Impressions of Expressions 3
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Saturday, Oct. 5, 7:30pm
Like for Programs 1 and 2, here I offer a collection of my immediate descriptive responses to
the performances on Program 3.
Hopefully without being too precious about it, I want to explicitly acknowledge that I come from a settler/colonial background and I write about these contemporary works by Indigenous artists as an outsider. Undoubtedly, I impose my own frames of reference in this writing, and this can be critiqued as an act of colonization. I hold this concern as, nevertheless, I write – offering my respect and curiosity to the artists and the cultures they carry in their bodies. I invite readers to do the same.
The New Zealand Dance Company
In Transit choreographed by Louise Potiki Bryant
A forest of sticks rises on the upstage screen, swaying gently. Are they spirits? A lone figure
rotates slowly centre stage, balancing a long branch on his head. He turns and lowers himself
into the floor, while the branch sways and rotates in its own way. He spirals into the earth and
then crawls slowly to the edge of the stage before removing the branch and disappearing into
Ga-gungh. A deep drum beats and the lights flash up. A warrior woman runs downstage
whipping and slashing two branches, direct and commanding. She’s fierce. Her eyes glint. She
grimaces. (I’m reminded of the extreme facial gestures seen in the ceremonial Māori haka.)
Digital spirit figures appear on four door-shaped screens as an ensemble delivers a fighting
dance. Hard-hitting gestures mix with slower morphing forms and the dancers seem to slip
through space as though it were slick; they’re viscous in their flow. Tangible power. (There are
more forces in this space than we can see with our eyes.)
A pulsing electronic beat rises. The ensemble surges and oscillates in unison while the digital
spirits shift in relation.
A duet between a woman and a man. Though not in contact, her gestures affect him. (Of
course, we are all always connected, affected.) Then she rides on his shoulders, feet hooked
under his knees. He’s sitting. She arches back, arms reaching up, and they become another type of being for a moment, up-curved, animal-like. Later, they crawl across the stage in another animal form, down-curved this time. She lies face down over his back, arms hooked to arms, legs hooked to legs. As he crawls, she crawls with him, but again, she never touches the ground. A digital spirit duet echoes their dance.
A bare-chested man contorts, yells, gasps and smacks his body while a figure in a red shift
crossing slowly upstage, patient, waiting, connected. Another pairing.
The ensemble returns and dissolves into yet another duet between two men nose to nose,
based on the traditional sharing of breath in the Māori greeting (hongi).
And a fourth duet involves two men in contact, folding and rolling to a gentle song. The forest
of sticks from the opening returns, swaying behind them.
I understand this series of duets as a life arc, accompanied.
The final image accumulates as a single dancer travels slowly across the stage and the others
balance five branches on different parts of his body while he continues to step forward. They
disappear. He kneels. The balancing branches sway and rotate.
Then a gasp, a breath, a breeze perhaps? The branches clatter to the ground. He looks up.
Light (life?) extinguished.
(As I watch, I track this dance, these dances, in words in my notebook, simply describing the action and images as they appear. I don’t necessarily understand the meanings but sometimes I have a gut feeling, an embodied sense of things. When I work through my notes again to offer this rendering, connections and resonances emerge. In this case, I become aware of the sequence of duets. I write into the image of the up-curved and down-curved animal forms and sense significance here. I wonder about the forest and the branches. I become aware of the possible arc of the work. Perhaps there’s a thread of narrative but I can’t be sure. This is not my culture; these are not my reference points. Dances like this are dreamlike in many ways. Layers and symbols and meaningfulness resolve and dissolve. I sense the density and thickness of significance in this piece, but it ultimately eludes my grasp – as it should. It’s like trying to catch smoke.)
Cody Berry / Northfoot Movement
Mani.Deux choreographed by Cody Berry, with live music
A fleshy form morphs and undulates.
Four dancers appear stage left, a connected and shifting mass.
A musician, keyboard, laptop and drum kit occupy stage right.
Fog. Breath again. A reverberating soundscape of a galaxy of stars (that’s what I think of).
The dancers stretch and reach, pulling away from each other.
Tearing each other apart by the limbs.
Ultimately they fragment, leaving only 2 onstage (one of them is Berry himself, both
choreographer and performer in this work).
In digital projections, images of grey and colourless dancing bodies appear
And then disintegrate before our eyes into millions of digital shards that waft away.
It’s a gently violent fragmentation.
A slow, rolling duet evolves, punctuated by sustained looks between two.
Do they see themselves?
They partner, again pulling away and falling back in.
Can I exist without you?
Breath, blowing through the bones of one’s being.
A third dancer returns.
And the musician taps the ride cymbal.
A new pulse arises.
Energetic floorwork, inversions and wheeling.
The dancers move like cats, equally agile on all four limbs.
Holding each other.
Offering support, stability, connection.
A voice over begins. It’s hard to parse the sounds because they are digitally hollowed and
echoing. (In speaking about the work, Cody shared that these are the voices of Elders from his
community, talking about their experiences in Residential schools.)
The dancers prowl and leap.
The voice repeats: “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.”
Another musician enters with a drum and begins to sing. Pow wow sounds.
A twinning duet.
Mirror images reflect and overlap.
The image of a tree encircled with vines appears on the screen.
It doesn’t disintegrate like the earlier images. There’s a hint of colour.
The full quartet of dancers joins in unison.
They pulse with energy. They move in synchrony.
The music builds, layering drum and song with electronic ambience and beats.
Elements of pow wow dances weave through the contemporary choreography.
