Monday, March 23, 2009

Battle Scarred Girl Power Super Group Dance on Edge of Sword, Threads Bared

Littered with ironic self reflective critique and biodegradable props, Toxic White Elephant Shock is indeed a dangerous jumble sale overflowing with earnestly vital attitude and a genuine desire to say something.

A series of simultaneous statements, the work constantly accumulates and disintegrates, the molten (yes, hot) performers weave an interdependent web of movement, sound, situation, and riotous theatrics that threatens to overwhelm, barely under control, displaying characteristics of the natural disasters so often referenced in the piece. All performed strongly and deserve credit for their effort, execution and commitment. The group emanated a strong identity which was an invaluable expressive component of the work. I feel this was a desired and intentional part of the works anatomy. Wilson's approach to her work addresses more than it's brief incarnation on stage, she is keenly aware of the wider social and historical contexts of her performances and these are constantly referenced in the work, exhibiting a desire for it to explode from the formalised event and commune with the wider world - starting by literally smashing the fourth wall and demanding audience participation.

Each of the participants (7 women, 1 man) have a distinct identity/look that is maintained throughout the work (excepting Packham's brief incarnation as Alexa Wilson herself). This identity seems to be a ritualised version of themselves. Not a persona, more of an offering - to be burnt in sacrifice, part of a faith healing for society? Their bodies are treated like banners - slogans, attitudes and motions pass through or are spattered over them, a sort of psychophysical action painting. The use of group nudity near the beginning of the piece was very strong, both confrontational and grounding, that particular section generated a lot of atmosphere and opened the door to the rest of the work, an overture of sorts containing all the major concerns of the piece.

More expressive than explorative, Wilson and co have a lot to say. They cram an incredible amount of ideas into a scant hour and a half. Rarely settling for one thing at a time, Wilson uses simultaneity to achieve density. Although her images and staging can be interpreted a number of ways, the actions and intentions of the dancers are sharply defined. Thus simultaneous layering of many strong elements (as opposed to one thing which isn't quite anything exactly but almost many things) is a sensible choice for generating depth. Having seen and been involved in a number of Wilsons works I recognise this tactic and am tempted to think this is an easy choice for her creatively. However this is easily the most complex and large scale work she has tackled and it was satisfying to see her style achieved with assurance and higher than usual production values.

The movement language was a mash up of functional actions, martial arts, wild krumpy urban tribal shit, contemporary softness and, um.. Power Shapes. Naked Power Shapes! Love it. The theatrics and movements are generally affected - this isn't a criticism in itself cos it's mostly very watchable. When the performers are required to be intense they do so either with force of personality or often violent physicality. This certainly has impact, but only for so long. To Wilsons credit she does find a remarkable number of ways to make it work but I feel the law of diminishing returns should be acknowledged: As the piece progressed conceptual and emotional complexity accumulated, but expressive complexity not so much - the same wild aggressive approach was used throughout most of the piece and I felt it began to misfire towards the end. Anyway, what are the other options? would they dilute Alexa's strong style?

The work is cabled with a healthy dose of electronic current. Live video feeds lend the drama of confrontational breaking news, live effected vocals from Brennan saturate the space with murky bestial textures, dance floor killers and soulful odes to the moon. Pre composed sound from both Brennan and Charlotte 90 jousted and slid back and forth to support each of the many many sections of the work. I liked the almost sound clash set up of the musicians; one just offstage to either side, taking turns to fill the invisible spaces of the theatre. Their co operation/collaboration almost seemed to provide an example of the communication and clarity between sexes that was desperately called for by dancer Yee at one point.
Both had notable onstage moments: Charlotte 90's stone cold chorus support for Alexas rap song, and Brennans wild thrashings and wrestlings as Box Head.

Toxic White Elephant Shock has the frenetic energy of a film trailer and an admirable desire to be current and involved with the world. Refusing to retreat into discipline bound obscurity it claws at the boundaries and draws in many energies, all wound into an ecstatic dance of celebration and warning. A truly spiritual effort. Thanks guys.

Josh Rutter

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Violent Babies: Improv duet with Kristian Larsen and Julia Milsom

Man, I've been a party hardy kinda girl lately, in all the most unlikely and likely crevices of Auckland doing shameless things so seeing two of my dance peers Kristian Larsen and Julia Milsom duet in 'Violent Babies' as part of an evening of performance with music improvisational collective Vitamin S at Whammy Bar was next level.

