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Sunday, May 08, 2022

Review - 'Stranded Pieces' by Roaming Bodies (Bats Theatre 7 May 2022)

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“Stripping back to Artist Matt Pine's connection to land/environment in his work grounds the work in uncovering possible connections. 

Finding what were before, the 'Stranded Pieces'.

In this multidisciplinary work, dance, music and theatre forge new contexts to relate to the work of Matt Pine. Inspired by Matt Pine's ‘Placement Projects’ that took place at Auckland's City Arts Gallery in 1978 and revisited in 2016-2017 at Te Papa

I most recently saw Caspar Ilschner in collaboration with fellow dancer Otto Kosok, musician Martin Greshoff, Designer Hollie Cohen, and Co-Producers Monique Gilmour and Isaac Kirkwood at Te Auaha as part of February’s NZ Fringe Festival 2022.  Their show, The Professio(nah), was a vibrant and absurdist take on the old adage ‘stop mucking about and get a job!’ 

Under Red Light settings, it was a bizarre, isolationist experience to attend, but as a dance piece, still highly creative and entertaining. 

Tonight’s piece, ‘Stranded Pieces’ is a different beast.  Performed in the sumptious dome room upstairs in Bats, it felt like a more 'polished' art piece.  

It appears like the solo work of Ilschner but is definitely a collaboration, this time under the moniker 'Roaming Bodies'.  Most are recent Toi Whakaari graduates.  It is a thought provoking contemporary piece, in search of the missing connections between the multitudes of self within community and environment.

In our current world, with the recent politics of vaccinations and masks, isolation, society divisions, working from home, social distancing, it is necessary to find the time and space to process our options as a community. Where are we going.  How do we ‘normalize’ the ‘new normal’?  and where does theatre sit in this? Dance and theatre is the mirror we hold up and we look at the fragmented light, searching for meaning and clarity.  How can this work in our modern society?

As a performance, each ‘piece’ is presented, like laying down a piece of a puzzle, to be shuffled and reshuffled.  They are bridged together through Ilschner’s own body moves in a combination of distorted shapes, expressions challenging and drawing you in.  There with sound, spoken word and live music build the picture.  Like Pine’s work, there are circles and, angles, segments and sections.

Roaming Bodies Stranded Pieces’s set and costume design are inspired by Matt Pine's ‘Placement Projects’ that took place at Auckland's City Arts Gallery in 1978 and a new installation at Te Papa in 2016-2017.  The company, Roaming Bodies, takes the ingredients for tonight’s incredible pot pouri of choreography, lighting and music from Pine’s work.

To begin, and dressed completely in a white (of purity?) Ilschner opens, playing what appears to be a modified trumpet, the sound lingering, haunting.  It’s like an old fashioned Roman regalia, announcing the start of something spectacular.  But then the lights dim and Hollie Cohen’s intricate, abstract Audio Visuals come on to create the first scene (Cohen also did the projections for The Professio(nah)). 

The visuals feature organic cells (or digital elements like a motherboard) mutating, expediential replication of themselves, like a virus – is this a reference to Covid, of the spreading of Fake News? 

Ilschner rotates his body in a prone position, he appears to grow like a cell, multiplying into a greater life.  Is this an artificial or organic body we are witnessing? 

With a sense of deliberate action, the bizarre and organic world reveals its self, as if its growing like an amoeba.  This man, creature, organic or digital body starts to create his environment then goes about ordering it, arranging, labelling and taming it like a garden from weeds to beauty. 

There is a direct reference to the minimalist work of Pine, like the architecture of Mies Van De Rohe, creating order in the simplicity.  Clear away the clutter, the noise of multiple ‘fake’ voices, the media noise of our Covid times, the anxiety of our times, breaking down the mayhem, the inevitable destruction. 

Ilschner changes to a white plastic suit with black stripes.  He tentatively puts it on, as if it’s an alien cloak of some sort.  Immediately I thought of our own reactions to having to put on PPE or masks.  There is a brief moment of hilarity as he clumsily tries to put his arms in to the sleeve holes, a strange mash up of music plays – a mix of tape loops, Tiny Tim and Ferris wheel music.  A candy coating to hide a more sinister, or clinical purpose for the clothing?   

His dancing becomes violent, frantic punching as if he’s attacking, or is he defending.  The lights become intensely blue.  Are we underwater?  Are we hurtling through space?  Is the blue calming? Or is it a symbol of sorrow?

Perhaps this was a storm, a tempest climaxing.  This white suited about, like an explorer. His arms seem to form a radar, and aerial, a searching device.  Either way, he appears lost, bewildered.

