Dance review: Hypnotic work is one out of the box

Jesse Johnstone-Steele (left) and Tess Connell in Touch Compass Dance Company's captivating  Acquisitions 14 show.
Jesse Johnstone-Steele (left) and Tess Connell in Touch Compass Dance Company's captivating Acquisitions 14 show.

The opening work in this most mesmerising of programmes begins with a filmed section projected on to a large wooden cube which contains and catapults the dancers into action for the whole of the show's duration.

Choreographed by Americans Olive Beiringa and Otto Ramstad of the BodyCartography Project, whose long-term interest is an exploration of the spaces we inhabit, both internal and external, Undertide presents a tableau of some seven bodies in an evolving tangle of pale limbs, beige undergarments and impassive faces.

It's like a Grecian frieze come to gradual life, each arrangement revealing more of the inner story. The pace is hypnotic, so the sudden appearance of a dark object on an exposed belly and its slow excavation by worm-like fingers is a shock.

The live section of the work arrives, pale body by pale body, to create another sculpted tangle on a shadowy stage. The clever cube spins at increasing speed and the dancers join its illumination one by one to continue their somatic conversation: Tess Connell, Georgie Goater, Alisha McLennan, Zildjian Robinson and Adrian Smith, with understudies Aloalii Tapyu and Monique Westerdaal providing the momentum.

Suzanne Cowan and Renee Ball perform in the filmed sequence only. The intriguing soundtrack is by Claire Cowan. Alyx Duncan directed the filming.

The second item is Watching Windows, a collaboration between artistic director Catherine Chappell and company dancers, this time including Touch Compass favourite Jesse Johnstone-Steele.

Touch Compass work exclusively in contact improvisation style. The cube adds another robust point of contact as the dancers explore its planes and angles, trapdoors, windows and skylights.

The main body of the work consists of three pairs: Johnstone-Steele and Robinson in blokey balance; quicksilver McLennan with the gorgeously athletic Goater; and Connell and Smith in a close and breathtaking connection in which Smith's extreme flexibilities are more than matched by the spirited Connell. It's a graphic demonstration that the differences imposed by a foreshortened limb, extra chromosome or unusually wired nervous system defy judgment as artistically "less-than".

The full extent of the Dance Box project is also on show in Q's foyers.

What: Acquisitions '14 with the Touch Compass Dance Company
Where and when: Q Theatre, to Sunday
Reviewer: Bernadette Rae

- NZ Herald

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