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Sarah Jayne Howard, The Kiss Inside Sarah Jayne Howard, The Kiss Inside
photo courtesy of Douglas Wright
There is a passage towards the close of Douglas Wright’s The Kiss Inside where Sarah-Jayne Howard, dressed in a mildly antique-cut red dress, executes a measured sequence of movements taken from the work and strung together as a comprehensive digest and delicate meditation on previous material. Arms bared and her muscularity unambiguously on show even as she executes liquid sweeps of the spine before taking her whole frame down to the ground in a more forceful gesture, the section stands out as a rare moment when the diverse components of this work coalesce into something like order.

Wright is one of New Zealand’s most prominent dance makers. After being recruited for his athletic abilities, he moved to performing expressive, narrative solo works whose balletic vocabulary might be compared to that of Ji?í Kylián. Later, Wright moved into various iterations of contemporary dance theatre, drawing on his experience with Australian Dance Theatre and DV8. His work now has more of the disjointed aesthetic of Flemish and German postmodern or postdramatic companies such as Les ballets C de la B. Even so there are moments that echo Meryl Tankard and Pina Bausch in flashes of unadorned, folkloric modernism, as when Wright’s five dancers join hands and execute a simple, dipping line dance as if at a traditional Greek wedding or Purim festival.

The Kiss Inside is Wright’s first full-length work in four years and is mooted to be his last (although this has been suggested before). Promoted as a “kinetic meditation on the search for ecstasy,” the piece also marks more than 10 years of collaboration between Wright and fellow New Zealander Sarah-Jayne Howard (ADT, Force Majeure, Chunky Move, dancenorth).

Like much of Wright’s work of the last decade, Kiss is not a smooth ride. Indeed, it is striking in its choreographic, musical and dramaturgical variety. Scenes cut abruptly into unprecedented new scenarios varying from one in which Craig Bary mimes the act of licking a sharpened knife blade (a rather hackneyed attempt at provocation, apparently drawing on Hindu practice) to the deliberately gratuitous arrival of a figure in a blue gorilla suit, who holds a microphone to prone dancers as they call out “Mummy!”

Several of these images have a rare, Surrealist beauty which arrests attention. In the beginning, Luke Hanna hanging upside-down beside an inverted tree suspended from the gallery, lifts himself up on wide open arms in a V (a gesture Howard invokes in the passage described above) and sings a Waiata, or Maori greeting. Hanna returns at the conclusion, naked, a stack of books bound to his head and a pair of sloping tomes with hard covers tied to his feet, his slow, rhythmic pacing echoing into the darkness as he laboriously crosses the stage.

The movement is equally varied. Accompanied by Klezmer music, Tara Jade Samaya—known to Australian audiences through her work with Chunky Move—performs a complex, fluid set of hand movements which seem inspired in part by classical Indian dance. By contrast, the rough, often ground-based movement of the second scene, paired here with the music of punk goddess Patti Smith, evokes the flinging athleticism of Garry Stewart and DV8. This combination of ambiences makes for a style which never settles into any clear physical or choreographic logic, but rather seems as much of a montage as the radically inconsistent music. For this reason the passage performed by Howard stands out, taking multitudinous, often grating elements and effortlessly blending them.

The Kiss Inside therefore places before the audience in an especially striking manner what one might call the unending crisis of contemporary dance, or alternatively the joyous resolution of this ‘problem.’ Wright does not discard structure, and nor are we fully in the world of the postdramatic, where dance-makers repeatedly stage the collapse of their own dramaturgical conceits. The city I live in, Dunedin, has recently seen a number of such postdramatic works—notably Tassel Me This (Shani Dickins & Jessie McCall) and Footnote’s Bbeals (

Even so, Bacchic ecstasy is almost the founding thematic of modern dance via its Ur-text of The Rite of Spring and its countless iterations—including those by Tankard and Bausch. Wright however neither engages with this tradition, nor rejects it by crafting an alternate paradigm. Rather he metaphorically flips the channel, surfs the net and otherwise allows his disparate pseudo-ecstatic vignettes of intravenous drug use, or belief in spiritual rebirth, to fall where they may, producing an effect like scattered leaves. For me at least, this makes for an unsatisfying experience, since the piece neither tells a discernible story (Expressionism) nor causes a new, secret formal logic to emerge out of its materials and interdisciplinary explorations (postmodernism). Between styles and places, The Kiss Inside is definitely Wright’s own work.

Douglas Wright Company, The Kiss Inside, choreography Douglas Wright, performers Douglas Wright, Sarah-Jayne Howard, Craig Bary, Luke Hanna, Simone Lapka, Tara Jade Samaya; Regent Theatre, Dunedin, NZ, 24 April

RealTime issue #127 June-July 2015 pg. 36

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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