Danz review Acquisitions 15' by Sue Cheesman

Acquisitions '15 - Touch Compass
21 August 2015, Playhouse Theatre - Hamilton

Reviewed by Sue Cheesman

Touch Compass’s Acquisitions tour began in Hamilton on Friday 21 August at the Playhouse Theatre, University of Waikato. This new ensemble of seven company dancers with a range of physicalities embodies the content differently, which makes this company so unique. Touch Compass has been challenging perceptions about what dance is and who can do it for 17 years now.

This latest programme is billed as mixed media. Two very contrasting works frame two short films with the intriguing commonality throughout being a large cube shaped wooden box. This provides a vehicle for a plethora of ways to relate to it both literally and symbolically.

The first work Undertide choreographed by Olive Beiringa and Otto Ramstad (Body Cartography) is introspective. We as an audience are invited to contemplate the dance as if looking at an old master’s painting that slowly morphs. This piece demands a different kind of attention, almost contemplative, and more akin to a Butoh sense of time.

It begins with a film projected on the back of the giant box with a geometrical grid carving up the image into rectangle squares making the viewing more 3D than fractionated. Bodies crease, fold, lean and lie as the overall picture slowly mutates.  Several times the tranquil state is splintered by shaking and trembling, which permeates across all dancers. The film zooms in on one dancer’s belly. The skin is rolled back revealing an internal green vestibule of stomach contents. Accompanied by a slurping sound, fingers clean out numerous small dark balls. The image is macabre yet compelling at the same time.  

On the other side of the stage the yellow sepia toned light grows on a beautiful opening tableau introducing the live part of the dance.  Bodies seemed to be jig sawed together as they intertwine around one another.  This striking image is somewhat under cut by too many single entries of dancers to the upstage, dimly lit revolving box, making it hard to sustain our attention.  Inside the box we see dancers leaning, sliding, stacking and restacking and shaking. Many of the images and motifs from the film repeat as the dancers introspectively navigate the inside of the box with a slow liquid dynamic.  

The accompaniment, full of intrigue, was composed by Claire Cowan.  

Undertide concludes with a stunning image of the dancers and the box equally spaced out turning on their respective spots reminiscent of whirling Dervishes.  It was perplexing to see this image fade and return again.

The two films form part of a series of dance box and the filming within the box captures a sense of confinement and oppression in different ways throughput each.  Lady Word Smith is very art house in its delivery and sees Alexandra Smith’s story go from confinement and caged within the box – writer’s block maybe to freedom as the pages of text cascade around her in the final shot.  Duncan Armstrong’s film Drumming is like Thunder immediately captures attention as this punk continues to drum out his stuff as the harsh reality bites and he is stopped from playing.  However Duncan triumphs over adversity finishing in true punk style with Duncan yelling, “LET’S DANCE, LET’S SING, LET’S DO A SHOW”.  

Watching Windows is lighter in mood and more upbeat built by co-creators, Catherine Chappell, Georgie Goater, Liz Kirk and Adrian Smith. Paper, scissors, rock, charades, swinging on climbing bars and the game of chase, spiritedly remind us of playground antics. At several points much to the audience’s delight, a music box sound is heard created by two dancers winding the toy.  The music for this piece, curated by percussionist Chris O’Connor underpinned the dynamic variation within the dance successfully.

In addition to the giant box this set has the addition of one medium and several other sized boxes, which are manipulated and played with as part of the piece.  Dancers hide, gaze out of, make sound on, slide on, balance on, open and close as they relate to these boxes.

The piece is predominately a series of duets and solos interspersed with group work. The echoing of several motifs is played cleverly out throughout the interplay of roles in the various duets.

The last set of traverses is action packed and full of physicality as dancers cartwheel, leap, jump, tumble, spin, slide, swing on, through and of the boxes. Leading to a crescendo ending in the dancers drumming out an array of multi rhythms.

Strong performances by Alisha McLennan and Georgie Goater create an engaging stage presence particularly in their solo parts of this piece.

This new cast promises potential to fully embody these works.

Date: 
Tuesday, 1 September, 2015
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