20 April 2017, Arts Inc., Hastings
Footnote New Zealand Dance has had long-standing influence on the maturing of New Zealand’s excellent and well-established contemporary dance scene, so it gave me great pleasure to welcome them to Hastings for a one-off performance of their recent 2017 touring season, The Rebel Pink.
This body of work by three emerging chorographers – Eliza Sanders, ‘Not all who launder are washed’, Holly Newsome, ‘Sweet Salt’, and Nancy Wijohn, ‘The Silent Partner’ – under the curation of highly regarded chorographer Malia Johnston, revolves around notions of miscommunication, future culture and interplays of selfhood and cultural superstition, with several establishing premises; namely the idea of returning to the ‘bright’ (after Footnote’s previous sold-out season, The Dark Light), alongside the desire to inject positive energy into the world we live in, and the observation that the colour pink physiologically effects a quickening of pace.
What I love about viewing contemporary dance is the opportunity to happily suspend all my being to the performative experience. It’s always rewarding to discover afterwards, that the gesture worked on by the choreographer and dancers has been processed to a place that simply hands it accurately to the viewer without any other explanation needed.
These three performance pieces had various degrees of success to this regard. Some elements of the works were clearly refined to a point of convergence, where gesture becomes a language, and we get it. There are many reasons why dance does not always make it to this place though, and it takes time to resolve technical movement into a fully capable language of gesture that conveys your ideas.
Various notions of movement were used throughout each piece, as chorographers forayed into abstract and absurd terrain – a landscape not quite mastered in the performance, however: the movement felt, at times, still to be in its pondering, workshop phase.
Elements of the theatre of the absurd were integrated with clever amusement through vocalisations. These were met with quick turning and expressive phrasing, further exercised out in tight flickering succession across the compacted space. Dancers moved to create a current, a repetitive flow of tidal pull and beat, to form a dialogue of facial and bodily expression, generally without a running narrative, and at times I wished the gestures were met with greater commitment.
The dancers made great use of the floor, however, given the audience was seated in direct proximity to the stage, and overall the performance succeeding in raising stimulating energy. But in some ways, the contained space left the works too compact and busy for me to grasp a wider view beyond that of an intense visual energy.
‘Space’ clearly became a further element to each work, rendered beautifully in ‘The Silent Partner’, where the proximity between dancers and audience wooed us intimately in, and we found ourselves absorbed into hidden and private contact gestures that had clearly been worked toward that exact point of meaning.
Award-winning percussionist, Tom Scrase, with his live drumming and percussive looping, added an enticing layer for both dancers and viewer. Yes, live music makes a difference. And this was a sound offering to fanatic motion, reminding me of the essential nature within us to move. At times, it was hard to sit still whist urban dance beats mashed though the building.
I went home happy and grateful to have experienced this remarkable form of performance dance in our local community arts space. May we see more of it, and of contemporary dance companies like Footnote, here in the Bay.