Janet McAllister on the arts

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

Janet Mcallister: Wiggling and marching to their own drum

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White Knights Marching Girls mimicking Monty Python's Ministry of Funny Walks.
White Knights Marching Girls mimicking Monty Python's Ministry of Funny Walks.

Uh-oh - Mary-Jane O'Reilly had better watch out. Some real marching girls have contacted her about her fake marching girls, performing this weekend in Aotea Square as part of the free annual Living Room festival.

"I know they're not very happy with me," says the veteran choreographer.

What O'Reilly's White Nights Marching Girls lack in uber-tight precision, they make up for with sultry salutes. Performing to a score which includes Monty Python (as a nod to its Ministry of Silly Walks), the girls in micro-pleats mix hip-swings with goose steps, gum-chewing with tip-toe ballet.

But while a little upset is understandable, it's not clear whether O'Reilly is commenting on the hobby of marching or merely using it to target her message elsewhere. The butt of the joke could be para-military sexiness in general - are patriarchal power and discipline challenged or celebrated by a wiggle in unison? (French philosophers insist we all have an inner fascist.)

For O'Reilly, who'll be putting the marching girls in her In Flagrante burlesque show, sexiness is a pendulum swing away from a 1990s "cult of ugliness" in contemporary dance. "Then, it was 'don't ever mention that you're female'," she says.

The two big themes for this year's Living Room, which O'Reilly has curated with her husband Phil, are gender and dance combinations - dance combined with marching, with a bus, with BMX bikes, with a shop window, with fighting, with audience participation via headphones. The combinations make the works accessible (important for a publically funded art series, an "eccentric little festival," as O'Reilly calls it) but also make room for irony and comment.

It's pleasing that Josh Rutter's tongue-in-cheek presentation of social pressures and male identity Dance Like A Butterfly Dream, Boy is back at 8pm tonight, albeit without Rutter himself because, unfortunately, he was recently concussed while boxing (ironic in itself, given the title's reference to Mohammed Ali).

Another highlight, Boxed from Britain's Seven Sisters Group, looks at a different type of boxing. "Look, there's a girl in a box!" said one woman to her children last Sunday, as they passed the Smith & Caughey window on Queen St. No different from the usual department store display? Except that this girl, wearing cream shorts, and a matching Grecian-inspired apron, is alive and kicking inside her vertical wooden coffin. In silence, the dancer, Maria Munkowits, tries various ways to get out, dolphin-dives down the walls on her shoulders as if trying to get splinters, and ends by exaggerating supermodel poses until she is hunched over in grotesquely awkward position. But she also uses the walls, floor and ceiling for support and propulsion, as if the box was her tango partner.

This year, Living Room - now funded by the Waitemata Local Board with support from the British Council - is part of Art Week, hopefully a boost to both of these great initiatives.

White Nights Marching Girls perform today at 12.30pm and 7.20pm.

See artweekauckland.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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