EMAKI - Daniel Belton & Good Company Arts
13-14 October 2017 | Auckland Art Gallery | Auckland | Tempo Dance Festival 2017
Reviewed by Francesca Horsley
Without doubt award-winning film-maker Daniel Belton has an extraordinary poetic vision – in his digital dance films his imagination travels beyond the spatial confines or gravitational pull of earth into the far reaches of space and time.
His dancers can inhabit ancient stone, as if waking fossils to release their spirit. They can be wedged or balanced between intricate geometric patterns or rendered to ethereal figures that gather in the heavens as if assemblies of angels. The earth is often represented as a sphere – beautiful yet remote.
In Emaki (Mahoroba Emaki) the real world bursts through to populate Belton’s digital time travel. After visiting Japan, and the ancient city of Kyoto, Belton has created an elegant and mesmeric work, encompassing four elements of nature, and Japanese historic and sacred sites. Mostly set in black and white, a dancer, Japanese movement artist Meri Otoshi, calmly negotiates each scene of the journey as if illustrating a traditional Japanese scroll.
In the water element Otoshi feeds tame Shika deer from her hand when she visits the Kosan-ji Temple forest; she balances on the scroll as if on a diving board projected out in space in the section titled the Void. In the wind element a soft breeze brushes her hair as she traces her hand across the surface of an ancient wall in Nara Park, and the entrance of Todai-ji Temple. Fleeting or shadowy images come and go. The ghostly outlines of ancient puppeteers shuffle and gesticulate a language of signals. In the fire element the carved inscriptions on an ancient stone in the To-ji Temple convey a sense of wonder and timelessness, and finally in the earth element, surrounded by a bamboo forest, she rides atop the mysterious megalith Rockship of Masuda in Asuka as it travels through space.
All these windows of action are set against a floating, digitally created, landscape - webs of pressure waves expand or subside as if fuelled by galactic winds and currents. Twitching and shifting contours of fine lines suggest turbulent waves or folding hills. A complex sound-landscape – blends of Taonga Puoro, Japanese Shakuhachi flute and Biwa recordings and Jac Grenfell's new music – amplifies the work’s cross-cultural wealth.
Otoshi is always in command – scooping her arms or thrusting hands, she bends and arcs, balances or lunges, advancing along pathways or riding into a mystical space. She is a signifier, uniting past, present and timelessness; a voyager articulating a semaphore of coded movement, or as Belton writes, “scenes that evoke Haiku”. Mahoroba, Belton says is an old Japanese word that means “wonderful place” and “a place to live” and Mahoroba Emaki creates a sanctuary space to which Otoshi has the “keys”.
There is an element of French author and mid-20th century pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, whose works such as Wind, Sand and Stars and The Little Prince paid tribute to the poetic purity of flight above the earth - all the while longing for its warmth and vitality.
Emaki is a beautiful, meditative work that conveys a sense of peace and wonder. Deeply rich in Japanese symbolism whose artefacts are distant and mysterious, yet framed within a natural environment, it celebrates a treasured earth and speaks to the custodial role of mankind.
AN ANCIENT-CONTEMPORARY MYSTICAL JOURNEY
EMAKI - film by Daniel Belton | TEMPO DANCE FESTIVAL 2017 | Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts with Japanese dancer Meri Otoshi, Jac Grenfell and Naotoshi Osaka at Auckland Art Gallery Auditorium, Auckland | 13 Oct 2017 to 14 Oct 2017 | Reviewed by Carol Brown, 17 Oct 2017
Belton and Good Company's latest work features the artistry of Meri Otoshi, Jac Grenfell and Naotoshi Osaka. A meditation on travel through physical and virtual landscapes, the 35-minute, single-screen video sees a lone dancer, Meri Otoshi, navigate diverse terrains through an ancient-contemporary mystical journey.
In this work, blooming pixel-drawn spaces become a visual scenography that entangles movement in layers of time. Organic and geometric filigreed networks enframe Otoshi as she travels, becoming palpable matter which suggests a relation between interior and exterior lifeworlds. Shaped by algorithmic environments of vegetal, gestural and digital patterning, Belton and co-artists have developed a work that is sublimely beautiful.
