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!

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