Tempo 2019 – featured works of Week 1

Review of Tempo Dance Festival 2019 opening week’s featured productions –
Pohutu (2 October) and Dances with Aldous (4&5 October) , Q Theatre, Auckland

Reviewed by Raewyn Whyte

The awesome explosive power of Rotorua’s Pohutu geyser became the metaphor for the destructive impact of Alzheimer’s disease in the remarkable multimedia work Pohutu which opened Tempo Dance Festival 2019   Q Theatre was filled to the rafters by an appreciative audience who feted this accomplished work with a standing ovation.

Created by choreographer-performer Bianca Hyslop and AV/sound/light/spatial designer Rowan Pierce, with co-devisor-performer Rosie Tapsell and advisor Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield, Pohutu celebrates the life of Hyslop’s grandmother, Ramari Rangiwhiua Morrison, who grew up in the shadow of the geyser in the village at Whakarewarewa. Now 88 years old and living with Alzheimers, Morrison’s fragmented memories feature in the work as fleeting images projected onto the walls and windows of the set. Her ghostly yet powerful presence shrouded with red smoke was also felt in cataclysmic moments when the erupting geyser and her intense memories coincided.

Steam was a living presence, bursting from geysers, floating above hot pools, filling the stage at times with mist and cloud, and cloaking the ground with thick fog which seeped into the audience. On the soundscore, water exploded from Pohutu and rained down in torrents, and boiling mud blurped and bubbled. A horizontal strip of window panes became a screen for projections and for stick figure drawings which recalled Morrison’s childhood, a portal where past and present coexist.

Hyslop and Tapsell were vividly ever-present, dressed in red shirts and high-waisted jeans or mud-brown underwear, designed by Emma Ransley. They were phenomenally well-matched, two lithe, slender, strong bodies dancing as one. Their movement was largely abstract but constant, rapidly covering space, and culminated in an impressive side-by-side haka peruperu which communicated the intense frustration, anger and disruption which Alzheimers brings.

NZ Music Double Bill: Dances with Aldous was a Tempo Festival commission which invited choreographers Zahra Killeen-Chance, Josie Archer and Kosta Bogoievski to engage with the music of Aldous Harding.   Killeen-Chance created Kissing the Doubt, a series of elegantly restrained Fashion Weekish vignettes for three exquisite dancers dressed alike in haute couture. Supple fabric sheathed their bodies and flared gently to hooped hems that responded to the gentlest of movements.  With matching broad-brimmed hats to hide their faces, the trio in red, black, and white quietly promenaded to a suite of Harding’s songs.

Archer and Bogoievski took a more holistic (and seemingly subversive) approach to Harding’s music, investigating the way music can create a space to dance with. Eccentric movement passages saluted the quirkier aspects of Harding’s performance persona (whch is much commented on by the international media). Opening nonchalantly as Swell Does the Skull played in the background, they carefully placed two mic stands, much s they world for singer-songwriter night at the club. Picking up the intense mood of her songs and the often strangely confusing directions her lyrics take, they presented erratic passages punctuated by sustained poses. They partnered each other through a series of overlaid tracks, and moved in silence with characteristically unpredictable, very detailed exchanges of motion. Progressively shedding their layers of clothing, their final naked coda thanked the contributors and the audience, and segued into their dancing to a slowed down version of Harding’s big hit Party, bringing delighted cheers.

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