Navigating different elements and environments, Otoshi's pathway intersects with architectural fragments that appear to hover and extrude in these scapes - a white rectilinear plane, a window of gossamer threads, polygon mesh – she negotiates these terrains with somatic curiosity and quiet attention, her movement always precise and detailed. At one point, she lunges; her hands flexing from the wrists, flicking and pecking the air in syncopation to a drumming rhythm. At the same time, a group of dancing figures form a shadow chorus that traverses and dissects the cinematic volume. Dressed in traditional clothes including veils over their faces, they appear as ancient and enduring figures.
Montages created through video editing, machine vision and motion graphics shape a textured world that references the Japanese art of suminagashi, paper marbling. Described as a ‘digital picture scroll' of dance, sound and light, Emaki (Fire Element) developed through Belton and his collaborators drawing on the Japanese tradition of handscrolled narrative painting called emaki. Traditionally composed of sheets of paper or silk joined horizontally and rolled around a dowel, emaki handscrolls are like books, unfurled one segment at a time. Turning a handscroll into a choreo-cinematic experience Belton and collaborators unfurl scene-by-scene detail of an imaginatively constructed world.
I was reminded of the journeys of characters in Ursula Le Guin's science fiction fantasies such as the Earthsea Trilogy. Quests that involve journeys with uncertain outcomes, that take us into imaginary worlds where there are discoveries to be made. The choreographic logic of scrolling lends itself towards the cinematic structure and framing. We read the images from one side to the other, unperturbed by an absence of figure-ground stability. In this floating world, mesh networks grow and decay like gossamer threads. Sounds interpenetrate this sepia-toned world as resonating frequencies that thrum and stir the air turning movement into song.
AXIS - anatomy of space | Choreographer/Director: Daniel Belton for Good Company Arts at Stardome, Auckland. From 21 Jun 2017 to 22 Jun 2017 [1 hour] Reviewed by Jennifer Nikolai, 22 Jun 2017
Axis – anatomy of space is a collaboration between Good Company Arts and renowned artists Joyce Beetuan Koh, PerMagnus Lindborg, Tanya Carson, Jac Grenfell, Donnine Harrison and artists of the Royal New Zealand Ballet with director Daniel Belton (Program note). Axis – anatomy of space is poetry.
This 360-degree full dome cinema work is pioneered by an extraordinary collaborative interdisciplinary team. New Zealand audiences are fortunate to have the opportunity to experience this work with such high calibre artists in the accessible and experientially inviting venue, the dome. 360 dance can more traditionally be viewed on mobile devices, through VR headsets or projected in cinematic venues but this reflection of light and the relationship we have to natural light extends us through the capacity to be able to look around the night sky. The venue itself, The Stardome Observatory and Planetarium makes possible an experience otherwise non-achievable. This is a venue that urban dwellers may go to, to connect with our night sky, with the solar system. The technology of a 360-degree cinematic experience takes us through an illuminated constellation surrounding us as we sit back, lean back, look around, and choose the 360-degree perspective we wish to experience. Looking into the cinematic dome, we see our solar system illuminated. But this work is more than just the exceptional opportunity we have to experience this genre in a public space. The collaborators in this exquisite work, have significantly created that all-embracing principle of higher unity (Good Company program notes: from Lama Govinda) that unfolds in the experience of being part of this experience.
It is rare to feel such a sense of all-encompassing engagement with what we humans may recognise as space, the universe, natural forces, the breath of life and the relationships all things living, the sun and the moon, the waves we hear on coastal shores in New Zealand and the connection we have with that vast open sky that we look up to each night. This too, is the relationship we have to the physical self and our breath, our blood and life force… all in the poetry of Axis – anatomy of space.
