Graceful Girls

December 31, 2015 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Dance Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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Having upgraded my O/S and iTunes, I am exploring the films available on the iTunes store. The other day I found, and watched, Graceful Girls. This is a film about an Australian dance discipline of ‘Calisthenics’ – though in Olivia Peniston-Bird’s feature length documentary, it is referred to by one-and-all as a ‘sport’. I see it as a dance discipline because the vast majority of the competitions are based around dance – an endearing mixture of ballet, rhythmic gymnastics (without the ball and skipping rope), and commercial dance.

What I found attractive about calisthenics, was that the senior practitioners had normal bodies – trim and toned, as opposed to hyper thin. The dancers are able to execute all of the classical ballet repertoire – technically and gracefully. There is no pointe work, so more dancers can stay in the sport. Unlike ballet which creates a natural ‘gate’ with its near total emphasis on pointe work.

The film follows the lives of some of the dancers and their mothers though a competition year. It is centred around the Regent Calisthenics calisthenics school – a school run by successive generations of the Synnott family. The school was founded by Enid, then run by her daughter Diane, and currently her daughter Brooke. This school has dominated, and influenced the direction of, the sport.

Calisthenics has a much greater emphasis on teams – to win the division, a team must dance/execute eight different routines. Calisthenics is strongest in the State of Victoria; and each year the ‘nationals’ are held in the Ballarat Theatre.

The film also follows the fortunes of Brianna Lee – who is a three time runner-up to the only solo event, known informally as ‘Most Graceful Girl’. Brianna is a sunny primary school teacher who has done calisthenics (and ballet) from a young age, and she really wants the title. Incidentally, both Diane and Brooke have won the title. Brianna’s routines are a picture of beauty and strength – effortless grande jetes (off a one-step take-off), splits (both vertical and horizontal), and wonderful stability (or should one say poise).

Worth ago.

The Force Awakens

December 20, 2015 at 12:03 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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After re-watching the early episodes, I took myself to the midnight session of Episode VII of the Star Wars saga: The Force Awakens. I count myself lucky to be in the first wave of general release viewers. Yes, it was worth staying till midnight, driving home at 2:20 AM afterwards, and getting only three hours sleep, to watch it.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

The movie opens with a homage to Episode IV and Alien: there are two moons above a desert planet; one of the moons is occluded by a massive space ship. Then we are introduced to two new characters:  Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Poe is the Resistance’s top pilot. Ren is the new ‘Darth Vader’ – he even has a breathing mask!

Then comes Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). Finn is a storm trooper who has goes AWOL and eventually joins the resistance. Rey is the new ‘Luke’ – she even grew up on a desert planet (Jakku). Then we re-introduced to Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

The level of marksmen ship has improved: there is less ‘spray and hope’, and more coolly aimed shots.

There are some amazing flight sequences. Special effects and audience expectations sparked mainly by Episode IV has come a long way from Episode IV.

Final comes Maz (Lupita Nyong’o) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), going by her working title of General Organa. Maz is a new character – she runs a bar – whether she makes it into Episode VIII remains to be seen.

There are some great fight sequences: much grittier that in Episode IV, V, and VI.

Along the way there is also two other new characters: General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). They represent the latest manifestation of the dark side – the First Order. General Hux represents a new element in the story: he is not (apparently) a practitioner of the dark side, but through sheer competence is in competition with Ren for the Supreme Leader’s favour.

There are the odd surprises and of course there is a final battle.

This is a difficult movie to make. It needs: to grab a new fan base, not disappoint the existing multi-generational fan base, to set things up for Episodes VIII and IX, and remain true to what has gone before. I think J.J Abrams (and Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt) succeed.

Preparing for The Force Awakens

December 13, 2015 at 8:38 am | Posted in Film Review | 1 Comment
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Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens on December the 17th, and to prepare for my midnight screen, I re-watched episodes II through VI.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

I watched them in Machete Order: VI, V, II, III, then VI. Watched in this order, episode II and III are treated as two closely flashbacks in the middle of the mini-series that is episode V and VI.

