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Framed, contained, confined, compressed? Or maybe the 3m square plywood boxes that delineate space in Touch Compass' Acquisitions '14 are treasure chests?

Three separate works are on show in the mixed ability dance company's new season, beginning with a multimedia display from the Dancebox project that spawned the cubical theme, playing in the theatre foyer.

Undertide, choreographed by American choreographers Olive Beiringa and Otto Ramstad, consists of a filmed section made during their last visit to New Zealand, with seven dancers, plus a live segment completed via Skype, under the guidance of artistic director Catherine Chappell. The third item is Watching Windows, a live exploration by three couples of the opportunities and limitations a boxed-in space presents.

The theme emerged in April this year, at a series of community workshops funded by the Ministry of Social Development, that were to produce a series of short films.


"We wanted a common environment for each film," says Chappell. "We began with a 3m square drawn out on the floor." From there the idea of a cube evolved, which worked for filmed performances. But solid sides blocked too much of the view when the work was expanded for a live stage, so now some walls are reduced to open frames.

The "very organic and collaborative process" used in making the work is obvious during a rehearsal in which Touch Compass stalwart Jesse Johnstone-Steele and Zildjian Robinson practise their moves. A sequence has evolved and Chappell is concerned that they are moving too fast for the length of their music. "Pose ... hold ... now move," she says.

But just as often come invitations to "play with that movement" to find what fits.

"For every issue that comes along, different people will find different solutions," she says.

Next up is Tess Connell, rehearsing today with an understudy. Her dance partner, Adrian Smith, is away performing with Dust Palace.

Connell was born with arms that finish just past her elbow.

She is tiny and flexible but the lightness of her upper limbs means she works without a normal counterweight as she somersaults through planes of defined space, relying instead on exceptional core strength.

"Tess has a really good way of ordering her body," says Chappell. "Most people need to be trained in the technique of Contact Improvisation - Tess does it naturally."


Connell first performed with Touch Compass as a 12-year-old, appearing in the 2003 documentary Timeless and short film The Picnic. Before that she studied ballet and contemporary dance at Tapac. Then, in an adolescent "identity crisis" she ditched dancing for soccer.

Since then she has studied psychology and sociology at university, and is completing her last paper in post-graduate psychology. Her driving force as a dancer is a desire to be physical, she says, to experience "that part of the world" and, she confesses, a strong urge to prove people who doubt her capabilities are wrong.

Watching the dancers in rehearsal in their boxes is like peeping through a window at something still private, not yet open for public view.

Connell sums up that sense and important aspect of the show.

"It is about humanity exposed."