Reviews, News and Commentary

Stage of Being: dance addressing contemporary issues

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Stage of Being

The New Zealand Dance Company

ASB Waterfront Theatre

April 22

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The New Zealand Dance Company’s “Stage of Being” featured two dystopian works in which we encounter worlds where there is displacement, division and oppression.

“LittleBits and AddOns” by choreographer Tupua Tigafua and “Made in Them” by Xiao Chao Wen and Xin Ji  are fine example of dance addressing contemporary issues.

In “LittleBits and AddOns” the dancers are involved in changing and evolving interactions. Figures enter and leave, collect object, remove them, return and rearrange. The dancers by turns perform in a casual manner, robotically or with bird-like characteristics. These purposeful  movements contrasted with some more expressive and expansive movements. The anthropomorphic aspect of the dance seem to have connections with Laura Jean  McKay’s Book “The Animals in that Country” in confronting the notion of  inhabiting the consciousnesses of others. 

The  “birds” dance with avian-like gestures, movement and sounds and at one point provide themselves with hand shimmering plumage.

The various vignettes, each simple in themselves, build a surreal fable or metaphor about the connections between the animal and human worlds. This aspect is also highlighted by various figures who are contained or captured within capes or sacks.

In both these works the soundscape is  a dominant feature exerting a powerful force on both dancers and audience. In “LittleBits and AddOns” composer David Long combined deep sonic sounds, traditional guitar, French baroque music and eloquent silences to great effect.

As well as being animated by the music the dancers responded to a disembodied voice which offered commands and instructions. At a couple of points, the dancers also contemplated the projected image of the “Windows” symbol as though acknowledging another dimension and influence.

“Made in Them” was  a much more dramatic work with a dense, electronic soundscape designed by Benny Jennings. Where “LittleBits and AddOns” began with silence “Made in Them” opened with a dramatic bang accompanied by a huge set of light on a boom which was lowered, redefining the enclosed theatre space.

We are immediately in an otherworldly environment which is further emphasised by the appearance of figures wearing globular black masks like some alien creatures.

The lights continued to flicker through much of the work accompanied by pulsing electronic sounds to which the dancers respond, buffeted, twisting, and weaving with convoluted movements along with frantic gasps of breath.

There was much emphasis on weight and tension, action and reaction, intimacy and distance, the dancers continually in movement. In one sequence two bodies were intertwined in a mix of wrestling and sexual coupling.

There were also many sequences where the black helmeted figures act in a robotic manner, the light reflected on their helmets making them look like overgrown insects. Their taut  marching style and their sharp limb movements were like some form of semaphore signalling and conveyed a sense of aggression and coldness reinforced by regular disembodied announcement to the  “Dear Passenger”.

The two works build on earlier dance works such as “The Rite of Spring”, particularly  the more recent version by Pina Bausch where the emphasis is on the notion of ritual.

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By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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