Skillfully choreographing a collection of thoughts
By Ann Hunt
This choreographic season of the New Zealand School of Dance (NZSD) is well named.
In ancient Greek architecture, a stoa is a portico or meeting place; a common ground where communication and support occur. This description can just as easily be applied to the NZSD itself.
It is performed by the second and third year contemporary dance students, and choreographed by the third year ones.
In theory there are eleven short works. But in reality they segue one into the other so seamlessly, (perhaps too seamlessly for some,) that the production appears to be that of two separate long works, the White and the Black, divided by an interval and a change of space.
It is sometimes hard to tell where one work begins and another ends. But this may create difficulties only for those who have to write about it.
Collaboration of thoughts and ideas
STOA is described as “a collection of thoughts” – another apt description. There is a strong focus on collaboration and the thoughts and ideas here are those of both choreographers and dancers.
The themes of the work are quite dark and probably may not be to everyone’s taste, especially if a ‘light night out’ is what you are after.
But they will definitely appeal to many, especially those for whom contemporary relevance in whatever work of art they are viewing, is important.
This collaborative endeavour explores not merely what interests these young people, but what moves them and perhaps more importantly, what disturbs them. It is about the world of today and the possible world of the future, which they and their children will undoubtedly inherit.
What is totally unquestionable, is the striking abilities of the young cast on display here.
Their ensemble work throughout is excellent and full credit must go to director/ contemporary dance tutor, Victoria Colombus.
The performance space is unusual for the NZSD in that it is beneath the entrance level where the more often used Te Whaea Theatre is housed.
The large supporting pillars, (which do not block sightlines at all,) are a pleasing symbolic touch, as they resemble those of a stoa.
Starting with a procession …
Glow begins with all the students entering in procession, dressed in white. By their movement and their beautiful song, they claim the space and also honour it with gravity and grace.
Choreographers Ngaere Jenkins and Laifa Ta’ala take the time to build the work from a fairly static beginning to movement which is strong and appears to be influenced by Tai Chi.
Music is Ki Te La by Te Vaka, (sung by the cast,) Mataloa, (Te Vaka) and Jam by Te Aihe Butler and third year student, Jack Jenkins.
Jareen Wee’s balanced ping heng uses Todd Baker’s music, Gamelan Rain Melody, and her choreography which also utilises the full complement of second and third year students, is varied and balanced.
Outstanding are Chris Clegg with his elegant technique and attenuated physique; Sebastian Geilings, whose speed and sinuous energy are particularly striking, as well as his very charismatic presence, and Samuel Gilovitz, another elegant dancer with lovely arms and reach.
Choreographer/composer Jack Jenkins’ full-cast Continuity in Disruption, explores how we can re-group and move on after calamity of one sort or another, external and internal.
The dancers’ breaths punctuate the music in an interesting manner, almost like another instrument, while amoeba-like groupings form and disband. The work could be a little more focused however.
More highlights in the first half
Eight second and third year dancers appear in Kia Jewell’s Beam, to Glow by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Christian Fennesz, and Illusion of Seclusion by Photay. Flowing hand and arm movements are well done by Laifa Ta’ala, and gradually repeated by the others.
The work has a strong martial arts influence, with a well danced, aggressive duet.
The choreographic and performance highlight of the first half is undoubtedly Follow! by Lachlan Broughton, to the insistent electronics of Cause and Effect by Roll the Dice.
Concerning the struggle between conformity and rebellion, safety and risk, this longish work uses the space very well and builds to a dramatic and disturbing climax, with the dancers clambering regardless over each other up one of the pillars. The effect is very unsettling and one to which the cast obviously strongly relate. Olivia Foley impresses here
Into the dark …
After the interval, the audience moves to another slightly smaller part of the basement area. This time the dancers are garbed in black and the atmosphere for most of these pieces is very dark.
The first work, Altering Direction and Harnessing Distraction certainly lives up to its name. Chris Clegg moves the dancers in kaleidoscopic formations, with groups forming, breaking up and re-grouping, stylistically militaristic at times.
It is strongly danced by all the second/third year students to Bloom (Helm remix,) by Berceuse Heroique and 2 Vultures by Parris.
Phyllis is one of the stand outs
The other highlight of the evening, most definitely in terms of performance, but also choreographically, is Phyllis, by Sebastian Geilings. The music, Virginal 11 by Tim Hecker, is compelling in its almost drone-like insistency.
All twelve dancers are excellent, with an outstandingly dramatic performance by Nadiyah Akbar. Accompanying her strongly in their disturbing relationship, full of love and hate, is Riley Fitzgerald. Their duet is upsetting in its ferocity.
Geilings’ spatial groupings move around the space very well, and illustrate society’s condemnation and need for conformity to its dictates.
Imagination, evocation and skill
Rev, choreographed by Olivia Foley to I work for the guys on top, (Cristobel Tapia De Veer,) is well danced by all six, with lovely undulating arm movements, reminiscent at times of Indian statues. Sebastian Geilings again stood out here.
Understanding Now (choreography, Braedyn Humphries; music, STOA Scapes by Te Aihe Butler; In Reverse Phase by Current Bias,) is an intriguingly odd work, the dream-like quality reminiscent at times of David Lynch. The opening with two women, their faces hidden back and front by long black hair, suddenly appearing onstage into the light, is striking.
The concept of turangawaewae which evolved into articulation and finally assimilation is the theme of Alanna Main’s Cleanse, (music: Wardenclyffe Tower by Imprints.)
All seventeen dancers commit with verve to this piece, with a great connection between the two lead male dancers. Their duet of humiliation and oppression is very powerful and the use of white tape on the floor most effective.
The final work, Neidan certainly changes the atmosphere from dark to light, which presumably explained its placement on the programme.
However, in spite of incense and pleasing use of writhing arm movements and statuesque tableaux, Samuel Gilovitz’s pure dance piece underwhelmed, as did the meditative, New Age music by Pavel Dovgal, Visible Cloaks and Terje Isungset.
This evening is testament to the power of imaginative and skillful teaching by the staff of the NZSD, who trust not only their students’ talents, but also their intelligence.
- Choreographic Season 2018
- 28 June – 7 July
- at Te Whaea: National Dance & Drama Centre
Tickets available: www.nzschoolofdance.ac.nz/events/stoa-choreographic-season-2018