Rifleman Productions – Terrain, Amanimal – Auckland

<I>Terrain</I> promotional image.<br />© Rifleman Productions. (Click image for larger version)
Terrain promotional image.
© Rifleman Productions. (Click image for larger version)

Auckland Fringe Festival – Rifleman Productions
Double Bill: Terrain, Amanimal

Auckland, Q Loft
1 March 2013

A pair of dance works made a decade apart comprised a substantial contribution to Auckland Fringe Festival 2013. Though advertised as a double bill, it was actually two shows presented back to back with an hour between for resetting staging and seating – long enough to eat dinner in Citizen Q downstairs.

First up is an oldie but goodie, the now 10-year-old, boutique-scaled Terrain, a meditative, absorbing saga of shifting relationships between two people and their continuously transforming environment. The dance features segments of densely crafted, intricate and awesome choreographic manoeuvers in tiny spaces, and some astounding balancing feats atop yoga blocks. The audience – a maximum of 30 people – sits close to the action on two sides of a 3-metre-square stage, with hardware store halogen lighting and an 80s hi-fi record player deck at the back of the stage, both controlled by the dancers.

Miniature objects are scattered about – cars, buses, trains, animals, a tall pine tree tree – making the humans appear monumental giants by comparison. The dancing is set to an eclectic collection of vintage tracks played on vinyl records, many of them ballads. Artists include Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Brian Eno, Cole Wilson and the Tumbleweeds, with often sardonic lyrics referring to major life events.

The set is built from plywood boxes which initially lock together to form a 9-square-metre dance floor carpeted in fake grass. Subsequently the dancers unlock and rearrange the floor blocks, each time reducing the stage area and stacking the blocks to suggest an array of settings — everything from a mountain encircled by a summit road designed for tourist buses to a tiny hut perched on a cliff, soaring skyscrapers, and a harbour replete with boats large and small and naval vessels.

The work gently and deftly sketches an array of possible relationships, running the gamut from woman as Mother Earth and man as Bold Explorer of new territories , to the couple as new parents, harbour masters, churchgoers, political protestors. Though sharing an episodic structure with several other Fringe dance works, the action-packed, often risky and demanding movement sequences are a marked contrast to the relatively sparse choreographic styles currently in vogue, and in the buzz after the show there was a good deal of wishing for “more dance that moves like that”.

Terrain was originally developed by Malia Johnston and Guy Ryan in 2003 as a work which could be packed into a van and be self-presented without technical assistance in any venue that has electricity. In its first year of touring, it won numerous awards, and they have presented it more than a hundred times throughout New Zealand. The work has recently gained a new lease of life with a new cast – accomplished independent dancers Anita Hunziker and Luke Hanna, both of whom actively pursue careers in both New Zealand and Australia. They are strong, eloquent dancers, watchful and responsive partners, and they seem destined to take Terrain to new places.

<I>Amanimal</I> promotional image.<br />© Rifleman Productions. (Click image for larger version)
Amanimal promotional image.
© Rifleman Productions. (Click image for larger version)

The second work, Amanimal, is a feral, fierce yet surprisingly funny movement study which investigates of some of the deeper, nastier aspects of human nature, traversing the human-animal boundary and isolating the triggers of the instinct for survival. The overall work is structured as a series of interactions which eventually turn full circle, and it requires split second timing of often virtuoso sequences.

Performers Paul Young and Ross McCormack are consummate professionals. Of similar height and physicality, and for the first half of this work buried in fake fur coats, their dynamically driven exchanges are riveting to watch. Both dancers graduated in 2002 from New Zealand dance training, but have followed divergent career pathways. McCormack (ex-NZ School of Dance) has made his career internationally and presently dances with Les ballets C de la B. He is also rapidly developing a career as a choreographer and is spending time between C de la B seasons in New Zealand making new works. He rarely gets to perform in New Zealand, and this project gives locals a chance to see him in action. Young (ex-UNITEC dance ) has continued to pursue a wide array of project work in New Zealand and has been much in demand as performer and teacher.

In Amanimal, both dancers perform an astonishing array and sequencing of movements accompanied by vocal effects including singing. The action moves in parallel with, and at times interacts with, bass and lead guitar, loops, effects and vocals created live by music-for-dance-performance specialist Eden Mulholland who moves in from side stage to centre stage for the final section.

The dancers constantly morph between states — human and/or animal, hunter and/or hunted, and McCormack carries a microphone which he wields as if it is a very sharp hunting knife, plunging it into Young’s coat, thrusting and tearing and vocalizing as if he is eviscerating his foe, then slitting his throat to drink the blood. Always a marvelous counterfoil, Young subsequently spends a significant period with his head wreathed in a huge turban of sheets which provide a surface for cleverly timed effects via projected film by Rowan Pierce; finally unwreathed, he is the canny survivor.

Conceived and co-directed by Malia Johnston and Emma Willis, and with overall design by John Verryt completing a collaborative dream team, Amanimal is the first version of an intended larger work for the Rifleman repertoire. Noirish, chilling, and wry, provocative, perturbing and electrifying, it was a fitting winner of the 2013 Auckland Fringe Awards for Best Dance Production, with McCormack taking Best Dance Performer.

About the author

Raewyn Whyte

Raewyn Whyte is a freelance New Zealand dance writer who regularly contributes to The NZ Herald, DANZ Quarterly and Radio New Zealand arts broadcasts. She is dance editor of the Theatreview website and has an MA in dance criticism from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.

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