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By Kim Buckley
Napier Municipal Theatre, Napier
16 May 2016

The brief Chief Executive and Artistic Director Shona McCullagh gave her commissioned choreographers and collaborators was to “create works that utilised the availability, or absence of light and/or projected media, still or moving.” American born Dutch choreographer Stephen Shropshire, and New Zealand choreographers Louise Potiki Bryant and Malia Johnston each respond with fulfillingly complete and very different works.

Shropshire’s The Geography of an Archipelago explores themes of dispossession and solitariness. Everything is black. The stage. The set. The costumes. There is one light source. There are three dancers plus two others lurking in the shadows.. Watching this work is a provocative and thought-provoking experience for me.

As the work unfolds, I begin to feel uncomfortably disconnected. The dancers work through a period of shifting time in unison, yet are dancing alone. The shapes they make with their bodies unfold and undulate. They are technically precise and glorious to watch. Their limbs from elbows to fingertips and knees to toes glow as if disembodied thanks to Jo Kilgour’s lighting design. Throughout this piece, there are moments of synergy when inside myself I am suddenly put back together and all the pieces fit making sense. Then just as suddenly, the movement breaks me apart again, and I am lost. The set design by Kasia Pol, all haze and dark shadows, puts this work into a distant realm of absurdly vast space where nothing else exists except self. Composer Chris O’Connors soundscape enhances the busy void.

Shropshire states that his intention for this work is ‘a claim for individualism – a topological map of the meandering journey towards oneself.’ In this, I feel he has succeeded in a most unsettling manner. There are deeper themes in this work, ideas of globalisation, the necessity of belonging and the challenge of the non-conformist. I would be interested to see a full-length work come from this.

As I look through Louise Potiki Bryant’s bio on the Arts Foundation website, I am not surprised by what I see. Her brilliant authenticity is acknowledged by the many awards she has received over the years for her work in choreography, contemporary dance and video. In Transit is her latest piece of interdisciplinary creativity. In this piece, Potiki Bryant’s choreography is imbued by the qualities of whakaahua – which literally means to come to form or to transform.”

Throughout the work, the dancers embody and personify Potiki Bryant’s unique style of movement. The twitchy undulations in costume, behind movable screens, holding sticks, standing or moving within Paddy Free’s iconic projections of light and shape. The journey I find myself on is hypnotising and enthralling. My eight year old son is unconsciously mimicking the movements in his seat beside me.

Again and again, I see and feel images of life echoing through space and time. Transitioning through life to death, through life and to death again. Everything forever changing constantly with the idea of our rituals carrying us through these changes whether we recognise them or not: each moment is precious.

Paddy Free is also responsible for the recognisable music and soundscape. His work adds to the beauty of this story and unites the dancers immeasurably. The duets are choreographed with a rolling intensity of again and again and again, asking the audience to give themselves to the moment before the transition that takes to the next moment and transition.

Taste, feel, movement, tone, breath, I will, I won’t, I do I don’t, push me pull you, no no yes, maybe maybe no, cogs in a rolling labyrinth, pieces falling into place, taking their own time. The mark of a person’s presence echoing through time.

Malia Johnston’s Brouhaha is the stunning finale to this programme. Together with her long-time collaborators musician Eden Mulholland and AV designer Rowan Pierce, the manifest strength of this work is three different artists who speak the same language.

The opening light and sound initiates the idea of womb, birth canal, born into light. The movement is a meditation of fluidity, of Johnston’s choreographic quirks and individualism. The opening and closing dialogue of the male duet is excellence in a conversation of equals. It is captivating and intense and my body insists on trying it out on a miniature scale in my seat…and intakes a huge breath when the duet dissolves into something else. Diverse segments of movement are transitioned by bouncing and swaying bodies, light stripes, running, barcodes, sitting groups, breath and percussion.

Mulholland’s score is richly layered and magnificent, full of space and depth and the magic that augments this choreography. The placement of the large and lengthy pyramid that is Kasia Pol’s set design is perfect for this work, giving Pierce’s AV work the ability to dissolve and highlight the seen and unseen.

Once again The New Zealand Dance Company has given us spectacular and remarkable works by some of New Zealand’s most dedicated dance professionals — those who don’t make the effort to see this exceptional company’s newest program are missing out.