REVIEW: Old Tricks New Dogs (Black Sheep Productions)

Review by Brigitte Knight

Photo credit: Adam Ferris

[Wonder Dogs]

Old Tricks New Dogs successfully and fully explores its theme of dogginess through movement, sound, props, personalities and proximities. This non-narrative dance-theatre work follows a thread rather than a storyline, but nevertheless feels complete.

The performance begins while the audience is still milling around at the bar; a hi-vis performer with a whistle shepherds us upstairs and into the Basement Loft. This quirky entrance felt drawn-out on opening night, and not as confident or neatly-rehearsed as the rest of the work. Drinks are not permitted inside the theatre, so those with newly-purchased beverages had to polish them off whilst queuing on the stairs.

Audience interaction is a key element of Old Tricks New Dogs, but not in the humiliating, man-dragged-on-stage-and-forced-into-a-tutu way that most people cringe at; the audience is roving, but herded. Initially, performers give clear verbal instructions about where the audience should stand (the Loft is exposed as a black box theatre – no seating is provided). Gradually, we are coaxed, through gesture, role-modelling and even, yes, touch. This all works beautifully, as it is eased into once the audience have relaxed and warmed up to the concept. A lovely, gentle moment of interaction between three dancers and an audience member is repeated and developed, but the spell is broken, unfortunately, when the accompanying music runs out.

Music and sound composition, by Indira Force, is successfully, if not seamlessly, supported with live sound and voice. Choreographer Natalie Maria Clark provides one consistent character and narrative voice in the show. In conflict with her own work, she antagonises the dancers, fluffs her ego to the audience, and maintains a current of humour that is both welcome and necessary in this style of abstract physical work. Caitlin Davey’s deadpan delivery of “fetch” is a golden comic moment, and is an excellent example of the clever way Old Tricks New Dogs blurs human/dog distinctions.

Old Tricks New Dogs is performed by ten women, a mixture of Unitec and University of Auckland Dance graduates and students. The dancers create some beautiful partnering, with full contact evoking themes of control vs submission, master vs. pup. Ensemble work is especially good, particularly the variety and surprise of lifts and group connections. The work retains a strong Unitec flavour, although it has been thoroughly percolated and developed.

There is a range of skill levels amongst the dancers, and at times hip flexibility and leg extension feel bound, within a movement vocabulary that provides opportunities for freedom. While all are confident theatrical performers, the technical clarity, breadth and detail of Bella Wilson, Jasmine Donald and Caitlin Davey are both well-utilised and necessary for soloist moments.

Tensions within the work provide a pleasing contrast with the show’s whimsical, humorous concept. Old Tricks New Dogs concludes wistfully; a natural ebbing of the energy so present in the rest of the performance.

Old Tricks New Dogs plays until. Details see The Basement

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