Ok, so, it's a rainy wild night and its a bar, not just a bar, but a very familiar one. It's Auckland's most Indie bar for live experimental bands and performances and these dudes rocked out on the floor to 8 people (maybe 10) muso's and one girlfriend to begin a duet labelled 'a punch drunk love duet'. I was like, I'm brave, but THIS is brave. Hats off. I know they these two are a Vitamin S special team but I ain't seen it before and it was inter- resting! There were so many layers. Ouch.

First of all there's the bar, the 7 attentive male gazes and maybe 2 females peering through the dark with intent through beams from corners of the bar and various passersby, who thought at moments that they were punters at the bar. Second, there's what I bring to this duet in my own post man/woman drama phase... there's always this. Near impossible to extricate. So what DID I see?

I saw two friends/peers, a man and a woman, dance improvise together in a near empty bar on a rainy night, competing with several other shows. They come from very different places inside their dance practice and are probably in very different spaces right now, but they somehow found a common ground. What is that? A tension? A chemistry? A need to express together in a particular way? It's all good!

They are both beautiful movers and seem most comfortable when soloing. But soloing around one another is still a duet. In fact its the duet of our times. Two people immersed in their own journey, themselves, the intricacies of their own embodiment and feelings and the performance of that to us. It is totally apt for me in that moment. And I'm getting drunk!

Milsom is strident, she is bold, risky, articulate and comfortable within her power as a mover and a woman. Her attentiveness to the improvised music is on, and her interaction with Larsen timely and sensitive. She's in your face (in a good way) and she knows how and when to retreat to dark spaces of the bar for variety. Larsen muses in his dancing. I thought at one moment during a solo when he was quite close to us, 'you know what? It is so bloody good to see a man dance in this way in this context in a such a masculine space'. His gentleness and thought processes were hiding and revealled simultaneously inside this vulnerable explorational dance. It too had power. I didn't know what the hell was going on but I was really intrigued by the gender dynamics because whatever was going on for each of them they managed to still hold a space with and for each other which had respect.

The moments of contact were loaded and vulnerable. Whether it was an intimate confrontation or a placing away onto a pillar (repeated nicely to the sound) only to slide down or a leap on top to crush, it smacked of relationship. It's hard to say what this relationship was, two people, dancers, friends, man and woman, happy to dance around each other for each other, with each other, for us. Steps in the strange narcississm vs entertainment factor of performing. Who is improv for? Who is dance for? Milsom performed more for us while Larsen was happy to perform for himself and each worked and juxtaposed. Of course this line was and is blurry. I liked all of that.

They both supported each other, they were not alone, while their was still a major sense of space which created solitude inside this duet. There was also the fact that they both knew I was there and maybe gonna write something. God but who cares what I or anyone thinks? Have a good time I say, which it looked like they did. It was working for me and judging from the applause, for the rest of the onlookers too. I'd say most people could relate as well as admire, because the duet spoke volumes about relationships. Plus I was projecting I'm sure. I love the way dance is always so appropriate and inappropriate in public spaces, how it makes people uncomfortable because it is the body talking and we are largely so fucking unembodied as a culture these days.

Sweet shit guys. Keep up the explorations. It's really cool.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Review of Yellingmouth review website

Hey I can see some movement in the dark. Is it people fumbling around searching for a voice, a community, freedom, discussion, alternatives, each other, a life, SUPPORT? In Auckland contemporary dance march 09 its starting to happen. Thanks the internet.

For something so 'ephemeral' and misunderstood, especially in a stage of metamorphosis between old skool and new skool ways, NZ dance needs real support. New voices need space to grow and bounce off each other. AWAY from formalised institutions. Its called progression.

It has nothing to do with rebellion or frowning upon the establishment as some may accuse but rather to do with creating ACTS, which stir authentic responses into a literary next level practice of call and response communication from current dance ACTIVISTS. I call them activists because they are pushing way for new and diverse spaces, ideas, ways, processes and presentations to emerge.

It has been happening this entire decade and prior to this with the likes of Sean Curham, Charles Koroneho and Mau. I call it a MOVEMENT. A gesture if you will, performance art ACTS, happenings, postmodern introversions... extroverted. I have been at the heart of this ongoing emergence and struggle for new ways to come out of new people this decade and its been tough but FUCKEN EXCITING.

