27 September 2017, Spiegeltent, Havelock North
Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival
The Spiegeltent is full of excited chatter as 250 school kids acclimatise to, what is for many, their first introduction to the Arts Festival. They turn in their seats, the better to see the 360-degree spectacle of mirrors, lights, sparkle and red velvet. The vaudeville-style electro-swing churns out a beat and the two little girls sat beside me break into a spontaneous coordinated dance move, shoulders thrown back, arms swaying. They are two of fifty students from Flaxmere Primary whose visit is made possible by donors and Daniel Betty’s endeavours with the educational programme. It’s their first time at ‘anything like this’ and they are chatty and full of interest.
Oddly for a dance show, the first thing that impresses itself upon me is the sound. All of the music is provided by the performers themselves, both through wordless vocalisation and an array of strings and percussion. They dexterously switch between instruments, employ metal and earthenware pots and bowls played with hands or wooden spoons, and go heavy on the cow bell, layering music and voice to dramatic effect.
Cheese is a sensory, immersive experience, made to appeal to children and to the child in all of us. From the get go, the performers actively splash, squidge, crumble and munch, getting right among the audience and encouraging their willing participation, to the extent that by the end children are falling over themselves clamouring for a mouthful of fresh parsley or spinach. They play with the texture and sound of food – percussive slurping, pouring from a height, dripping and stretching mozzarella alluringly, juggling balls of cheese and eliciting screams of laughter from the delighted audience with the pop of a milk-filled balloon. They dance on the edges of the deliciously verboten – nonchalantly pouring a bucket of milk over a tabletop draws a collective gasp, but its clever design allows it to flow and dribble into a waiting bucket. It’s a messy show, to be sure.
As you might expect, Java Dance’s approach to movement is joyful, innovative and technically diverse. Elements of folk dance from Appalachia to Caucasia, hip-hop, and contemporary styles come together with a rough-edged spontaneity that is enlivening. The use of props and tethers as a means to explore shifts in weight, gravity and boundaries, in particular the pas-de-deux between dancers physically bound together, is breathtaking. It helps that every one of the performers is a first-rate character actor, emoting fully with their faces as well as their bodies. Classic games of cat and mouse, and hide and seek are used to draw the audience in, captivating even the youngest, and are rewarded with big laughs.
The children leave, faces shining with exhilaration, no doubt hungry for further exposure to the arts…and cheese. I know I am. And luckily, we will not have to wait long to be sated. Java Dance’s other food-themed show, The Creamery, plays this Friday at 9.30pm. Featuring the same cast, it’s similarly innovative and features the making of actual cheese, which audiences are invited to taste and judge. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Cheese is on again in the Spiegeltent, 30 September, 11am
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