One of the benefits of this order is that you meet Luke and Leia as adults, prior to watching episodes II and III that reveal the political and personal events that created them. We also see the similar vents that shaped their lives as shaped their parents. Another benefit, is that it preserves the primacy of episode IV, as being the pivotal episode – thereby respecting the fact that it was released first. Yoda’s talk to Luke makes so much more sense in light of episode III (than the first time around).

I was also struck by how rich episode III is. There is romance, angst, action and political intrigue. The politics neatly summaries the transformation of the ancient republic of Rome to an imperium – and sets the stage for episode IV. Episode II also shows how Anakin is seduced by the Chancellor – Anakin wants a galaxy where his loved ones are safe, and by extension everyone’s loved ones. The Chancellor wants the same; their initial disagreement is the methods.

Things that I did not like the first time around were of course still there:

  • Why is the level of marksmanship so poor in the ‘elite’ Imperial Stormtroopers (and before them the Senate Army), and the droid army?
  • Why when the X-wings are making their attack runs down the trench, don’t other X-Wings parallel them above the trench behind them? (Yes, the mosquitos had to fly down the fiord in ‘633 squadron’, but there is no overhand in the Death Star.
  • Why didn’t the X-wings make  vertical dive bombing run?
  • Why did the empire opt for robotic prosthetics over organ/limb regeneration? After all they could speed grow clones.
  • The Ewoks could not have overcome an Imperial Legion – clubs would never prevail over energy weapons.

Things that occurred to me watching this time;

  • Why didn’t the Jedi knights have a shield or buckler? These would have allowed them to deal with adversaries armed with rapid fire distance weapons. Bucklers being small and light would not have significantly impeded their movements.
  • Who designs a military vessel – like the Death Star – and does not distribute the power generators throughout the vessel?

Of course with J. J. Abrams and Disney in charge, will the plot take a very different direction? Will Luke or Leia have children that will become sought after pieces in the ‘great game’? Will Luke even play a significant role? Will they finally pass the Brechdel test? Will we see a third generation confront the ‘Darkside choice’?

Whitireia Polytechnic: Behind Closed Doors

December 3, 2015 at 8:10 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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November and it was Whitireia Polytechnic’s Commercial Dance graduates end-of-year show.

This show goes from strength to strength and this year’s was fantastic. The class of 2015 are a hugely talented and precise group: watching the pieces, I could not see anyone lagging behind or standing out for the wrong reasons. Anne Gare and the other lecturers have done a fantastic job. The show had a very contemporary / lyrical feel to it, even the hi-hop piece – Let’s Get Ruckus – was softer than the hard crumping of other years.

The pieces that stay in my mind are:

  • Welcome to the Asylum
  • Ding Dong – Mormons
  • The Argument
  • The Office
  • Cinderella’s Ballroom
  • 13 Disturbia Lane
  • The Ritz
  • The Club

Welcome to the Asylum and 13 Disturbia Lane were contemporary works that dealt with the subject of mental illness. These were powerful, yet entertaining works, that required the dancers to dance and act.

Ding Dong – Mormons comes from the musical of the same name. It was funny and gave door-to-door missionaries a gentle send-up. It was funny and a little challenging.

The Argument was another contemporary work that revolved around two friends having an argument. It was raw and compelling.

The Office was fun. There is little opportunity to see tap dancing in Wellington, and this little number showed that tap is not just dance, but also something that can be central to a story: Sophia Ristossa’s shoes provided the sounds for the typewriter of her harassed personal assistant character.

Cinderella’s Ballroom showed that most if not all of the graduating class come from classic ballet backgrounds. This was a fun piece – formal ball and crass wicked sisters – with good mixture of pointe work, classical technique, and character work. Michael Sinnung was outstanding as the Prince.

The Ritz  was all energy and theatrical dance at its best.

