University performances top of the class
It is my job to comment. It is the inalienable right of other people to comment on what I write, and equally I have the right of reply. So when I was asked whether I felt that there was in imbalance in the performances selected for review, and particularly in the number of occasions I cover performances at or from the university, it prompted a response.
A critic normally has limited powers of selection and this critic is singularly fortunate in the freedom he has to select. Hamilton and its surrounding towns, however, have so much going on in the arts that one person cannot provide anywhere near a sufficient coverage. I have to select, and unashamedly select the most significant of performances, and those of the highest quality. Very often these are from the university. It has become irrelevant to note that these are very often performed by people we label students, because said ‘‘students’’ are giving the city experiences of the arts, particularly music and drama, which are of international quality. That they perform so frequently is a bonus. That so many people recognise this, and turn up regularly to performances, is a continuing affirmation of their remarkable quality. It is why the university gets a regular press. Long may it continue.
During the lunch break at the museum on Thursday last week, eight classical works were performed in the museum’s performance space overlooking the great waka Te Winika, which is on permanent display. The works ranged from solo cello to instrumental duets and vocal performances and collectively provided a musical feast – which, indeed, was the title of the concert. The solo cello so entranced a visiting group of 10 year olds they barely moved, but the performance moved some of the more mature members of the audience close to tears. These were performances to treasure, made the more so by the intimacy of the venue, the proximity of audience to performers, and the professional management of the programme. These are rewarding events.
Oh, my. Did we expect a respected teacher of voice who happens to be head of voice and performance at the University of Waikato to hit the stage with a cabaret act which would have had noisy club patrons begging for more? Not only that, but to perform with such original virtuosity that even crusty old conservatives and habitual lovers of fine arts would be exploding into their classical flat white conversations about such a voice and such stage presence turning cabaret music into an hour of sheer delight?
Few of us knew that the pairing of poet Arnold Weinstein and composer pianist William Bolcom was to be the catalyst for a performance by Stephanie Acraman which was an expression of all the elements to which her vocal apprentices might aspire, be a slam-dunk hit with the paid-up fans in the audience, and a sure fire reason for returning for the newbies. She was lifted by the piano presence of Liam Wooding, former student turned success story and offering, on this return visit from Sydney, such a complementary performance that this duo should cutting CDs faster than a baby produces teeth.
The poetry was tantalisingly filled with evocative images of the lives ordinary people live, and packaged by Acraman and Wooding to fire it, like Cupid’s arrows, straight to the heart of the unsuspecting audience.
Full house signs went up a week ago. Clearly, the New Zealand Dance Company would deliver. Little wonder, then, that the three works in this programme stretched the imagination and excited the emotions in ways which even took this audience by surprise. In each of these works, we were captured by dancers shadow boxing with light, delivering exquisite experience rather than narrative and reinterpreting reality in fantastic and eyeopening sequences.
We are so conditioned by the commercial narrative ‘‘realities’’ of 21st century television particularly, and by media generally, that we want to know what every pixel is telling us. Today, we rarely, some of us never, simply absorb an experience without asking interminable questions about what it all means. Even on the night, we were asking questions like, what did that mean? Or even, what was that meant to be? When in fact the dances themselves showed such questions to be meaningless. These were experiences which fractured pixel vision. We could revel in the emotions we were feeling without having to find a cause. We could appreciate the aesthetics without thinking about their cost in dollars. We could sit back and enjoy such exquisite pleasure in the movement of the dancers that life improved with every raised arm or turned head. Sometimes, contemporary dance can be a little like strips of old flannel hanging about on a soggy afternoon.
Not on Friday night. This was movement which carried all of the virtuosity of classical ballet with unbelievable athleticism, emotional sensivity, and a constant flow of original images which spoke so much of who we are, and how much we do not know about who we are. And for that we should single out one non dancer to go with the troupe in congratulations. She is Production and Stage Manager, and Lighting Designer, Jo Kilgour, who paints with light, who turns silhouette into a three dimensional character, and who with light alone dresses her stage and peoples it with dancers seen as if in the most extraordinarily beautiful dream. In this production Ms Kilgour is a seventh dancer through whom the six on stage were able to work such magic that even the ugly was beautiful. Those lights will never go out.