Things seem to take time to really gestate in the rhizome way but they have POWER because no one or no thing is making them grow, they are just growing. Alone together. These practitioners are responding to the world, to their own call to be alive in the world in these uniquely embodied and highly intelligent ways. Just as any plant or animal does. And they deserve our attention and love. Not to be ignored and marginalised. That is an old skool paradigm.

For years, dancers have struggled to have a voice and be honoured in NZ within the realm of writing in a public space. This maverick vs institutionalised organism has created some fascinating tensions and debates, to which I have also contributed. I consider myself a forunner in this MOVEMENT. People doing stuff, together, anywhere, everywhere, with or without money and support. Really LOOKING. Really SEEING and FEELING. Creating because they want to, in/outside an increasingly commercialised, capitalist world market. Dance thinkers are on the go. And there's nothing that can stop them.

Late Night Choreographers stopped breathing when it got funded and institutionalised itself. Riddled with internal and bad blood politics we learnt that the cut throat way is not the way of activists. Or 'revolutionary'. It died a natural death because of the fight for money.

So we now have a website (how cohesively anarchic) linking minds, bodies, ideas, gestures, acts, etc etc together. I say jump in. Don't be shy, but have respect. Anything that doesn't come from respect is not the new skool way. You can examine and criticise and tease if you want but if you do it because you LOVE it your intention is clean.

Thanks to Cat Gwynne we now have a reviewing website for practitioners and dance thinkers to have a legitimate and musing space to move and be interpreted through a genuine lens and understanding which comes from other practitioners looking at their actions and somatically transmuting them in 'phenomenological' (thanks michael) written texts. Ha. Ie. reviews. Dance can't evolve without thought processes and ideas evolving before, after and during movement. Discussion, articulation, communication, reflection helps SUPPORT this action.

Chur Cat.

And just to contradict myself because I can't and will about rebellion I have a quote to end with from The ABC of Enlightment by Osho:

“The birth of the rebel is the death of the old. To me, rebelliousness is the essential quality of a spiritual person. It is spirituality in its absolute purity.”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

'LightBulbMan' written and directed by Jacob Tamaiparea. Review by Alexa Wilson

Omg. These guys are amazing. They're fresh, clever, charismatic, funny and talented as hell. There's nothing hotter (in all ways) than a performance work that takes heavy themes, universal and specific, and twists them inside out in an essence of anger and sadness using humour, smartness and pop culture refs to wind it back into a fist of rawness, anger and sadness with an anti-hero wise zen anti-climax fuck you ending. Love it. I don't know shit about comics but I love rap and not only are these guys original and satirical with wordplay so fast you could miss it but they know how to seduce you with good acting and savy streetwise quixotics.

Director and performer Jacob Tamaiparea (LightBulbMan- with a lampshade head) and his multifarious collaborating sidekick Rangi Rangitukunoa who plays friend Zac, evil drug lord boss Shoes, Jose the (puppet) monkey and icon Ice Cube literally bounce off each other in a simple fusion of characters and journeys set around a charity soup kitchen. While LightBulbMan's journey seems simple yet profound, like fucken gotta get outta this shithole working for this shithead, actor Rangitukunoa juxtaposes it with a shapeshifting dance of characters within characters who distract Lightbulb man (maybe all in his head anyway) from leaving the soup kitchen. Hero only to himself really LightbulbMan confuses only himself through fear and within a mixture of rap mixed with live musician beats and rock guitar riffs takes the hip hop musical murder mystery satire to its death by implying that to stay is to die, that his boss Shoes has already killed him spiritually and that the death to leave is a thriller worth waiting for. Salvation and eureka is quitting. The best idea he's ever had.

This genius in its simplicity and realness is clothed by a multitude of sequences framing humourously just how fucked working in both hospitality and the irony of charity in its warped capitalist joke really is. The crack up and beautiful shakespearean poise of Jacob's LightBulbMan mixed with a comically boyish but totally manly confusion vs Rangi's manifold sweet but then terrifyingly maniacal and cackling alteregos was so supremely comic book anti-hero stuff I was cackling like a dick myself in the front row secretly hoping for some audience activity. But I knew that no one else belonged on this stage, so choicely li-fi in its veneer, because these guys had it covered. Their energy was bowl you over material. Dynamic, intense, fun. Light? Hard to say. I like it that way.

ps. I know my brother's puppet monkey is in sweet hands.