Wednesday, September 22, 2010

36 words on contemporary dance

"Emerging from 20th century European and American modernist traditions, contemporary dance is a hybrid movement and performance practice concerned with questioning choreographic and performance processes, whilst blending movement languages to generate new aesthetics and philosophical discourses." 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


The next little thing...

At Auckland’s Basement Theatre on the August of the 6th at the 8pm Vitamin S presents “Nest” a shameless multidisciplinary crowd pleaser. Nest is a unique ensemble of 8 people.
Described as the crash test dummies of performance this anomalous batch of performers create a world in which the logical and irrational meet and have a big pash up. It’s a metaphor. Nest is a theatrical event evoking and invoking all the usual words you tend to associate with this kind of thing; Memory, Desire, Dreams, Death, and Memory.   
Deviously deploying a heady spectrum of skills from the realms of music, theatre, and dance the roll call is thus;
The object focussed visual punster John Radford, master of cardboard and woo-er of women.
The volatile tsunami dancing of Julia Milsom, she actually CAN bring down the house
The movement savant Kristian Larsen, he’s like; Brain’s from Thunderbirds meets that liquid terminator dude from that Terminator movie.  
The hypnotistical concentration densities of musical samurai John Bell. Try distracting him, just try.
On guitar the monosyllabic Paul Buckton, don’t mess with him if you don’t have any calamine lotion - he’s an itch that you can’t scratch.
On electronic sonics, Bonehead. He’s got a laptop, and he often uses it to go on the internet, Skype usually.
From the world of theatre Jo Smith, breaker of hearts the world over. And she just doesn’t care. She doesn’t.
Nimble minded Tahi Mapp Borren, a Jack in the Box of theatrical skill. She has maybe too many R’s and P’s in her name but that doesn’t usually slow her down.
There will be a short 15 minute interval. In the middle. And quite a long one at the end. Cost wise it’s either $10 or $15 dollars, depending. You should come along

Monday, July 12, 2010


Peter Ralston's work has become an inseperable thread in my work as an improviser. Give me a few hour's, I will explain

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Common Language

A common discourse in dance making practices is that improvisation is a process which  evokes  new and innovative movement languages. This can and does happen, but far less frequently than people tend to think. The word “improvisation” is a term that connotes an infinite spectrum of possibility, but the specificity of the words meaning doesn’t touch the sides of the territory it alludes to. Too large and too small, too assumed to be ‘universal’ as its a word that could be applicable to any creative action in any context. But in Western contemporary dance improvisation tends to be regarded as its own genre.

Typically performed improvisations tend to throw up identifiable materials ie; the historical stuff in the dancers bodies. Generally a hodge podge of modernist and post - modernist movement vocabularies informed by the dancers proportions, abilities, tendencies, dynamics, cultural inflections, and behavioural tics under the stress of performing. All that can be recognized, even named. Its possible to see what the dancer has trained in be it breaking, releasing techniques, butoh, ballet, etc.  But what is the collective name of all of that? Those are specific movement languages which are undergoing their own evolution. Improvisation is actually just a dynamic in the blending of those languages with the unfolding events in performance. 

Generalising the performance event by calling it improvisation usually masks it and distracts me from the material itself. At one level I don't actually care if the performers are improvising, I care more about what they are doing and how well they are doing it. When I lead a recent professional development workshop in dance and movement improvisation  the questions through which I focussed the workshop   were:
1. What is the language we are improvising (creating, in the moment, emergent, contingent) ?
2. What is the language in which we are improvising? (that which is already known, learnt, familiar in our bodies) ?

With those questions as the lens for the work I positioned improvisation as the method of making, the compositional paradigm I happen to be most interested in. This helped to remove obsolescent assumptions which, when allowed to remain unaddressed tend to make a lot of improvisations look very similar. 

At the moment my experience is that in order to improvise skilfully, movement languages have to be trained and refined (amongst a very large spectrum of other sub practices).  Otherwise it just ain't jazz

Some recent work with Touch Compass

I'm currently developing a new work with mixed ability dance company Touch Compass. The dancers are directed to improvise with specific skills, shared understandings of composition, time, and character. The core idea for the work will emerge out of further developmental work, including small improvisational performances. 

In these photos: Julia Milsom, Emilia Rubio, Kerryn McMurdo, Alisha McLennan, Daniel King, Jesse Steel, Adus Smith, and yours truly.

Thelonious Monk's notes

On developing a cough

What makes a good dancer? I think there's a cluster of attributes that are not necessarily all skills, some are attributes.

