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Dance Review

The New Zealand Dance Company’s Lumina
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By Francesca Horsley
Maidment Theatre, Auckland
19-22 August 2015

True to the definition, Lumina, the new production by The New Zealand Dance Company, was an investigation into light – and dance – in three works that had the audience on their feet at the Auckland premiere.

The first work, The Geography of an Archipelago, by guest choreographer, American Dutch-born Stephen Shropshire was described as a post-colonial exploration of a culture battling domination. Equally, it carried the voice of those at odds with the pull and sway of conformity. On a darkened stage, a hand-held naked light pierced the darkness as three dancers moved to ancient rhythms and beat of indigenous drums in a soundscore by Chris O’Connor. The enveloping darkness and soft, repetitive pattern and gesture yielded an intimacy as if they were performing on a beach, or village. Fan-like fingers splayed like ornaments from the dancers’ bodies.

An insistent pressure to conform created disorientated jagged lines, with hands blocking mouths, the fan motif twisted and broken. The solo by Xin Ji impressed with his jagged lines and slicing arcs. Fragments of connection to the past were slowly restored, culminating in the quiet, insistent rhythm of the original once more.

Light created an ‘out of body’ experience in Louise Potiki Bryant’s In Transit with its exploration of the mysterious staging post between life and death. Rather than a void it was an active stage of characters and representations. Lucy Lynch was a whirling divided self, juxtaposed between two worlds. Set designer Kasia Pol’s striking set of frames covered with translucent gauze caught images from an extraordinary audio video by Paddy Free. Spectral traces of the dancers, then a guard of iridescent figures, beloved tipuna, which gave way to a forest of ghostly trees, tilting and multiplying.

Carl Tolentino and Chrissy Kokiri performed a beautiful duet which softly earthed the work. A wrapping, weighted movement of embrace saw them almost merge into one other. This was followed by an equally impressive duet by Tupua Tigafua and Tolentino centred on the hongi, breath and essence shared in a beautiful exchange, as their worlds connected and yielded.

The final work, Malia Johnston’s Brouhaha set to Eden Mulholland’s charismatic score, was a tour de force of dance, music and light.

An abstract, sophisticated work, it gathered momentum in an exuberant ball of energy. The dancers flagged frantic semaphore messages – erratic arm waving, reflex jerks, off-angle jumps and arm and leg flips, accompanied by broken lines of light which darted across the stage. Johnston is a genius at composition, producing a play board of characters searching and reaching out, each dancer occupying a separate space in a moving kaleidoscope.

Rowan Pierce’s AV design sent an insistent, aggressive force of light and spatial tension which played across the stage, outlining or slicing the space, at times partnering the dancers’ movement, then overwhelming them in a light storm. As the dancers gathered momentum, an extended sequence of unison aerobic movement of running, bouncing, falls and sit-ups wowed the audience. And then as if attempting to defy gravity, two dancers were held aloft, seemingly riding a twisting, rolling airwave.

Lumina revealed a depth of talent in every aspect of the production, with lighting, costumes and production matching the virtuosity of the dance works. New dancers have joined the company, and two of NZ’s most accomplished and seasoned choreographers showcased their mastery.