REVIEW: AKL, Babel (Basement Theatre)

Review by Tim George

Hello subtext my old friend

Choreographed and directed by Amber Liberte, AKL, Babel is a dance work inspired by the Tower of Babel and the rise of similar mega-structures in contemporary Auckland. 

Performed by ‘workers’ Jasmine Donald, Joanna Cook, Sophie Grieg and Talia Pua, AKL, Babel is broken into three parts (‘Construction’, ‘Underbelly’ & ‘Expansion’), to show the way projects like the new Convention Centre disrupt and remake the city around them.  

The show begins in near-darkness, with two of the dancers wearing headlamps focused on the writhing backs of their two colleagues, which are covered in miniature cityscapes. Possibly a reference to its potential volatility, this sequence is a good metaphor for the region’s lack of centralised design – at one point, the dancers randomly place buildings all over one of their number’s body while she sleeps.  

The second segment focuses on the sleazier side of the city – dressed in fishnets and accompanied by a jazzy bass beat and the sounds of slot machines, the dancers perform a slinky routine that goes from seductive to monotonous. The length and repetitiveness of the choreography represents the endless loop of gambling – time loses all meaning and the allure of victory soon recedes.

Beyond the title cards which introduce each set piece, there is a lot left up to interpretation. There is, thankfully, little subtext to the third segment as our heroines strut across the stage thrusting building-like phalluses. It is very funny and silly, and retroactively made me like the show more. What is the Sky Tower really but New Zealand’s contribution to the ‘who’s biggest’ discourse?

It might go on too long for some, and the choreography feels a bit repetitive, but AKL, Babel features some really cool visuals and makes a better case for the new convention centre than any of its backers have – at least as inspiration for interpretative dance.  

AKL, Babel plays Basement Theatre until 24 August. 

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  1. 2019 New Zealand Dance Calendar with review links for July-September – allmyownwords

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