Opera House
April 29 | Reviewed by Shruti Navathe

FOOTNOTE Dance Company returned to Wellington after a successful tour last year to present 2008 Made in New Zealand, a performance that promised to be uniquely and indelibly kiwi. I went to the performance on 29th at the Opera House expecting to be impressed. My response was somewhat more equivocal than that.

The dance company, directed by Deirdre Tarrant has been creating and performing some of the most innovative fusion of old and new for the past two decades. Their tour in 2008 is in Tarant’s words “an unflinching celebration of our unique country”. This year’s programme comprised six performances, choreographed by six choreographers each with something personal and specific to communicate. As per Footnote’s modus operandi there was a mix of experienced as well as novice choreographers enabling each to showcase their best and benefit from the experiences of each other.

The opening piece Te Mana (choreographed by Merenia Gray) sought to celebrate the quiet, sure strength of Maori women. I wish I could have seen it performed by the original troupe and felt that the performers failed to do it justice. I would have liked to have seen more conviction in the movements and felt that the dancers were merely mimicking movements without really having internalised the strength or intent of mau rakau. As a result the piece felt confused and failed to have an emotional impact. Of course the audience’s response to the karanga at the end of the performance only served to annoy me further and underscore the lack of understanding of tikanga as well te mana wahine maori. The excellent music as well as effective lighting was its saving graces.

The False Waltz, choreographed by Malia Johnston, was a simple idea well executed. The lighting design was impeccable and the dancing impressive. The dancers moved with clear and fluid movements creating an atmosphere of controlled energy. The music served to emphasise the mood and worked well with the repetitive and cyclical movements and each complemented the other. I thought this was the best piece of the evening.

Kakushi Aji, choreographed by Sarah Knox, was another piece that sought to bridge cultural boundaries and share experiences. While a laudable objective I thought it was treated considerably less than adequately. Once again I found that the dancers, apart from Sarah who was a noteworthy exception, failed to internalise the movements. As a result the piece had a more farcical nature than I am sure was intended. The wearing of trousers and haori jackets made out light, flimsy material further diluted the clean lines and heavy beauty that is central to Japanese art forms. The choice of costume also made the movements seem less organic by removing the context in which they are usually performed.

That Feel Good Factor, choreographed by Deirdre Tarrant and the dancers, was a light look at the way in which clothes determine perception. The dancers did well to create different moods within the piece moving from serious to funny effortlessly. The music by Stephen Gallagher worked well and the interaction between the movement and the music was flawless.

Hannah Elks, Vessel, was an attempt to explore the internal functions of the body. The piece opened with the heart and was compelling in its intensity. As we moved through the performance it seemed to lose its focus and felt more scattered and disjointed. The music by Brendan Elks was effective and created a wonderful space for the dancers to move through. All four of the dancers moved with grace and clarity and conveyed their dilemmas in acting and questioning the world and themselves well.

The last performance for the night was Whippersnapper for first time choreographer Sarah Foster. I commend her choice of topic and the simplicity with which she sought to explore it. However, I would have liked to see a little more depth and intensity in the treatment of the subject given that the idea is so closely linked to domestic violence as well as self harm. Having said that I felt that the dancers treated the movement with the seriousness it deserved and did well to create a sense of the pain as well as validation than can come from hitting oneself or others. The fact that this piece was treated with levity by the audience (several people laughed several times when one dancer hits themselves or another) is more of an indictment of the audience in particular and society at large than the intent or choreography of the piece.

All in all I thought that the performance kept up Footnote’s tradition to question, evolve and learn. Despite some of the flaws, I was favourably struck by the effort and collaboration that had gone into the project and certainly recommend any dance aficionados to go watch it.