Experimental dance artist Anna Bate works with a cast of four in her new exposition on sound, titled Oomph, for Footnote New Zealand Dance's season of Now (new original work).

Beginning with breath improvisations, lots of vocal warm-ups and exercises in sending sounds to different spaces in the body and becoming aware of the resonances of sound in the body, the four dancers have developed their own distinct and distinctly cartoonesque characters. Lana Phillips' character is "huffy-puffy and rather plodding"; Kosta Bogoievski's is "sharper and more direct with pings and clicks and growls"; Emma Dellabarca has developed "a cloudy and soft, open and spacious person with swishy wind sounds"; and Jeremy Beck has "tsk tsk tsked" up a panicky sort of alter ego. Costumes consist of individually "sculptured" yellow raincoats which add their own sound effects.

With no plot or coded narrative, the conjured-up characters "just go about their business", says Bate, "moving and making sounds together and relating to sound in ways that are a bit different".

But the work itself is structured. In the first section the space is multi-layered with vocalisations. Silence rules in the second part, as the dancers move to the resonance of the sound. In the final section a recorded track, by Lucy Beeler, brings meaning in a narrative sense, with sung words and more recognisable sounds.

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Questions arise through the work, Bate says. "How might we render sound as tactile? How can the body be different in relation to sound? And how might we foreground the immaterial material in a choreographic project?"

Bate, who has a bachelor of performing and screen arts from Unitec and a masters in dance studies from the University of Auckland, lectures part time at both institutions. Now based in Wellington and with an 18-month-old daughter, Willow, she is "trying to expand my practice in terms of what is available to me".

Her intriguing work, For Crying Out Loud, which she performed in Auckland last year, clearly reflected a baby's ability in non-verbal communication, but Bate says her interest in sound, of choreographing something invisible, preceded Willow's birth.

"Making sound tactile and choreographing the invisible seems impossible," she says. "I like to work with impossibilities."

The Footnote dancers were initially unfamiliar with Bate's themes and quests into how sound transmits and reverberates information to other bodies in the "sound sphere". And even Bate was surprised to experience, during rehearsals, some of the not so positive effects of making "full-on noise" all day. "That," she says, "is not so great."

Different emotional states in the body almost always result in changes to the breath. Crying and laughter are examples. The effects work in both directions, so consciously reproducing breath patterns associated with feelings will result in experiencing those feelings, the infectiousness of laughter for example.

Audiences should perhaps prepare for the "empathetic absorption" of other, less up-beat states. A week from opening night in Wellington, last Friday, Bate reflects positively on progress. "But there is still more to do - it is still a research piece," she says.

Other works in the Now programme include Gins and Nets by Katharina Waldner, 5iVe by Jared Hemopo and Revilery by Natalie Maria Clark.

Always cutting edge

Footnote Dance New Zealand will celebrate its 30th anniversary and a very proud history with a gala weekend in Wellington in August.

A sparkling constellation of the country's stars of contemporary dance is expected. Michael Parmenter, Shona McCullagh, Raewyn Hill, Malia Johnston and Ross McCormack number among Footnote's alumni.

A Pecha Kucha event at City Gallery will provide space for 12 people who have long associations with the company, as dancers, choreographers, devotees and observers, to talk and show images of Footnote's critical effect on their lives. The stories will spotlight Footnote's creative and nurturing role in a wide band of New Zealand's cultural life.

The weekend will also feature the premiere of 30 Forward, a work by company founder and driving force Deirdre Tarrant, NZOM, and a new work by Malia Johnston.

Tarrant's piece salutes the five's full-length dance works, and their choreographers, each of which featured in one of the company's five Forte seasons, incorporating sections from Raewyn Hill's Here Lies Within, Malia Johnston's Miniatures, Hullapolloi by Kate McIntosh and Jo Randerson, Claire O'Neill's Mytland and We Have Been There by Lisa Densem.

Johnston's new work is made in partnership with videographer Rowan Pierce.

30 Forward will also tour, to the Christchurch Festival, Nelson Arts Festival, Dunedin Festival and to Tempo Dance Festival in Auckland.

A retrospective video and a compilation of Footnote's musical commissions are being produced.

Footnote's fostering of creative talent has extended to graphic design, with Chromemaster's vibrant posters using the dancers' bodies in action, for over 30 years. A selection from this collection will also be exhibited.

Deirdre Tarrant retired three years ago, but remains on Footnote's artistic advisory panel. Raewyn Whyte, who also sits on the panel, credits Tarrant's energy for the company's ongoing success.

As head of the country's dance school she also had a steady support base, and a ready-made audience to come and see her new ventures. Whyte also credits her ability to see international opportunities. Footnote performed at three Expos and there were many exchange projects with Australian companies.

She says Tarrant kept her finger on the pulse of popular culture, and fostered the ideas of new generations of artists through the Made in NZ programme, providing them with performance opportunities and sound guidance.

"And she took a huge number of risks," says Whyte. "She had to talk her way out of some sticky situations - but she has extended the boundaries of contemporary dance in New Zealand. And she has always been a very generous and open-hearted person. Even when she has been quite angry."

What: Now, with Footnote New Zealand Dance
Where and when: Maidment Theatre, July 16 -17; The Meteor, Hamilton, July 19