REVIEW: Undercurrent (Footnote New Zealand Dance)

Review by Brigitte Knight

[Fog Clearing]

2020 marks Footnote New Zealand Dance’s 35th anniversary; a remarkable achievement for the small Wellington contemporary dance company. As this tumultuous year draws to a close, Footnote has enjoyed the ability to perform and tour its final season of the year, Undercurrent, throughout Aotearoa. The company can also celebrate their move out of the small Cuba Street Tarrant Dance Studios and into a brand new, custom built studio space in 2021. Once again Footnote presents an entirely new company of dancers, two of whom are fresh graduates from the New Zealand School of Dance.

Choreography: Kota Yamazaki
Costume Design: Kota Yamazaki
Scenic Design: Kiuchi Toshikatsu
Sound Design: Jesse Austin-Stewart
Lighting Design: Lisa Maule

Kota Yamazaki’s Fog, Nerves, Ocean, Hello (echoes) opens the show with an atmospherically-lit suspended set piece reminiscent of Plan to A by Jorma Elo performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2008. The work moves through a succession of momenta, taking time to build but rarely reaching crescendos. Yamazaki’s movement vocabulary is dense and personalised for each dancer – likely the product of remote rehearsals and co-ordinated improvisation. Moments of unison and connection in the work are entirely necessary and would benefit from increased cohesion. Fog, Nerves, Ocean, Hello (echoes) is pleasingly dark, and presents a tasteful, sophisticated aesthetic, including a beautiful palette of costumes and avian movement motifs. A relatively long work, this will appeal to experienced contemporary dance audiences rather than newcomers who might best approach a work like this as one might an abstract painting. Yamazaki invites expertise over inclusivity, and the use of live (generally-amorphous) voice from the dancers heightens this sensation. The most compelling and simultaneously anxiety-inducing moments occur as the work draws to a close; the thundering crescendo of a jumbo jet screaming down the runway drags on and on, darkly, sickeningly, wonderfully. Dancers Oliver Carruthers and Cheyanne Teka embody this choreography with the most success, however, Carruthers’ extraordinary speed and fluidity are mostly obscured by focal, staging and formation choices.

Choreography: Rose Philpott
Costume Design: Hannah-Lee Jade Turner
Scenic Design: Rose Philpott
Sound Design: Eden Mulholland
Lighting Design: Lisa Maule

Rose Philpott’s Dry Spell opens with a punch; five dancers in unison with the deeply-rhythmic Reject Step (hip-hop informed, reversed running man), bright orange shower-curtain-esque draperies and a disconnected colour palette of mildly-70s styled costumes. The piece is well-selected to create contrast within the Undercurrent programme, as Philpott’s movement vocabulary is stylised, sensual and self-aware with a generous dose of retro imagery and sound. Although the repetition of a demi-pointe walking motif creates lulls in momentum, Dry Spell moves along at a decent pace, however, it never quite matches the impact of its opening moments. Upbeat, hedonistic and energised, Dry Spell makes use of a variety of partnering, grouping and solos. The most punchy of these is a necessarily camp solo performed by Sebastian Geilings resplendent in a high-cut magenta leotard. Philpott’s work highlights both the physical skills and the performance potential of the young company dancers, revealing room for growth in terms of projection and engaging with a space as large as the Wellington Opera House.

Footnote‘s national tour of Undercurrent closed in Wellington’s Opera House 12 November. 

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