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Southside Art Festival 2012
Fireworks, an evening of music and dance
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, University of Auckland Dance Studies Programme,
Tangaroa College, Pakuranga Intermediate, Wiri Central School, Moss Patterson and
Graham Abbott

at Vodafone Events Centre, Manukau, Auckland
31 Oct 2012
[2 hours]

Reviewed by Dr Linda Ashley, 1 Nov 2012

Live orchestral music and dance have a long traditional association and bring to audiences a special performance dynamic. Another tradition, if less well-established, are dance education projects which bring together large numbers of young people to dance together as a community. Building on the 2011 Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's (APO) successful visit from British choreographer Royston Maldoom OBE, for which he choreographed Sacre with 200 children, Fireworks is a fitting part of a legacy that goes back to his work in the 1980s. As with dance education that plays such a vital role in the New Zealand Curriculum framework itself, and has an even longer history, its beginnings can be traced back to early twentieth century in the northern hemisphere, an underlying value of such projects is the inclusion of anybody regardless of ability, experience, age or culture in dance. As such, dance can play an enormously positive role in young people's lives and their education generally. In her excellent introduction to Fireworks, Barbara Glaser, APO Chief Executive, alluded to some of this background, and gave a thank you to the charities that funded the project.The APO are to be whole heartedly congratulated and thanked for producing the second in what I hope will be a long line of such important projects.

The first half of the programme consists of three works by Pei-Jung Lee. Two contemporary pieces Planet#B612 and REM are distinctly contemporary in style and contrasting in mood. Planet#B612 recently appeared in Tertiary Colours and I reviewed it there. In the larger auditorium at TelstraClear, difficulty hearing the dancers' spoken comments loses some of the nuances of its starting point The Little Prince. Nevertheless, this is a charming piece and captures a childlike view of the world, making it ideal for younger, and older, audiences. REM, on the other hand, is dark and desperate. Actually at times the lighting is so dark that it proves difficult to see the action, but, as the programme note tells us, it is grim, intense, blurry and furtive. Not a piece for the faint-hearted, and evocative of a gothic world where darkness falls and the sun never rises. 

Lee's other work, Maps of Memories, and a fourth piece Sasa-Mealofa by Atapana David Meleisea, share a sense of intercultural fusion. Sasa-Melalofa starts as a traditional sasa and is suitably high in energy and celebratory. Part way through it shape shifts into contemporary dance vocabulary, in what appears to be an extension of the rhythmic form of sasa. In a similar fashion Lee's Maps of Memories fuses Grahamesque modern dance with kapa haka and sasa. Under a woodland gobo, the dancers give refined performances of the various vocabularies. Intercultural fusion is becoming a popular choreographic approach in New Zealand, although contemporary dance can also remain as a standalone tradition. Throughout, the university student dancers give involved and committed performances.  

After the body percussion which formed the accompaniment for the introductory section of Nicholas Rowe's The Arrival! The Arrival! The Arrival!, the APO struck up with Handel's The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Rowe's witty interpretation of this music is set in an international airport's passport control and counterpoints the music in an appropriate relationship of mutual coexistence. It also captures an experience that many of us have been through whilst waiting for passport checks, and the audience's enthusiastic response reflected how their imagination had been captured.

And then the main moment, as the APO play more Handel and the fireworks really begin. Moss Patterson's Poutama features 100 dancers and his skill in bringing each of them into the moment of performance is to be wondered at. They were on fire – please excuse the pun, and I hope that somehow they get to hear about this review. As the orchestra transports us to a place of enlightenment and joy, so each of these dancers, aged not-very-much to early twenties, lit up the stage. Patterson's choreography enables each of the dancers to express the themes of the Maori design, and the dancers embody how we can support each other in struggles to grow and develop. A theme, it seems, which was also experienced by the dancers in their rehearsal process, and brought to life for the audience how dance, and dance education especially, plays out as informing and enhancing people's lives, young and old. These young dancers, the orchestra, its conductor Graham Abbott (who no doubt played a huge part in all of this), the APO team, Sally Markham, Patterson and the school teachers and university lecturers who were also amidst it all deserve to perform this work again and again.

The lighting designer Vanda Karolczak and costume designer Marama Lloydd are also to be congratulated, as both of these elements add huge value to the production. I also note that Nick Hill was a production assistant, and that a team went into schools, I guess from the APO, to teach about baroque music contextually as part of the National Arts Music Curriculum. Such layering in this project is not to be overlooked as contributing to the convincing and involving final performance.


A final thought about university involvement in such projects, and somewhat autobiographical if you will indulge me. Fireworks brings to mind what universities can accomplish for others when they collaborate with a broad spectrum of the community outside their ivory towers. Drawing our attention to how studying dance in universities can have important contributions to make as we work together to build a better society for everyone.


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