Underground Renaissance

Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

23/10/2009 - 24/10/2009

Production Details


Dunedin’s contemporary dance group, Dance Lab, is set to premiere it’s season of new work, Underground Renaissance, with the support of the DCC Creative Communities Scheme and the Humanities Department Performing Arts Fund.

Underground Renaissance features the choreography of dance professionals, Ojeya Cruz-Banks (University of Otago, Dance Studies), Lisa Wilkinson (Rasa School of Dance), Jack Gray (Atamira Dance Collective) and Kilda Northcott (Bipeds Productions), with lighting design by award winning Martyn Roberts (University of Otago, Theatre Studies).

In collaboration with Dance Lab performers – Ojeya Cruz-Banks, Hahna Briggs, Olive Moynihan, Hannah Rouse, Tui Clery, Ana Martino, Brittini Walker, Rebekah Wilson, Rachel Willis and Kate Sullivan, and special guest dancers Lisa Wilkinson, Jack Gray, Kilda Northcott, Elle Loui August and Rhona Northcott – this promises to be an excellent night and rare opportunity for local audiences.

Underground Renaissance presents a collage of bold and exquisite dance pieces that explore themes of counterculture, freedom, resistance, cultural diversity and identity. Cruz-Banks says, "this is a performance that explores kinetic expression that embodies the freedom to be who we are below the surface." Indeed, Dance Lab and collaborators have multi-cultural backgrounds and dance practices that inform and shape the choreography to "create hybrid cultural moves."

Early in 2008, Dr Ojeya Cruz-Banks relocated from the US to take up a new post in Dunedin as lecturer on the Dance Studies programme at the University of Otago.  Cruz-Banks is also the current director and mentor of ‘Dance Lab’, which is a dance collective and performance research group founded in 2001 by the Dance Studies programme. While their headquarters are at the School of Physical Education, and many members’ are staff and students, Dance Lab is also a community based practice that blends academic knowledge with an artistic practice that aims to reach beyond the University to the wider New Zealand society.

The artistic goals include the creation of choreographic works that embody diverse cultural perspectives of life; and the hosting of master classes and residencies by guest artists. All dance members contribute to movement composition and to the creative processes. With this regard, Dance Lab provides professional development for emerging dance artists and aims to promote high quality dance performances.

Cruz-Banks research, as dance anthropologist, has lead her to form an ongoing relationship with Auckland-based Atamira Dance Collective (www.atamiradance.co.nz), which subsequently prompted the collaboration with artist, Jack Gray, and his recent choreographic residency with Dance Lab. Producer Karin Reid says, "we’re delighted to have Jack involved in the project. In fact, the calibre of all the artists is extremely high and varied, which lends itself well to the piece and what Dance Lab is all about". Audiences will also be treated to a piece that features Dunedin-based dance icon Kilda Northcott (www.bipeds.co.nz) and her sister, Rhona Northcott, in a rare performance.

The previous Dance Lab season of new work, Crossing Boundaries, was performed to sell out audiences in April 2008 as part of the Dunedin Fringe Festival. However, Cruz-Banks states that, "October is a better time in the year for Dance Lab to premiere new work on a yearly basis, but this would depend on funding and participation".

A conversational-style forum directly follows the performance where the audience will gain insight into the creative process of this performance experience.

Underground Renaissance
Friday 23 and Saturday 24 October 
at the Allen Hall Theatre, cnr Union/Leith Streets.
Ticket prices are $20 (full) / $15 (conc) or Group 6+ $15/$10. 
Cash only on the door. 
Bookings via email: dancelab.otago@gmail.com – state the name, number of tickets & performance day.

Ojeya Cruz-Banks, Hahna Briggs, Olive Moynihan, Hannah Rouse, Tui Clery, Ana Martino, Brittini Walker, Rebekah Wilson, Rachel Willis and Kate Sullivan

Special guest dancers:
Lisa Wilkinson, Jack Gray, Kilda Northcott, Elle Loui August and Rhona Northcott

Lighting design by Martyn Roberts

Wither dance arts in the stadium’s shadow?

Review by 25th Oct 2009

Underground Renaissance is a ‘mix match’ of opportunity. A sellout crowd responded to the call to come and watch new work from choreographers and dancers who put together works of their own selection with a running theme of – well what? The programme reads diversity and surprise but there was not much that was startling and the diversity was seen simply in the delicate hand and feet gestures of the movements. I became thoughtful quite quickly as I watched.

Underground Renaissance is an early Dance Lab adventure for University of Otago’s Dr. Ojey Cruz Banks. Sensual, clean and sparkly gestures that relate to African themes of growth and harmony become explicit reminders of universities’ intercultural spaces. She herself evokes strands of energy as she dances, but choreographically much still needs to be done. Each of her works: Bottom of the Ocean, Resurgence and Mother Tongue had recurrent spatial intersections and steps that made me wonder why they were not labelled as part of a same work. Dance costuming of frocks over dance pants never gave the dancers the movement freedom to explore her vocabulary or world. Her eclectic selection of recorded music artists undermined the potential for her emerging choreographic voice.

An equally sensuous and delicate performance by Jack Gray and Elle Loui August in Unearthing the Hopeful rendered the evening’s content to a kind of sadness that artists in this city are lost in the pathetic tribulations of artistic support networks. Music by Tamara Waipara and Charlotte 90 drew my attention back into her flawless detail for fleeting moments. August is a dancer fully deserving more light and exposure.