The show felt more coherent this year, and the standard of student choreography seemed higher; and as I have already mentioned the execution was clean and tidy; with the energy and joy that is commercial dance.

The show ended with The Club – an extended burlesque piece. Clean technique, good characterisation, introduced by Cher’s “Welcome to Burlesque”; another great show.

The evening ended with Leigh Evans – the show director – and Anne Gare – the head of faculty – go  well deserved gifts from their dancers.

I hope the student, in crutches, who joined the curtain call, gets better and that her injury does not prevent her from graduating.

[Dancers listed in the foyer tagged to this article.]

NZSD: Graduation Season 2015

November 30, 2015 at 8:03 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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November, and another Graduation Season at the New Zealand School of Dance. These have become very popular, and my session was sold out – as were other. There was a solid feel to the programme: three chunky contemporary pieces and three significant classical pieces.

Three pieces stay in my mind:

  • Paquita Grand Pas
  • Forgotten Things
  • Concerto

The staging of the Grand Pas and Concerto, with  Tarentella in between, provided the audience with three exemplars of classical ballet down through the ages. The Grand Pas from Paquita provided a wonderful showcase for Yeo Chan Yee and Felipe Domingos’ individual (those fouettes! and jumps) and collective talents. Tarentella, by George Balanchine, suggests that Ethan Stiefel may be gone but his influence remains. Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto, was an example of the latter’s abstract ballets – neo-classical in nature, with the dancers in simple yellow, red, and orange, unitards and leotards, with small blocks of dancers moving like guardsmen on parade, while couples danced in the spaces.

The show was the world premiere of Sara Foster-Sproull’s contemporary work: Forgotten Things. This was an innovative work that had dancers dancing in tight groups – clever lighting emphasized bare hands, fists, legs (contrasted against dark 3/4 unitards). This created movements and forms not possible with a single body. The use of single dancers was carefully edited, to create extra focus. At times it looked like there was a long spine, other times very long sinuous legs, and at other times elephant like ears. This work probably got the biggest round of applause for the night.

This was one of the schools more memorable shows.

[Dancers listed in the programme have been tagged to this article.]

Evoke

November 21, 2015 at 10:18 pm | Posted in Fashion Show, Show Review | Leave a comment
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This fashion show was organised to showcase the work of Massey University’ Design School’s 3rd year fashion students. The show was held in the first floor foyer of the St James Theatre, and organised by the students themselves.

And organised brilliantly: the foyer was transformed into a fashion venue – central was a raised runway, with subtle decorations and strong lighting; the sound system was top notch; the back panel at the stage end of the runway was an ever changing display of information and mode lighting; the red seating was striking, with appropriate mode lighting; there was a cash bar and complementary nibbles; and every seat came with a goodie-bag.

I felt the goodie-bag and its contents really announced that this show was to be taken seriously. The show sponsors had really gotten behind the show and the main sponsors got deserved round of applause. Centrepoint Fabrics, Zibibbo, Hotcopy, and 3 Wise Men were the big sponsors; Centrepoint Fabrics’ name was on the bag, they were one of the ‘platinum’ sponsors.

This show compared very favorably against the end-of-degree show  run by Massey in their great hall venue on campus.

The garments were shown in five sections:

  • Ethereal ;
  • Fun; (and it was one of the models did a cartwheel!)
  • High Fashion;
  • Sustainable; and
  • Ready to Wear.

Holly Dobson, the show director, definitely deserved the big bouquet she was presented at the end of the show. She and her team of fellow student volunteers did a fantastic job.

Hopefully this will become a regular event, because the fashion students do interesting work that should be seen. Without this, the students only show at their end-of-degree (or end-of-diploma) shows.

[Students – well done all – who showed have been tagged to this article.]