Personally what I go for are dancers with high technical skills and low self esteem, dancers who care more about the choreography than the money (so low pay or none at all). And will tend to want to do anything that I ask them to do in the name of dance or the art form and will make the (my) work look good which is ultimately the outcome. So basically a kind of subservience laced with interesting stage presence.

I have a tendency to work with very good looking people from other countries as it 'spices' up the work, A strong classical ballet training is actually essential even though I am constantly departing from it in the name of contemporary innovation, but any dancer who doesn't have it is just dreaming! Of course its best if the classically based dancers have one or two other minor secondary skills such as being expertly competent and /or brilliant at singing, acting, acro balance / acrobatics / tissue / aerial work, contact improvisation, at least 4 name brand contemporary dance techniques (such as Cunningham, Cage, or Babooshka), Salsa or any other generic Latino type partnered dancing (Zumba for example), hip hop, breaking, krumping and hip hop, typing and administration skills, some stage managing and production / marketing experience, and of course an interest in 'other' art forms such as painting or dancing.

But mostly I look for a positive attitude and someone who is not racist. I hate racists.

Hope this helps

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Heroes

These four reviews are rule breakers; I have for a long time felt that the idea of writing and publishing reviews about my peers was a personal conflict of interest. However after being consistently dismayed with the general quality of reviewing in New Zealand (Raewyn Whyte and Cat Ruka excepted) I decided to publish a few reviews on yellingmouth. But I now return to my previous position regarding publicly reviewing peers,colleagues, and other artists which goes like this; "nup."

Playing Savage A Dance / Solo Protest by Cat Gwynne Friday 29th May Kenneth Myers Centre 

At the outset let me make this clear; my role as mentor / advisor / friend / supporter to Cat in the making of this work means that this is not so much a review as a personal endorsement. Written as a review. 'Playing Savage' was a solo work that I consider to be significant by dint of its astute conceptual clarity, and its wholesale trashing of cliche and catharsis. It was a powerful politically charged piece of performance art that transcended its makers artistic ego. Instead it succinctly foregrounded the performed image. Those images ultimately called the broader culture out on its own complacency. Yes that's Not the government, not the corporations, but us. Gwynne touched on a fleshy hypersensitive collective unconscious that is lil ol' New Zealand. And I felt it flinch. From Gwynne's program notes - "Playing Savage is a performative ritual that attempts to re-organize, hyper - extend, and subvert some of the ideas, symbols and images that wahine Maori (Maori women) are perceived in relation to. " Gwynne's opening image was of a sexually aggressive seated figurine. Her face made up like a cartoonesque skull, torso naked save for a fake gold neck chain with a chunky dangling gold dollar sign, and a piupiu (traditional skirt). This was a brash and dense image to greet the already intensified crush of a predominantly white audience. It both set the tone for the work and set the barre for an extraordinary hybridisation of thefictitious and the realistic within each of the characters that emerged throughout the performance. This character made her way off the chair and moved on her knees emphasising femininity and precision within a spectrum of 'beautiful dance' postures. Intelligently though in placing herself low to the ground whilst making direct eye contact with her audience Gwynne distorted status, simultaneously undermining herself and confronting the gathered crowd. This continual undermining/confrontation became a signature cycle making the uncomfortable images weirdly palatable. As her character began to eat her own hand in a self cannibalizing gesture to the hyper sexualisation of pop culture Gwynne made her graphic vulnerability opaque. Taking the performance into a kind of 'solo as heroines journey' territory Gwynne made physical pathways through the performative space via stations. Each station had its own objects. Each object with its subsequent discovery along the pathway carried its own dense narrative and triggered a transformation of Gwynne's character. Although predictable as a device this was easily forgivable given the power and heft of her character images, and the content of the work itself.Images such as the washing off of her mask / make up with a sodden Tino Rangatiratanga flag, Or the self sellotaping of a plastic Maori girl doll to Gwyne's mid riff which provoked odious connotations. For me though the most pleasurably jarring image was that of an intimidating leather jacketed (and patched) cigarette smoking solo mother wielding an over sized poi. It was in this character that Gwynne made her naturally powerful presence shine through and spark up the warning lights on the dashboard. The music of Currer Bells (Angeline Churnside, Tim Coster) defragmented thus completed the design of this section. As this character swung her poi in a perpetual warning, the aggressive tone of the gesture was ultimately made futile by its repetition. An empty gesture brokering no mutual agreement as to its meaning, and garnering no sympathy it just died. Gwynne's final image was defused by a slow lighting fade out during which a highly processed version of the John Key victory speech was played. Directly evocative of that moment in the last election when it seemed New Zealand had signed its own political suicide note. Jill Singer wrote in Sydneys Herald Sun "New Zealanders had voted for change...a leap from right to left - with all the enthusiasm and reasoning power of a doped slug." And our resolve was dissolved. Fade to black. Although this all may sound like essay on wholesale hopelessness I came away from the performance with a quiet optimism. This was borne out of the experience that I had just been witness to someone saying something important with depth, humour, skill, and from a deeply informed position. This isn't the part where I say "Kia ora Cat", this is the part where I say
'Carnival Hound' by Maria Dabrowska. The Print Factory Wellington May 2nd 2009 Closing night 

