Footnote Dance Company – Contrast

25 October, Blyth Centre

The Blyth Performing Arts Centre – a Scandi-style, ergonomic, curtainless behemoth of blonde wood panelling, concrete and metal that oozes class and resource – is the perfect setting for Footnote’s double bill. The show is the product of the company’s crowd funded field trip to the other side of the world to take instruction from a couple of Kiwi choreographers whose talents have found a home in Germanic lands.

Emma Murray’s Participation explores what it means to be in and to come into community. The piece starts and ends in darkness, the only sensory stimulation being a heartbeat of feet. The dancers hard-soled shoes beat out a tattoo – a constant base – as they are perpetually in motion for the duration, on which coordinated gesture and movement are layered. The score – utterly European, of the genre that might uncharitably be described as the sound of a thousand ball bearings dropping, accompanied by a bag of rattling spanners – lends itself to the portrayal of human as a cog in the machine. The rhythm and repetition is so pervasive that the brief whirling notes of individuality are accentuated and exhilarating. In contrast to the chorus, a fifth dancer creeps in, her stride consciously off beat, observing the group, observing the audience. Against their mechanical motions, she glides and languishes, tantalisingly close, her fingers in dangerous proximity to their stomping feet. Wrapping them in a fluid parody of a lover’s embrace, juxtaposed with their rigid indifference, she searches for an ‘in’. Slowly, the one co-opts the many until the many are one.

But the process of assimilation changes the quality of the movement as it builds to a crescendo, echoes of hip hop with a delicious new looseness of limb. Boundaries are muddled, clothes are shed and swapped in ungainly fashion, and bodies are merged and melded in a series of lifts and weight transfers that conjure the grotesquery. All of this accompanied by an intensity of sound and oscillation between darkness and light that heighten the sense of breakdown and jolt the audience into a state of hyperarousal. From all this, the concluding darkness, the pulse of foot fall, is welcome respite – a sensory blank space into which we can breathe all that we have experienced.

As the collective title might suggest, Sarah Foster-Sproull’s Super Ornate Construct is a very different beast. Where Participation gets you in the guts, Footnote’s second offering of the evening gets into your head. A variety of experimental techniques are employed, including cardboard props and a big-brother-like voice over that dances on, and occasionally puts a toe over, the edge of pretension. The fourth wall summarily dismissed, we are personally invited to take a philosophical thought experiment that tests our ‘ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind’, asking us to remember and forget, to think and to not think.

Themes of power and control, present in the shadows of the former piece are made explicit in the latter – physical manipulation used as proxy for emotional manipulation. The dancers’ range and physicality comes to the fore in a mixture of violence and passion, love and hate. It is emotionally confronting – the amplified sound of a suckling babe adds a depth of intimacy to the raw performance, and Joshua Faleatua’s twitching, ground-based solo is so evocative of physical torment that I can still feel it in my viscera.

The visual is so powerfully constructed that the narrative of the metamorphosis of identity could have been conveyed equally articulately without quite such excessive use of voice over, and by limiting the spoken word, the words spoken would have retained their impact. Taken together, the two diverse pieces were both contrasting and complimentary. But most importantly they stimulated the heart and the head – no mean feat in a world with idiosyncratic entertainment on tap. To think and to feel, isn’t that why we’re here, after all?

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