Spectre

November 21, 2015 at 9:04 pm | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the latest James Bond film the other day.Spectre completes the reboot of the 007 universe: the multi-national crime syndicate, that gives its name to the film, is re-introduced; its leader Blofeld is re-introduced; Bond’s beloved Astin Marton DB5 is re-surrected; and other parts of Bond’s early life filled in.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

The film seems littered with homages to previous Bond films: Bond in a white tuxedo; “shaken not stirred”; destroying yet another car; a massive brute of an adversary; driving off with ‘the girl’ in the DB5 into the sunset; it goes on. There have been so many Bond films that it must be very hard to be ‘new’. My one disappointment was that there was no Rolex watch.

This being the information age, there is a new threat: big brother – big data. The Internet-of-Things has a dark side.

Bond is ably played by Daniel Craig; Blofeld is played by Christoph Waltz; and Madeleine Swann, Bond’s love interest, is played by Léa Seydoux. Only time, and the next film, will tell if these two plot lines progress.

The re-boot has tackled some big issues: water and big data; maybe global warming is next. This being the 21st century, it would be nice to see Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris, and Swann characters do more.

The Ground that We Won

November 7, 2015 at 5:28 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I finally got to see Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smiths’ documentary film about the Reporoa Rugby Club’s mens team’s 2013 season.

The team have had a terrible 2012 season – they lost every game – and got relegated. Against a backdrop of a drought, the team sets out to: win every game and win the grade. Reporoa is dairy country, and the lack of rain hangs over the little community; the collective of relief at one of the early 2013 practice sessions is palpable.

The film is in black-and-white; early on in the film I expected the colour to slip in. But no. The black-and-white gives the film a timeless effect; but for a few details (like the quad bikes, but not the team bus) this could have been the 2003, the 1993, or even the 1963 team! The Reporoa valley on the early morning looks fabulous.

The film closely follows three members of the team: the youngest member (‘peanut’), the captain (‘Kevin’), and a member of the bench (‘Broomie’). Broomie is the oldest; possibly not by much, but he is the real find of the film. Broomie is single-handedly raising twin sons (seven years old), and running a dairy farm by himself, and finds time to go to practice, to play the odd game, and coach some of the ‘littlies’. Kevin is taking over the family farm from his parents; they are still live there, and step in when he has an injury. Peanut (if they said his real name, then I missed it) is just a young guy starting out.

We see the team at work (dairying) and at play (rugby games, rugby practice, and ‘sessions’), and some of their private lives. Peanut and Kevin are seen hooking the cows up at the herringbone shed; Broomie’s got a rotary shed. Kevin is seen helping deliver calves – he attaches a bungy cord to the exposed hoof and uses his body weight to give the calf a bit of help to come out. Broomie is often seen calling his twins on his mobile phone, while leaning on a cow, in the pre-dawn morning, checking that they are ready for school.

The film is not about rugby; it is about the role rugby plays in a small dairy community – at least for the men. It gives the lads (of all ages some structure); there is a lot of energy, and baggage of life to deal with when you are a dairy farmer – beholden to the banks, depending on fickle markets, at the mercy of the weather. Rugby provides a way for the men in the community to come together, to work off frustrations, let off steam, and pass on values. Peanuts, 17, gets a lot of stick, but it is never malicious. Honestly, some of the male bonding and coming together immediately before a game would have been recognised by the Spartans.

Peanut is learning to box, for a charity event, and like many teenagers is a bit uncoordinated, and uncontrolled. His boxing coach (also a rugby player) lays it out for him: no showing off or acting out in public; “not cool”. His coach tells him don’t get angry, don’t loose control; of course peanut does, and flays away at his coach. His coach just lets him get too extended and ‘pops’ him ; “get up … keep going”.

Broomie cuddles the twins, but certainly doesn’t molly coddle them. They have chores (make their own lunch, get dressed, tidy their room, etc) to do if they want to go to rugby practice and not sit in the car. Broomie’s lays it out: there have to be rules or its chaos. At one littlies’ practice, one of the twins, trips another player and gets sinbinned by their dad-and-coach to the car. Tears of frustration, of missing the rest of practice, and of letting dad down.

