“What does the title of that new Footnote show mean?
“Well Mum, if you know, you know…”
The show consists of two pieces separated by an interval, Advance to Go choreographed by Holly Newsome, and Premonition choreographed by Forest Kapo. The two share the same set of five dancers, Veronica ChengEn Lyu, Emma Cosgrave, Levi Siaosi, Airu Matsuda and Cecilia Wilcox, with Jacob Reynolds jumping in as an extra sixth for Premonition. To Footnote’s credit, the two pieces talk to each other well. It feels like a cohesive evening, instead of an end-of-term-showing. Both pieces are of remarkable polish and quality. I am moved immensely by both of them.
Up first, is Advance to Go. Elevated a good metre or two off the floor stage right, is an open door. Light is coming from somewhere inside of it, bleeding out onto the Hannah Playhouse stage, and casting the shadow of a dancer out with it. Underneath, connecting to the floor, is a ladder. We can hear the warbled Peanuts-esque sounds of distorted, non-specific, discussion coming from the room. Centre stage, the tall white frame of a cube stands, lined with bright white LEDS that will turn on and off sporadically throughout the show. Slowly, to the gradually intensifying and delightfully punchy doosh, doosh, doosh, of staccato bass (MAN, the Hannah sound system hits hard), our five dancers rhythmically back their way down the ladder and into the world of the show.
Advance to Go is wonderfully childlike. I don't know what it is about this group of dancers, but despite all being in their early twenties, on stage they appear sixteen or younger. For the next half hour, we essentially watch them play. Turns out, there’s a lot of different emotions hidden in that. For starters, it’s funny! I’m not quite sure the audience fully catch up to this. There’s a presumed self seriousness that comes with seeing contemporary dance, that I think gets in the way of some people realising that extended sequences of Advance to Go are essentially mini clown shows. The dancers tumble over one another. They’re klutzy, in a way that can only be performed by people who are anything but. A stand out in this is dancer Siaosi, who is never caught without a goofy facial expression. There’s a brief section where he deploys a self-aggrandising, faux-masculine, comic chest flex that has me howl with laughter.
Play is also filled with ritual. Repetition is used well to this effect. Performers play elaborate games, with rules that they’re clearly well versed in and we aren’t privy to. It serves as a great way to bring out some of the slicker, more surface-level-impressive movement we as an audience tend to expect from a high end dance show.
Yet despite all of this, Advance to Go ultimately makes me feel pretty damn sad. Play is violent. The dancers enact, and re-enact, and re-re-enact, little murders of one another. Play is desperate. The dancers drag each down. They hold each other back, clinging to ankles like children. It’s sad to see them slow each other down. It’s tragic to watch them shake each other off. It evokes a sensation of people being left behind.
If there’s any form of thesis statement to Advance to Go, it comes in a simple recurring gesture. A few times throughout the show, all of the performers stop, plant their feet down wide, and extend a single hand to the audience, palm up. Honestly, I'm puzzled by it. Are the performers giving or receiving? Are they trying to offer us something, or do they want something from us? In the program, Newsome writes “Negotiation, trust, trial, error. Stay in the game. Allegiances, enemies. Life is simple if you know the rules. After all, it’s just a game.” I’m struck by ‘negotiation’. Maybe that’s all play is - compromise. No one wants exactly what you have to give, or gives exactly what you’re craving. Hence, desperate, funny, violent, sad. If you know, you know.
During the interval, I look up from my frantic note taking, and am struck by the arrival of what appears to be a sports timer. Picture the countdown clock at a basketball game. Bright red text, counting down the seconds. It starts at around 40 minutes, the time left until the end of the show.
Then we’re into it. The first thing that jumps off the stage is the change in costumes. While Advance to Go had the dancers wear deliberately conspicuous, black, long-sleeve-active-wear shirts and gym shorts, Premonition has them donned in blazers, turtlenecks, with long pants. The colours are mundane, all living somewhere between white and beige.
Premonition is more overt with it’s themes. This time, the music is interspersed with snippets of slightly distorted voice over dialogue, performed by Moana Ete. Quickly, we put together that it’s all related to dating. Online dating bios, message conversations, and awkward first-date patter. While it’s somewhat funny, it mostly comes across as melancholy, dissatisfied. This is captured in the movement of the piece. Dancers bounce off one another. People bob, watching others from the sidelines. There is no catharsis, only failure to connect. It’s mundane, it’s beige, it’s the least erotic piece about dating you can possibly imagine.
The countdown clock continues to pull me out of it. It’s a bold move to include in your piece. Reminding the audience how long until things are over, reminds us that we’re watching a show. It’s anti-immersion. While it provokes a slight sense of dread, mostly, it just makes me feel like I’m waiting. Waiting for the show to end. Waiting for one of these dates to work. While this is happening, lines of red are slowly appearing on the sides of the stage. It’s very gradual, creeping. We’re like a lobster in a pot. We don’t notice the temperature is rising. Until all of a sudden the waters boiling.
The haze machine is turned up to eleven. The lines of red become a fog. The dancing becomes increasingly woozy, moody, raw. Someone speaks. A dancer (I believe Wilcox?) says dialogue, for the first and only time tonight. I am jolted out of my chair. I don’t notice the countdown timer, from here until the end of the show. I’m paraphrasing, but she says something to the effect of “I always knew this was going to end. I guess I just didn’t want to know it.” I notice one of the male dancers off in a rear corner, writhing in sadness.
The second half of the piece is wildly visceral and emotive. Dancers continue to bounce off each other, but this time, occasionally, things click. It feels flirty, rejection has turned into a sharp pain, rather than an aching one.The beating heart of this segment is ChengEn Lyu. Throughout the piece, there’s been a bright white square of light at varying levels of intensity, in the centre of the stage. Lyu takes to it like a spotlight, delivering a heartbreaking, violent, evocative dance freak out that I’m unable to visualise the second it finishes but damn, will I remember how it made me feel.
Then it ends. No it doesn’t. What? There’s four minutes left on the timer. Why are people clapping? It takes me half a minute to process that the audience isn’t wrong, I am. The show has ended, with timer still going. I’m cautious to write about the effect of this, at risk of being laughed at by the cast and crew. I’m partially concerned that this is a mistake, some issue of timing, or interval length, or something, and over analysing it is going to be met with a “can you believe this idiot.” But at the risk of that…
In the program Kapo and ChengEn Lyu write about the importance of people pursuing the desire to connect. They explain that they’re “hopeful” that when people truly connect, and exist inside “true collectives”, that understand them for who they are, that humanity still has a chance. “Although, given our recent past and our current future, all I have to go on is a premonition. A premonition.” Desire is just hope, right? It’s letting yourself be pulled forward by the expectation of something. At risk of sounding a bit sad, it’s never really fulfilled. We still desire more connection, we still want more love. We don’t reach the end of the timer.
IYKYK has finished it’s Te whanganui-a-tara season, but still has shows upcoming in New Plymouth and KeriKeri. Tickets are available here.