So beautifully solar and sonic is this experience of staring up and around at high contrast black and white dancers, illuminated shapes and the occasional, highly impactful blue ball that represents breath, water, the moon, or the circulation of all things connected. The significance of black and white in the conception of moving image, although dominant, is contrasted minimally with a radiant blue, but only occasionally. With the subtle teasing of blue illuminations, the blue circle or cycle concludes the work, as the crashing of waves also closes the mesmerising sound-score. Environmental, found sound is sourced from insects, and waves in contrast to vocal sounds that play in an extraordinary range through its musical score. Voices in nature, in symphony; also move the visualisations of the artists of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. The quality of dance in motion is slow and repetitive. Sequencing of images are meditative. The repeated variation of solos and duets colliding as do stars, shape pathways and particles in the geometry of space. The ethereal essence of the dancers guides the overall quality of the work, with subtle movement choices that punctuate anomalies in nature, or rest as in the breath, within a musical score.
The sound creates a cosmos. Dancers are the cosmos. The human form interacting with line in the 360-degree perspective fully respects and challenges the technology in an affective and rare viewing experience. Axis – anatomy of space is poetic, meditative and harmonic. In the tradition of Good Company Arts, the development of optical devices and sound technologies with the divine performances of Royal New Zealand Ballet artists creates once again, a stunningly unflawed work.
Good Company Arts, director Daniel Belton and collaborators set the bar for optical, moving image experiences and dance. As a taster representing the calibre of The Tempo Dance Festival 2017, this work is an extraordinary initiator of so many more, strong dance works to come.
iD Dunedin Fashion Week 2017 | AXIS - anatomy of space
Choreographer/Director: Daniel Belton for Good Company Arts | Perpetual Guardian Planetarium, Otago Museum, Dunedin | 22 Mar to 26 Mar 2017 | Reviewed by Nigel Zega, 26 Mar 2017
Ancient civilisations made sense of the stars by joining the dots of light to create worldly figures living high in the heavens. Clusters of stars became dogs, fish, crabs, bears and humans, all going about their celestial business from dusk to dawn. Now there are new inhabitants of the imagination in the night skies, thanks to Dunedin dance doyen Dan Belton and Good Company Arts. Belton has focused his creative team's collective genius on the stars, making a giant leap into space with his latest work, a world-first immersive dance film designed primarily for screening in domes.
Axis — Anatomy of Space premiered at the Otago Museum's Perpetual Guardian Planetarium, juggling light, dance, music, costume and film to deliver a captivating, beautiful, perplexing and sometimes unfathomable yet ultimately satisfying experience. For Belton, the recent construction of Dunedin's planetarium was the perfect excuse to indulge a lifelong fascination with astrophysics and space. With a film for a 360-degree dome in mind, Belton marshalled an international team of new and old collaborators to contribute their imagination and skills so he and his co-producers could manipulate them into Axis.
Singapore-based composers Joyce Beetuan Koh and PerMagnus Lindborg brainstormed the concept, and fashion designer Tanya Carlson's ethereal costumes inspired dancers on loan from the Royal New Zealand Ballet to develop phrases for the choreography. As audiences lie back inside the dome, all of this translates to an other-worldly show of innovation and thought-provoking sound, images and movement. Soundscapes shift emphasis on an ever-changing background. Heavenly figures rise and fall, angelic dancers ebb and flow to unfamiliar rhythms, light plays tricks and varying focus makes dream-like changes. Mythical Atlases balance planets on their extended arms, century-old strongmen carry the weight of worlds, and disc-carrying athletes like Greek statues emerge from frozen time to come jerkily to life.
Figures are often controlled, confined or supported by lines that could hold the score for the music of the spheres. Are the dancers trapped, or are they directing events? New lines of what could be gravity's pull connect and release, and everything waxes and wanes, irregularly shifting, apparently as uncertain as the principles of extreme physics. Multiple duplicating dancers defocus over time; limbs become weightless, then formless; kinetic sculpture hints at a measure of design, and the firmament is filled with star trails that could chart visions of heaven for a secular society. It's not always an easy ride, and deliberate disconnects between sound and motion could signify light years of distance between the dancers and the audience
But in the end, beauty is the strongest memory. Exquisite pairings of dream-like dancers merge and blend like white flame or white water, both strange and familiar at the same time. Axis is a scintillating show in every way, sometimes unattainable, often reflective, always doing what Belton has consistently done so well — pushing the boundaries and breaking new artistic ground. Following shows in Dunedin, future slated performances are in Singapore, South America, and Auckland later in the year.
