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FRESH | Tempo Dance Festival, NZ

This year’s FRESH dance showcase does not disappoint.

The palette is broad and the risks and innovation taken by the five choreographers, Ardon England, Joash Fahitua, Xin Ji, Bhuvana Venkat, Lauren Byrne and Emma Martin, offer commendable efforts. Sculpted physicality, creative thinking and strong narratives are evident in varying degrees across all works.

The evening begins with England’s ‘FIERCE’. A tribute to BeyoncĂ© (whose alter ego is Sasha Fierce) this slick hip-swaying-body-pulsing-hair-swinging work comes with a fair dose of political commentary and provocation through its five dancers. It’s followed by Fahitua’s deeply poetic ‘Muamua’, a short but powerful duet that gives attention to balance, rhythm and breadth while cradling the careful and tender story of the unfolding of humanity.

Xin Ji’s ‘Looked In’ is next on the programme and is a highlight of the evening. Bold movements, nuanced expressions, a playful use of humour and layered meta-narratives between its three performers create an absorbing and contemporary piece of dance.

From the intricacies of relationships to the lush forests of India’s wildlife sanctuaries, the fourth item is ARTHAM Dance Company’s rumbling ‘Ranthambhore’. It’s a commanding performance that is inspired by Puliyattam (The Tiger Dance) and Venkat takes the audience deep into the nocturnal environment of the forest through a rich and vibrant dance vocabulary.

The final work, ‘Know Yourself’ by Byrne and Martin (who are also the performers), closes the evening with a light romp through an urban landscape. Replete with denim, sneakers, krumping and bubbles it’s easy to mistake this just for a street party, but there is a dark side to this coming-of-age exploration.

The programme is a mosaic of different personalities and while it lacks any coherent unifying theme, the works are independent expressions with genuine value. With further development and support, these may be the seeds of a range of different full-length dance works that represent the expanding spectrum of contemporary New Zealand dance.