As two, becoming one.
During intermission, audience members were treated to an Indigenous food tasting in the outer courtyard of the Ryerson Theatre. When I went out to explore, the place was jammed with people. I snuck around to have a look and learned that the somewhat surprising menu included 3 items: curried elk pastries, wild rice with butternut squash and cream cheese tartlets topped with Saskatoon Berries (also known as Prairie Berries). The folks who’d made it through the line seemed to be enjoying their samples as they chatted together. It did look yummy, but there wasn’t time left for me to try.
A large white scallop shell sits centre stage.
A figure stands beside it, dressed in black, hood up, face obscured.
The figure opens the shell and a woman emerges.
She wears a white, sleeved bodysuit and loose pale pink trousers.
Bending low, inside the shell, she digs down with her foot and grooves her hips back and forth.
Her movement feels dense, rich and grounded.
A cacophonous electronic score throbs.
As she rotates side to side, we see her full pregnant form.
(We already knew about this because she accompanied Artistic Director Ilter Ibrahimof during the curtain speech at the top of the program and gave the land acknowledgment, offering her respect as an Indigenous woman from the land known as Australia to the custodians of these lands.)
She steps out of the shell.
Stiff, pulsing arms, straight out to the sides.
She takes a classic Western beauty pose.
A female voice cuts through the soundscape: “Go. Go. Go”
Slow-motion flow alternates with violent cutting gestures.
She walks her fingers over her body, tracing lines (of demarcation?).
She pulls an invisible thread from her mouth.
And another from between her legs.
The hooded other steps forward, glinting metal scissors in hand,
And begins to cut off her clothing.
She folds to the floor and the cutting continues while she gestures as though writing in space.
Voices are singing, or are they crying?
Ragged and jagged, the cuts reveal flesh.
The other then hands her the tattered remains (!)
And also the scissors, which she uses to cut off the rest.
In briefs and a bra, she stands, exposed.
And then begins marking her flesh with black paint.
(We’re able to read the words because the hooded figure circles her with a camera, creating a
live-feed surveillance video, which is projected onscreen.)
Tracing areas of her body, she labels these “cuts”.
“Thigh” and “Rump”.
Also “QLD” (Queensland) and “NSW” (New South Wales).
(On her back I think she paints a target.)
Across her pregnant belly she writes “Crown”.
(Tears well in my eyes.)
Choice cut. Claimed land.
She smears black paint across her mouth.
The female voice again. This time: “No. No. No.”
She steps back into and rotates within her scallop shell.
Muted. Marked. Divided. Displayed.
The hooded other shoves her down into her shell,
And shuts the lid.
Yes, this is dance. A choreography of the body. Repetition.
(This writing feels graphic and blatant. I wonder if it violates the work? Maybe that’s a good
question to hold.)
Bulareyaung Dance Company
A specially adapted for FFDN version of
LUNA choreographed by Bulareyaung Pagarlava
A moon, projected.
And a star?
(It moves across the screen as a dancer with a headlamp steps slowly into the space.)
Singing. (Yes, that singing. I wrote about it from the masterclass a few days ago.)
A single voice.
Then sounds also arise behind us.
We’re surrounded by voices as the men of Bulareyaung dance company tread slowly down the aisles, each lighting his own way with a “star”.
(Apparently on the previous evening, there were some issues with the amplification and so I
imagine the experience for that audience was a bit different.)
They’re folded forward, melting deep into their hips and rolling their steps as though pressing
Their exposed bodies seem dusted in dirt, and eventually glisten with sweat. (They wear only
dance belts, and headlamps.)
This continues, steadily, for a long while as they travel toward the stage and continue treading
across, imprinting their path as they go.
This could be infinite. Beings walking the earth.
And always they sing, though it becomes more complex.
Their vocal timbre is richly textured. Their tones resonant.
They shift to the floor, sitting, and still travelling. And then again and again.
Their patterning continues – and also the singing, which seems unaffected by their changes in
Eventually they circle at centre, crouching low and still pacing. One singer remains in a pool of
warm light in the corner. A witness.
The singing stops.
One stands and begins speaking (not English), punctuating his words with whole-body gestures.
Another joins and speaks into the pauses.
So begins an accumulation of motion and sound until they are shouting aggressively and
punching through space.
They incite one another into a rising fray.
The movements become increasingly athletic; a virtuosic display of intense physicality.
(About this point, I have a flash of Jasmin’s deeply feminine solo in contrast with this masculine force.)
A soloist convulses, pulling his head back and forth violently in a whiplashing nod while gasping for breath, hand over mouth.
A quintet rushes through sequences in call-and-response.
Sometimes one dancer lies curled in a corner, or crawls across the stage – a counterpoint of
Another soloist careens through a series of taut extensions, while the others reel and flail,
egging him on. It feels like their voices actually contact his body, like they’re attacking him, or
branding him, with their words – impacting his flesh in a ritual transformation: the hunter for
the hunt, the dancer for the dance.
(From the Program Magazine: “In dialogue with the Luluna tribal people and with respect for
the Indigenous traditions, Bulareyaung adapted the performing style of malastapang from the Bunun ritual praising the hunters’ achievements to, instead, dancers announcing their process
Finally, they stop and simply stand, breathing. Heaving.
Their ribs expand and contract intensely. Their pulses beat visibly in the soft centre of their torsos.
The lone singer rises and begins a song, calming the space, realigning the energy.
The dancers fall in line and join their voices together, treading away in the light of the moon.