Waikato Times

Univer­sity per­for­mances top of the class

- Men­tioned in despatches: The mu­seum con­certs Arts · Music · Dance · University of Waikato · William Bolcom · New Zealand

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.

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