Monumental new dance from Douglas Wright
“rapt” by Douglas Wright
Civic Theatre, The Edge
Until March 19th
Douglas Wright’s latest work “rapt” opens with a lone male operating an industrial jackhammer. The intermittent sounds and vibrations throb throughout the theatre while three chairs slide backwards and forward across the stage.
This is contemporary dance at its most abstract. This is not the movement of the human body but the movements and the sounds of the everyday, the home and the street. It presages a performance which tested and extended our encounter with dance, theatre and art installation.
We next encounter a male figure with a large birds head. This surreal figure alerts us to connections with Rene Magritte and Max Ernst as well as Bill Hammond. We become conscious of the symbolism which inhabits much contemporary dance and particularly that of Douglas Wright.
Then the first dancer emerges, a female figure in a green tunic which echoes the acid, green tones of Bill Hammond paintings. As more dancers emerge, running rolling and leaping in Wrights distinctive style, themes and ideas begin to crowd in creating a densely packed work full of wit, despair, isolation, awakening and renewal, all linking to notions about ecology, the human condition and probably Wrights own personal journey.
At times it seems as though the movements of the dancers are inspired by the graffiti like marks on the huge wall which dominates the stage. The random lines of tracery and the copy book lettering give a sense of both the random and repetitive.
The dancers’ energetic movements suggest attempts to abandon the physical constraints of the body and become birdlike or more ethereal. There is a combination of nineteenth century Romanticism and contemporary reflection. At other times small everyday movements are isolated and elevated taking on a monumental profundity.
However it is not the dance which is most impressive in “rapt”. Wright has created some incredibly evocative, theatrical sequences which are full of urgent little narratives, evocative symbolism and a vibrancy which suggests personal and social metaphors.
Many of the dance sequences however seem labored and slight in comparison with the theatrical sequences, devices and actions of the participants.
While much of the performance is full of angst about isolation, loneliness and distance there are sequences with a great deal of humour. Sometimes this juxtaposition works brilliantly at other tiems it has all the panache of a corny joke.
The cast, whether they are in dance or acting mode provide a physical and emotional base for the work, displaying a refinement and power which alternates between high energy levels and ephemeral contemplation and introspection.
“rapt” is a great piece of work which compares well with any of the overseas dance and theatrical productions at the festival, it is also an important work in divining and inspiring a New Zealand culture.