When the Poet Dreamed an Angel

Streets of Greytown, Wairarapa

09/11/2013 - 10/11/2013

Kokomai Creative Festival

Production Details

Patrons are invited to come early, around 6 30pm, to the Old Hospital on East Street and view the exhibition that is part of the show.  In essence, the show begins here.  At 7pm, there will be a procession of artworks, performers and patrons down the road to Kuranui College.

Including the procession (from Old Greytown Hospital to Kuranui College Auditorium), the show will run for an hour and three quarters at most.

When the Poet Dreamed an Angel is a dance theatre work set in Greytown, performed by 80 local dancers (in age range from 7 to 72) and joined by 30 local artists and poets.

It tells the moving story of one man caught up in extreme grief and unforgiveness.  It is a homage to the church of creativity, in that this man moves on from the first hard stages of grief and into forgiveness while watching a show (of the same name When the Poet Dreamed an Angel).

Writer, director and chief choreographer, Justine Eldred, says to not expect one kind of perfection, but to expect another.  That perfection lies in the gypsy-like collaboration of locals, some of whom have never danced before.

‘There is a kind of perfection which comes from the raw nature of my dancer’s performances, as we weave a deeply moving story set right here in Greytown.’

Justine has pulled together students from Greytown School and Kuranui College and other surrounding schools, a physiotherapist who just choreographed his first dance, an artist who has found herself dancing off her canvasses, a man who has lived with Parkinsons for 30 years, teachers, librarians, even her Dad, who is back on the dance circuit again since starring in the pantomime of Peter and the Wolf in England in 1948.

Joining her are artists of all ages, photographers of all ages, and poets who will exhibit their work in unusual ways  amongst the cobwebs and peeling paint in the Old Greytown Hospital.

‘The heart and pulse of this show is vibrant and extremely local,’ she says.  ‘The process itself has been so beautiful and challenging to us all.’

The show is being put on with the help of a grant from South Wairarapa Creative Communites and is the tail end of  the kite string that is Kokomai Arts Festival.*

Tickets for the show may be bought online at www.whenthepoetdreamedanangel.eventbrite.co.nz  or at the Greytown Library

Dance ,


Truly momentous community art event

Review by Heidi Holbrook 10th Nov 2013

Justine Eldred’s epic community dance theatre production begins at the old Greytown Hospital where an eclectic collection of angel-themed sculpture, photography, jewllery, writing and paintings is displayed. With its nostalgic wallpaper and grimy floors, this is the perfect backdrop for the opening scene of the performance, with its cast of over 70 people.

Two pieces catch my eye: Nikki McIvor’s striking painting ‘Birds Flew Backwards’, and a humorous poem about an angel who came to a girl’s back garden, called ‘Angel Down’ by Imogen (6) and her mother Julia . A vocal performance or soundscape, along with a programme synopsis would have added to this opening experience.

Costumed cast mingle with the audience as we gather outside the exhibition space. The Director / ‘Summer’ (Eldred) announces that “We don’t need to be professional to be creative, we have a story to tell and dances to do”, and the audience is led down the road to the Kuranui Auditorium.

Once seated, it makes me smile to hear “Oh the lights just went out” from a young audience member, reminding me that we all take away something unique from what is presented to us.

The character Evangeline, performed by Victoria Cassells, has recently died in a car accident, and from her perspective as an angel she introduces us to her family, each of whom are mourning in different ways. The husband (William Levack) is reluctant to share his artist wife’s final painting and blames his wife’s friend Summer for her death.

The opening choreography called ‘Funeral’ is set to Rai Hall’s ‘Its all right’, and is strong visually with interesting choreographic bird motifs woven throughout. William Levack performs an electric, tortured dance, bringing boundless energy as he leaps and darts across the space.

Large ensemble dance pieces dominate the structure of the production. It is refreshing to see different body shapes, ages and mixed abilities taking to the stage and beaming enthusiastically through their performances.  ‘Forgive Me’ features Justine swinging and spinning a young Alexander Walsh, who has Down Syndrome. His delight is unabashed and it is a moment of pure joy and simplicity – a pleasing counterpoint to the epic scenes.

The modern dance partnering of Kevin Boerman and William Levack is another high point. In real life, Kevin has Parkinson’s Disease and needs a wheeled frame to walk. but under Eldred’s direction, the walking frame becomes another dancer, both men utilizing it for balance and propulsion in a range of quirky and imaginative moves that also deliver a huge emotional punch.

The Greytown School Kapahaka group led by Paora Ammunson with its performance of ‘Impossible’ choreographed by Eldred is another highlight, although I struggle with its placement in context to the story.

The moments when prose is delivered give strength to the production, however I feel the story lacks clarity at times, perhaps swamped by too many ideas. For example, I wanted to know more about the individual characters’ journeys in order to emotionally engage with their performances. Overtones of melodrama weaken some moments, such as the death scene.  For me, the literal choreographic interpretation of song lyrics in performances such as ‘Falling Slowly’ by Glen Hansard is distracting, tipping the balance and weakening the form of the dance.

A strong delivery from Giorgia Giorgoni, Jessie-May Cassells, Zoe Levack, Baylee Parr, Annie Barnard, Bethany Laybourn and Rosa Hassall is given in ‘Mean’ by Taylor Swift, choreographed by Jessie-May Cassells and Eldred.

I enjoy the fabulous ensemble work, striking costumes and interesting choreography in the piece, ‘On the Edge of Time’ choreographed by Eldred and performed by Aislinn Norman, Setty Sammons, Tom Laybourn, Danica Kawana, Molly, Bella Goode, Georgia McNeill and Georgia Giorgioni. Many references are made throughout this production to local landmarks and stories with a connection to the local college, making it accessible and relevant to the audience.

There are several glorious performances by two young women who have the voices of angels. Sarah Saunders gives a breathtaking vocal performance of ‘Top of the World’ by the Dixie Chicks and Meg Barnard beautifully performs ‘In the Arms of an Angel’ by Sarah McLachlan. I could listen to these performers all evening.

The story culminates with ‘The exhibition’, a performance also involving the audience. Artists parade through the performance holding their art works from the Greytown Hospital exhibition, thus beautifully linking the exhibition to the performance, though the ‘big reveal’ of Evangeline’s painting seems predictable, with all the clues pointing to it throughout the final scenes.

 ‘When the Poet Dreamed an Angel’ is a huge undertaking, a truly momentous community event and a grand team effort. At times, I forget that I am watching a piece of community-based theatre, such is the professionalism of the performances. But in reminding myself of this fact, I can only be impressed by Justine Eldred’s talent and ability to mobilize and maintain the energy of her extremely large cast through this production. She is Greytown’s Pied Piper with her strong vision, infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy for community theatre.


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