Douglas Wright is a New Zealand icon. His contributions to dance have been recognised, applauded and embraced not just in Aotearoa but across the globe for almost three decades. His latest work The Kiss Inside reflects some of the key changes we are experiencing in the categorisation, comprehension and cohesion of modern dance especially in works that embrace the fluidity between the past and present.
The set consists entirely of a single leafy tree that creates a striking visual against which the performers enact various narratives. The evening opens with a man (Luke Hanna) hanging upside down performing a karakia while the ensemble looks on. There is an embedded sense of connection, a stillness that works in conjunction with the slow swirling movements and then, dramatically it changes. A frenzy of apoplectic movement breaks out as Patti Smith Group’s Radio Ethiopia rumbles across the stage.
Disruption is key to The Kiss Inside not only in completely questioning any assumptions, preconceptions or attempts at solidifying the abstract; but more potently in laughing at the very notion of doing so.
The musical accompaniments to the performers’ brilliant physicality is well curated. A woman in a burkha performs with two pois while in the background croons Daphne Walker (featuring Bill Wolfgramm and his Islanders) When my wāhine does the poi. Similarly the Westminister choir chimes in beautifully, as does the Tashi Jong Community from the Khampagar Monastery, always to seemingly visual and aural antithesis.
There is a gorilla on stage. With oranges. A woman (Tara Jade Samaya) slowly takes off her dress only to be plastered with pieces of damp paper that are meticulously ripped out, dipped in a water jug. Another woman (Simone Lapka) sits in front of a stone, and as she hammers it, blood slowly drips down her face and naked torso.
[See additional text in Comments below, added 18/4.]
There is repetition (Meisner would have been delighted) slow, specific, a Butoh movement, and an electric performance by Sarah Jayne Howard who in her in bright red dress is a tour de force sizzling in an exhilarating exhibition of physique.
And of course there is the brilliant Craig Bary whose performances are utterly exceptional in delivering a highly nuanced sculpted conversation.
But is it enough? The pattern of disruption (while clever) loses its novelty quickly because it becomes so obvious. Some of the sequences are simply extravagant examples of art pour l’art while the overall dramatic arc seems to be tightly wound in independent vignettes.
Dramaturgically there seems to be an absence of cohesion, a range of rather self-indulgent reflections with little reflexivity and an absence of an engaged relationship with the audience.
While as a titbit The Kiss Inside is delicious, it lacks the satisfaction of a hearty meal, and the layered complexities that are provoked shimmer rather than shine.
NB: In retropect, one of the highlights of The Kiss Inside was indeed the fact that Douglas Wright danced in this production. Dressed in loose white (hospital garb?) his physicality is exquisite, the narrative utterly sculpted and within a historical, biographical and personal context (with the nurse watching) it is profound. It was a finished and extraordinary beautiful solo but personally, I felt his work reverberated better through the various other moments that he sculpted on this stage. Through the other moments of intense viscerality it is possible to gauge (perhaps not a linear chronological history) but a unique understanding of the various facets of how art is made, shaped and received. And these stand well on their own for any audience, irrespective of age, because ultimately it is about a deep listening and a response that is personal. Shaped out of one’s own experience, knowledge and understanding of the world it is this response that interacts and inscribes with the unfolding narratives on stage.
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