THE HEART OF IT IS LIGHT
ONEONE | Theatre View | Auckland Art Gallery Auditorium | 15 Oct 2015 | Reviewed by Jennifer Nikolai
Daniel Belton, Donnine Harrison, Good Company Arts, Richard Nunns, Nigel Jenkins, Janessa Dufty, WJS Grenfell
The format of this Tempo Dance Festival event was inviting, accessible and as warm and invigorating as Daniel Belton is as a presence; humble yet articulate of the scale and impact of his work. For Daniel Belton (Good Company Arts) fans and new audiences, having Belton facilitate a screening/lecture dem/question and answer style format - gave the audience insight into the retrospective impact of this New Zealand artist. Although he began by screening pieces previously curated in this and other national and international festivals, he concluded with an introduction to the process and selected sequences in his recent work OneOne.
OneOne has made its debut in New Zealand and was taken to the Cook Islands where, as Belton articulates – this is the home of the work. The point of origin is the river stones of the Maerewhenua River. They are a source of conceptual and graphic design in a striking visualisation between nature, dance and navigation. The river stones that Belton and his Father collected a few years ago have been 3D modelled, and become a binding source for sound and image driving the tone of this extraordinary discussion between analogue and digital forms. A central, graphic effect in this work is the modelled river stone - expanded, rotated. We hear its resonance and in this moving image sequence, the river stone also becomes a bed, a pod, or as Belton suggests, a Waka or a spaceship; ambiguous still - returning the dancer, or turning the dancer home and afar.
An illuminated dancer larger than her geometric surroundings, in a glowing white costume, occupies the frame with undulations and extensions, with a momentum that resembles a river moving rapidly. The dancer, Janessa Dufty is a central feature in Daniel Belton's most recent work. A structured improvisation process between Belton and Dufty resulted in what was captured in moving image as fresh and immediate. Yet her sequences are repetitive enough in the editorial choices to provide a calming or meditative quality with the stunningly captured movement of this gorgeous dancer, in tactile, hypnotic and appropriately scaled movement phrases. The flesh, the face, the limbs exposed, the skin of the dancer and her rhythm, create a complimentary superimposed somatic navigation of this dancing body and the light she sources. She is light, and glowing. The light sourced from her movement, is perceived as a metaphor for the navigation charts used in the Waka, to guide ocean travellers.
The themes of the digital and live in this work as well as retrospective works, carry similar or signature characteristics of Belton's. The range of works and the venues they are viewed in are expansive and adaptable. As Belton showed us pieces originally performed with live musicians in proscenium theatrical venues, he also introduced us to a more recent optical experience he was commissioned to create on an upper façade, a new library in Denmark. His interrogation of space and scale, geometrics and light respectfully reference moving image experiments and historical discovery between light and space. They are adaptable to large-scale public installations, gallery exhibitions, traditional theatrical spaces and as in his recent collaboration; of planetariums, expanding the peripheral optical experience. To his audience he did refer to himself as a choreographer and a filmmaker, and he is so much more. His play with sound, with composition and light, with space and possibilities between analogue and digital mediums allows for his works to be re-considered, re-curated and re-choreographed with varied purpose. Characteristics of the trace and the trail, the blur and archetypal figures alongside geometric forms in real and manipulated time, remind us of the capacities between collaborative forms of moving image and live dance.