In my (predictably) forthright opinion this show is a technical, theatrical, collaborative, and personal breakthrough for choreographer Maria Dabrowska. Despite being in step with offshore theatrical progressions Carnival Hound is of a lineage that hasn’t really taken hold round these parts. And that’s the anomaly. This is essentially theatre where dance and choreography are the meta language. Despite repeated exposure to adept choreographic sophisticates overseas no one here has been able to convince a New Zealand dance audience that this kind of shit is current, worthwhile, and downright fucking enjoyable. This devised work played in imaginative detritus offering up complex but direct imagery. No single person or genre or idea seems to have taken overall lead in the construction process. The choreography, music, theatre design, dramaturgy, and performance all roamed together on a horizontal plain as a pack with fun and dangerous motives. Deliberate without being cautious, this creative group hasn’t flipped the bird at audience expectations. For example when performer Mariana Rinaldi leaves the stage as part of a solo to confront and lick an audience member there was no transgression of spatial convention - the audience had been inseparably integrated into the theatrical space from the beginning. Anyway it has been implied that maybe Carnival Hound’s crew jumped the shark. Can’t say I agree with that though. When expectations surrounding specific content (built out of marketing and program notes) are jettisoned in favor of actually seeing and listening to the work itself, starting points are more of a point of interest than of direct relevance to what’s in front of us. I don’t care if the word ‘post apocalyptic’ is in the program notes, despite text being used as a useful interface for dance, ultimately programs and marketing are for the tourists. There was a narrative inevitability built into the two female and one male trio that eschewed all of the weighty notions that the show had been built on and subsequently departed from. I got into my own reading that Josh Rutter’s clown prince puppet master of the ‘deep subtle’ character lived alone in a contemporaneous somewhere. In his own personal junkyard he imagined female mannequins coming to life and playing out fragmented duets of displaced violence. Dabrowska’s punky Warholian hyper kinetic doll character found company with cold tongued sexually charismatic Rinaldi, All three performers communicated deftly using an open palette of materials, props, costumes, text, and movement aesthetics. This impressionistic reverie was floated by the masterful theatrical hand/eye coordination of Jo Randerson, and by Eden Mulholland’s sensitive, sonically weighted, and ultra sorted sound composition. Kudos to the designers’ Stu Foster and Piet Asplet for making use of the gruff plasticity and depth of The Print Factory. Lighting was a heavily dealt hand; metallic, foggy, and cold, making use of television ambience and fires. With the exception of the eerily cool floating stage most of the objects were of the found variety; a rubbled pile of plastic body parts, the Orwellian TV face specters, the small fires, and bandaged chairs. Carnival Hound has been dogged (sorry no pun intended) by the gap between its creative berth and its voyage. But that argument is of little consequence. The piece itself is at a point where its artistic development would probably best occur under the pressured conditions of continued performances. That said however it’s not coming to Auckland as advertised. Guess you can’t believe everything you read now can you. 
Kristian Larsen.

