Light. Illumination. Space. Image. Movement – These are the elements “concealed and revealed” in New Zealand Dance Company’s latest season, Lumina, an international co-production with the prestigious Holland Dance Festival.
Lumina is now touring the smaller New Zealand centres after successful presentations in Germany and The Hague, and it is wonderful to have such high calibre work coming to the regions. The New Plymouth audience did not disappoint, with a great turnout, and a definite buzz in the air as the lights came down.
Lumina comprises three works by three artistic teams. It is the company’s first international co-production, as well as their first international commission of an original work.
The first piece is ‘Geography of an Archipelago’ by American/Dutch choreographer Stephen Shropshire. As the house lights go down, a solitary force with a lamp rises to reveal three performers, slowly growing in a tribal, tai-chi-esque unison as they are circled and enclosed by this force. The stage is a dim, genesis space of angular light and shapes. On the periphery, in the murk, is a solitary musician adding primitive percussion to the evolving score, enticing and interacting subtly with the three figures. Stephen Shropshire’s choreography evokes creation, as well as oppression – the individual here never fully forms, seemingly because of oppressive forces. The figures attempt individuality, but they continually return to togetherness in one way or another. Chris O’Connor’s composition creates a brooding crescendo that transitions into Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to interesting contrasting effect.
‘In Transit’, choreographed and composed respectively by collaborators Louise Potiki Bryant and Paddy Free, introduces more complex staging ideas and a longer, more layered work, conjuring many different states of individual transition. The idea of enclosure is quite literal in this work, with the use of moveable screens to create different limitations to the space. The very effective use of bamboos/sticks creates burden, restriction, oppression and an evolving sense of strength. This was most powerful in the image of a man’s death transforming to a tree, and the final image of the man moving slowly through the space, while his literal burden becomes heavier and heavier and harder to balance. It is quite something.
There are many contrasting segments to this work, some of which I found clearer than others, but as a whole, it left a strong impression as a cohesive piece. The use of projection is introduced successfully on a very minimal ‘European’ aesthetic, and conjures abstract images of bodies, organ-like in places (anatomy is one of the definitions of the word Lumina). In other parts, the stick, grass, and bamboo projections reminded me of local artist Len Lye. ‘In Transit’ used a variety of tribal-influenced movement and music, much of which was identifiably Pacific, giving it a beautiful, lyrical, and local flavour. Two male dancers moving connected in a hongi was particularly moving.
Despite the strength of all three works, the highlight for me was the frenzy of sound, image and movement that is ‘Brouhaha‘ by choreographer Malia Johnston, musician Eden Mulholland and AV artist Rowan Pierce. It is in this work that the company’s elements for the show fully interact, divine and divide. The play between performers, projection and score is abstract magic, simple yet refined. The angle of a line or a strip or shaft of light comments differently on the choreography, and the performers play with projections, shadow, and light, as a part of the physical choreography itself.
Taking a sole violin, a sole dancer and a sole line into a thumping drum and bass/trance track with an almost manic pack of dancers, builds to a confronting moment of ecstasy/madness. The moment of comedy where the exhausted performers drop to the ground is inspired, breaking up the intensity and allowing a new sequence to build. The eel-like movement of a woman restrained by three men, and their play together was quite extraordinary.
All the dancers in the company are brilliant. In the third work, each is so well integrated into the whole, that there are no real ‘standout dancer’ moments. The choreography they serve is what pops, which is a testament to the skill, focus and ensemble.
Dance really is the basic form of human expression, and you can’t help but come away from Lumina reflective, provoked or inspired in some way. It speaks so simply with great skill to our base instincts – in this work to transformation, tribe and technology.