Historic dance work captivates audiences 30 years after debut

By Raewyn Whyte

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Dance work first performed in 1985 has not lost its ability to engage.
Insolent River: A Tango, choreographed by Michael Parmenter. Photo / John McDermott.
Insolent River: A Tango, choreographed by Michael Parmenter. Photo / John McDermott.

From start to finish, 90 minutes later, performers Josie Archer and Aloalii Tapu utterly held audience attention as they danced their way through Michael Parmenter's Insolent River: a tango which opened Tempo Dance Festival 2016.

Their sensitive, responsive partnering and total immersion in the world of the River, despite the close presence of the audience on all sides, made for absorbing viewing. Their remarkable dancing is largely improvised, following an episodic structure laid down in the 1985 original version of Parmenter's work.

The opening and closing sections are completely non-referential, accompanied by a mysteriously cyclic, abstract sound score by David Downes. The almost naked dancers slowly emerge from packed soil riverbanks to sprawl and surge across the glowing blue river floor and eventually remain upright to become human.

Subsequently, their relationship becomes domestic and, as they explore some of the more mundane realities of living together, they experience a wide array of emotions.

As they explore their desires, delights and fears, there are intense battles and full out social dancing as a means of release. Finally they return to the river, inchoate beings once again.

Sections of the original work - which were once considered audacious - are no longer provocative given the changes in society and dance-making during the past 30 years. The ground broken by this work in 1985 has become well-cultivated by others and yet its ability to engage has not been lost.

The multiple coding of certain sections is open to new readings; Archer's finger and toe nail painting, for example, appears to be clever anger management while Tapu's poignant lip-synching to Stand by Your Man now feels like a wry bolstering of his inner self. Even insouciant dancing in face of impending doom, set to Let's Face The Music and Dance, has been cleverly updated to reflect current political pre-occupations.

What: Insolent River: a tango, choreographed by Michael Parmenter
Where & when: Q Theatre; until Friday

- NZ Herald

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