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September 18, 2017 | by  | in Theatre |
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ONCE: A captivating collection of solo dance works

So you think you can dance? 80% of people say yes, 10% quietly believe they can (me), and the other 10% embrace the knowledge that they can’t. Wherever you are on the spectrum of dance capabilities, I’m sure you cannot dance like those performing in ONCE.

The New Zealand School of Dance (NZSD) 50th anniversary show celebrates ten dances created by graduates from five decades of the school, performed by ten contemporary dance students who graduate in 2017.

I have always appreciated dance, leaving films like Step Up wishing I could be as committed and talented as they. Leaving ONCE gave me much the same impression. Here are gymnasts and acrobats, landing so quietly on their feet, with such physical discipline, producing beautiful and awe-inspiring performance art with their bodies.

The stage was a simple rectangle of white lino, with the audience seated and facing the corners. As a theatre student, the lighting is fucking LIT. The opening lighting had 60 centimetres of the edge of the stage illuminated indirectly, meaning if one is to stand on it, the floor would be in light but not necessarily their body. The show opens with all the performers standing in this periphery, looking at each other, acknowledging the space, breathing together, before departing and the lights coming down for the first dance to begin.

Stand out and stepped up performances for me were Sunflower Sutra performed by Holly Brogan and choreographed by Eliza Sanders; Solo for Toa performed by Toa Paranihi and choreographed by Raewyn Hill; and Creatúra performed by Christina Guieb and choreographed by Lauren Langlois.

Sunflower Sutra began as soon as the preceding dance finished, with only her voice muttering, which I initially thought was a disrespectful audience member. Wearing a gold jumpsuit reminiscent of an American prisoner’s uniform, Brogan began to dance, muttering to herself all the while, tapping and twitching, at times becoming her own music before the music began. She captivated our attention entirely.

Wellington, NZ. 07.09.2016. ONCE. By the New Zealand School of Dance at Te Whaea Theatre. Solo contemporary dance work. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court. COPYRIGHT ©Stephen A’Court

Holly Brogan in ‘Sunflower Sultra’, choreographed by Eliza Sanders. Photo by Stephen A’Court.

 

Solo for Toa was exactly what Hill’s brief said it would be: “a celebration of the movement language and the extraordinary spirit that resides in Toa’s body.” Paranihi stepped onto the stage and danced along its periphery, acknowledging the space, before diving into the centre. Because he was topless, his body was performing to the entire audience, and the muscles in his torso and back danced with him. Simply captivating and beautiful.

Wellington, NZ. 07.09.2016. ONCE. By the New Zealand School of Dance at Te Whaea Theatre. Solo contemporary dance work. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court. COPYRIGHT ©Stephen A’Court

Toa Paranihi in ‘Solo for Toa’, choreographed by Raewyn Hill. Photo by Stephen A’Court.

 

Creatúra closed ONCE and was the pinnacle. Guieb and the music (“Mixed_feelings_about_Alien_STEMS” by Alisdair Macindoe) were connected, and the audience knew at once where we were and the story: a robotic character is created, but just as it starts to explore its world, it begins to glitch, ultimately destroying it. Of course, as the finale and also a performance specifically about technology, the lighting here goes nuts and I loved it. Guieb so completely commanded my attention that I only managed to write one thing down: a heart.

Wellington, NZ. 07.09.2016. ONCE. By the New Zealand School of Dance at Te Whaea Theatre. Solo contemporary dance work. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court. COPYRIGHT ©Stephen A’Court

Christina Guieb in ‘Creatura’, choreographed by Lauren Langlois. Photo by Stephen A’Court.

 

I encourage everyone to come and see this show, supporting art in all its forms, applauding these performers for feats I will never attain, and also all the production team for putting together this beautiful dance show. Happy 50th birthday NZDS!

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