The standout highlight of Tempo 08's opening week was Grotteschi, an enthralling duet by Touch Compass dancers Suzanne Cowan and Adrian Smith, alias Ava the Spiderwoman and Argyle the Mantis Man, set in and around Ava's lair. From the opening moments you knew that Ava, in her low-cut frilly red and white polka dot dress with her six dangling legs and her subtle webbing of light, was both queen of all she surveys, and very hungry. So when Argyle, an upside down, inside out, extremely agile and insouciant creature yearning for love came within her reach, you just knew it wasn't going to go well for him.
Choreographed by Cowan, with a carnivalesque score by Charlotte Rose, the dance became a saga of seduction (from his perspective) and parry and feint for domination (from hers), almost entirely achieved through extraordinarily responsive partnering. Tailor-made to exploit the capabilities of these performers, the dance drew sustained applause.
Also popular with opening week audiences were two works in progress presented by Atamira. Maaka Pepene's darkly lit duet, Te Kore, beautifully danced by himself and Justine Pepene-Hohaia, at once explored the Creation realm of Maori tradition and the intimacy of procreation and birth. With a subtle ambient score by Tapua Heydon Hohaia, the dancers entwined and continually shifted their positions against the floor, drawing the audience into their tender embrace without any sense of voyeurism.
In utter contrast, Moana Nepia's brightly lit Waiata Poi had the dancers dressed in alternating layers of bitter orange and bright pink netting attached to laced-up bodices for the women and bare chests for the men, suggesting at once postmodern ballet tutus, candy floss cones, fire poi, and a flock of chattering parrots.
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This wickedly deconstructive dance intermixed the dynamics and formal proprieties of ballet and poi performance to produce a richly eccentric vocabulary and syntax which can be further extended and fully mastered as the work continues to develop. The dancers also playfully engaged with each other, at times almost clowning around, and there were humorous moments before the final calming port de bras drew the work to a close.
At the Concert Chamber, in their third production to date, BackLit Productions took on the heady issues of consumerism in an ambitious work The Story of Stuff, with an ambient-hip soundscape produced and mixed live by Amin Payne.
A series of vignettes established the theme and implied a series of questions about the ways our personal choices are influenced. Some sections were vividly communicative - Pandora's box was opened, and later closed regardless of what had been let loose.
A dancer donned all the clothes in her wardrobe, one item at a time, finishing with her handbag over her face, but was then unable to move in any direction. High-heel wearing dancers walked bent forward from the waist with torsos laid against leg and hands clasped around ankles - reminiscent of the pukekos in the Mercury TVC; later they are cajoled into adopting an eccentric head-rotating motion copied from a battery-driven dog. Bad drugs are taken, endless amounts of money totalled.
Ultimately, however, no answers are suggested, and the critical edge of the commentary is blunted by too many vignettes and some difficult transitions - some dramaturgy is needed.