The awesome power of Rotorua's Pōhutu Geyser became the metaphor for the destructive impact of Alzheimer's disease in the remarkable multimedia work Pōhutu which opened this year's Tempo Dance Festival.
A sold-out Rangatira – Q Theatre's biggest venue – was filled by an appreciative audience who gave this accomplished work with a standing ovation.
Created by choreographer/performer Bianca Hyslop and AV/sound/light/spatial designer Rowan Pierce, with co-devisor/performer Rosie Tapsell and advisor Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield, Pōhutu celebrates the life of Hyslop's grandmother Ramari Rangiwhiua Morrison.
Morrison grew up in the shadow of the geyser in the village at Whakarewarewa. Now 88 and living with Alzheimer's, her fragmented memories feature as fleeting images projected onto the walls and windows of the set.
Her ghostly yet powerful presence shrouded with red smoke was also felt in cataclysmic moments when the erupting geyser and her intense memories coincided.
Steam was a living presence, bursting from geysers, floating above hot pools, filling the stage at times with mist and cloud, and cloaking the ground with thick fog which seeped into the audience.
On the sound score, water exploded and rained down in torrents; boiling mud blurped and bubbled. A horizontal strip of window panes became a screen for projections and for stick figure drawings which recalled Morrison's childhood, a portal where past and present coexist.
Hyslop and Tapsell were ever-present, dressed in red shirts and high-waisted jeans or mud-brown underwear, designed by Emma Ransley. They were phenomenally well-matched, two lithe, slender and strong bodies dancing as one.
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Their movement was largely abstract but constant, rapidly covering space, and culminated in an impressive side-by-side haka peruperu which communicated the intense frustration, anger and disruption Alzheimer's brings.
Meanwhile, Dances with Aldous was a Tempo Festival commission which invited choreographers Zahra Killeen-Chance, Josie Archer and Kosta Bogoievski to respond to the music of this year's APRA Silver Scroll Award winner Aldous Harding.
Killeen-Chance created Kissing the Doubt, a series of elegantly restrained Fashion Week-ish vignettes for three exquisite dancers dressed in haute couture. Supple fabric sheathed their bodies and flared gently to hooped hems that responded to the gentlest of movements. With matching broad brimmed hats to hide their faces, the trio in red, black, and white quietly promenaded to a suite of Harding's songs.
Archer and Bogoievski took a holistic and subversive approach. Eccentric movements saluted the quirkier aspects of Harding's persona (much commented on by the international media).
Opening nonchalantly as Swell Does the Skull played, they carefully placed two mic stands, picked up the intense mood of her songs and the often strangely confusing directions her lyrics take, and presented erratic movements punctuated by sustained poses. They partnered through a series of overlaid tracks and moved in silence with characteristically unpredictable and detailed exchanges of motion.
Progressively shedding layers of clothing, their final naked coda thanked the contributors and the audience, and segued into their dancing to a slowed down version of Harding's big hit Party, bringing delighted cheers.
What: Tempo Dance Festival 2019, Pōhutu and Dances with Aldous
Where: Q Theatre, Auckland
Reviewed by: Raewyn Whyte