A different choreographer, Lisa Wilkinson danced in Cruz Banks’ first work, co-devised another (Evolve by Wavering) and choreographed Odette – Be Still and Know. Wilkinson is a well known dance name in Dunedin and a gorgeous dancer. Her work is creative and interesting yet she remains reluctant to engage with the interpretations of symbols. Indian hand gestures concealed the sensitive explanations her dance bodies’ shapes demand.

My question as the evening progressed is: What is going to happen to Kilda Northcott? I walk along a tall tree lined street most days; at one end a vast stadium is growing at an inordinate pace. Not so the career of Northcott. She can be seen in a small university theatre at the other end of that street, performing her heart out in a dance show. Northcott plays a significant part in Dunedin’s rich bohemian culture. Like Hotere, her art surfaces all over the place. Her studio is wherever her body is and in her mature and regal carriage she rises above a dreary conservatism that supports Dunedin’s continuing desire to label itself "of Scottish heritage" (albeit distressingly disturbed by recurrent bucolic occasion!).

The process of making dance as an occasional event has two costs. Dancers like her strip away less able, less sophisticated work and make others seem amateur. As much as the evening displayed some really nice dancing and movement finesse, Northcott – with sister Rhonda in tow, to a large extent simply seen in a black petticoat flaying her arms – is the art piece that reminds us that artists need designated spaces, not just to be seen but to survive.

I am not sure if the stadium developers intend to have a theatre to house Dunedin’s artists – a space for viewing exquisite movement, sensuous impressions and disturbing disconnections – or whether they will think of it as only a simple space drawing spectators in to watch battles between men.
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. 


Jenny Gleeson November 3rd, 2009

“Underground Renaissance” – there’s a clue in the title, which is suggestive of a ‘rebirth’ but from sources that, for the present, are not mainstream. “Underground Renaissance” was simply the next voice to appear from underground. Not all voices are loud, and this was a piece of artwork that was framed in refinement and subtlety, as well as a beguiling piquancy.

Imminently [eminently?-ed]  watchable was Lisa Wilkinson, whose body itself is a walking tapestry of art, and whose deftness of movement, precision and invention defies being ignored. Suave and understated, she earns your attention by at once conserving and restraining movement, then releasing it with self-effacing talented and a passion that charms and beguiles. The lady is royalty.
Kilda Northcott  provided comedy in dance which is always appreciated, all the more so because she elegantly defies the stereotype of age – that she continues to maintain a presence on the dance stage provides a concrete element of accessibility to her audience.
Also of note was how god-damned attractive the corps women were in their dresses – each of which was woven individually around bodies that dared to flout conventions born of 1950’s ballet that all dancers should be thin, period-less waifs. These were real bodies the way god intended them to be – fit and representative. These were dancers we would all like to be, dancing in a way we had not imagined – the ‘ordinary” being extraordinary. More of this will come. Hopefully, anyway. Dunedin did itself very nicely with this piece. Congratulations, and more please.

Nell Guy October 28th, 2009

I think Dance Lab’s focus was more on the fostering and exploring of creativity than the technical excellence you appear to have expected. I also think it’s important to keep in mind that the dancers were students, not necessarily dance students, and that they have been working all year with established artists like Cruz-Banks, Lisa Wilkinson and Jack Gray as part of their learning experience. The honesty and  integrity they showed in their movements was charming, something I think the sold-out audiences both nights can attest to. 


Of course when pairing students with dancers who have been performing all their lives there will be differences in ability and technique. I loved seeing the excitement and joy of the younger dancers with the elegance and stage presence of the older and more experienced dancers and thought it was a charming example of how dancers work together and evolve over time.


Your criticism of Northcott’s supposedly dwindling career is both patronizing and embarassing, and your insitance in focussing on the sadness of hers and Gray’s pieces as metaphors for the Dunedin artistic scene reveal more about your own prejudices than any reality here. 


The costumes were beautiful and complimented the variety of figures equally, the music was excellent and the cultural movements introduced by Cruz-Banks and Wilkinson made it fun and exciting. I was constantly impressed by the range of emotions Cruz-Banks and her dancers were able to portray. 


I may not be a dance connoisseur, but I could see my own meanings in each of the pieces (with or without Wilkinson’s explanation) and was thrilled by the variety of emotions in the dances. It was a privilege to share in the creative process with the Underground Renaissance dancers and I sincerely thank them for their untainted honesty, enthusiasm and committment in their dance. 


Good luck guys, and big ups from Dunedin!

Justine October 26th, 2009

It is interesting that you use this review as a platform to voice your own very subjective opinions on the wider issues of dance in Dunedin (or your hate of the stadium) instead of supporting and celebrating what has been done within Dance Lab. You call it amateur, woop de do - Iv'e got a fact here for you - Dunedin is not Auckland. Let us celebrate this difference. Let us be proud that we could get so many amazing dancers together all with very diverse backgrounds and talents to produce a sellout, well practiced, diverse and professional show! Just because we have less dance performances down here does not mean that they are not professional. 

The Dunedin dance community I'm sure would always love more support but it is 'seen' and it is much more than 'surviving', if anything Underground Renaissance demonstrates such, if not even completely destroys your elitist notion.

I and many others I talked too loved the show. I was uplifted, grounded and happily fluxed - the journey through the choreography was thought provoking and strong, the motifs were meaningful and well embodied. The themes were real and materialised in a way where the constant play between separateness and togetherness was challenged beyond mere opposites. The dancers costumes did not seem to limit them at all, they flowed and looked easy to move in.

Overall, it was a delight and Im convinced that Dance Lab is getting stronger by the year, contemporary dance at its roots.

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