Review by Carly Fisher
Entering the theatre and taking a seat amongst the audience drenched in pitch black, it would seem that the matinee performance of Amygdala has started well before the entrance of any performer on stage. Performing in the intimate (despite large capacity) Tapere Nui at Te Auaha, this dance work explores the part of the brain responsible for processing strong emotions such as fear by sending signals to the cerebral cortex and our own responses to these emotions.
With a cast of 15, there are many times your eye is drawn in multiple directions in an effort to catch all of the action. Fusing a range of dance styles including lyrical, contemporary, popping, hip hop and I’m sure more, the stage is filled with strong, uniformed figures that have a brilliant command of using their body for storytelling.
Elisa Gates is our lead dancer and it is clear that not only does she have the dance ability to carry this show, she has the acting chops to guide the audience through the story as well. She is dynamic and seems an experienced team leader. When she pops, she is incredibly exciting to watch with an advanced skill in this form that you don’t see often enough.
The choreography by Amelia Butcher is sharp, direct and militant in its precision. It is infused with creativity to carry the story and it is timed to perfection in order to blend the dance and technological elements together for a spectacle performance. Lighting by Patrick Barnes, in conversation with Butcher, is a true highlight of the piece and the well fit out theatre at Tapere Nui is a major asset not just to this performance, but clearly to the Wellington theatre scene. Rarely do you come across such a well equipped intimate theatre that intentionally opens its does to Independent and Emerging Artists and it is brilliant to see it happen here. If this is the standard that Wellington is setting in this, the rest of the world should take note.
The sound design is clever in itself with an intentional blend of music, distorted noises, spoken word and poetry, and more mixing to create the soundscape of the Amygdala world. There were some times when the speaker levelling was not well done leaving the audience slightly uncomfortable with just how loud the sounds and music were at times. This however is an easy fix and just requires a little bit of manual editing during the performance when the speaker reaches such a loud level. The sound design created though not only has been perfectly translated into dance, but is also timed perfectly to the stunningly-choppy and fast moving spot and follow lights. Combined, the tech elements of this piece deliver high production value.
Not every section of the piece is perfect - mainly, the desire to achieve tricks such as lifting, levitating and leaping comes at the expense of the fluidity of the piece as each trick requires a distracting amount of support from other dancers for too short of a moment of dance. This, combined with a few clunky transitions between songs, were the only times that Amygdala was otherwise interrupted - the flow of the piece, otherwise, is a great asset of the show. However, the tricks/stunts do either need to be elevated in their execution or minimised in their usage.
Furthermore, the mixed storyline for me reduced the impact of the piece overall. I tend to agree with the artistic vision of the piece that keeping the stakes as elevated throughout the show as they were at the beginning may grow tiresome. But the mixed story did lead to a bit of confusion as to the narrative intent and structure at times.
It was a true pleasure getting to see this strong work of dance at this year’s fringe festival. The creative team, as well as the large cast, have much to be proud of in having this on stage this year. The passion of the dancers flows of the stage and with them, it is easy to quickly want to see great success for this show - there is nothing better than watching artists be proud of their work on stage. It is a big show that they have done with an expert touch.