focus and Kosta Bogoievski’s solid centredness and complex articulation of body parts. I see repeated movements taking on different qualities as they are linked differently with other movements. Then the dancers swap roles and each brings new qualities to the same choreography.
Issues of power, violence and control on many levels. The themes of the work continue into verbal interaction between dancers and audience. While I had read the programme notes before the performance, I had not reckoned on literally being asked, on the spot, to make choices, respond and express my views and preferences. But why not? Aren’t these the very points being made in the work and reflected in the programme? In New Zealand, we are not used to having such an active, engaged, on-the-spot verbal involvement in professional stage performance of dance – here, our passivity and expectations are challenged. Yet, in true post-modern style, the dancers offer no judgement of answers, no ‘correcting of miss-interpretations’. There are no right or wrong answers. Each person’s response is received with neutrality and grace, as a view that is valid, relevant, of interest. The time of interaction is bluntly concluded, while each audience member is left to reflect on her or his response to the work, and to continue to ask questions.
I too reflect on the dance work I am witnessing, experiencing and being confronted by. I ask myself a series of questions. Is this violence and questioning of where the world has been, is and could be going, a reflection of what is happening in Europe? Is it happening in New Zealand in various ways? Is this how many people experience their world? New Zealand? Is it the role of dance to expose such things, question, confront? Or is the whole (or part) of the work tongue-in-cheek, a parody, a satire, a cynical view, a sending up of the angst, the stress, the turmoil? My answers to all of the above questions are a cryptic yes and no.
Meanwhile, my lasting images are not of body shapes or stillness or muted colour, but of vibrant, high-energy, violent, in-your-face movement. I continue to reflect, ponder, question, as I dare say I am meant to do.
Thank you, Alexa Wilson. Thank you, Footnote New Zealand Dance.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Review by Bernadette Rae 18th Oct 2014
There is no complacent sitting back comfortably to watch Alexa Wilson’s explosive and challenging choreography The Status of Being, made on the company’s very new quintet of five impressive young dancers: Emma Dellabarca who projects an anchoring calmness in a situation which is never calm; Alexandra Ford, who whips and sizzles like a pocket rocket on speed; intelligent seductress Lana Phillips; cock-a-hoop Emmanuel Reynaud and cuddly Kosta Bogoievski.
For a start, the usual seat settle is deranged by a migraine-inducing light directed into the auditorium and over the following hour the house lights are frequently raised, the audience surveyed and the dancers explode from the stage to become part of the audience or to run the aisles.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Violence, power, choice, control, and love
Review by val smith 17th Oct 2014
Let me say straight up that I don’t feel the need to speak directly to or descriptively about the work in this review. Just to say however that it is powerful, invigorating and it stands up for itself on lots of different levels. It speaks about power, choice, control and violence. All in relation to world politics. Oh, and it speaks about love. In delightful ways. So yeah, it’s got all the necessary elements of a true school Alexa Wilson show. And we, last night’s audience, totally revelled in it. There was a buzzing celebratory vibe in the Q Theatre house. And it was genuinely lovely. So yeah, totally go and see the show.
I’m gonna talk about Alexa’s work with Footnote New Zealand Dance in a way which seems more fitting to me, as someone who thinks a standard model of reviewing performance is at best a confused and nonsensical act of supporting an inequitable entertainment industry, and at worst a harmful, often ignored form of oppression and colonization. Plus we reviewers don’t get paid for what is essentially a service role, which I reckon gives us quite a bit of room to move, eh. However, despite my criticisms about reviewing, here I go anyways.
