Leeches (Pacific Dance Festival)

Aloalii Tapu & Friends

Aloalii Tapu & Friends

The ASB Waterfront theatre foyer is bustling with audience members greeting and embracing each other. I see many performers from both the dance community and other arts communities that have come to support the headlining show of the Pacific Dance Festival. It feels a step in a new direction that a collaborative dance work, under the direction of Aloalii Tapu, has the opportunity to present work at this level. They are not yet an established company, but these professionals have more stories and performances to gift. We usually only see dance in venues such as the ASB Waterfront from established well toured companies and bigger productions. They hold opportunities for bigger audience numbers and bigger production values that can lift a performance in a way that smaller venues can’t. Not to say other venues are inferior, they still hold an important place, but it’s nice to be able to support new choreographers and performers coming through that may not have had the chance to showcase on this level.

There is a new wave of NZ performers shining, their followers, who are evident from the audience, play a huge part in creating and changing our new idols. As recognised in the show, the use of technology has made everything more accessible. Easier to get to know a person, easier to connect, easier to follow in their journeys, and easier to idolise many achievements in people’s lives. We will always have the ones that have come before us, the ones we will always acknowledge for their service to dance, but like anything, things must keep moving forward and new idols, stars, whatever you want to call them, are being created, and we see you.

The show starts with a single dull white light upstage right that shines down as bodies are carried and perfectly placed on stage. They wear hoodies with something on the back of the hood - but from my seat I wasn’t able to find the relevance, as I couldn’t see the pictures. Phrases of movement are repeated and we see a full circle at the end when the same choreography is performed, this time without the hoodies and with broken speech cleverly “tongued” and slotted in by Jahra ‘Rager’ Wasasala. The spoken word and dialogue aspects gave some clearer and deeper meaning.

A minimal setting with paper floors made for some interesting moments, such as the duo between the Connor ‘Ooshcon’ Masseurs and Elijah Kennar, sans music, so we could hear how the feet and bodies moved across it - very therapeutic to see and hear. Kennar has a comical character, but moves to become the grounding base of the piece. His smallest movements often having the greatest effect on us. But then he jumps, turns, and is so expansive his connection is seamless. I forget how hard it is to actually perform some of those movements. The paper suit and water that is “popped” on him is truly stunning. The unravelling of one’s self or the falling apart of self, culture, society, regardless of the meaning behind it, was mesmerising. Another stand out section was the ensemble moving together, like a Greek chorus, saying “Screw you” for labelling us this way. It was strong, clean, and captivating.

Jo Kilgour’s lightning is designed beautifully and we hardly notice the changes of whites, dull blues, and warmer tones, and I enjoy the way the haze was caught in the beams of light. Sound design by Eden Mullholland plays anonymously in the background in a way that we are able focus on the movement happening before us. A soundscape feeling to the pieces but moments without music held my attention equally.

Tapu’s movement practice of “Lofty Release” seems to condense contemporary, hip-hop, and Pasifika styles all into one move. It’s detailed but has flow, technical but free, easy to watch and follow, but rather hard to do (yes, I attempted it in the privacy of my own room).

While some sections kept my attention and I could feel the energy shift between the dancers, there were small pockets where my attention wavered. It was great to see a supportive audience, and while I can’t critique as to how they should react, at times it may have taken away some of the moments for the performers.

The hard and amazing thing with dance is that everyone will come away with a slightly different version of what they saw. “Paper comes from trees and trees come from me, Tarnz”, plays upon the idea that everything comes from something else, and the stories they tell are passed down and in turn become something new again. A part of someone else’s life and DNA. Do the stories morphing or changing become a bad thing? This is the question that I was left with at the end of the show.

An enjoyable and highly professional performance, this is not just another contemporary show, and I look forward to seeing how both the movement practice and the careers of these performers and choreographers grow. They have more stories to tell us and I’ll be here ready when they do.