Tangi Wai… The Cry of Water starts with a single torch light, at eye level, shone in to the audience. The circle of white light draws attention and blinds your eyes. It is too dark to see anything else, including the dancer who is holding the torch. You expect the lights to come up, for the scene to reach clarity but it never does. Even when figures materialise – headless, shoulders arched – the light is too low for your brain to understand what it is seeing. Darkness pervades Victoria Hunt’s incredible contribution to Dance Massive, 2017.
Choreographer, director and performer Victoria Hunt is an Australian/Maori multidisciplinary artist who has worked extensively in New Zealand, Sydney and the Asia Pacific region for over 10 years, although this is her first performance for Dance Massive. Hunt’s complex identity is important to any understanding of her work and appears in all artist descriptions. In her own words, she is an “Australian-born artist working across the spheres of dance, choreography, culture, performance art and education. Her tribal affiliations are to Te Arawa, Rongowhaakata, Kahungunu Maori, English and Irish.”
Tangi Wai is an intake of breath held for 60 minutes; an intense, visceral and dark interaction with a non-corporeal force; a tightly contained explosion of energy. The work is phenomenal. The official description of the performance describes it as “merging installation, theatre and dance (where the) audience are transported to the Maori realm of spirits Te Arai, an arduous passage at the precipice of human existence and the afterlife.”
The performance is built around composition of bodies rather than choreography. The all-female ensemble become the setting, just beyond your eyesight and moving minimally, while light, shadow and projections become the dancers. Sometimes movement stops altogether and an image is held for minutes. One of the most powerful scenes is when Hunt moves from the dark space at the back of the stage into the front. Low to the ground, she dances through strobe-lights, projections, mist and water. Tension in her outstretched limbs is palpable; we feel the primordial and raw energy that Hunt is trying to communicate.
The projection and lighting design is exceptional. Light and mist design is by Fausto Brusamolino and video and light design is by Boris Bagattini. Swirling smoke-like patterns are projected onto a fog screen made up of mist droplets; the effect is eerie and surreal. This is the only light source for much of the performance, cut through occasionally by laser lighting used with great precision and effect.
James Brown’s electronic soundtrack is, like the dance, a composition of elements rather than a string of notes. In the absence of light, sound plays the foremost role in creating the atmosphere – as when a line of blue florescent light crosses a raining stage, and we are unsure whether the droplets are really crackling on the strip of light, but the tension grows.
While dark elements and electronic music are a popular pairing in current contemporary dance, Tangi Wai is set apart because of its spiritual grounding. It is believable that the realm of spirits exists within the microcosm of the performance. Time is distorted and an hour-long performance feels like 20 minutes. The utter darkness of the stage throughout the performance contributes to its mystery and intrigue. It also reminds us that some things are beyond logical comprehension, or not meant to be known.
Dance Massive 2017 presents Tangi Wai… The Cry of Water by Victoria Hunt from 14 – 18 March 2017 at Meat Market, North Melbourne. http://dancemassive.com.au/program/tangi-wai-cry-water/
Dance Massive is a biannual, two-week contemporary dance festival presented by Arts House, Dancehouse and Malthouse Theatre in association with Ausdance Victoria. The festival runs from 14 – 26 of March 2017.