“Violence is usually the arm of the impotent. I mean at the most elementary level this can be rendered clear, like, imagine a family. Isn’t it true that even if it is painful, if a father hits you, physically, physical violence, there is always something slightly ridiculously impotent about it. A father who is a true authority just looks at you, it is just a threat of violence, threat is enough. But, so again there, but… Against this background I want to state that I’d use the term violence in a more general way. I consciously opted for this more blurred, non-specific way of whatever is experienced as a violent intrusion. Violence measured by some neutral standard. And it is here that my questions and worries begin. If there is a central thesis of the book it is that we focus all too much onto what I call a subjective violence. By this I don’t mean as some people who reviewed my book complained, subjective in the sense of not real, just experience, no, it can be very real, but by subjective violence I mean violence, which is not just anonymous… anonymous like an objective social process, but when you have a clear subject agent who did it. It can be a mob, it can be a single criminal, it can a terrorizing parent, it can be secret police, army, but you know who did it. What interests me is that this kind of violence, subjective violence, is what we read in the media all the time. But what interests me is violence which is invisibly systemic, which goes on, but we don’t even notice it. It’s violence because, what we notice is violence is a disturbance of the established order, but my question is what about violence which has to go on, not so that the normal run of the things is disturbed, but so that things go on like normal, that invisible violence. Here for example…”
In the programme notes that accompany Alexa Wilson’s The Status of Being, she mentions Slavoj Zizek’s book Violence as an inspiration for her work. I use the above bumbling transcription process of Zizek talking on violence https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcX5-o8mVGk as a way of reflecting a little on power, choice and control as themes of Alexa’s new work with the dancers of Footnote New Zealand Dance. Through this transcription process I go back and forth listening to the words and tonal nuances of Zizek and his Slovenian accent and attempting to type this all out somewhat ‘accurately’. I am trying to make sense of Zizek’s thesis on violence in the context of the short excerpt in this youtube clip taken from a longer treatise. I am considering what is it to experience violence or be violent in the context of performativity and more specifically dance performance? And I am reflecting a little on what the methods of practice between Alexa and the dancers might have been in rehearsal.
Do these rehearsal practices relate to how the Footnote dancers look like they are having an enjoyable time performing violent acts upon each other? Is there any relationship between Alexa’s in-studio process and the shifting constructs of power between the performers and the audience that emerge through The Status of Being? Also, what the hell, how about I invoke a question that perhaps has been asked multiple times in the past: is there a kind of violence being enacted upon the audience by Alexa Wilson’s work? Or even this: does the violence being presented on stage act as a kind of smoke screen for a more invisible system of power and control within the context of the theatre and the inherent contemporary dance institutions and ideologies currently circulating through Aotearoa NZ? Woah that was a mouthful, ok, so lets slow down a bit.
Let’s take as an example the question of whether the act of associating particular language or words with Alexa Wilson or her work (insert any other artist’s name here) is a form of violence. ? The term ‘challenging’ I’ve noticed is commonly associated with Alexa Wilson’s work again and again by producers, reviewers and interviewers. Is there violence in the objective naming of her work as ‘challenging’? And what does it mean to say that a work, or an artist, is challenging? Is it that we feel challenged by the work, feel confronted by it as an in-your-face presentational mode? Or are we being challenged intrinsically by the artist to react, or respond to the work in some more activated way (read ‘active’, not ‘passive’ response)?
It seems to me apparent that Alexa is challenging audiences to think a bit deeper about the ways we respond to world events and politics, and to question choices that we make about taking action against perceived injustices in the world. Or to perhaps examine our choices in relation to the perception that we have a choice at all within the context of a capitalist system (under the guise of a democratic state or country). Perhaps this work is playing at igniting a flicker of emotively energized motivation which might lead to us actually DOING something that challenges back the racial, gendered, and other various psychological violences and injustices enacted in the day to day runnings of society. The Status of Being perhaps suggests we take time to reflect on these absurdities and delve a little deeper than the interfaces of social media perhaps enable for us in terms of a political engagement with world events. And then perhaps the work also speaks to how we then head back to our status updates and news feeds to perhaps find ways to substantiate our sense of contribution in the world. It’s all valid though right?
Despite the physical and emotional intensity of such issues which might be taken as personally confronting or challenging, there is a wonderful feeling of festivity and freedom of expression in watching The Status of Being. Its hard hitting provocative statements in the form of actions and images are enacted as scenes of violence, control and oppression in their more overt manifestations, but there is also an undercurrent of more subtle violence taking place between the dancers. This gives the work richness with a layering of polarities – lightness, darkness, love, struggle and the intricacies of socio-political interrelational apathy playing out.
The audience at last night’s show was there to celebrate and enjoy ALEXA WILSON, but notably there was also a force of support for Footnote and its dancers, in particular for about-to-graduate 3rd Year Unitec student and a new member to the company Kosta Bogoievski. As an aside, Kosta was a compelling standout in the show demonstrating an ability to engage with Alexa’s ideas and methods of working with intelligence and commitment. All the audience support for Alexa, Kosta and the other dancers resulted in a rousing eruption of appreciation as the show ended, with a heartfelt standing ovation. It is a moment worth honoring I feel for contemporary dance in NZ to acknowledge an artist such as Alexa Wilson with this opportunity to develop a full length work on Footnote. As a choreographer who has often been side-lined and undervalued as a ‘fringe dweller’ or ‘experimental choreographer’ of the dance and performance scenes in NZ, Alexa’s The Status of Being came alive as a liberating force of potential for dance in this country.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer