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Review: Vivid Dreaming is definitely vivid and at times unsettling

Vivid Dreaming is a new production from the exciting Jawline Dance Company. It consisted of two separate pieces titled Others, and Puffy Sob. The venue for both was the curiously named Auckland Old Folks Association building just off Auckland’s Karangahape Road. It’s an old concrete place now used as a hub for the arts, with peeling paint but a glorious wooden floor. The atmosphere at night is almost gothic and lends itself to edgy productions.

With mismatched seating and minimal lighting, this was almost the perfect venue for these pieces. I say almost because I think Jawline deserves venues that hold more people. 

I digress. Onto these two very different shows.  

Others

Three performers are on stage, two men (Oli Mathiesen, Cade Hansen), and one woman (Lulu Qiu). They are dressed in white undershirts and below-the-knee shorts, each with a colourful jacket. 

There is a youthful energy to their movement. At times, robotic, at others more animated and fluid. It is wonderful watching them move in symmetry with one another, yet when they part and do something solo, it also works so well.

The set of narratives in Others we are told is about being in an ‘in between’ state, where we witness the dancers as soulless beings. Yet for me, there was plenty of soul and many tender moments. One of my favourites, was each of them touching the foreheads of one another. Such a simple gesture, yet one incredibly intimate. As it occurred, the one touched seemed to almost fall asleep or go limp for a second. For me, it evoked memories of my mother touching my forehead to check for a fever when I was a child. Such a simple gesture, yet one so familiar. 

At times the action seemed disconnected and random, just like a vivid dream. There were interactions with people who weren’t actually there but done so effectively, one could almost see them. 

This piece was a pleasure to watch, at times intimate, sweet, and emotional, at other times, evoking fear, confusion, anger. Mathiesen, Qiu, and Hansen worked so well together within a well-choreographed set of routines. 

This is the kind of performance that demonstrates to me that this dance company has what it takes to compete with much bigger and well-established dance practitioners. 

‘Puffy Sob’

This piece was quite different, and I have to admit more challenging. It began with two young women (Sharvon Mortimer and Celia Hext) wearing sheer cocktail dresses and lying on the floor. 

Both began oozing some form of ‘gooey’ liquid from their mouths. It was obvious immediately this was to be a far more confronting piece.

The music had a late-night supper club vibe, dominated by the sound of a saxophone. The dancers started to gyrate their bodies with movements that seemed to channel Sharon Stone in ‘that’ scene from the film Basic Instinct

I suspect Puffy Sob was deliberately designed to be provocative because it certainly was!

Throughout history, female sexuality has been devalued and repressed. For lesbians, that oppression has been particularly savage.  

In that context, Puffy Sob seemed to take the opportunity to explore that sexuality with all its complexity and I applaud that. 

There was a clear attempt to convey seduction and eroticism, but also how desire can be aggressive, whether that be in our dreams, fantasies or reality. 

Some of the action at times was quite confronting, and unsettling, particularly several moments where the dancers put their fingers in each other’s mouths. Sometimes these actions were tender, at other times, combative.

There were flashes of brilliance in Puffy Sob. As an example, in one unexpected moment, one of the dancers picked up the other and carried her on her shoulder. There were some other beautifully tender moments as well, and an obvious trust and openness between both performers.

My overall sense of Puffy Sob is that it is an important work and the dancers showed genuine courage and commitment to expressions of sex and sexuality that would make anyone on stage quite vulnerable.

I would have liked to see more actual ‘dance’ in this piece, as I don’t think there were enough opportunities for Mortimer or Hext to demonstrate their abilities. 

Furthermore, I think there was an over-reliance on overt displays of sexuality as opposed to an artistic or more symbolic form of expression.

Yet, as I mentioned above, female sexuality has had a tough ride over centuries, so maybe it’s time for some confrontational dance. 

Note – this review was originally written when Vivid Dreaming was run in April 2022.

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VIVID DREAMING 6 – 10 September 2022 Basement Theatre

Information and tickets here.

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