Archives for category: TEXT

Sometimes I find you a little difficult to understand.


Sometimes, I find a bit difficult to understand.


Sometimes, I feel a little hard to understand.



Some words…

Samin Son enters the performance space from the right in a blue military uniform with black leather boots and marches out a square shouting shouts. He stops, facing the audience, and salutes. Formalities over, we can begin.

Facing away from the audience, Samin, now ‘at ease’, opens a tube of toothpaste. He squeezes three white lines on a glass panel, one of two propped against the gallery wall. With water from a bucket, he spreads the three lines into a murky white layer over the whole of the panel. He repeats this to the other panel and then uses his finger to deftly finger-paint a few portraits before settling on one to leave. He does the same to the windows of the gallery that face out to a car park below, instead writing words, presumably Korean. By this stage there is water on the floor that causes his shoes to squeak with each movement. There is lots of squeaking. I wonder whether these sounds and the smell of the toothpaste are conjuring up memories for Samin. Smell is meant to evoke strong memories.

My pondering is interrupted by a loud volley of military-like shouts from Samin. He’s remembered something. The shouting becomes rhythmical but it’s harsh, grating and sawing his vocal cords. He turns so the audience is able to witness the anguish on his face. It goes on for far too long. Please stop. Into another torturous ritual which requires Samin to put the top of his head on the floor and assume the position of a handicapped downward dog. Sweat means his head slips out of his hat, and with hands ordered behind his back, he falls heavily to the ground. Quickly back up to downward handicap dog, continue shouting. This happens more than once, and each time it smears sweat and snot over the floor.

This art work is about freedom; about freedom of the individual; about freedom in a world that thinks it knows what it is, but has, in fact, got it disastrously wrong. In not just this work, Samin draws directly from his time in the South Korean military, during which he risked the wrath of his superiors by drawing portraits in the toothpaste the army used to clean windows with. Devaluing of the individual is a key tool in any military – toothpaste portraits compromise the effectiveness of this tool. Toothpaste Portraits can remind us to be wary of the incessant creep of this military tactic into our civilian life. Post-9/11, the creep is particularly strong. Tim Flannery, in his talk at the Wellington Town Hall during the 2012 Writers and Readers Festival, aptly used the metaphor of an ant or bee colony to describe the emerging reality of the human super-organism, in which the individual holds a smaller and smaller role in humanity’s existence. A super-organism and the military system are both supremely efficient. Samin’s personal experience, portrayed in this performance, shows us that this is probably not really the sort of existence we want to strive for. In fact, it is really quite horrendous.

The performance ends with a ‘thank you’. This makes me smirk and I feel sadistic. Afterwards, I hear others asking Samin if he is OK. It is a valid question.

Oliver Connew, April 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

Director’s Note for “An Unfortunate Willingness to Agree”


Recently, in what seems like very quick succession, all of my immediate family have packed up their belongings, newly produced children, and fled Wellington, my home town. There were once upwards of 13 of us, now I’m the only one left. So, at times of significance, such as birthdays and Christmas, technology is called upon to tether a connection for a few short moments. Everybody knows this technology offers less than a satisfactory substitute for actual and close contact; everybody knows it’s a compromise.

This work directly addresses my personal experience, and how it relates to current socio- political environments. With the Arab Spring, and then the Occupy Movement spreading around the globe, people are questioning fundamentals of our societies, where we are headed, and questioning, too, a previous unfortunate willingness to agree. I believe that my personal experience is an epitomisation of the type of compromise that people have begun to rail against.

Before we started in-studio rehearsals, I asked each member of the cast and crew a number of questions, in a bid to understand their feelings about the themes of this work. We talked of physical contact, connectedness, anger, apathy and family.

We invite you, too, to partake in this on-going discussion by watching our performance and, perhaps, asking questions yourself.

Oliver Connew / February 2012

An Unfortunate Willingness to Agree

27 February – 2 March 2012, 6:30PM

BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

Tickets ($16/$14) available through


On 27 February a fresh, new dance work will be premiered at BATS Theatre as part of the 2012 New Zealand Fringe Festival. An Unfortunate Willingness to Agree investigates apathy and alienation, anger and agitation in the context of current sociopolitical environments and ponders why these feelings manifest themselves in today’s limply-bound communities.

Director and choreographer, Oliver Connew, a third-year classical major at the New Zealand School of Dance, is working with performance collaborators Fleur Cameron and Gareth Okan, who, too, both have been through the New Zealand School of Dance. Alongside composer, Marika Pratley, the group has been rehearsing deep in the dungeons of Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre since mid-January.

