Monday, May 15, 2017


Things that Move Me

Created and performed by Oliver Connew - NZ Fringe - BEOP Studios, Mt Eden, Auckland - 2017

Dear Oliver, when I sat down to write this response the term ‘prodigal son returns’ wandered into my attention-sphere.
This from the internet: The Prodigal Son was a young man who asked his father for his inheritance and then left home for “a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.” As his money ran out, a famine occurred, and he went to work tending pigs, but even then he could not get enough to eat. This idea of tending pigs for inadequate pay during a famine seemed like a grinding contemplation on being an art maker in New Zealand.

I like Oliver. We are friends.
I hope we will remain friends after he has read this. This status of friendship and the subsequent hope that this status remains unchanged are built very much into the writing. These are personal biases. So too is this: a declining personal investment in the general conceit that art making in and of itself is intrinsically important. It ain't. At least not to me. That decline is offset by a personal occasionally satisfied  hunger for live content that is somehow unexplainably ‘good’.

Things that Move Me was performed / danced / spoken with a certain frugality of context.  Oliver was, at the beginning of the piece lying on his side on the white floor in the white space. He wore a grey sweatshirt and sweatpants - perfectly relaxed attire for a semi-formal occasion. There was a white box downstage looking like an art gallery display case.  A water bottle placed deliberately on top commandeered the space with an air of awkwardly deliberate casualness.

There was a screen or a projection or something. This all happened a few months ago so details are sketchy. There was a looping projection of war porn involving aircraft or an aircraft carrier and. I remember thinking that the sound was interesting. There was a part where the performer let his spoken text get drowned out by copyright free music. Oliver improvised movement and I enjoyed the process of watching a human with long limbs get up and down.

Actually maybe he wasn’t improvising. I mean how the fuck am I supposed to even know these days what young people are even doing. These days they’re all doing 'tasks' aren’t they. Everyone’s busy doing some kind of thing whilst paying attention to fuck-knows-what and not telling you what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.
Nobody cares.
No one fucking cares anymore.
They jiggle an arm nonchalantly then they walk around and go stand over there don’t they.
Bloody Europe.

Dear Oliver, I think I fell in love that night for all of 45 minutes but not with you. Can we still be friends?

There were bits of paper on the floor and on audience members seats with written instructions. Before all that there was skipping and it was timed. Timed rope skipping. So Oliver advised us there was a kind of break but it wasn’t a break for us the audience. It was a break for him from memory.

If I sound a bit all over the place its because I’m still even now to this day processing the arabesque that the performer delivered. Oliver has an underplayed facility to perform ballet to a high standard without actually maintaining a practice of it. He does this with the air of a man who has zero smug. The arabesque, like other tropes Oliver was playing with in Things that Move Me, was a live action durational glyph. It anchored the work and distorted time. It was a precision bomb. It shook all other events around it and turned them into memory rubble (NB: When I played back the video he was wobbling. Not important because thats not how I remember it and how I remember it is very fucking important).

There was pronounced sense of sequence in this pristinely designed show. At times it’s architecture jutted forward and eclipsed the content. Or maybe it’s because some of the edges around the content still seem a bit blurred to me. Oliver’s political artistic marksmanship is shaping up nicely. Right now it’ seems he’s lined up on the immediate peripheries around the targets but hasn’t quite zeroed in on what he wants to hit yet. Buckshot or laser sight - I know which one I prefer to use.

There was an audience participation section.It altered my relationship with the show tangibly. In participating the process somehow removed me from the show by placing me and others directly inside of it. All of the audience were invited to pick up the aforementioned notes with written tasks off of the floor, read the tasks, and voluntarily do the tasks in the performance space.

Thats where the piece pivoted for me. Paying no attention to Oliver, lying on the floor talking to another human and falling in love with her for all of 45 minutes. All other events became so peripheral that I don’t know what other audience members were doing or how the work ended. I do know now that Oliver has since returned to Berlin.

Dear Oliver, Sometimes I wonder what it might’ve been like to have grown up pre-consciously fermenting  in the agar another artist's practice. To have had your dreamscape permeated by other potent domineering (?) images. That question looks cynical written down but I don’t mean it that way.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Night at the 'Ballet' - Review of iTMOi

This review was written for Metro magazine however for reasons I'm unable to ascertain they've elected not to publish it. So I'll put it here instead.


                                                               Akram Khan - iTmoi

19th March 2015
Auckland Arts Festival

Originally commissioned in 2013 for the centennial of composer Igor Stravinsky’s seminal Rite of Spring, Akram Khan’s iTmoi (In the Mind of Igor) reaches New Zealand’s theatrical shores a little inauspiciously in 2015. iTmoi is a collaborative work featuring devised materials contributed by the dancers and a sound score composed by Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook, and Ben Frost. Here Khan explores themes such as the birthing of an artistic work, dreams, sexuality, and madness.

Khan’s work arguably occupies the art-as-entertainment end of the performance spectrum but despite being a contemporary dance piece, iTmoi really does resemble a good old fashioned story ballet - period costumes, characters with funny hats and skirts, cavorting duets framed by onlookers, clownish loons, and a sociopathic royal in heavy make up.

