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Arts Festival Review: Dancing On Your Grave

Cheerful and mournful and tuneful: Dancing on Your Grave

Reviewed by Ali Little

Dancing On Your Grave. Photo: Lea Anderson
Click to enlarge

Photo: Lea Anderson

Dancing on Your Grave
Featuring the Corpse de Ballet, The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs
Pacific Blue Festival Club, Shed 6 — 27 & 28 Feb, 3–5 March
Expressions/ Genesis Energy Theatre, Upper Hutt — 2 March


In Dancing on Your Grave a small band of unhappily dead vaudeville performers are trapped in purgatory, which for this troupe is a starkly lit three metre square stage. The show is a stylish mix of cheerfully morbid toe-tapping music and deliciously precise dancing.

Created by English choreographer Lea Anderson it features singer-songwriters Steve Blake and Nigel Burch and dancers Maho Ihara, Ryen Perkins-Gangnes and Valentina Formenti.

The performers remain onstage for the entire show. The musicians, in white ghoul makeup, black suits and bow ties, narrate grimly comic tales of woe to sweetly plucked banjos. The Corpse de Ballet are Perkins-Gangnes in a skewed version of a traditional mime outfit, Formenti dressed in late Victorian tart style, and Ihara in French knickers and odd little cap. Together they perfectly dance and mime the 'reality' of the songs in a series of exquisite little vignettes which reinforce or subvert the self-consciously clever lyrics.

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As the audience learns over the course of the show, none of these characters died easily, and none went innocent to their unquiet graves.

Some songs are sweetly cruel. "Do you miss me?", a singer asks hopefully of a still-living wife. Never mind, he concludes, you will soon be feeding worms too. Another song argues that it is better to regret what you've done than to regret what you didn't do, and the performers recount a series of unregretted wicked deeds. The underlying theme is that the living don't appreciate life and that as the song goes, you're a short time living and a long (long, long) time dead.

One highlight is a Ihara's mimed series of failed suicide attempts, as a would-be victim she tries pills, gassing, stabbing, shooting, hanging, and finally, jumping from an ever higher series of buildings or bridges. Written down this just looks wrong, but it is ridiculously funny.

This year the Pacific Blue Festival Club is in Shed 6 on the Wellington Waterfront. The new theatre seats 500 people, in tiered rows from the front of the stage only. It is large for a 'cabaret' style show, and the acoustics not quite perfect. Watching Dancing on Your Grave I missed the lovely round wooden tent where this show would have played in past festivals.

That said, this show is a treat; these downtrodden music hall zombies look great and sound wonderful.

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Press releases: New NZIAF Nightclub on the Wellington Waterfront - NZIAF 2010 Programme to the Wellington Region - SchoolFest offers access to international artists
Arts Festival website: Dancing on your Grave
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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