There is the bus ride to and from the game – typical of sports bus trips. The core of the team end up at the back ‘holding court’. The bus gets quite wet at times; but next morning Kevin and a helper are washing it down.

The swearing was a surprise – heaps of it in the changing room. The drink sessions after practice was not; nor were the special sessions to mark some milestone.

You don’t have to be a New Zealander, nor have played rugby to see this film. But it is a uniquely New Zealand story, that needed to be captured, before the corporatisation of farming changes the make-up of small town rural New Zealand. If you have played rugby then some of the practices and games will be a bit more interesting. [Actually, the film could not be of the 1963 team because there is lifting in the line-outs.] But the film does not try to show too much of the games – just enough to show that the players and their communities care about the result.

A great documentary film that shows a side of the New Zealand male psyche that is not seen in an increasingly urban New Zealand.

See it if you can – warning contains swearing, drinking, and carrying-on!

NZSD: Insight Studio Performances – 25 September 2015

September 25, 2015 at 9:33 pm | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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I went to this last night, and as always something for everyone; and though not as well attended as other studio performances I have been to. Which is disappointing, as it is another of Wellington’s hidden dance gems.

As usual, there was a mix of classical and contemporary works. Most were pre-release glimpses into what will be danced at the Graduation Season in November. Some students also got to trial their piece for an up coming competition they are going to in Auckland.

The performance kicked off with the dancers in the Scholars Programme (a preparatory programme for dancers who wish to get into dance schools after secondary school).

Then it was:

  • As it Fades (excerpts) – contemporary
  • Paquita (excerpts) – classical
  • Conditions of Entry (excerpts) – contemporary
  • Agon (excerpts) – classical
  • Solos: Yuri Marques da Silva; Billy Keohavong; Emma-Rose Barrowclough; Jeremie Wen-Jian Gan; and Laura Crawford
  • Without Regard – contemporary
  • Concerto 1st (excerpts) – classical

I liked Paquita and Billy Keohavong’s contemporary solo.

Paquito was very tidy and Felipe Domingos Natel’s lifts were strong, controlled, and very impressive.

Billy Keohavong’s solo, Bait, danced to Tick of the Clock by Chromatics,  got a great round of applause. Unlike some contemporary work which I find very physical (to the point of being percussive),  Bait was by parts lyrical, loose, techno (good synergy with the music), and menacing.  The latter came across through with some martial arts undertones – kept well in check to avoid a  kataWhat is also very promising is that it was Billy’s own choreography.

I also recognised Felipe Domingos Natel, Yuri Marques da Silva and Jeremie Wen-Jian Gan from the Alana Haines’ earlier this year.

Whitireia Polytechnic: Year 1 Commercial Dance Variety Showcase

September 19, 2015 at 7:20 am | Posted in Dance Review, Event Review | Leave a comment
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As I have said in the past Whitireia’s commercial dance faculty put on a great show. There is very little commercial dance performed in Wellington, and while Whitireia produces around 15 dancers each year, most end up dancing overseas. So the only opportunity to see ‘commercial dance’ in Wellington, on a regular basis, is to go to Whitireia’s end-of-year dance showcases.

This year the choreography seemed to have a little extra from some other years.

Numbers that stuck in my mind: Amadeus Mozart Requiem; “Get the Funk Up” Batman (there can’t be a single piece batman outfit left in Wellington!); Tequila (the audience was smiling and probably remembering personal encounters with drink :-)); Rock ‘n’ Medley; and Waiting for the Train.

The dancers all demonstrated an amazing versatility. Millie Moon, the dance captain, stood out. The dance captain seems to be a new innovation in the Whitireia dance programme – at least this is the first year that it has been publicised.

The dancers’ joy and energy made for a great performance. You should have gone.

There was a new feature this year: the Year 1 Circus students did a per-show, and a skit at the beginning of Act Two.

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