The Story Of Stuff

Concert Chamber - Town Hall, THE EDGE, Auckland

01/10/2008 - 04/10/2008

Tempo Dance Festival 2008

Production Details

"The driving force of modern industrial civilisation has been individual material gain which is accepted as legitimate and even praise-worthy on the grounds that private vices yield public benefits in the classic modulation. It has been understood, very well, that society based on this principle will destroy itself in time" Noam Chomsky

Cementing its outstanding reputation for fusing virtuoso performances with cutting edge social commentary, award-winning dance company BackLit Productions launches its latest work The Story of Stuff as part of Tempo – New Zealand Festival of Dance, performing October 1st-4th at The Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, THE EDGE®.

BackLit Productions is a vibrant contemporary New Zealand dance company formed in 2006. With works that are diverse, stimulating, humorous and at times dark, BackLit are at the forefront of innovative dance in New Zealand.

Inspired by Noam Chomsky’s eminent lecture of the same name, The Story of Stuff sees eight female performers capture space and time, luring audiences into an extravagant territory where consumerism reigns supreme.

Be drawn into this opulent terrain where eccentric characters roam through travelling doors and illusory mirrors. Caught in a haze of uncontrollable consumption, they are oblivious to the destruction that looms.

Can the inhabitants pull back from the precipice or will consumerism continue to rule? The Story of Stuff is told on multiple levels where energetic contemporary dance combines with intricately designed costumes and an eclectic mix of locally crafted music.

BackLit co-founder and director of The Story of Stuff, Rosey Feltham says this new work is an extension of The Leaning Tower of Penchant – the company’s 2007 Tempo offering that won it its second coveted ‘Spirit of the Festival’ award and its first ‘Best Production for Emerging Artists’ award.

"Through the development of our last show it became evident that most people’s penchants are for material possessions. Looking at what this means in a global context led us to research consumerism as a destructive force. In this show we hope to explore this idea as we entertain our audiences – hopefully inspiring them to reflect on the rich ideas within," says Rosey.

The Story of Stuff is danced and choreographed by Colette Arnold, Georgie Goater, Annabel Harrison, Mandy Leckie, Lucy Miles, Shannon Mutu and Janine Parkes. The use of scaffolding, moving doors, suspended mirrors and bands of silk fabric allow the dancers to move within unusual spaces, forming an energetic, mesmerizing and multi-level atmosphere.

Hip Hop producer and audio engineer Amin Payne is on board as musical director and technician, and will be mixing live to create an original soundscape. The lighting design is by BackLit’s own company technician, Ambrose!

Some sections vivid but dramaturgy needed

Review by Raewyn Whyte 07th Oct 2008

At the Concert Chamber, in their third production to date, BackLit Productions took on the heady issues of consumerism in an ambitious work The Story of Stuff, with an ambient-hip soundscape produced and mixed live by Amin Payne.

A series of vignettes established the theme and implied a series of questions about the ways our personal choices are influenced. Some sections were vividly communicative – Pandora’s box was opened, and later closed regardless of what had been let loose. [More]
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Talent rich, determination fierce but momentum diluted

Review by Celine Sumic 02nd Oct 2008

Backlit Productions, a young ensemble of eight dancers, is back at Tempo this year with a work ambitiously embracing the intersection of media and self in a global context. 

The Story of Stuff builds on the theme of previous work The Tower of Penchant, and opens with a reversal of the traditional hierarchy of audience and performer.  Herded to centre stage instead of our seats on entering the theatre, the challenge to my expectation of comfort and passive position is compounded by the pulsing sound and swirls of light that intersperse the darkness, insistent and heavy, as I began to wonder if I might not get out alive…  I am small and still standing on the stage as my eyes are drawn upwards to the commanding entrance of a flock of scathing sirens lead by Shannon Mutu. 

Once the balcony number is over I am finally ushered, freshly trampled by the hyper-sexuality-turned-ugly that characterises the current era, to a seat at centre back of the theatre and sink thankfully out of sight.

Backlit’s established policy of a collaborative choreographic process is clearly evident in The Story of Stuff as we are led across an unstable terrain of myopic blindness; you and I – and I – and I – are only visible from behind, mirrored, we turn – again – and again – we are getting dressed and it is urgent, this state of stuffedness.  We are covered in it, like slurry, suffocated such that we are no longer recognisable; no longer human beings.  De-formed, we have become one with the blended belongings that we can no longer even see…  

This message, emphatically delivered by the alternating vignettes within The Story of Stuff, bridges big issues which are supported by the powerful soundscape of hip-hop producer and audio engineer Amin Payne.  Visually located in the performance to one side of the stage, Payne’s live-mix contribution to the dynamic of this work is not to be underestimated.  At times oppressive, at others beauteous fair, his coursing shifts of sonic colour and urgent, vortex-like take on the strangle-hold of capitalist greed transport this work.

While there is much interesting movement vocabulary and significant talent evident within this show, the work lacks the degree of impact I had expected, with critical opportunities offered by transitional moments between discrete sections of the work lost.  A diluted momentum results, reducing the dramatic appeal, as do aspects of the lighting and the occasional misfit of event.  I would assign the Evers-Swindell reference to this category, seeming out of sync with the balance of the work and eating into the energy of more expressive sections of the performance.  The dancing dog doll restores my joy however, as does the mimed reeling-in of stray consumers, again brilliantly supported by Payne’s sound. 

Architecturally the space holds much potential which is enthusiastically tackled by the use of levels within the work.  The slow pied-piper conclusion is beautiful and a good example of Backlit’s thoughtful use of stage space.  On a critical level, aspects of the foreground-background relationship and the use of perspectival depth could be maximised to greater dramatic advantage within the set design, and the scaffold tower possibly better utilised if moved to a more central position on the set. 

I would suggest this is a transitional work for Backlit, situated somewhere between the vignettes of earlier work and the solid choreographic gems of the company’s future.  The ideas are there, the talent rich and the determination fierce.  This makes the current moment of growth in Backlit’s history a great opportunity for some supportive direction from established industry professionals. 

I anticipate a revised version of this work within which the discrete sections of the show are brought into a compelling whole and I look forward to following Backlit’s future with The Story of Stuff.


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