Staged in often-diffuse lighting states with a music score offering beautifully timed sonic bombardments, the action was by turns blustering with sustained sequences of ragged military grade group unison, coy with the aforementioned cavorting duets, or maddeningly contained such as in a solo by Catherine Schaub Abkarian. The dancers movement palette in general looked like it was drawn from an eclectic range of influences including Indian Kathak, Slavic folkdance, floor work of a style resembling a Brussels cadre of contemporary dance moves, and butoh imagery.

Opening strongly with a memorable solo, a microphoned dancer making guttural rasping utterances and using rapid hand movements which peppered the dance like gestural emoticons, iTmoi quickly became lumpy in its timing. A duet featuring the black-skirted man seemed to hover its way into meaninglessness as it went on and ultimately lost its way. The dancers pushed at the athleticism with a combination of effortless physicality and dramatic intensity. Sometimes this in and of itself was fulfilling to watch. At other times Khan seemed to have deployed that dynamic so blithely that it became absurd. Such as in the sustained vision of hell scene where a man is tortured by dancers doing cross-fit with ropes under red lighting.

At times superficial elements actually got in the way of flow of the work. A large square frame suspended over the choreography for most of the show was suddenly lowered into an odd sequence of angles, clumsily transforming from itself a relatively utilitarian piece of scenography to a morose unfinished puppet of doubt.

Beautiful and absurd iTmoi became harder for me to appreciate as it went on. Yes there were strong ideas although those ideas were hung together oddly. When it worked it worked well. But iTmois somehow wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Ultimately the cast of dancers revealed a duality of status. In one respect they were gods, masters of movement and ceremony. In another vein they were also just incredibly hardworking underdogs performing feats of skilled labour. It’s hard to know what the audience is enthusiastically applauding when seen that way.

Nonetheless, my lasting impression is that Khan’s work revealed itself as an oddly shaped beast that was very much carried by the alacrity, hard work and physical proficiency of the dancers.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Review of The New Zealand Dance Company's 'Rotunda'

I got a call from Metro magazine asking me to review Shona McCullagh's new full length work. 

Read it here 

And The band Played On. And On.
Rotunda is choreographer Shona McCullagh’s first evening length work on the New Zealand Dance Company. The work focuses on the historic impact of New Zealand’s participation in World War 1 and is bracketed by both the imagery and music of a brass band, and the structure that a brass band sometimes performs in: a rotunda.

Structured and styled similarly to 20th century narrative ballets, Rotunda successfully appealed to the 55+ demographic that made up the majority of Q Theatre’s audience on opening night.  ANZAC and war imagery, a charmingly unpretentious brass band, beautiful young dancers performing repetitive feats of athleticism and mimetic acting, the presence of name brand artists on the leaderboard such as composers Don McGlashan and Gareth  Farr, prerecorded film soundtrack style music blended with live music and a song sung beautifully in Maori. But despite a well stocked palette of materials the relationships between many of Rotunda’s elements ultimately fail to communicate successfully with each other. As a result the overall work falls far short of its ambitions.  

Taken individually many of the shows elements including the hyper committed performances of the dancers and musicians and the set design all had an appreciable and logical presence in the show. Well perhaps with the exception of the women’s costumes which had the appearance of renovated cast offs from the set of TV series Xena. That said however Rotunda’s choreography ultimately suffers from a crisis of imagery. Simply put the work seemed full of vanilla symbolism.

As far as movement vocabulary goes all things become nails when the only tool you have is a hammer. The dancers run in circles incessantly and jump. A lot. They jump when other characters die, they jump when they flirt, they jump when they’re sad, they jump when they’re grieving, are talking, are confused etc. Endurance athleticism has become more a cliché than a trope in New Zealand’s contemporary dance landscape.  

The directing of the performers seemed at times questionable. From the miscasting of Death (that part should have gone to Hannah Tasker Poland, a performer who could’ve easily brought a macabre gravitas to that role) to the overtly rendered sentimentality in Tupua Tigafua’s duet with Justin Haiu, to the overlong durations of many sections devoted to portraying grief and suffering. Don’t get me wrong, I love hard work and I can watch it for hours…usually.

With the lowering of what looked more like a giant crown that a band rotunda roof a falsetto and astoundingly inappropriate ‘triumphant’ note at the end of the show left me baffled to the point of outrage. Did McCullagh actually contemplate how that image might be read? A giant crown hovering over a group of young men and women many of whom have brown skin left an ominous and confusing impression.

Overall Rotunda comes off as disingenuous, even frivolous given its budget. But mainly it doesn’t seem commensurate with contemporary life as a New Zealander and the important issues at hand for us as a nation. I say this because Rotunda’s conceit is that it’s trying to address us as a country from a nationalistic vantage point, all the while pressing the ‘right’ buttons to appear relevant and entertaining. But at this cultural moment venture capitalism is what’s tearing the country apart, not grief over World War 1.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shameless Crowd Pleaser - Flotilla


Performed at the Silo's downtown Auckland. This time the crew were: Kristian Larsen, John Radford, Drew McMillan, Georgie Goater, John Bell, and Joshua by Lisa Greenfield & Paul Buckton


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