REVIEW: ORCHIDS (Foster Group Dance)

Review by Cynthia Lam

[Women in Full Bloom]

Inspired by the orchid flower as a symbol of the divine feminine, ORCHIDS is an emotional and visceral contemporary dance work that celebrates the multifaceted layers of the female experience.  Directed and choreographed by Sarah Foster-Sproull, ORCHIDS features seven strong and expressive dancers spanning three generations — Marianne Schultz, Katie Burton, Rose Philpott, Jahra Wasasala, Joanne Hobern, Tori Manley-Tapu and Foster-Sproull’s daughter Ivy Foster.  Matrilineal narratives, female-centred stories and their relationship with the divine feminine are expressed through the language of dance.

With an almost bare set draped with a large piece of black fabric as backdrop, a cloud of white mist, and the echoing sound of a deep throbbing beat, the piece opens with a duet performed by Schultz and Manley-Tapu.  With each holding a white orchid, the intertwining of hands and smooth twirling gestures are juxtaposed with hard slapping collisions. They are then joined by Philpott and Wasasala to create a sensual display in which faces and bodies are caressed, ending in an image of a woman with many hands:  I am reminded of the Chinese Goddess of Mercy or the Mother Goddess of many hands, symbolising the strength and power of a woman who multitasks a myriad of roles.

The music quickens and the backdrop changes colour to a luminous galaxy-blue, and Philpott begins her solo segment composed of elegant movements and a striking presence.  Group pieces and duets are interwoven seamlessly with solo parts, with each dancer expressing her own style and story. Burton’s emotional performance relating to the loss of a loved one possibly that of an unborn child, Schultz’s whimsical and playful dance number, Hobern’s agility and expressiveness when portraying a woman in an abusive relationship together with Manley-Tapu’s convincing body language, Wasasala’s powerful performance as a fearsome and demonic Goddesss figure, and Ivy Foster’s innocence and sweetness as a child who is loved and nurtured by the female figures in her life — all these multifaceted layers of the female experience and their accompanying feelings of pain, loss, fear, anger, destruction, joy, love, nurture and compassion are conveyed through the performers.  

The honesty of the storytelling conveyed through dance, emotion and symbolism was what I found the most intriguing and moving in ORCHIDS.  There were moments of recognition when I could relate to the stories being told, and moments of awe at how those stories could be expressed in such a beautiful and poignant way.  By the end of the performance, I felt that these women had shared an intimate part of themselves with me. Likened to a piece of fabric interwoven and sewn together with the various strands representing the lives of different women, Foster-Sproull has created a mesmerising and beautiful dance work that celebrates the multifaceted layers of the feminine experience.

ORCHIDS played Q Theatre 17 to 20 July. It tours to Wellington’s Circa Theatre 24 to 27 July. 

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

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