We ask when these elements are all so succinctly in dialogue: “where did you start, what came first?” When asked these questions of his compositional process, Belton replies: “I collect ideas, I write some things down, I have my books with images and fragments. I dip back into my library in quiet moments; a fusion sometimes of very different elements.” His work is overwhelmingly layered, a fusion of moving image history, inquiry and experimentation. Belton is a choreographer working with bodies in space as much as captured bodies, re-considered in a range of dimensionalities. Of his inspiration for this extraordinary process of making, he states: “old cinema, literature and music inspires me.” Even more satisfactory as we listen to him speak about his compositional process, is his response to OneOne. He says, “the heart of it is light.” Yes, it is.
The Dance Films of Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts | Art New Zealand | Autumn 2015 | Number 153 | By DAVID EGGLETON
The best dance films do not just record movement; they alter your experience of time and motion in the process. The camera compresses everything, it makes connections much faster; the spectator is brought closer, at times placed inside the dance. Editing is another kind of choreography: in post-production you can jump-cut, speed things up, reverse them, slow them down or layer them. Film, making light move, shares a common purpose with dance; it seeks to express transcendence.
Daniel Belton’s innovative dance films constantly circle a few motifs, a few principal manoeuvres, in search of a kind of essentialism about dance. In the space of little more than a decade he has produced about twenty short films, some in different versions, and these have earned a swag of awards at international dance festivals, establishing him as a world-class dance film maker and choreographer.
As a 1990 graduate of Wellington’s New Zealand School of Dance, Belton was snapped up by the Douglas Wright Dance Company for its first productions of Gloria and As It Is. He then worked as a dancer and choreographer in Europe, before returning to live in Dunedin where he formed Good Company Arts with his partner and fellow-dancer Donnine Harrison. Good Company Arts operates as a collective, drafting in other specialist artists and performers as needed for specific projects, though a core group is consistently involved.
An early succession of live multi-media dance shows―Shoal Dance (1998), Leaf (1998) and Concertina (1999)―culminated in the ambitious Soundings which, like a small work deftly stretched, had a giant magic toyshop feel to it, as, with a large cast and support crew, it sounded some central Belton concerns: a curious, three-story-high, Russian Constructivist-style fairy-tale-book stage set with pop-open cupboards as mini-chambers, made by artist-designer Peter Belton. There was a mood-setting soundscape by Nigel Jenkins; ocean and shore references; Italian commedia dell’arte’s Punchinello and Columbine; nods towards early twentieth-century European theatre―Dada, Cabaret Voltaire, Bauhaus puppetry. All of these signature concerns have gone on appearing in Belton tableaux in various combinations and permutations: the bitter-sweet light of the moon; the moony troupe of acrobats; the comedy of a topsy-turvy harlequinade, the ballerina on a music box, the sudden introduction of a trapdoor―this last in the ceiling, as often as not.
Soundings confirmed Belton as a collector of eclectic influences, all more or less translated into his own terms―not the luridness of former mentor Lindsay Kemp’s freakish dance-theatre but rather an abstracted joyousness. And while his contorted, whirling, bounding body-shapings are a successor to the intense and ecstatic dances of Douglas Wright, with Belton any sense of transgressive sensuality has retreated to a rarefied spareness, an emphasis on the metaphysical or the conceptual. If dance theatre in the 1970s and ‘80s had a certain grandiosity, an air of emotional excess, Belton’s choreography is reacting against that, probing for the ideas behind or beneath. Watching video and film-making by others, either making a visual record of dance shows or creating projections as part of Belton works, led to Belton himself collaborating on a ‘dance made for film’, specifically Henge in 2001. Henge is a kind of hinge-work, the first Belton cross-over, where the flat screen carries the dance. It is a kind of declaration or manifesto in that it clearly asserts an allegiance to the tenets of Modernist minimalism―only, accelerated. Filmed in grainy scratchy black-and-white, its rhythms frenzied, its performers convulsive and hysteric, it has a stark immediacy complemented by a stuttery electronic soundtrack. It reveals two dancers wrestling or grappling with each other, and not only with each other but also with ‘time’ represented by the speeded-up filming. A ‘henge’ is a circle or flat disc, and here the bird’s-eye camera view turns it into a clock or sun-dial: in ancient times the henge marked astronomical events such as the solstice and equinox. The viewpoint also introduces a new Belton motif, one that he will carry through to other films: we stare down at the dancers as if peering through a microscope into a world of tiny, agitated organisms.
