Archives for the month of: March, 2012


THREE performers, a live television broadcast, a real time Skype connection to a sister in London at 6.15 am and an intriguing and totally empathetic musical score by Marika Pratley are the substance of young choreographer Oliver Connew’s look at a family-his- in transit and a collapse of connections in both personal and global reality.
The starting point of many dilemmas and the resulting unsatisfactory compromises made in the journey that is our daily life, both socially and politically, is inherent in the title of this work. At times the three dancers, Gareth Okan, Fleur Cameron and Connew himself seem in harmony and agreement with some energised vocabulary and much use of rebound off each other, the walls and the ‘news’. At other times the individuality of purpose rings true and there is an unfortunate willingness to agree!
A little more clarity and development of movement phrases and a concern that as a statement of a generation they seem to find no fun in being, but their commitment to explore and go beyond their own personal creative comfort zones made for an intriguing time spent contemplating their world.
An impressive grasp of a theatre space and an evident commitment by the artistic team to find a cohesion shows promise and a new choreographic voice emerging that is young and strong. Well done. And Bravo also as I write I have just heard that An Unfortunate Willingness to Agree won Best Dance in the Fringe Festival that has just ended.


This is my take on the dance that I saw in the NZ International Arts Festival…

Chronological order. Not a review, just some thoughts.


My exposure to Lemi’s work before Birds with Skymirrors had been limited to short YouTube clips and writing that could never have hoped to encapsulate the real deal. I entered the theatre with expectations of intelligent and affecting dance; I left the theatre having had those met. Birds with Skymirrors was both a satisfying and unsatisfying experience, as all good art should be! It was an hour and a half of uncompromising ceaselessness, like a religious observance. Monastic. A denial of self, an exhibition of self-restraint. A service to an urgent purpose. 
 This is what lifted the work for me. As impressed as I was by the skill of the dancers (Their precision! Their concentration!) and Lemi and his team’s craftsmanship, I was most struck by a sense of urgency from the work. It seemed to me as if the work had entered the stage almost by its own accord because it was something that needed to be said and expressed, rather than something that had happened upon an opportunity and thus was uttered.

In fact, this is where TeZukA, a few nights later, fell deadly flat for me. I suppose it might be quite difficult when you get to such a level of fame and influence, as Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has, to ensure that everything you place in front of your audience needs to be said. One can be dizzied by it. However, when you have access to the amount of resources and influence as Sidi Larbi does, I think one has a duty to ensure that they are used to a most influential effect. (Then again, why shouldn’t he just do what he wants! I probably would.) TeZukA was grossly unimportant and I think should have remained in the mind of Sidi Larbi or, instead, entered into other new works as layer and texture. This idea did not warrant a full two-hour work, let alone such an extortionate and ostentatiously utilised budget. It was overly literal and simply relayed the ideas of another. An opportunity lost by self-indulgence.

Then, lastly, in the dance programme, was Political Mother. Like Birds With Skymirrors, it was relentless, only at the other end of the spectrum. It was ritulistic, pagan and had a sacrificial quality to it. Hofesh Schecter expertly crafted a work that spoke to me about mindlessness, apathy, nationalism and xenophobia. I am reminded of the scenes we all saw on our TV screens of American citizens chanting ‘U.S.A.’ after the killing of Osama Bin Laden last year. The celebration of a death, any death, is nothing but disturbing and, I wish I could say, inhumane. In a similar way, the cast here were drummed up to a thrilling, folksy sadism. It held a grimace on my face throughout the performance.
 Interestingly, in reading an interview with Hofesh Schecter, he says that the work is not about the Israel/Palestine conflict. I struggle to comprehend how this is so. In all of the promotional material I have seen, Hofesh is introduced as an “Israeli choreographer” (whatever that means). Context is everything, and is the best part of art. I’m sorry Hofesh, but as much as you try, context is impossible to escape!
 I didn’t quite get the same feeling of urgency in this work as I did in Birds with Skymirrors. It was an impressive display of the craft of theatre and dance, but was a bit conservative for my personal liking. It won’t change the face of dance. But, at least, unlike TeZukA, it was actually about something!

…. Creative use of simple props.  Suspended on back wall is a TV set, permanently on (sound selectively audible).  Three chairs and a table for a computer and lamp.

Scene 1:  The three performers rise from their chairs in the front seat of the theatre and, backs to the audience and glass in hand, move towards the TV, other arm raised as if to hail or salute a leader (or god?)

Suddenly, they are shaking violently.  Is this a reference to being plugged in?  Wired up? Logged on?  Even when they sit on the chairs, these too shake.  Then, rising in unison, they circle, pace, their breath heavy. They move as if to attack the TV, a kind of storming or ambush – wave upon wave of soldiers on the attack.   When they finally hit the wall, they stand breathing heavily and eyeballing the audience.

Scene 2:  As TV ads for a power drill, Placemakers, meat, and MacDonalds blare out, they lean back in their chairs, with opened newspapers over their faces and heads.  I think: ‘blinded by one-sided reporting?’ ‘Information overload’?

One giggles somewhat guiltily as they begin to destroy their newspapers, circling around each other, tearing the papers into pieces and throwing them all over the stage.  The action builds to a climax as papers are punched, kicked, skated on, used as shoes, twirled upon, eaten, gorged even –  as if to say, to hell with all this ‘news’ that is being literally stuffed down our throats.  At one point, the paper is folded like a flower into someone’s mouth.  At another, it is worn as clothing,  ‘plastered’ against their bodies as they run around the stage.

Scene 3:  Delightfully naturalistic, highlighting the inanity of much that is ‘said’ on Facebook and the frustrations of bad connections with Skype.  Reception breaks up, mundane talk exchanged.  All the while, the two other performers are lying on their sides, using their bodies like hinging caterpillars to manuoevre the paper into the centre of the stage.  I think of those ‘gyres’ or rubbish piles circulating in the middle of oceans.

Scene 4:  Why are they biting the cord?    A frantic desire to stop being hooked in, logged on, wired up, sucked in?  They run in parallel paths, missing each other.  Till at last, personal contact! There is a huge sense of relief and poignancy as Fleur and Gareth actually hold and touch each other.   Now they are flying, clasping hands as if to say ‘lean on me’, to an electronic score like underwater breathing.

In this work, there are a couple of unison dance sequences, but the piece is more experimental physical theatre than dance.  It is honest.  It is heartfelt.  And it thoughtfully explores the inadequacies of ‘virtual’ communication.  The three give committed performances and we sympathise with their anger at information overload, their disillusionment with consumerism, their frustrations with technology –  and their very palpable yearning for something much more REAL.

What is wanted – and won – is personal contact, physical contact.  Face-to-face, body- to-body communication and connection.  In the final moments, the TV is switched off – a defiant rejection of the virtual world.

 Jo Thorpe, 2 March 2012