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Print Version
Auckland Fringe 2013
Rifleman's Double Bill -- Terrain and Amanimal
Choreographers for Terrain: Guy Ryan and Malia Johnston
Choreographers/Producers for Amanimal: Malia Johnston and Emma Willis with Eden Mulholland

at Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland
From 27 Feb 2013 to 3 Mar 2013
[2 x 50 mins, separate shows]

Reviewed by Felicity Molloy, 28 Feb 2013

Malia Johnston belongs to a celebrated company called Rifleman Productions that hails from Wellington. Much of her work resonates with the influences of the diverse contemporaneity of Impulstanz, an annual international dance festival in Vienna. Rifleman Productions' distinctive choreographic hallmarks feature artistic collaborations with musical powerhouse, Eden Mulholland, theatre director, Emma Wilson and  the finely calibrated designs of John Verryt and Rowan Pierce.
For the Auckland Fringe 2013,  Rifleman presents two boutique dance works on separate bills. In order of the evening: Terrain, which is most definitely a festival favourite in that it combines charm and quirkiness with downright brilliance, and a premiere of dance theatre Amanimal. A new generation of contemporary dancers takes on the now decade-old Terrain, Anita Hunziker and Luke Hanna; whilst the mature virtuoso more seasoned performers, Ross McCormack, Paul Young and Eden Mulholland perform Amanimal. Taken together, as a double bill, the two works share viscerally organised movement and intense, fearless aerial bouts of partnering, plus jagged, plangent music renderings, visual disjunctions  and pastel colours, making a compelling evening of engaging and immersive dance theatre.
I last reviewed Terrain when it was performed by the choreographers' Guy Ryan and Malia Johnstone at Galatos, Auckland in 2007, and I quote from that review which is just as relevant today: "A celebration of landscape, scale and place, Terrain is a performance in which the miniature and the giant collide in a very human exploration of precariousness, transience and transformation”.  I last remarked that I was “one of the fortunate few who will see this beautiful work up close and personal”.
This time the space was the Q Loft, with seating configured to be still personal but fortunately fitting a larger audience. We were all still squeezed close to the movement, breath and sweat of the dancers, in fact I think I sat even closer this time and hardly dared to breathe in at the sheer balancing strength of this time round dancers, Anita Hunziker and Luke Hanna, nor to breathe out in case of disturbing their extraordinary focus.
Once again, presented as an innovative installation consisting of the same kit-set plywood stage,  yoga blocks, layers of artificial grass, clumsily spaced lighting stands, a retro hi-fi system, records and an array of miniature props, Terrain still manages to subvert even the most recent ideas about what contemporary dance can be. This time round I noticed more about the wooden art body and the finger puppets and the way their journey through the work becomes part of a weave of subtle stories that are cleverly emphasised by the words of the many songs played throughout. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Brian Eno and the country sounds of T Tex Tyler and Col Wilson provide texture in musical rhythms as well as text. The combination of physical theatre and visual imagery has over the years nestled into a timeless work about love. Simply by transposing the work on a new couple, recognisable intimacies and emotional play between characters reminds me of the obvious, the commonplace, and inevitable caprices inside any love affair.
After a long interval with plenty of time to eat and share stories in the comfy Q Theatre Lounge, the second work of the evening, Amanimal is a richly rewarding exhibition in visuals and motion: of animal-ibilia, fur coats on males, graphic evisceration (not real though), imaginative animation and enigmatically disturbing movement.
Amanimal is the third major collaboration between Malia Johnston and theatre director Emma Willis, and maintains an exploratory bent towards ecological sustainability and creature surrounds. In the first moments, a set of fur coats with satin lining, worn and tied as representations of fear, death, sex, fun and love, race across the stage and from then on we have fast tracked delivery and all actions set at a slightly crazy speed. Within the arc of the work  there are several faked deaths and plenty of shouts of pain. A microphone, set up to gather and thrust live sound into the disheveled space becomes a fourth performer.
The most notable movement sequence occurs between the two male dancers - Paul Young and Ross McCormack drive electrifying energy, unstoppable shapes and powerful sentience through an extended duet, intriguing and unusual and rich in imaginary happenings. Often hysterically funny, sometimes pain-filled, it is filled by  characterisations of men in the world  - running, catching, falling, listening, caressing, humping, eviscerating carcasses -- highlighted by Rowan Pierce's animations and the design swirl of pastel sheets.
Taking his fair share of the performance landscape, Eden Mulholland is thrust in, beard and all, in full modus operandi: composer, storyteller, singer, muso and actor en scene. In the relish I feel at watching the musician, I am reminded of my teen years smirking at late night live bands.
Rifleman Productions once again brings to the theatre provocative art, a compelling sensitivity towards creativity and very fabulous performers.
Amanimal is more than a premiere work. It foretells a world worth supporting, and mapped by artistic practitioners with belief systems that bespeak a future of innovation, the results of which may be challenging and dramatic yet preclusive to a necessary environmentally sustainable change. 

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See also reviews by:
 Raewyn Whyte (NZ Herald);