Works in progress: Paper Tiger and  A Glimpse of a New World : Mondo Nuovo (2007)

Zoe Watkins in Paper Tiger

Showings of work in progress are full of promise and discoveries. At the very least, they let the choreographer and performers test the limits of what has been realised to date, and they satisfy the curiosity of peers and supporters. Hopefully, they also affirm that the creative team has indeed created something of value from their raw material.

Two recent works in progress showings did all this, and also provided opportunities for potential presenters, promoters, and funders to get a first-hand experience of works which the presenters hope to perform during the next two years.

Ann Dewey’s Paper Tiger, a small scale dance work designed for easy touring, set to music by John Gibson, had three public performances during June in the Leigh Community Hall following an extended series of workshops and a focused period of development. Dancers Zoe Watkins and Will Barling presented a subtly nuanced 45 minute series of solos and duets, lit by a combination of fluorescent tubes and portable halogen garden lights against a backdrop of white pleated paper blind anchored by river stones, and foregrounded by dried flax flowers standing in kiln bricks on a strip of carpet.

The dancing was abstract, the dancers elemental, oppositional. Zoe’s movements were softer and warmer than Will’s, watchfully self-centred at first but progressively expansive and becoming richer, invoking the natural world cohabited by plants, birds, animals, people. Will, by contrast, was monumental, stoic, and commanded the space even when placed in the background, implying solid landforms such as cliffs and mountain ranges. Partnering sections facilitated a mixing of these elements — and despite the abstract purity of the movement, one entrancing section somehow suggested a bird spiralling upwards in a thermal, another the quaking of the earth and a sliding hillside.

Shona McCullagh’s A Glimpse of a New World : Mondo Nuovo was presented to invited audiences in the somewhat transformed  Black Grace studio on two occasions during July. This 75-minute interactive multimedia performance -installation has been developed over the past three years in partnership with video artist/composer Mike Hodgson (Pitch Black), composers John Gibson and David Long, set designer Mark McEntyre and costume designer Barbara Darragh. The project is based in research Shona undertook with a Creative New Zealand Senior Dance Fellowship, involving the dancetech software Isadora which interacts with the movements and sounds of the dancers to generate an array of continuously changing visual displays.

A diverse array of components complement the episodic dancing to tie this performance event together, such that it starts on the footpath outside the studio, continues up three flights of stairs into the studio lobby inhabited by birds, is framed periodically by somewhat philosphical questions asked by the Marcel Marceau-like Peepshow owner and Human Shadow (actor Carl Bland), involves observing magical/cheesy/hallucinatory illusions triggered by the dancers, then peeping through slots in the side wall of the performance space before taking your seat.

There’s lyrical dancing (Sean MacDonald, Will Barling and Lina Limosani) requiring exquisite precision within a carefully delimited space; and a range of extraordinarily elegant and highly detailed rococo visual sequences (pace Isadora) which suggest a different space-time from the one we normally inhabit. Perhaps most memorably, there’s a mesmerising human kaleidoscope of multiplying/reducing, ever-shifting whirling rainbow coloured bodyparts which naturally enough far exceeds the simple effects conjured by a hand-held kaleidoscope toy.

This article was originally published in DANZ QUARTERLY, May – July 2007

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