JOAN:

A large crowd gathered eagerly in the hall at Masonic Court last Thursday. Sylvia's Tappers were about to perform their latest routines and there was a real sense of anticipation amongst the audience. I was both nervous for the girls and excited to see how it would go.

I have mentioned Sylvia Shepherd and her tap dancers before — when I joined the ladies last year. Sylvia is a stunning dancer and teacher and, as she said at the end of the Masonic concert, we are a real sisterhood, sharing the fun and exhilaration of tapping as well as laughter, chat and a great deal of caring about each other. My times away from the weekly meetings meant I did not keep up with the progress made last year by the others. Nothing to do with my lack of aptitude, of course! So I joined the residents of Masonic Court and their guests in the audience.

Oh boy! Did those gorgeous girls do themselves proud. Slightly nervous but looking radiant, they tapped their way through seven slick, always different routines. Costumes were stunning and speedily changed. Hats were de rigeur and were fabulous. Each lady brought her own personality to her dancing and the footwork was matched by the warm smiles given to the audience as the tappers moved effortlessly around the floor. Dancing With The Stars competitors, eat your hearts out!

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In between numbers, Sylvia involved the audience with "sitting-down-dances" which we all joined in. There were only a few gentlemen present but they were well into the entertainment. In fact, the gentlemen were warned to keep their seats when the performers showed off their shapely legs in fishnet stockings for a couple of numbers. Cheeky!

It really was a great afternoon and the group has been invited back. I intend to be able to do a solo by then! All of us are keen to perform elsewhere in the city wherever and whenever groups come together.

Two final comments. I was so very touched by Tina, the vibrant member of Masonic staff who welcomed the performers, organised the audience and was aware and fulfilled the needs of everyone there, She is one of those exceptional and selfless people who work with our older population. On that note, I need to say to Liz Wylie who covered the show for the Chron. (Told you this was an important event)! Some of us tappers are 80 but age has nothing to do with the razzamatazz these girls produce.

MIKE: Confronting, violent, menacing — these epithets sprang to mind as I perused Plight of the Innocent-II, Anthony Davies' new exhibition at Space. His 30 or so lithographs present us with a fearsome, dystopian world, as can be found so often nowadays on cinema screens or in TV serials. Our immediate future looks ominous, to say the least. Unfortunately, these works represent not an apocalyptic future but the jaundiced world of the present. Davies proves a shrewd social and political commentator, highlighting with uncanny accuracy the poverty, suffering and hopelessness of a large percentage of the world's population. Violence and cruelty are juxtaposed with pathos and sadness. Among his references to Africa is a haunting shot of a man with a tyre round his neck, petrol and matches ready to be added. It has always seemed ironic to me that this act of brutality goes under the title of Necklace, which is such an ordinary, everyday object of adornment. I deliberately selected the word 'shot', since his works closely resemble the on-the-spot photographs of war correspondents. The Middle East is shown with protesters, riot police in threatening body armour, soldiers pointing guns, bodies being carried away, children sitting forlornly amidst piles of rubble. Australia's detention centres for would-be asylum seekers are targeted too, revealing the harsh, inhuman conditions of Manus and other islands, where two inmates are depicted, each with his with lips stitched together, to prevent force-feeding. One work which hit me especially was of a single figure, an old Aboriginal man, resignation pictured deep in his piercing eyes. Or was he merely relaxing with a smoke? It's a personal choice, I suppose, and mine was the first option.

I found it a profoundly disturbing exhibition, rather than the usual relaxing atmosphere. In which case, Davies has succeeded, since one of the main aims of art is surely to jolt the viewer out of a sense of ease and complacency. By pointing out the harsh, intolerable conditions under which so many people live — or rather, survive — their lives, the artist has caused us, not merely to observe, but to think. A triumph, in my opinion.

JOAN: Coffee with friends is the mainstay of many of us of a mature age who meet regularly in our excellent Whanganui coffee houses. Of special delight last week was spending a morning at Orange with Joan Rosier-Jones and Des Bovey. Both are well known in the city where their artistic gifts are shared and valued. Joan is about to launch her latest book, Literary Whanganui. Des is a fine graphic artist and his work is beautifully exhibited in the front entrance of the i-Site. They have many more strings to their bows but I won't embarrass them here. Suffice to say we put the world to rights, laughed a lot and Mike and I left their company feeling invigorated, happy and looking forward to our next meeting. I know that people who read this also have their lives enriched by the company of friends with whom they share experiences, ideas, views and laughter. We are so lucky to live in a city and country where this is enjoyed.

MIKE: Linoleum! Remember it? The old-fashioned variety, that is. Back in the good old days, when carpet was at a premium (in the UK, at least) lino was the ubiquitous floor covering. Often in some shade of muddy brown, with a basic geometrical pattern, it layered the dwellings of the Yorkshire coalfields — and elsewhere too. Although it still exists here in New Zealand, the much greater variety of colours and patterns have diminished the similarity to the previous product.

That product, old school linoleum, is Simon Ogden's chosen artistic medium. Cutting segments out of a selected piece, he incorporates them into his works, along with other media. His present exhibition at the Milbank Gallery, extended until June 20, displays an 8-panel creation, Ka kata nga tonu puriri o Taiamai (The puriri trees of Taiamai are laughing still). It consists of inlaid lino, with 24c gold leaf, copper leaf, silver leaf, montage, oil paint and charcoal, a melange which produces some resonantly striking scenes. Birds, stars, flowers, trees and many other elements feature in the colourful, detailed designs, defying a simple description. Suffice it to say that, with overtones of Egyptian, Mexican and other influences, he has produced objects which cannot be taken in by a cursory glance "en passant". It's hard to know which would capitulate first — one's eyes or brain!

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Ogden's fascination for found objects extends to the smaller pieces on the gallery walls, each one based — literally — upon original boards from the Royal Doulton factory in the UK, where ceramics were placed on these boards to dry. The factory's closure offered an opportunity to purchase these. Used in mass production of renowned ceramics in a previous life, they are now living entities in New Zealand art. For art lovers keen to add to their collection, the eight-panel work, if not sold as an entity, may be separated into individual sections. Leap in while you can.

Comments and suggestions to mjstreet@xtra.co.nz