The dance performance by Arts Laureate Ross McCormack presented the world premiere of As It Stands on Friday night at the ASB Waterfront Theatre. Inspired by the prolific American sculpture Richard Serra, the “show places eight world-class dancers in a majestic sculptural landscape.”
The sculpture that inspired McCormack’s work was the Te Tuhirangi Contour at Gibbs Farm next to Kaipara Harbour. Stretching 252m, this elongated sculpture doesn’t seem to be involved with any kind of dance, however, in an interview, McCormack explained how the work inspired the piece.
I guess an absence of the human figure; I don't necessarily want to see the human body as a sculpture. I think when I find something incredibly hard to place, to find, I can let my mind fantasise about how it got there. Serra's work, poking up out of the ground, makes me think of civilisation and these are the remnants of it and we have to put together the best we know of that civilisation.
Being a relative newcomer to interpretive dance, I was feeling out of place in my shabby running shoes due to the foul weather drenching my slightly more appropriate Converses. Wine and beer were poured as a happy, well-dressed audience gleefully prepared for the show.
Scaling the spiral staircase, I was pleasantly shown to my seat where I sat with a nearly full venue.
The lights suddenly dropped to pitch black. Whilst eyes adjusted to the darkness, the dullest hue began to emanate on the stage exposing a large lonely rock being caressed by an equally lonely dancer. Split into three parts, in the top right corner of the backdrop, in an almost documentary style fashion, Part 1: Offer faded into eyesight.
One body turned to three as the stage continued to illuminate. Three rectangular monolithic sculptures stood in a seemingly unorganised fashion as the three bodies turned to eight. Wearing simple attire, they twisted and jerked to thick, furious analogy sounds that pounded the ears relentlessly. A large dial was spun, hung high on the dirt covered backdrop that motivated a beautifully choreographed dance that spanned the whole stage. The eyes struggled to keep up as each of the bodies reacted in a chaotic fury of movement around the sculptures that left you in quandary.
Feelings bore a science fiction fantasy that brought to mind 2001 Space Odyssey’s classic scene of the apes and monolith. I felt disconnected, confused and in awe, as the setting offered juxtaposed symbolism between the simple, almost mundane sculptures and the sporadic, eclectic dance moves that twitched in fine precision with the sound design.
Space, objects and design. In Part 2 - Echo, words like these continued to ring out in my head as bodies began to shift the sculptures around. The dancers thudded, smelt, tasted, laughed and cried to the objects that began to react, shift and shake in a symbiotic tangent that echoed a perpetual physical response.
The large dial began to turn again.
This entanglement of body and space picked up tempo to war drums that forced the couple next to me to plug their ears. Strange voices entered into the soundscape that clung onto the ears as one tries to decipher its relation to the scene. The dancers finally started to move the sculptures around the stage, seemingly weightless at some points but overtly heavy at others – remarkable “muscle acting” that caught your logical mind off guard.
The inanimate/animate contrast between the sculptures and bodies took an increasingly active turn in Part 3 - Exchange. The lights, a line of each stood on the right-hand side of the stage, faded in and out to the sound design as the dancers became increasingly aware of them. This breaking of the fourth wall is emblematic in how “the structural lines and fragile sinuous movement” draw emotional responses of being in/out of place and space – are we as an audience also active objects in this space?
Continuing to move the various structures around the stage, words like possession, shadowing and flex come to mind. In an almost rag-doll like fashion, the sculptures, as they were being manipulated, had a lasting effect on the dancers who were crippled, displaced by this distancing/embracing between the two worlds. One of the most awe-inspiring moments of the piece was when the dancers began to walk in slow motion, so convincingly that it felt like time itself had slowed down. They walked in perfect homogeneity, slowly steering one way and then the other around the recently moved sculptures.
In the finale, the dancers scrapped, rubbed and hugged the floor, twitching in an animalistic form that matched the ricocheting tribal drum rhythms.
Touting that the show “pushes the limits of virtuosic dance and design” it is clear that Cormack intended to create something new and out of the ordinary. The crowd reiterated this view with thunderous applause as the dancers took their bows. One lady I spoke to after said the show reminded her of the controversy surrounding US President Trump’s proposed wall – its effects on the physicality of the body and the mentality of how such structures affect our conceptions of space and place.