'Push'.  Russell Maliphant and Sylvie Guillem. ASB Theatre. Auckland

The Introductory Bit 
On Sunday 26th April around 9pm night at Aucklands ASB Theatre about 2000 or so paying spectators attended a dance performance. At the end of the show they gave a standing ovation and 3 rapturous curtain calls to a pair of dancers. I'd never before seen a New Zealand dance audience do this after a contemporary dance performance and I felt suspicious.
Part 1: The Part Where I Talk About Guillem's 'Technique'. Let me state this up front: Sylvie Guillem is one fuck off dancer. She has the looks and proportions of a supermodel combined with a contortionists range of motion and 110% of the bizzo that makes a great classical dancer. I witnessed an exceptional artist in her forties make very restrained and dignified choices. Occasionally Guillem would turn herself into a Swiss Army knife and her abilities became incomprehensible - almost alienating. But for the most part her expertise was applied to executing tasks that were well within her range. As a performer Guillem was invested but at a relatively low level of risk. Watching Guillem was not a transcendent experience. The demi god like status so frequently assigned to her in the press should be more appropriately recognized as rock star status. Guillem's onstage presence was commanding without being overbearing. However the situation seemed theatrically and aesthetically overplayed. Emphasis on top lighting in both of her solo's turned her face into a mask and her body into a hyper-real, semi-human intrigue-athon. This combined with the music was doing way too much work creating an atmosphere of 'mystique'.
Part 2: The Part Where I Discuss Maliphant's 'Choreography'.
'High end mild' is how I'd summarize Maliphant's aesthetic, 'contemporary dance' for ballet aficionados.With an emphasis on the standing body Maliphant wrote from a generic globalised movement vocabulary. Whilst departing from the classical ballet movement repertoire, this vocab has actually entered the stable of the ballet movement lexicon -bum rolls, handstands, partnering generated from contact improvisation, bits of capoeira, knee spins all performed with well stretched feet. All four of the works; Solo, Shift, Two, and Push, were Maliphant's choreography. Each piece bore consistent signatures; medium paced tempo, and soft body dynamics. The unerringly even tonality of the whole evening was lifted by the consummate skill explicit in the dancing. What drove me mad though was that I couldn't locate anything in the choreography that told me where it was from, not geographically, not culturally, not politically, not socially, not sexually, and not emotionally. The work was safe as houses. It could have been made anywhere. In that respect the choreography seemed to be of a globalised culture, and somehow unilaterally white. 
Part 3: The Bit Where I Talk about the 'Audience'. 
At the beginning of this piece I referred to '2000 or so paying spectators'. The notion of spectator is different that of being a witness. A witness has some degree of responsibility to the situation. In this context however people paid their money and got high on the detail of the performative cuisine. You don't usually take responsibility for what you see when you are busy being exultant. Maliphant's choreography was unchallenging without being completely unstimulating. Guillem's body and cult of personality gave it wings. Beautiful and unchallenging; an effective recipe for popularity anywhere in the developed world. 
Kristian Larsen

Regression Test. by Dave Hall and Joshua Rutter. The Basement. Auckland. 

Performed by Josh Rutter, Dave Hall, and Tim Coster. @ The Basement Theatre last nite.
These three gents pulled off an understated coup with Regression Test. That is to say that the work came over as a flawless and witty understated interaction. What made it even more special was the absence of hackneyed angst, critique of dance, and clichéd self commentary so common in an increasingly feminized, hyper polite, touchy feely form of performance. These guys are making art baby! So remove the dance carrot from your arse and go see this work.
The performance began with Dave Hall standing in solo wearing diapers and holding an umbrella. His proximity to the front row as a pseudo nude caused an immediate tension with the audience but his sustained vulnerability disarmed any sense that he was there to confront. His exit with the umbrella conveyed an implausible sense of fun and set the tone for Josh Rutter to enter.
Rutter began his solo behind the audience and immediately turned on the charm - not an easy thing to when you’re performing something that looks like butoh. Rutter’s movements became like micro lectures, brief but intensely informing. The two opening solo’s served as an introduction to the ship of fools we were to be spending the evening with. After that the party started.
It’s got to be said that both Hall and Rutter used duration and timing cogently all the way throughout the performance, thus allowing the eye to rest on the image. But although the images in Regression Test had a harrowing comedy there was a spookily undetectable dynamic within them. That dynamic acted as an invisible slider that moved the image from amplified banality to hilarity, and then to profundity every fucking time.
Hall pulled off the undetectable transition particularly well in this piece. His skill as an artist in performance has been borne of economy of choice. Hall makes no extraneous movement statements and his concentration is inspiring. His comic timing is on the up and up too and this is where Rutter should be high fived.
Tim Coster’s live music although ever present was sidelined by the visible. Its subtlety was foregrounded only momentarily when Rutter scraped his fingernails along the floor. But Coster’s sonic decisions and deftly observed interplay with the dancers provided a constant elemental swim for the show to lightly occupy.
The dance duo’s sustained depictions were graphic and potent; the woman in the dress blithely greeting everything, the shrieking white faced fool with the amplifier, the manimal in the bucket, the ineffectual head-in-the-sand of the umbrella-ed body corporate, the twittering finger tip and leg beastie thing, the impossibly thin fragility of the fabric of the umbrella intensified by a feeble croucher vainly looking for protection. Through all this the evocation of a thermonuclear future replete with radioactive rain, cosmetically gross jelly, complete unknowingness about what to do about anything, and effete’ madness of the last remaining inhabitants seemed to just sit there to be laughed at. Which is what we did, without anger, without cynicism, and without making it all way too important.
Kristian Larsen

Friday, January 01, 2010

Review ‘Pro - Man Renaissance’.

