Human reactions to unexpected, unpredictable, impossible and unimaginable events are at the heart of As It Stands.

This absorbing and choreographically cohesive dance work took us into a sparsely populated world bounded by a cluster of tall wall panels sitting against one another at strange angles. Too high to see over and opaquely blocking any sense of what lies beyond, the walls were inspired by Richard Serra's Te Tuhirangi Contour installation at the sculpture park, Gibbs Farm.

Eight extraordinary dancers inhabited the strange world, worshipping at the foot of the walls, caressing and stroking them or leaning meditatively against them. Sometimes they were guardians, blocking access to the walls by forming an interlaced phalanx across the stage and crawling slowly backwards; other times, they helped one another to climb the walls and hang from the top, and at times they seemed to carry invisible walls with them.

Repeated motifs seeded through the work to help build cohesion. Intense cameos marked moments of personal revelation; a series of astonishing duets defined specific pockets of space or social relations and make the most of niches between the walls.

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The dancers seemed to absorb energies from the walls and strange things started to happen, impacting on their activities. They became disordered and disorientated; alliances shift and purposeful movement was replaced by occasional fluid flurries and retreats into stillness. Minds shattered.

As It Stands was rigorously developed by the Muscle Mouth team under the direction of choreographer/designer Ross McCormack and dramaturg/producer Melanie Hamilton. It was marked by rich integration of design and dance, scenography and performance, with a sonically rich ambient soundscape by Jason Wright, lighting by Natasha James, stylish unisex costumes by Vicki Slow, and the outstanding performances of the dancers: James Vu Anh Pham, Christina Gueib, Luke Hanna, Jeremy Beck, Toa Paranihi, Lauren Langlois, Emily Adams and Tiana Lung.

Meanwhile, vivid video imagery from Ngai Tahu videographer Louise Potiki Bryant beautifully supported performance by the Kahnyen'kehàka multidisciplinary artist/dancer Santee Smith in Blood Water Earth, a multidisciplinary performance installation.

It brought together dance, film, taonga puoro, vocals and a lush score, created by Paddy Free and Cris Derksen, to create an immersive experience. On the screen, three women in flowing red fabric panels repeatedly crossed a stretch of water before a similarly dressed Smith appeared in the gallery.

Smith was a luminous presence as she danced live in the room, appearing at times on screen floating in rippling water. She sung and ritually washed, conjures the flickering presence of frog, trout and eagle, and creates swirling vortices of red fabric.

These beautiful images also honoured the traditional ritual power and transformative qualities of water for indigenous women, raising awareness of traditional knowledge and practices which have been lost under colonisation.

What: Auckland Arts Festival – As It Stands & Blood Water Earth
Where: ASB Waterfront Theatre & Te Uru, Waitakere Contemporary Gallery
Reviewed by: Raewyn Whyte