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September 15, 2008 | by  | in Theatre |
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Footnote Forte 2008

Each year Footnote Dance (the company developed in part to provide professional opportunities for contemporary dancers outside of the Royal New Zealand Ballet) showcases the work of a significant choreographer. In the third annual Forte season the company chose Claire O’Neil, whose work Mtyland formed the feature work in a series of three performances.

Malia Johnstone’s The False Waltz ran a progression of repetitive gestures of coupling, developing from the static image of two people in an embrace through to more strangely antagonistic, machine-like and impassioned connections between bodies. The piece seemed designed to utilise the dancers as a single working collective rather than to highlight any individual. As each dancer struggled to move while trapped in an embrace they reached an increasing, sometimes comic or joyful absurdity, so that, like its title, the work appealingly undercut and interrogated the romantic sentiments of a traditional waltz – offering a sincere portrayal of forms of intimacy as difficult, repetitive, and sometimes wonderful. Nest by Raewyn Hill (last year’s feature choreographer) was a more traditional though no less interesting offer. The piece allowed Erynn Gleeson to stand out as she played against the movement of two male dancers with a total and transfixing commitment to the intensity of Hill’s choreography.

O’Neil’s Mtyland set itself up ambitiously. The programme notes promised Mtyland as an interpretation of “nothing and everything at the same time / mtyland is a celebration of doing / whatever the fuck we want / mtyland is mighty/ …it is where we make ourselves be heard.” Cue self-righteous and entirely unmoving PoMo creation packed with sterile intellectualism, right? In fact O’Neil’s piece succeeded in providing an intoxicating, mesmerising, often laugh-out-loud interrogation of space, and of the friction between individuals and communities, individualism and conformity, peaceful cohabitation and violence. Each of the dancers utilised song, dialogue, and strong natural characterisation to both compete for space on the stage and support the movements of one another. Transitions in tone were reflected in abrupt juxtapositions of varied music including opera, a sudden interlude of Carole King’s ‘Up on the Roof’ and extensive and fascinating use of New York rock-electo outfit, Battles.

At one point a dancer engaged in an unusual, physicalised recital of an endless series of common sayings, and although this moment in some ways deflected from the momentum of the piece as a whole, it also served to build on a thematic thread: that each dancer attempts to make sense of their experience of “space” (in this case a wonderfully stripped down and naked Opera House stage, complete with visible rigs) as authentic and original yet sometimes meaningless, repetitive, conforming to traditional ways of signifying a dancer-inempty- space. The only low note for the evening was a woeful under-selling of tickets. Although the audience in attendance was enthusiastic and fully engaged, the empty seats must have been a disappointment for the company; this particular emptiness only served to illustrate the importance of the work Footnote is trying to do to improve awareness, attendance and support of our relevant, exciting and boundary-pressing contemporary national dance.

Footnote Forte 2008
By Footnote Dance Company
At The Opera House
Sept 5 – 6

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