Performances at Auckland Zoo are part of its marketing engine, A strategy to maintain or boost numbers - not so much bums on searts but eyes on animals. Usually performances are by musicians playing in publicly user friendly zones of the zoo. However the marketing dept at Auckland Zoo have taken a big risk with a very subversive event. Amsterdam based De Laatste Groep van het Werk van de Bank (translation - The Last Bank Work Group) have created something of a performance art coup. Paying homage to and going way beyond Janice Claxtons 'Enclosure 44 - Humans at Edinburgh Zoo' this 48 hour long installation not only evicted  the divisions between animal and human, it also slammed culture and species together with head fucking simplicity. 

De Laatste Groep van het Werk van de Bank is a seven strong group of performers headed by couple / co - directors Femke Bathhuis and Matz Van Doorn. This is a collective of independent artists, a format typical of the networks of European artists that have functioned quite happily outside of the antiquated 'company' model for some time now. This particular constellation seems to have referenced the 90's European dance movement which itself strongly referenced Judson Church. The Judson artists deployed pedestrian movement and heavily deconstructive conceptual frameworks to depart from previous era's of dance. However this group has stayed true to two movement languages that emerged from that time: Contact Improvisation and pedestrian gesture. Those two movement languages were used to construct a vocabulary that connoted a dying culture and species. Although a decidedly conventional  movement pallet, it was deployed with devastating effectiveness. 

Van Doorn and Batthuis have created a kind of cultural anti-statement in response to the age of spectacle. Known around Europe for their politically subversive performances, De Laatste Groep van het Werk van de Bank's new work is an event that is almost too good to be true. Reminiscent of shop front window performances where the performers would live on display for twenty four hours a day, this group have taken that format a step and a half further. Housing themselves in an enclosure called Giraffe Valley at the Auckland Zoo, the colony of seven  humans cohabited an enclosure with relatively benign zebras, giraffes, and ostriches. 

The dancers looked both terrifyingly vulnerable and at the same time discomfortingly 'normal'. They also accomplished a deeply natural sense of disinterest in their surroundings which made their integration into the enclosure almost seamless. Miraculously the animals reciprocate this disinterest and were not intimidated by the presence of the colony in the slightest. They simply wandered around, ate, and did their thing as did the dancers. There were no predators, bar the audience. 

Over the course of a day the dancer's employed an improvisational loop structure that allowed them to navigate a consistent world of material via endless theme and variation. Familiar activities such as gathering and preparing food, sheltering in bivouacs, and walking in meandering choreographic patterns, were blended with contact duets, trios, and even a group unison phrase that consisted entirely of everyday gestures. The members of the group interacted only with each other, never with the animals, and never with the audience. The shifting and confused crowd of onlookers were largely disregarded - eye contact between performer and audience was incidental, even accidental. Occasionally the dancers spoke to each other but it wasn't really possible to discern what they were saying, or even if what they were speaking was a made up language. 

Within this terrain there were elements that seemed so natural that they were easy to overlook. The most obvious being that the performers were naked. To a seasoned punter nudity is de rigeuer, to be expected.  However in this situation the placement of naked humans in an animal enclosure desexualised them, turning the performers into a crude cultural artefact. This played havoc with deeply entrenched notions of packageable entertainement housed in comfortable environs. 'Pro - Man Renaissance' not only subverted the tedium of spectacle that saturates performance across most media, it also reframed human beings as an endangered species to be ogled for entertainment and consumption.

This work was an outrageous social experiment. But polarising the ourageousness was the 'typical' New Zealand muted emotional response. I didn't see parents pulling their children away, rather most adults were either ignoring the performance outright, or just pretending to look at the animals in the enclosure. The strongest reactions were ones of faint embarrassment or discomfort as if some reality tv cameras were present. Which they weren't. 

Call me cynical but I wasn't surprised by this. I was however deeply impressed with the multilayered audacity of the event. I had one question as I moved on to see the kiwi's in their little night house enclosure; if on the one hand a zoo is a place where humans view animals, and a 'zoo' is a metaphor for a place where chaos and unrestrained behaviour takes place; how can an audience remain so complacent or even just socially awkward in the face of imagery that is so spectacularly ironic, confronting, and profoundly questioning? Oh well, I soon lost track of that thought as soon as I saw the ocelots, my oh my they were just too adorable!

PS  this is a fake review of an event that never happened. Largely a creative excursion provoked by Paul McLaney, and by my own wishful thinking for a work I'd like to see in New Zealand but not make.


Things that Move Me Created and performed by Oliver Connew - NZ Fringe - BEOP Studios , Mt Eden, Auckland - 2017 Dear Olive...