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Festival of Elements
Kahuku: a butterfly romance
Lead Director / Designer – Emily Buttle
Co Director – Jessica Sutherland

at Te Raupararaha Arena, main hall, Porirua
6 Feb 2010

Reviewed by Lyne Pringle, 8 Feb 2010


Empress Stilt Dance under the direction of Emily Buttle continues to forge new directions; in this instance the debut of Kahuku at the Festival of Elements in Porirua on Waitangi day. This 15-minute piece (still in development) explores the interface between stilts, aerials, stilt acrobatics and dance. Buttle, who has directed, designed and produced the work, is really a ‘joy merchant’ specializing in awesome costumes, whimsical beauty and delight. Kahuku delivers all of these elements in good measure.

To a commissioned electronic soundscape by Leyton, Pipi Ayesha gives a compelling performance as the central monarch butterfly with precise muscular control and nuanced expression as she is brought to life and re-winged by Aaron Burr, who plays a taut caterpillar. Moving with great skill, he also is an accomplished and expressive acrobat.

Their romance flourishes through some spectacular partnering: Ayesha on stilts and Burr on the ground then into exquisitely beautiful aerial work ably assisted by Rhys Latton; his ‘spin man’ role in the mechanics of the images begs to be developed into a fully fledged character that helps to propel the narrative.

I caught the last performance of the day (there had been one on the hour over 4 hours) amidst adults and children forming a circle around the performance space in the giant arena. All ages were transfixed by the performance as it built to a beautiful climax of enormous scale with three more butterflies entering as the space whirled with colour and magic.

The artistry in Buttle’s costumes is exquisite and she and her cast deserve congratulations for creating this magic with limited resources and time.

It was the perfect end to my Waitangi Day, watching the koru patterns on gossamer wings flutter as wonderful performers negotiated, with ease, the space between the ground, tall stilts and the air, through which they ‘flew’ to capture the essence and fragility of a Kahuku.

 

Ship Song

Capital E National Arts Festival

Ake Ake Theatre Company, Wellington, 2007

Reviewed by Sarah Delahunty, 12 Mar 2007

MAGIC, EVOCATIVE AND MEMORABLE 

I have not had the pleasure of seeing any earlier works by the Ake Ake theatre company so come to the performance as fresh as any of the six year olds I am surrounded by.

The atmosphere inside Shed 11 is enticing - live drumming and ukulele and an array of ropes and nets hanging from the high ceiling plus suitcases and sailing ship models scattered over the stage.

 And images continue to surprise and delight throughout the performance. The traverse stage space, which could have been problematical, adds a vastness to the scale of the ocean journey enhancing the movement and allowing the wonderful stilt walking moment to shine. The hauling of ropes, the ebb and flow of waves ... The story line is suitably slight - easily picked up in the few words spoken. And as often happens in the midst of wonderful live music, the words are sometimes hard to hear and always sound thin beside the instruments.

Set when the six year old audience "will have grandchildren of your own" Captain Greed is out to catch the last of the mermaids, having already dealt to the dolphins and whales. And Lily is a on a journey back to her where she came from - which is now an area of land under water due to global warming and the rise of the oceans.

Captain Greed fails in his mission and Lily gets to dance with her ancestors -  and we get to see the beautiful mermaids twist and sing on long ropes above us. I'm not sure how much the words of warning for our future come through to the children but the spectacle and mystery of movement and sound tell it's own wordless story very effectively.

There does not seem to be a programme so I cannot put names to faces, but the entire cast are a versatile, talented and extremely fit bunch. Their dancing evokes waves, sailors, underwater worlds. The amazing trapeze-type work using ropes is wondrous - especially for me the image of a sailor in a hammock of rope, high in the mast, rocking slightly in the swell.  They leap constantly from one end of the long space to the other, juggling suitcases, lifting and twisting around each other, then dancing, then picking up an instrument to add to the soundscape.

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All in all, it is a magic, evocative and memorable creation, the live music and constantly changing images holding the young audience right till the end. You could almost smell salt in the air!

 

Ship Song

Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 19 Mar 2007

originally published in The Dominion Post

Capital E's National Arts Festival is once again allowing us to see top-notch theatre for children from around the world as well as showing us the best of local groups.

Using the long rectangular space of Shed 11 that they exploited so well two years ago for The Secret Garden, the Ake Ake Theatre Company takes us on an amazing Ship Song adventure to the mysterious sea where the last of the mermaids live. Captain Greed sails his ship, Corporate Greed, in search of the elusive mermaids - elusive because they know what humans are like - in competition with his old enemy Esmeralda Black.

On the way we hear sea shanties, and come across acrobatic musicians, enormously tall, mangy ancient underwater ghosts, and sailors who are into humorous suitcase juggling and tossing.

While the plot is at times a little confusing - it didn't seem to worry the absorbed youngsters sitting near me - the acrobatic skills and the sheer energy of the performers dangling from ropes high above the stage or racing at top speed with long silken sheets spread out behind them the length of Shed 11 is exhilarating stuff.

 

Maui: One Man Against the Gods

Westpac St. James

May 9-13 | Reviewed by Melody Nixon

Maui: One Man against the Gods is a storytelling spectacular in which the legends of Maui are interpreted through dance, music and theatricality. The effect is an evening of powerful and visceral beauty and emotion, as well as a too rare opportunity to view a professional show presented mostly in Te Reo Maori.

The production is very much a spectacle, impressing its audience with powerful set, sound and lighting design. Such elaborate visual effects might detract enormously from a production if too overdone; fortunately here they serve to prove the consummate experience of the crew involved.

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The use of theatre space is another very striking aspect of the show; the split stage is raised at the rear, and so provides a sloped area for actors to utilize vertical as well as horizontal space. This assists the movement towards non-European modes of storytelling, aiding the play’s spiritualism and magic realism, and allowing us to more readily receive its tale. The effect is further enhanced by the team of ‘aerialists’; Sacha Copland, Pipi-Ayesha Evans, Claire Lissaman, Jenny Ritchie and Alexandra Sim. These hanging dancers are suspended alternately above crowd and stage, twirling and spiraling as nymphs, flames and tupuna; often breathtakingly seductive.

All in all, Maui: One Man against the Gods is a wonderfully engaging and creative spectacle. Constantly being refined and modified, the show has so far endured for four years from its pilot production. Let’s hope it will continue to evolve and grow, and remain a show New Zealanders support and encourage, for years to come.

 

Zirkus goes Bizurkus 

Bats Theatre, Wellington, February 2006

Reviewed By: Rebecca Blundel

It’s Bizurkus For Sure and Music’s Fine Too

Rosie Langabeer’s Zirkus is aptly named. The 16-piece band is a musical circus. The players jammed on a slow groove as the punters walked in, each in eclectic garb ranging from pajamas to evening dress, combined with their choice of outlandish hat – a bike helmet, a sombrero and an ornate mobile all featured.

Probably the most memorable acts were the performances by aerialist Pipi-Ayesha Evans as the top half of a giraffe and performing acrobatics on the “tissue” – a double strand of material which hung from the centre-front of stage and was tied up into a makeshift proscenium for the rest of the evening.