On the Other Hand

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

NZSD Choreographic Season 2012
Te Whaea: National Dance & Drama Centre | May 18-26

Let there be no denying: here is a talented, accessible, and vivacious collective of performers.

On the Other Hand is the result of a four-month intensive in which ten young up-and-comings were asked to individually choreograph an original work pertaining to an event or influence of personal significance. The resulting ten pieces are beautifully, technically executed, and balanced with precision and care.

One cannot argue with the expert dancing technique rendered in every cast; they are entrancing and at best inspiring. The performance opens with an exhilarating choreography by Emma Dellabarca (‘Bait’), and whilst I found the subject perhaps a trifle didactic, the work displayed a more powerful exploration of space (performance restricted within areas designated by light sources) and the mechanizations of the body than many of its followers. ‘Façade’ also showed originality through the use of Etta James, juxtaposed against the extended use of synthesized and electronic music, whilst a touching relationship is established in Brydie Colquhoun’s ‘It’s All Fun and Games’.

It is therefore unfortunate not to be able to say the same for the overall production.

A white floor (blackened and streaked by the rubbings of rehearsal) is the playing ground, each corner containing a domestic object: a piano (imagine my glee at an all-white keyboard), a bed, a small square table, and a television accompanied by a wee dresser. Plastered in the omnipotent white, these are only revealed once, and are otherwise left to rest beneath draped sheets. Above, the skies find company in three floating window frames. Both of these prevalent themes I found weighted in style rather than substance; I cannot think why everything necessarily needed to be white (then again, an aesthetic is an aesthetic is an aesthetic), while the dotted items which created a boxed impression of the stage were rarely used, and even then to little effect (a combined fault of design and choreography). Costumes and lighting were varied in colour (justification for the stage itself?), and appeared to gain colour as the sequence progressed. One cannot argue whether this is intentional or not; was each piece created solely of its own accord?

The ten pieces are effortlessly performed one after the other, merging without interruption, creating a single career of many parts. (If you are on the lookout for a specific performance or choreographer, I recommend the programme; no interval renders it difficult to recall just how many pieces you have seen.) For the better part, the movement is fluid, organic, and mesmerising. Biomorphic forms seem to be the flavour of the day, and these dancers are brilliantly arranged—watch out for a thrilling trio descent in ‘Axis Mundi’, certainly one of the most genuine moments of the evening. I must acknowledge, however, that style and convention is much the same in many of the performances, possibly a reflection of the dark subjects explored. The harsh, sharper movements that rapidly appear then dissipate towards the evening’s conclusion were a welcome change in pace.

I would like to see these artists grow in their use of silence in place of music, but mostly in an economy of movement. This relates to choreography, similarly to the use of humour. As in any art form, humour and laughter is a positive experience to encourage in dance if one has the desire to do so, but such attempts that are rendered through techniques of embarrassment and ridicule require in an audience a malicious predisposition to laugh.

Ultimately, the evening as a whole suffered due to continuity—many of the performances resembled each other in music, lighting, staging, and choreography. As independents these choreographers and their casts hold enormous potential; if you have an investment in the future of dance in New Zealand, go.