Dance Review

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Lumina National Tour
by The New Zealand Dance Company
Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton
6 May 2018

Reviewed by Dr Debbie Bright, Theatreview

Kia ora koutou kātoa!

In a word, stunning! This programme explodes on the senses in sound, light and powerful, exhilarating dance!

We, the audience, are treated to an experience of the work that New Zealand Dance Company in co-production with Holland Dance Festival is currently offering in its 2018 international tour.

Each of the three pieces in this programme, while being uniquely individual, contributes to an overall sense of stunning theatre. We are dazzled by images created by sophisticated use of sound, light, props, moving and interactive images, and dance, in the special context of live theatre.

We are asked questions and, in return, forced to ask our own questions. One of my questions concerns whether there is actually a ‘star’ in this show, even though the dancing is superb. The creativity and expertise of visual, musical, and design artists are also so evident and intrinsic to the performance.

The programme notes are a source of helpful information and food for reflection. Shropshire indicates that he explores themes of dispossession and solitariness of the body as an island, in the contexts of migration, exile, colonisation and those who refuse to “acquiesce to the colonialist narrative”. At times, Shropshire literally shines a light on fragmentation, and the longing of humans to retain their own cultural rhythms, whatever the pressures and upheavals from outside. Choreographer of Aotearoa New Zealand, Potiki Bryant, explores themes of life as a continuous series of transitions, interplay between the mundane and the divine, and the veil between life and death. She achieves this exploration through skillful interactions of moving images, lights and breathing dancing bodies. Johnston, also of Aotearoa New Zealand, explores the textures and interactions of projected images and living, dancing bodies, the tension of inhabiting space between and within, the “battle between discord and harmony”.  The dancers are “filled” with constant movement, seen in whole body jumping, in moving body parts and in implied or hinted internal motion. All are highlighted and contrasted with the constantly moving and changing images of light and projection.  In the two works by New Zealand choreographers, Māori culture is plainly evident in music, images, rituals, chants and dance movement, while the sound of expelled breath creates a recurring connecting force across the evening.

In a programme such as this it is impossible to highlight the performances of any particular dancer(s) because, while Xin Ji shines in the early stages, Chrissie Kokiri, Katie Rudd, Bree Tims, Carl Tolentino and Eddie Elliott, in turn, display similar levels of strength and flexibility, dazzling technique, energy and precision. All slide seamlessly from stillness to subtlety to breath-taking leaps, holds, falls and balances, all the while projecting audience awareness without affectation. We are treated to solos, duets, group formations, unison and contrast, as the choreography develops and morphs throughout each piece. Meanwhile, shapes of lights and images fall and project over, behind, before and around the dancing bodies.

For this programme, Shropshire’s and Potiki Bryant’s works are presented in the first half of the programme, and Johnston’s work follows the interval. For me, this arrangement fits with the somber themes and the sense of grief that I perceive during Shropshire’s and Potiki Bryant’s works, and the high velocity, lighter feeling I experience during Johnston’s piece.  The audience appears excited and astonished by the incredible endurance, speed and precision of the dancers, and begins to applaud the dancers at the end of particularly demanding sequences. The students behind me, who were chattering excitedly and discussing time and Learners’ Licences before the show, have fallen silent.  Three curtain calls and a standing ovation from many are indications of the audience’s appreciation.

After this special event, I retain numerous images: a sense of the primal meets the now, cultures meeting; white light in strips, rectangles, circles, angles, movements…breaking the darkness; booming rhythms and sustains; plaintive cries of human voices, pipes and the taonga puoro; long sticks reminiscent of fishing, taiaha, support, and the search for balance;  dancing white images projected on walls; huge triangles and rectangles; black costuming with occasional grey, white, red; pale, articulate arms, legs, feet and hands, now sharp and angular, now sinuous and fluid; groupings and formations of moving bodies, and the extreme skill, athleticism, energy and virtuosity of the dancers.

Brilliant, amazing…. I run out of superlatives!

Kia ora!

Ngā mihi nui anō ki a koutou katoa!