REVIEW: Movement of the Human (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Irene Corbett

[Perspective changes MOTH into a Butterfly]

Movement of the Human [MOTH] presents the body in glorious movement in an enthralling and deeply atmospheric work directed by Malia Johnston in collaboration with Eden Mulholland’s composition and sound design, and Rowan Pierce’s set and AV design.

MOTH’s season at Auckland Fringe Town showcases dance/movement, song, live music, and projection, and is brought to life through the choreography and performances of Rodney Bell, Chris Clegg, Brydie Calquhoun, Maria Dabrowska, Hannah Lynch, Ngaere Jenkins, Xin Ji, Chrissy Kakiri, Connor (Ooshcon) Masseurs, Sean MacDonald, Matthew Moore, Rose Philpott, Laifa James Ta’ala, Aloalii Tapu, Carl Angeloque Tolentino, Liana Yew.

A mellifluous singer invites the audience to enter the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber where we find ourselves enveloped in throbbing music, thick haze, and striking mood lighting. The chamber is filled with a boxy scaffolding structure cloaked in layers of a slippery silver material which obscures our view in almost every direction. Performers give an energetic and joyous dance of welcome on a tiered portion of the structure facing the entrance.

Consisting of four parts or ‘configurations’ (Entry, A Shift to the Edge, Roaming, and Seated/Standing), MOTH offers multiple perspectives through which audiences can view both the dance/movement performers and the musicians.  The initial exposure to these fractured and shifting sightlines has the potential to produce frustration. The work presents such a myriad of elements in, on, and around the scaffolding structure that viewing it all simultaneously is impossible (and left me wondering if I would leave unsatisfied). This fear was immediately allayed when the second configuration, ‘A Shift to the Edge’, began.

In ‘A Shift to the Edge’ the audience are stationary, scattered around the perimeter of the room to view one or two of a series of separate ‘fixed’ (rather than free) sequences. From my position on the left-hand wall I could view five dancers engaging in what could only be described as an exercise in escalation.

The performer farthest from me would establish a movement, controlled and simple, which would then ripple through the line copied by each dancer but increasing in magnitude until the final performer would complete the movement with wild intensity. Each dancer had established and was maintaining eye contact with a corresponding audience member standing against the wall. The result was one of relationship. The simple advances of the first dancer read as a gentle interaction between tentative lovers, while the final dancer’s movements became a desperate display of passion. The chosen audience member did not react and so the moment took on a sense of unrequited desire. It was fascinating.

I now realise that having this initial stationary configuration fostered an important connection between audience and performers. I found myself pursuing dancers I had watched in ‘A Shift to the Edge’ in later configurations because I had become familiar with them.

The third part encourages the audience to roam where we please. This includes passing into the scaffolding box, climbing the structure to a platform, or to hang out on stage with the band. The silver material concealing the structure is revealed to consist of an opaque outer layer and an inner layer, simultaneously semi-transparent and semi-reflective, forcing the audience to peep between layers to see the dancers beyond.

The experience becomes that of an art installation: the dancers are like kinetic sculptures, available for observation until another feature of the work draws your attention. These individual, free form dance moments are so magnetic it can be difficult to detach even when you know just out of sight there is another dancer just as intensely involved in the production of bodily expression. Again, the reflex to find narrative in the dancing is overwhelming, attempting to interpret every gesture as symbolic. I saw the motions of loss, longing, and frustration, and narratives of communion, reunion, and jubilation. I can only begin to wonder what everyone else saw.

The final configuration sees the audience either seated in the chamber balcony or standing on the stage with the band, while the performers collect themselves on the top of the structure. At this point all the elements are woven together. The individual dancers join into larger fixed sequences and there are displays of exceptional lighting and AV design which highlight the form of the body and even individual limbs in novel ways. The band complement this with swelling and emotive music – a phenomenal culmination to the evening.

A work of this nature, unfettered by the use of character or role, with the performers stopping to fix their hair or speaking to the audience to instruct us, could easily have felt disjointed or lost momentum, but the palpable atmosphere created through lighting and continuous music lends a unifying consistency to the natural ebb and flow of the dancing and the movement of the audience. MOTH provides a spectacular and mesmeric performance aided by the multi-perspective environment, absolutely convincing me of the beauty and strengths of this type of unusual performance space and form.

Movement of the Human plays the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber until Sun 24 February. 

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  1. Dance performances Jan – March 2019 and associated reviews – allmyownwords

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