Is this where we are now?  Our place, in this world, is a place of uncertainty? 

Ilschner’s performance is mesmerising.  It’s so much more delicate than the clowning, clumsy expressions he chose for the ‘The Professio(nah)’.  The paper that was so prominent on the set of that show is here , too.  If a little bit less prevalent as it lines the back wall like an Otago plains landscape. 

But this is a different work, for sure.  He goes well beyond the simple vocabulary learned from his years at Toi Whakaari, and the natural flow that comes over is easy to interpret, even for someone like myself who is not familiar with the intricate world of dance.  That makes this show both even more enjoyable and accessible.  His method of plying each phrase, disrupted by a spring-like lurches or twitch breaks up the journey of movement, as if our very lives has been disrupted – and indeed they have.  Occasionally we get a surprise, with a moment or two of humour, shattering the serious mood. 

Sound artist Jackie Jenkins has been inspired, it seems by the sounds of water, organic matter, digital machinations.  The soundscape is a wash of blips and bops, scritching, samples from songs and EDM, also seemingly random, like a DJ scratching and mixing live, but in fact carefully curated to match the action on stage.

As needed for dance, particularly in this long, narrow space, is a minimal set, the ‘set’ mainly constituted by visuals and a few small black boxes, the ‘stranded pieces’, which become tangible and occasionally malleable props.

When Ilschner finally speaks, he gives voice to our own interpretations of the actions so far.  It’s a revelation that won’t fit neatly into a box.  These are the boxes that he’s just so neatly lined up in the previous segment.  Small black paper boxes.  One for emotions.  Another for friends, another for foes – way over there.  Things we understand, defined and categorised, suddenly smashed under foot.   And there are more, that will all be mixed and mashed.  Order will become chaos.  A swirling mess.  A metaphor for every day assaults on our mental health from distorted information, twisted realities, climate change and other impacts on our reality.   

You can see Pine's ideas coming through, especially in the way  Ilschner lays out his boxes in geometric patterns, like Pine's art (e.g Brick Work - see below) or the circles in works like 'Line Circles'.  Even in colleague Ralph Hotere's geometric shapes, which in turn inspired Pine.   

Colour is important, helped by the dramatic, textual visual affects of Grace Newtown, Max de Roy intern and the addition of Kaitlyn Johnston’s graphic design.

 I mentioned at the beginning that this was like a solo work.  Clearly it isn’t.  Perhaps there is only one man on stage.  But the imaginations of create this multiple layered narrative. There’s a logical arc to this piece, it takes us through to a messy and chaotic conclusion.  Not necessarily positive, but realistic all the same.  I really enjoyed tonight, it made me think, I was challenged and as a theatre goer I wanted more.  Its the second time I’ve seen Ilschner and his collaborators and I’m well impressed.  Watch this space.  

Once again thanks to Roaming Bodies for inviting me to review.  

They are a company of Wellington based artists:

Caspar Ilschner: Performer and Choreographer

Jackie Jenkins: Sound Design

Grace Newton: Lighting and Set Design

Max de Roy: Costume Design and Assisting Intern for Set and Lighting Design

Hollie Cohen: Projection Design

Kaitlyn Johnston Graphic Design


Brick Work

Matt Pine (1941–2021)

Matt Pine was born in Whanganui, attending Whanganui Collegiate School, and later, graduating from the University of Canterbury School of Fine Art (now known as Ilam School of Fine Arts) in 1959.  He went on to also attend Elam School of Fine Arts, graduating in 1962.

Following graduation he gained a scholarship to Hornsey College of Art and the Central School of Arts & Crafts between 1962 and 1964.  During hi time there Pine was involved with the installation of minimalist works by artists such as Sol Le Witt, Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Dan Flavin at the Tate Gallery.  That had a huge influence on his own practice.  He took inspiration from the constructivist and minimalist movements.

He travelled through Asia, Russia, Africa and Europe before returning to Aotearoa in 1974.  He worked on site specific mahi, while observing the formal aspects of Māori architecture and ancestral sites. In 1979 he met Ralph Hotere during a Frances Hodgkins Fellowship artist in residence in Dunedin.  Both artists were operating at the intersection between Te Ao Maori and minimalism.

Pine later became an art teacher and tutor around Whanganui region from 1976 to 1999, establishing Te Wa / The Space (which moved to Palmerston North in 2011). 

Pine’s art reflects his experience of international artistic movements, alongside Te Ao Māori. He made an important contribution to contemporary Māori art and the wider art of Aotearoa’.

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