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A COMPELLING, MULTI-LAYERED WORK - Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū

Dr Ian Lochlead, Theatreview | 23 June 2022

This article was originally published by Theatreview on 23 June 2022. Click here to view the original article.

As part of an extensive programme of exhibitions and events to mark Matariki, the Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora in Christchurch has premiered Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts’ dance film, Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū. With music composed by Dame Gillian Whitehead and performed by the New Zealand String Quartet with Alistair Fraser on taonga puoro, this is an auspicious collaboration by a team of New Zealand’s leading contemporary artists.

The work’s conception dates back ten years to Belton’s encounter with Paul Klee’s 1932 painting, Ad Parnassum, in Bern’s Kunstmuseum. Struck by the work’s vibrant colours, pyramidal forms and its suggestion of a gateway to a mysterious, hidden realm, Belton stored the image away for further exploration. This time came in 2019 but the process of realisation was interrupted by the global pandemic and it has taken a further three years for it to reach completion.

Unlike Belton’s 2021 work, OneOne, performed in the Arts Centre’s Great Hall, Ad Parnassum takes place outdoors in the Centre’s north quad, with a large screen spanning three bays of the Centre Gallery’s north wall. It is an evocative, if rather chilly setting, with the temperature hovering around 6 degrees. Also in contrast with OneOne, in which live performance was the predominant element, film has now become the principal medium of expression. Although the original intention was for the music to be live, this proved impractical. However, in this opening screening, the film was preceded by a live performance by Fraser on taonga puoro and dancers Kelly Nash and Nancy Wijohn. Described by Belton as a ‘live activation’ of the screened performance it can also be seen as an echo of the pre-performance ‘parades’ of the eighteenth and nineteenth-century Parisian stage, designed to attract audiences from the street into the theatre.

Anyone anticipating a filmed performance of a stage show of the kind that has become almost ubiquitous since the start of the Covid pandemic will need to readjust their expectations. Ad Parnassum creates its own digital environment in which the dancers float in an ethereal space, materialising and disappearing, close up or distant, singlely or in groups. They weave in and around the linear geometric constructions that criss-cross and divide the space as well as a sequence of crumpled, veil-like elements that seem suspended within it. At one point waves fan out across a sandy shore and then, as quickly, disappear. At another projected lines construct the Golden Section of classical art, first on a large scale and then, as if retreating into the distance, repeated at half its original size. Other linear patters reflect the decorative arts of the Pacific world.

Within this digitally constructed environment the conventional notion of a stage disappears, to be replaced by a constantly evolving sequence of fluid spaces within which the dance takes on an improvisatory quality. Dressed in flowing white robes, the dancers represent equally the nine muses of Parnassus from Greek mythology or the wahine who embody the nine stars of Matariki. In this magical space cultural boundaries intertwine and dissolve.

A recurring motif throughout the work is the appearance of flat, rectangular forms with rounded corners which the dancers hold. Their origin can perhaps be traced to the tile-like pattern that underlies Klee’s painting. Sometimes they are utilised as extensions of the dancers’ arms, at others as if they are sacred vessels; at times they are held like tablets bearing hidden messages. The same curved form defines the base of the screen, as if the whole work was suspended within an antique krater. Through digital manipulation, traces of the dancers’ movements are occasionally frozen in space, the tablets they hold suggesting wings, as if they are about to take flight.

All this takes place to the accompaniment of Gillian Whitehead’s richly evocative score which, in the darkened space of the Arts Centre’s quadrangle, seems to emerge out of the surrounding air. Although conceived specifically for Ad Parnassum, this is a score that, like the very best music written to accompany dance, has the capacity to exist in its own right. It propels the work forward rather than merely functioning as an aural soundtrack.

Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū is a compelling, multi-layered work that was warmly appreciated by a small but dedicated audience. On a bitterly cold night it brought a vision of light and warmth. It is to be repeated, although without the live prelude, for the next two weeks; it says much for the quality of this work that it is definitely worth braving the cold to see.


Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts

Ad Parnassum - Purapurawhetū Live Activation Team at The Arts Centre (Opening Event) June 21st 2022

Choreography and Live Dance Performance - Kelly Nash, Nancy Wijohn

Live Taonga Puoro - Alistair Fraser

Live Sound and Film Visuals- (Daniel Belton

Site Specific Lighting and Mapping - Stuart Foster

Team Mentoring and Site Design - Gillian Whitehead, Donnine Harrison

Dance Artists - Jahra Wasasala and Christina Guieb

The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, 2 Worcester Boulevard, Christchurch, Christchurch

From 21 Jun 2022 to 4 Jul 2022 [Durational]

Reviewed by Dr Ian Lochhead, 23 Jun 2022


This article first appeared on Theatreview, 23 June 2022. Click here to read the original article.

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