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Commotion - a Michael Parmenter Retrospective

I was entranced from the moment the lights dimmed in the James Hay. An expectant hush fell as the programme opened with an excerpt from Jerusalem (Psalm 24) (1999) and we were treated to a faultless and fluid solo from the grand master himself - Michael Parmenter. And from then on it was one sheer delight after another as eighteen of New Zealand's finest dancers held their audience spellbound by the magic of their performances. What surprised and amazed me was the diversity - not only were the dancers an eclectic group of ages and body sizes but the stereotype of the traditional male role i.e. being the one to do all the lifts was completely dispersed with some wonderful choreography that had female dancers doing more than their fair share in a physically supporting role.


The stage came alive to The Bach (2001)with intricate and careful choreography and yet the sheer exuberance and the joy of the dance shone through consistently. The tempo slowed somewhat with a stunning duet called Tantra (1988) which was a sensuous compilation of lifts and movements beautifully designed and executed to portray the various emotions within a relationship - from laughter to passion to gentleness. The stunning costumes and lighting complimented this piece beautifully.

The Golden BuildersFrom there we were shifted into electric blue and the stage came alive as the cast performed Fields of Jeopardy which was a stunning display of dance, leaps and gymnastics. The mood changed again as we were plunged into the darker and more sombre world of Svadebka (2002) (music from Les Noces) where we followed the dynamics of an imminent peasant wedding. From there we were led into the tortuous whirl of The Dark Forest (1993) where everything was bleak - the music (String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2, Sonata for Sola Viola) and the juxtaposed set were the perfect discordant backdrop as a story of angst and agony, lust and incest, secrets and guilt, unfolded, layer by painful layer, for most of the second half. It was gruelling and disturbing … but worth every held breath … and the bleakness was dispelled by the wonderful finale, The Golden Builders (From Jerusalem) (1999) which saturated the audience in a blur of brilliant colours as dancers shimmered and shone and rose above the stage as the bells pealed out.

Commotion is a glorious celebration of fine dancing and masterful choreography. It is unique, stunning, uplifting and magical and it was a privilege to be part of that audience as the cast took their bow and we gave them the standing ovation that they so richly deserved.

March 2005