Three deeply personal works exploring themes connected to birth and death, renewal and regeneration, featured in the closing weekend of this year's Tempo Dance Festival.

There could be no truer representation of that than Douglas Wright's elegaic M_ Nod. The extraordinary work was performed as Wright, one of New Zealand's most acclaimed dancers and choreographers, is in hospice care with terminal cancer.

His final work, M_Nod will be seen by Wright afficionados as a living epitaph. It was exquisitely performed by Sean MacDonald, drawing us into the dual worlds of the recently departed soul and the newly deeply grieving living person who must go on with life, and the moments when sleeping becomes waking.

The dancing, set and costume made references to earlier Wright works exploring the imagined moments of his own death and the reactions of others to this event. Collectively these references provided an uncanny conjuring of Wright's own ghostly presence within MacDonald's performance. With fragments of James Joyce, Tuvan throat singing, choral bursts from Stimmung, fragments of live and recorded text, the movement managed to express deeply oppositional emotions at the same time.

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Choreographer and dancer Douglas Wright has made his last dance work, M Nod. Photo/Adrian Malloch
Choreographer and dancer Douglas Wright has made his last dance work, M Nod. Photo/Adrian Malloch

M_Nod

was part of

Between Two: New choreography by Kelly Nash and Douglas Wright

, which was performed in the early evening in Q Theatre's intimate underground Vault, juxtaposing two intense micro-dances in low light, each just 15 minutes long. This pairing of very short works is an intriguing format which seems well-suited to the Tempo festival programming.

Tipu, by Kelly Nash, engaged with the intense interactions around the creation, formation and bringing to life of a new baby. Singer/matriarch Milly Kimberly Grant and her young baby Te Whakanoa-sage were a watchful presence throughout the work, often standing to one side or between dancers Nancy Wijohn and Atayla Loveridge, and all the women interacted with the baby at some point. A score by Eden Mulholland and text by PJ Harvey provide accompaniment, weaving into the movement.

Later, the superb, thought-provoking new Muscle Mouth work System took place within what, at first, seemed a bland, minimalist and innocuous institutional room on the large stage of the Rangatira auditorium. The room, and its simple furniture, proved to be entirely prison-like with the room itself almost taking on sentient qualities and acting as micro-managing transfer-pod for human renewal/replacement.

McCormack's choreography and set design cleverly integrated room wizardry with sound and AV design by Jason Wright and lighting by Natasha James. Powerful, compelling performances by Ross McCormack and Luke Hanna matched their physicality as shadow-selves and raised questions about the future of human existence. Such rigorously developed, refined and provocative works are a welcome addition to the local scene.

Lowdown:
What: Tempo Dance Festival — Between Two: New choreography by Kelly Nash and Douglas Wright & System by Muscle Mouth
Where: Q Theatre
Reviewed by: Raewyn Whyte