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 right....us. 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
"Encore"
'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

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