This film’s shadowy quality is another Belton constant. The flicker of Henge evokes the hand- cranked cameras and projectors of early silent movies; and in later films Belton goes back even further, recreating the stilted-movement effects of the nineteenth century’s zoetropes and praxinoscopes, as well as subjecting the monochromatic digital image to the luminous ‘look’ of silver-nitrate processing. Tensile, twangy, taut, Henge has an electric charge that fed into Belton’s first solo-edited film Figures of Speech (2003), which is even more agitated, without losing its grip on the central conceit: a dancer’s sped-up leaping about ‘representing’ the act of speech. Here, Belton, who is himself the extraordinarily flexible dancer, displays a positively sculptural virtuosity.
Figures of Speech was included as the first film in the Good Company Arts showcase of five films under the umbrella title Athletes of the Imagination at the 2006 Otago Festival of the Arts. They all have somewhat slender narratives, but these serve merely as armatures for films which are patently homages to early Modernism. All five are so tactile and grainy they might have been hewn out of stone. In them, Belton acknowledges modern dance pioneers such as Isadora Duncan and Loie Fuller, who found inspiration in the dancing maenads of ancient Greece. And while classical dance reinterpreted is one signposted reference, so is the machine aesthetic of Weimar Germany’s Bauhaus movement.
Belton’s choreography emphasises movement as a relentless force field; his dancers are shown in multiple exposures as regular smears of white across darkness (‘the void’). Partly this is about the repetitive actions of factory workers, celebrating the labours of the lumpenproletariat as galvanic, a kind of engineering, but on another level there is a questing quality. The moves in a Belton dance represent a tentative search for the centre of gravity, not as a still point but as something restless within a greater restlessness. Early Modernism was also about grappling with the implications of quantum physics. The discoveries of science enlarged the scope of imagery available to the arts.
A Belton dance film challenges the notion that dance is an ephemeral art-form, simply using film to document and archive the performance. It does this by aligning its strategies with those of other kinaesthetic practices, such as kinetic sculpture― consider Alexander Calder’s mobiles and in particular his The Circus of 1926 with its collection of circus performers made of wood, wire, rags―and kinetic films, exemplified by Len Lye’s herky-jerky Free Radicals(1958). As well, a Belton film typically alludes to other perceptual representations, for example M.C. Escher’s vertiginous drawings and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. (Belton scales down his friezes of dancers into diagrammatic representations of space, so that they walk, sway their arms, and pivot with legs firmly planted, but are seen side-on, flatly, as ghostly or ectoplasmic traceries compressed into a horizontal band.)
And if these enhaloed hieroglyphs of dancers― their blurry actions resembling fluttery white veils―affirm ritualistic dances of a spiritual kind, they also invoke the Bauhaus ballets of the visionary Oskar Schlemmer, whose dancers in the 1920s sketched geometrical theorems with quasi-robotic solemnity. That this latter visual trope is more than coincidental is established by Belton’s use of specific Schlemmer props, in particular his use of long sticks choreographed into arcane games. In Schlemmer’s Formentanz of 1922, costumes were designed to create an harmonious black and white geometric pattern, while the dancers’ moves were regulated by movements of long sticks. Similarly, Belton has four dancers engaged in manipulating two long sticks. Like Schlemmer, Belton is interested in representations of a collective bound together in an heroic idealistic project.
Belton’s emphasis on mime-like movements of characters set against Art Deco facades in his later short dance film Matchbox (2008), a sequel to two of the films in the Athletes of the Imagination showcase, links that film―along with those two―to German Expressionist silent cinema. His dancer-actors queue up at a ticket booth, or limp down a spiral staircase, or shuffle across black spaces, with exaggerated facial expressions, reminding us of the way that in the silent cinema era movement could be used to convey thoughts and moods with exquisite subtlety. (Classic moves by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are also quoted here and there.)
