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MORE LIKE DAVID ATTENBOROUGH THAN SIGMUND FREUD

Print Version
The Nothing
Directed by Sarah Foster-Sproull and Andrew Foster
Music by Eden Mulholland

at Shed 6, Queens Wharf, Wellington
From 11 Oct 2012 to 13 Oct 2012
[1 hour]

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan, 6 Dec 2012


[Note:  This was omitted in error back in October – apologies for that – ed.]

The hour-long work opens with a line-up of the four dancers delivering snatches of introductory text that set the mood of discomfort and dislocation that hovers throughout. There are solo and duo dances but rarely anything that involves the quartet moving together. Themes of loneliness, of isolation, of insecurity, of need, of inadequacy, of bitterness in personal (read ‘sexual') relationships are referenced but not resolved.  If there is humour it is titillating and sly, and appeals to only some of the audience.

There is irony in the fact that all four dancers have very considerable skills and strengths in movement and timing … these are special and rare enough gifts not given equally to all who would perform … yet this choreography does not want them to indulge in movement with flow or kinetic sequitur suggesting light and shade, or the natural ebb and flow in most human experience. Isolation in and of gesture is the vogue. 

So what's the deal? Where's the metaphor?  Is human communication really so difficult, such an endangered pastime? The sex drive is paramount but merely obeyed, not enjoyed, not celebrated. The insect kingdom is often evoked, and various species that exist simply to mate are depicted in various attempts to engage. It is true that Nature is often unkind, and this choreography is determined to remind us of that. 

There are glimpses of poetic arm movements, but these are kept deliberately private and minimalist. One solo was danced by Sarah Sproull's long hair, maypoled and starfished by the other three performers. Back-lit, it offered a striking image, yet hard to say how it related to what had gone before.

I found the lighting design uncomfortable as one of the bright side spots was angled towards the audience all evening, and a sequence in which a bright searchlight was swept back and forth across the audience seemed far too clumsy and corny a device to ask the audience who they think they are and how they are relating to the choreography. All this suffering seems to amount to a quasi-religious cum-psychological charting of man (read “woman”) in a lost state within the natural world.

How powerful by contrast then was the final precarious sequence, I'd guess ten minutes long, in which Sproull stood and balanced on, then walked and climbed all over, the horizontal slowly writhing revolving body of Thomson spreadeagled on the floor. He struggled under her weight while she stayed atop of him. The sequence was nothing short of heroic, requiring astonishing strength and concentration from both performers.

The only resonance in dance that occurred to me was of a Samoan taualuga, when a taupou or titled young woman dances with ineffeable grace and then steps up onto the clowning flapping body of the prostrate aiuli fool, who enhances her beauty with his oafish behaviour. But all that is a far cry from this sequence in The Nothing. Here one could only be struck by the struggle and determination involved, even if it remained thematically enigmatic. 

Intense textured passages in Mulholland's music were sometimes matched and sometimes in contrast to the dance.  Existentialism, post-Beckett, is probably a more fruitful trope for literature than for choreography, but there is no denying that these dancers gave their all in delivery, and left us moved by their courage, strength and commitment.

More like David Attenborough than Sigmund Freud, it is always affirming to experience fit and fabulous dancers delivering serious work. There is need for light, in several senses, but we were certainly invited to think about our responses at a number of levels.

Art for today, though perhaps not for tomorrow.   
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 Virginia Kennard