I’m a serial student. Primary, secondary, and tertiary education done – but wait, there’s more! I’ve gone into postgrad education and am currently working on Masters. Why, you ask? Expelling my personal, psychological, and terrible financial reasoning for a moment, learning institutions are exciting. Here, there is focus. Here, there is experimentation. Here, there is pushing the boundaries. As humans, we are never more exciting than when we’re learning, which is why I was squealing to go to the New Zealand School of Dance’s choreographic season for 2019 ORBICULUS. Thirteen dances, each choreographed by a graduating student, and directed by Victoria Colombus.
ORBICULUS opens in the Te Whaea foyer area with ‘Huddle’ by Vourneen Canning. The dancers seamlessly slip from the crowd, whose attention at first was mostly on the wine and cheese they were consuming, into a warm and cool circular spotlight. Dancers move at the edges of the light allowing a solo or duo dancers to bask in the centre. The central figure changes frequently, flowing from the collective at the edge, in a seemingly random sequence. Sometimes they slide across the polished wooden floor, the squeak of skin breaking the low-fi and raindrop tones of the music. The dancers break away slowly, becoming jagged and motioning for us to follow them, inviting us robotically into the studio space.
This transition, as the doors into the space opened, flawlessly bled into Alec Katsourakis’s ‘0110100001100001’ which was performed on the amphitheatre/area-style seating blocks we would soon be sitting on. This dance is captivating, not only for the repeated movements, but for the fact that our roles are reversed: we, the audience, stand on their circular white lino floor, while they sit, stand, and move around the seats we will soon take.
Other standout dances were Bjorn Aslund’s ‘Plato’s Atalantis’, Franky Drousioti’s ‘Manuka’, and ‘Pāpā’ by Arohanui Watene.
Aslund’s dancers, Nadiyah Akbar and Amit Noy, stand at the upstage edges of the conditioned flooring and slowly remove the pieces of clothing Anne de Geus designed, and step into the space in their black underwear. At first I wondered if this was going to be a dance about love, connection, and sexuality, but Aslund successful subverted my expectation by playing with gendered dynamics. Akbar and Noy felt like two androgynous beings discovering each other for the first time by celebrating the strengths of their bodies. The removal of clothing was not an attempt at the sexual but rather a removal of gendered ideals.
The music in ‘Manuka’ chirpily haunted me for the rest of the evening. (I mean, it was the incredibly catchy ‘Mr Sandman’ by The Chordettes.) Drousioti’s choreography plays with the singing trios of women who were popular in the fifties and sixties, getting the dancers to lip-sync to some of the lyrics and also begin the classic song by singing the beginning “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba”’s. This was also reflected in Mattias Olofsson’s lighting design by using pink and blue, not only the typical ‘gendered’ colours but it also gave the impression of watching a 3D film without the glasses. ‘Manuka’ starts off very graceful and ends with jagged movement reminiscent of Katsourakis’s ‘0110100001100001’ and Cheyanne Teka’s ‘Charged’, causing me to be aware of the performative nature of actions.
Watene’s piece touched me the most. It begins with audio from a collection of conversations in te reo Māori with a feature of E Papā Waiare. It sounded like audio from a home movie and as I am bicultural, hearing a language other than our dominant English took me straight back to some of the films my grandmother took of us as children. This emotional core remained throughout ‘Pāpā’ as Courtney Mae Lim begins in a soft circle of light, and a bench is brought for the remaining dancers to sit on upstage, emphasising my interpretation of a home movie. Cheyanne Teka is the first to stand and shares a hongi with Lim, bringing in the metaphor of us sharing one breath, and to further the idea that life gives us life, that family has given us you. Dancers stand and join Lim, the men starting a dance reminiscent of a Samoan slap dance. Each share the spotlight, each come together to dance in pairs or groups, and equally dance solo. At one moment, Lim stands on the bench and watches the beautiful dance chaos below her with a sense of pride: this came from her.
Olofsson gave us interesting lighting states from hard cuts to soft bleeds, and a limited colour palette. ‘In a Moment of Reckless Freedom’, by Alessia Augello, had the most interesting lighting state as it began with a tight warm spot, which slowly expanded out, on a hand. Jack Jenkins’s sound designs worked well for the abstract nature of the dances, tailoring songs to the specific dances. And de Geus’s costume designs were gorgeous: soft fabrics with few hard edges reminiscent of the circular themes of the season, and a light pastel earth palette elevating the dancers, keeping it both modern and androgynous.
Celebrate the learning these creatives have sought, give yourself something to think about and see ORBICULUS. The season runs until the 28th of May.