Show One: Tomorrow After All—★★½
Show Two: Bridges and Doors—★★★½
Transfer was a pair of contemporary dance works, choreographed by expat kiwis Jeremy Nelson (New York) and Joshua Rutter (Berlin), and performed by Footnote Dance Company. Footnote recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, making it New Zealand’s oldest contemporary dance company. The company has a fairly consistent record of producing excellent shows, so I went into this with high expectations. However these expectations were not met.
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The format of this performance was fairly standard for Footnote, as many shows in the past have been collections of works showcasing a variety of New Zealand choreographers. The venue however was not, with the show presented at the Massey University Tea Gardens. This place proved so hard to find that the company’s admin team had to put signposts around the campus telling the audience how to get there. At least three people entered late because they got lost.
The first work presented, Tomorrow After All by Joshua Rutter, was… odd. My girlfriend had a look of intense discomfort throughout the performance. Footnote’s five performers ‘danced’ while wearing long multicoloured wigs that hid their faces, whilst manipulating large inflated tubes made from black trash bags. I tentatively use the word dance as the work did not include anything recognisable as a series of steps. The performance was intended to explore ideas of internet culture, or, to quote the choreographer’s own writing, “virtual environments populated by obscure character design and artificial materialities… fragments scavenged from the internet are assembled into an embryonic culture that starts to generate its own sense of time and place.” Each dancer was dressed to represent some form internet subculture, or at least that’s the straw I grasped at. The piece had strong hints at subtext, but no way to actually ascertain what that subtext may be. Basically it was like a bunch of tumblr aesthetic blogs, both in appearance and in the shallow nature of the content, while attempting to present itself as deep.
Footnote has in the past taken on choreographers with kooky ideas for shows, but usually the execution is far better. The most notable example being their 2011 show Hullapolloi by Jo Randerson and Kate McIntosh, which, in the manner of presentation, bore a striking resemblance to Tomorrow After All, but with one key difference: it contained actual social commentary. In both works costumes were weird, there was a significant lack of structured or precise movement, and there was a big focus on the use of disposable props. While Hullapolloi received praise from critics, Tomorrow After All simply failed to live up to its full potential.
Bridges and Doors by Jeremy Nelson, the second work presented, was much more accessible. This performance actually contained the structured movement you would expect from a dance show. Nelson, judging from the performance and his description of the work, seems to be a very down to earth guy, especially for the contemporary dance scene.
Nelson’s work explored ideas of architecture, and the distinction between building and dwelling; house and home. It included some interesting movements to represent floor plans, walls, and structural support requiring nuanced partner work. It was not a flashy performance, and it wasn’t aiming to express anything experimental, crazy, or even deep. The dancers wore what was probably their own clothes. There was a clever and subtle use of costume when all the dancers removed any jackets, sweaters, or coats they were wearing as though entering a dwelling. Nelson proved in that moment that you don’t need garish long wigs to convey an idea through costume.
A similar moment was achieved when a dancer placed a table on the stage, marking the transition from a soulless space to a home; however it was slightly disappointing because the table was not used at all after that point. It was refreshing to have something so tame after the mess that was Tomorrow After All. Perhaps putting Nelson’s unextravagant performance alongside Rutter’s mess-terpiece was to its detriment, because it didn’t leave much of a lasting impact on me in the end.
Overall Transfer was not the best show Footnote has ever performed, but like all Footnote shows it encouraged conversation and analysis—albeit about how much better previous shows have been.