Janet McAllister on the arts

Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: An honest response in community halls

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Lazy Suzy Boy by Ann Dewey.
Lazy Suzy Boy by Ann Dewey.

At the premiere of choreographer Ann Dewey's new work last week, several punters wore rugs, one covered in cute teddy bear pictures. Even by the standards of the contemporary dance crowd - the arts patron tribe of individual dressers - this was eccentric.

But their rugs marked them out not as interlopers but as savvy dance regulars: the performance location was the village hall in Leigh, where Dewey lives and where she often premieres her work, and her local aficionados know the hall can get chilly.

Leigh, an hour away from inner Auckland, is a "good test market", says Dewey. "You get an honest response." And the audience, including farmers and fishermen, are "wonderfully loose". Over the five years she's shown work here, she says local chatter "has gone from 'there's something a bit weird going on in the hall' to 'you should go and see the new show; it's really cool'."

After the Leigh test bed, Dewey's dance company Spinning Sun usually goes on to perform her works in theatres elsewhere.

But this latest work, Lazy Suzy Boy, is designed to be performed only in community halls, and it is touring Warkworth this weekend, and Kaipara Flats, Kumeu and Helensville next week for incredibly low prices: $10 adults, $5 kids (thank you Auckland Council).

The low prices are part of Dewey's unofficial "don't be scared of contemporary dance" campaign. She is also taking holiday choreography workshops in each host hall, and the children then put on a curtain-raiser dance in front of their families before everyone watches Lazy Suzy Boy.

Like the Topp Twins on their legendary tractor tour, Dewey loves her beautiful old hall, even if all the floors are different levels of slippery, making dance moves unpredictably risky. She admits to once mopping a particularly frictionless floor with diluted Coca-Cola to sticky it up a bit, but hastens to add that this was once only, overseas, and that Rodney's floors are safe from any ministerings with the drink.

As well as their intrinsic beauty, the halls allow Dewey to chat properly with her audience, rather than eyeing them over an orchestra pit. The atmosphere is both cosy and ambitious. In the Leigh foyer, knitting patterns, paprika from Hungary (where Dewey recently toured Shine Lady), home-made strawberry jam and a book of Douglas Wright poems were displayed as the prize of an honesty-box raffle to get the work to Wellington, Christchurch and, according to the cardboard sign, "maybe New York".

The dance itself, evoking bio-mechanical control, is performed by three female dancers and one "very special guest"- a local personality when Dewey can find one; the dynamic changes with their gender. To James Hayday's drum'n'bass-like score, they twirl like jewel-box ballerinas, hands echoing the deer antlers and then the tiger claws on the hilarious synthetic bedspread backdrops. The familiar dance vocabulary leaves space for Dewey's fascination and cleverness with props: a cowbell, an unrecognisable skateboard, long bindings like marionette cords.

- NZ Herald

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