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Arts Festival Review: Echoa

Arts Festival Review: Echoa

Review by Lyndon Hood

Echoa
Arcosm Company (France)
Soundings Theatre, Te Papa
2 – 7 March
Recommended for ages 6 and up

A charming and vigorous show, blending sound and movement, Echoa really does have something for every age. It's an intriguing mingling of dance and percussion, with a whole lot of heart.

There's also a lot of humour for young and old: character based (especially as they embarrass themselves in front of each other), choreographic slapstick and surprises, and some straightforward goofiness. Certainly by the middle of the show the child-rich audience was full of laughter. When the performers started playing beats on their own bodies I heard it least one child joining in.

Arcosm Company's mission statement has an element of determined – almost aggressive – unpretentiousness, and this shows in the performance. There are many moments of eye contact as the two dancers (Thomas Guerry and Emmanuelle Gouiard) and two percussionists (Camille Rocailleux and Ming-Tam Nguyen) check in with each other, as much like a rock band or group of friends as a formal performance. This collegial, inviting atmosphere – some of it cheerfully contrived – reminds me of 2008 festival show Traces.

Certainly the dancers don't have that I-am-a-serious-dancer face. Thomas Guerry, in particular, tends to perform open-mouthed, giving the impression that he is variously amazed or very pleased to be here. One of the percussionists, Ming-Tam Nguyen, is often giving us a very friendly grin. It's utterly approachable.

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It's also the kind of behaviour some performers might use to mask a lack of skill. I wondered about this as the show opened: all the cast are soon ranging right over the multi-levelled set and making full use of its noisemaking potential – floors, trapdoors, drums and rattles, lightswitches, live-sampling microphones... (the set might not be as strapped with drums as one of Strike's but there's still plenty of banging to be had). During that, the percussionists' movements seemed rather more precise than those of the dancers.

But soon, after a sequence between those dancers based around reaches for and missing contact – the resulting space swirling precisely between their moving bodies – I could put any doubts about their ability to move out of my mind. Later, with a loud and physically vigorous sequence of call-and-response interlocking drumming patterns, the percussionists took their moment to shine.

And, in this piece where all are exploring the space between movement and music, part of the character interaction involved each group staking claim to their turf with such virtuoso displays.

Artistically, Echoa is about the link between dance and percussion, through the playful interaction of dancers and percussionists. They fact this link is unavoidably obvious to me now – both move rhymically, both make noise – is probably testament to how successful the show is.

It's that exploration (as well as the charm factor) that unites the interlocking short pieces of the show. In each the participants use different methods of sound and movement to run the gamut of their disciplines, sharing spaces, rhythms and movements with those of the other. The sections often work like a game devised by the cast or played between them. Understanding what the rules are – What happens if a dancer happens to hit a drum as they dance? What is a drummer doing if you take away the drums? – becomes part of the fun.

From this point of view it's especially interesting when they move away out onto the floor and work with just their own and each other's bodies – breathing, stomping, slapping ,odd vocal noises, some character performance and even some impressive singing. When a percussionist is playing his rhythms on the body of a moving dancer the question of which one is which becomes moot.

So whether you're into silly people, bashing stuff loudly, dance, music or humanity, or you just don't mind being charmed, this one is definitely worth a look.

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Press releases: Dance Work for Young and Old - New Dance Programme Defies Borders - Special Programme for Kids at the NZIAF - NZIAF 2010 Programme to the Wellington Region
Arts Festival website: Echoa
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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