Unitec Graduation Showcase: Contemporary Dance

Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Gillies Avenue (Cnr Silver Road) Epsom, Auckland

24/11/2008 - 27/11/2008

Production Details

A Dance Showcase featuring Unitec’s graduates. A vibrant and dynamic season featuring exciting new works from New Zealand’s finest contemporary choreographers supported by a celebration of exceptional original student works.

Adults:  $20
Unitec Staff:  $15
Unitec Graduate:  $10
All Students:  $10

Victoria Ballard
Emily Campbell
Anna Groves
Amy Maclean
Josephine Searles
Rosalie Van Horik
Jack Zhang 

Artistic Director:  Charene Griggs
Rehearsal Director:  Charles Koroneho
Production Designer:  Brad Gledhill
Costume Design:  Gayle Jackson
Wardrobe Assistant:  Lyn Cottingham
Marketing and Publicity:  Ann Graham 

Captivated by spirited departures

Review by Celine Sumic 27th Nov 2008

The Unitec 2008 Showcase features performance and choreography by the 2008 contemporary dance graduating class, framed by works of four established NZ choreographers. Due to the constraints of time and space this review addresses for the main part the work of the established choreographers Taane Mete, Louise Potiki Bryant, Moana Nepia and Shona McCullagh, with the addition of stand-out student works by Emily Campbell and Jack Zhang.

Fourteen by Taane Mete 
A dance unto itself

Witnessing in movement a changing of the guard, Fourteen signifies a milestone as it announces the moment of release for the 2008 graduating class.

A contained, gravitational solo opens the work, marking space in a turning, extended salute.  This balanced, articulated beginning acts as an invitation for the audience to enter the Showcase as the remaining 13 dancers join the stage in a chameleonic play of integrated movement. 

Taane Mete’s choreographic elasticity and lightness of touch is clearly visible within the work as marking and making ground in a pre-Socratic spin; Fourteen dances place into being. 

Although program notes suggest there is "no deep and meaningful explanation" behind this work,  Mete’s spirited offering is arguably the most iconographically Kiwi of the 2008 Showcase as dancers clad in close-fitting and unadorned black shorts and tops roll, spring and dig their way in a broadly scoping celebration and definition of space.

Singing in the Pain by Louise Potiki Bryant
Dangerous dance theatre  

Self-raising violence belies the fluffy white dresses in this work as curtains open in near darkness to the softly sinister sound of insistent sifters…

A complex layering of movement, image and idea, Singing in the Pain presents a series of dizzying domesticity laced with razor-pitch hysteria.  Potiki Bryant’s intense and consumptive landscape of pretty, virginal pouts screams of the impacted illness of American culture.  Exploding bouquets of rubber gloves suggest a violently sanitised mode of existence, divorced of vision or accountability with dancers shifting between a searing, apparently interchangeable worship of man and thing. 

The status of the male species remains questionable throughout this work as the emblematic ‘star’ is alternately flour-bagged and beaten, or found bouncing across the stage as if mercilessly clipped from some archival footage of Gene Kelly and subsequently basted into the nightmare unfolding before us. 

At the far end of the Deleuzian dissolve, Singing in the Pain presents a surreal amplification of manipulated desire and reflects the nauseating dis-ease of domestic violence.  As the convoluted chaos of the work collapses into the floury floor plane, the question has to arise; what then emanates from this new ground? 

three things white: hands, skin and teeth by Emily Campbell
Feminist fissure

In a notable, invested silence, a single figure divorced from self balances precariously on the edge of a chair … 

In conscious reference to a history of feminist thought, black singlets and broken unison create a compelling, tensional dynamic of solo juxtaposed with trio in Emily Campbell’s three things white.  A fractured pace and halting choreographic vocabulary is clearly reminiscent of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rosas Danst Rosas, with the question of feminine identity further fleshed out by a quote in the program notes from Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth.

Trio and solo, employed for a significant section of this work, amplify and complement Campbell’s consciously expressed ambivalence towards a traditional canon of feminine beauty.  Eventually dissolved and replaced by the suggestion of a reconstituted dynamic of self, I am transfixed by the pathos created by this work as it is searchingly played out to the music Elephant by Damien Rice.

Grope by Jack Zhang
A gripping elemental search

Swift, articulate and beautifully connected movement provides an eloquent vehicle for this timeless work in which dance is cast as a bridge between spirit and material being. 

Crossing cultures with masculine and feminine polarities, Jack Zhang and Pare Randall create an other-worldly heat with their performance in Zhang’s work Grope.  Powerful crafting of dynamic tension, employed with a sculptural sensitivity to the music, echoes of a Chinese cinematic tradition.  Cast to the haunting sounds of El Nacimiento by Livolsi, Zhang’s use of stillness and suspension within the work appears to alternately carve and conjure the stage space.

Apparently frozen for moments in time, the precision Zhang and Randall bring to their performance commands audience attention.  Appearing to contain the air in each moment of this outstanding work, the materialised energy of Zhang’s choreography presents a striking questioning of the shape and perspective we bring to our relationship with the world.

La Valse by Moana Nepia 
Wheel of fortune…

Inspired by Ravel’s music of the same name, Nepia’s La Valse evokes a playful intersection of chance and the cyclical forces of nature.

Opening with a powerful stage-wide circle of floor-bound dancers, Nepia’s human roulette creates a heady sense of the music as dancers rise and fall with its scaling rhythms.  The oscillating sense of magical, light-footed query and contrasting dramatic weight is further reflected in the dancers’ movement as they are played upon and stretched between the imaginary forces of nature.

Dance energies amalgamate as Pan – or Puck? – bewitches in rapid tryst and fracas with dancers’ flying couplings promptly dissolved to reconstitute in yet another form.  An abstract reference to nature is also found in the lighting design, inspired by the colour field paintings of Mark Rothko.

The most balletic of the works in the Showcase, Nepia’s La Valse provides a challenge, demanding precision, speed and expressive articulation in order to inhabit the choreography with the force of the music.  This challenge is admirably taken up by animated and charged dancers as they strive to pre-empt and surf the force of Ravel’s oceanic score.

Those Left by Shona McCullagh
Gothic revival in more ways than one…

As a swaying wall of grey hooded figures pulses ominously upstage, I realise it’s a critical mass in more ways than one as Gorecki’s Quasi una Fantasia draws me hypnotically into Shona McCullagh’s choreographic spell. 

Like a dusty flower caught in a single stream of light cutting through the gothic gloom, Hannah Tusker-Poland peels away and departs for downstage.  As she approaches, something about her jet black hair and the uncensored challenge of her facial expression makes me wonder if Those Left has been created solely for this dangerous and distracting bloom… 

A dark sensuality and macabre movement vocabulary distinguishing Those Left is beautifully accentuated by the partially revealing nature of the costumes in this work.  This effect is complemented by McCullagh’s comic use of time as, with a touch of The Bride of Frankenstein, a ‘gothic revival’ is enacted in a number of ways throughout the work.   

I am much impressed by this choreographic trick of turning things on their head, as well as the collapsed cadavers’ special effect of springing back to life via a playful inversion of the human form, respectively as architectural spire and gothic arch. 

High praise for this captivating, youthful work as it concludes the 2008 Showcase in an unexpected and delightful style.
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