But in no way is the process secret or hidden. Regular postings to a Facebook page keep an interested public informed and engaged in the issues that this work addresses. Over time, questions that were asked of the cast and crew during the research process will be posed to our audience: Do you feel important? Do you live in an important time? Is your family close? Do you feel more connected than ever?

The contemporary themes in this show directly address the director’s personal experience and its relationship to the sociopolitical environment that he and his peers currently find themselves in. Beginning with the Arab Spring and spreading across the globe in the form of the Occupy Movement, people have begun to question fundamentals of our societies and where they are headed, as well as questioning a previous unfortunate willingness to agree.

An Unfortunate Willingness to Agree is being lovingly and passionately crafted by a supremely creative team of artists, as well as being co-produced by The Wanderer Productions and Salted:Singlet.

Join An Unfortunate Willingness to Agree on Facebook to stay updated! 


Contact Name:  Oliver Connew

Contact Phone: 027 238 2366



Co-producer: Naomi Lamb

Contact Phone: 021461583



Sponsors/Supporters: BATS Theatre, NZ Fringe Festival, Creative NZ, DANZ, Central Osteopathy, Dominion Post, Vapour Momenta Books

It is hard to get away from the fact that, in traditional theatre contexts, the audience has at least some sort of a role, if not a significant role, in paying for the work. They pay a fee to receive a product. Part of their risk is that they may not enjoy or positively gain from what they witness. I believe, whether recognised or not, that the practitioner thence accepts an obligation to honour the risk and the payment.

Theatre must, in my opinion, offer a reflection on life. A fact of life is that it is often, but certainly not always, boring, unimpressive, disturbing, undignified, and through and through, wholly unpleasant. I doubt many would pay to experience this! The theatre that is attended to in the greatest numbers is escapism. It is not honest, rather, it is sugar-coated. Appetising, but rots your teeth!

The only solution that I can see is to make ALL theatre free to attend. This would remove the obligation to respect the risk the audience has taken. Now, either theatre quality would decrease significantly through lack of funds or reliance on government and/or philanthropic funding would increase significantly. This poses the same problem; practitioners, ultimately, and again, whether recognised or not, remain answerable to their money source, degrading the integrity of artistic practice. My solution is, is to make Creative New Zealand a near-random lottery of massive proportions!

Who loses? Hardly anyone. Who gains? Almost everyone. Flawless logic.

In saying all of that, maybe risk is the best part of it. It certainly makes the practitioner’s job easier – greater chance of controversy. Excellent!

As my family will attest to, I have been impatiently waiting to be allowed to vote in a general election from an age where no normal child ponders political issues. I enrolled to vote at 17. I am twenty years old now and it is less than three weeks away from the New Zealand 2011 General Election, my first. I never imagined that I would hold some of the feelings that I do now about the action I have yearned to take for so many years. I have steadily considered this momentous occasion over the past year. I struggle to believe that this may lead to a decision not to vote on 26 November. This has not come out of a sense of apathy, but most definitely the contrary. I am angry. I am sad.

The organisations to which our collective power has been ceded and that are meant to be invested in serving my (our) best interests have been allowed to become distracted and be diverted. Each of us, what recent events have called the 99%, are commodities, particles traded on a global financial market. Social policy currently exists to boost staff morale, or so was read in the manual. How little can we give to appease for maximum gain? It swings, left and right. On my voting paper I will be offered a number of boxes to tick. I am being offered several variants of the same thing. It is false choice. Democracy does not exist.

If you say then that I cannot complain, then I say I can complain; I didn’t vote any of them in. You cannot complain; you voted some of them in.

I gave the above words to my mother, a unionist and strongly political. Naturally, she was disappointed and tried to convince me that there were parties worth voting for: Mana, Greens? I have only a patronising respect for these parties. I replied to my mum: ‘All these parties are subscribed to compromising on people’s lives. They are willing, and not consciously because they have good intentions, to let people slip through the cracks. They can’t help it because the size of our community is too large. I don’t blame them – our communities are limp and that is why we have more and more people in poverty and more and more people living unsatisfying lives. Our communities fall apart because we have made them too big. We are trying desperately to hold them together through technological advances like phones, internet, skype, satellite communications etc. We are told we are closer than ever. We are not. And I can say that because so often I have felt home-sick in my home city despite the so called greater connectedness I can have with my family who are scattered across the globe. People are suffering by our limply-bound communities and we are dilly dallying by trying to polish a turd.’

This is my contribution to the Occupy Movement. Occupy is a modern Guy Fawkes. But this time he must succeed.