That the same themes remain constant as tantalising notions for this choreographer is confirmed by Line Dances, a 2010 suite of seven short films which restate and rework earlier motifs while adding others. In particular, each film in Line Dances opens with a shot of a small bellows camera from the 1920s. The camera, its lens concertinaed out, is ‘dancing’ or at least moving, and as it slowly rotates it throws off rings of light. In this visual conceit, the camera signifies its role as a dancing machine for making dance.
However, Line Dances then cuts away from this somewhat over-determined swirl of movement to present a series of tableaux based on the drawings of Paul Klee. The soundtrack is a set of delicate and haunting Erik Satie-like piano pieces by Anthony Ritchie. The cast of characters in this set of films might have been drafted in from Soundings of ten years earlier. Only now the ballerina and the sailor and the goose girl and the fool and the harlequin are sharply-delineated graphic elements. Every gesture is precisely calibrated, gridded and mapped into place, thanks to sophisticated computer software. They have been luminously transposed onto a black screen as cut-out figures moving in a magic universe, where light waves oscillate and holograms hover―with Klee-like, poetical logic.
In earlier dance films Belton choreographed glad animal movements for his characters. There is something primal in the way dancers crawl, hop, slither, roll and slide. Stitchbirds (2004), for example, has dancers imitating the preening movements and postures of the hihi bird. In Soma Songs (2006), dancers flutter like moths, leap like frogs, hang like bats, stretch up like flightless birds. In Seismos (2006), his dancers are travellers as light waves; dance is a way of travelling as a curve, a wave, a pulse. These motifs or intimations flicker, vanish, then reappear, from film to film.
In Line Dances, the figures hold your attention by moving in unexpected ways: sometimes they tug against gravity, or even levitate. At other times they move tentatively along an invisible or fine-lined tightrope, and then that tightrope tilts, alarmingly. Paul Klee was famous for his maxim about taking a line for a walk: ‘a walk for walk’s sake’. Klee’s drawings emerge in Line Dances as a long-time source of inspiration for Belton. Paul Klee, who ran the Bauhaus design course before the Nazis came to power and closed it all down, is known for his gentle, whimsical style, but all his doodling and shape- finding was based on a personal philosophy, a cosmic viewpoint. He sought to address drawing as a kind of inspirational music: one made with ‘rising or falling rhythms’, ‘subdued or cheerful keys’, ‘brief or broadly arching melodies’, ‘polyphonic phrases’. Something of this exploratory yet reverberant devotion to the magic of the line makes its way into Line Dances: a fitting homage, with its skeletal ladders, wire-like bridges and cobwebby arches, across which Belton choreographs his characters as if they are part of an orrery, a clockwork model of the celestial order of the planets, one much given to Dadaist pratfalls and mischievous escapades.
Daniel Belton has created a large and varied body of work in a relatively short space of time. He has also been enlisted as a choreographer outside the Good Company Arts ambit for other dance groups, notably in 2014 choreographing Satellites for 15 dancers, a ballet partly based on Bauhaus ideas and performed as part of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Allegro: Five Short Ballets.
In 2014, Belton also presented a new dance film, OneOne, in each of the four main centres. As usual, he worked with a range of collaborators, this time bringing in artist Simon Kaan, computer-generated- graphic artist Jac Grenfell, and sound-landscapist Nigel Jenkins.
OneOne is a binary or digital term referring to the medium in which the film is encoded, and its possibilities; it is also te reo Maori for ‘soil, sand, earth’. This is a work acknowledging both the land and the tangata whenua. Danced by Janessa Duffy, and also by Daniel Belton, the mise-en-scène draws upon a favourite Belton landscape (it also helped inspire Soma Songs): the limestone country inland from Oamaru.
Once again the production weaves together many associations. Richard Nunns helps produce a soundscape by tapping hollow Maerewhenua River stones using his mouth as an echo chamber. Liquid calls of birds are coaxed from traditional instruments to augment the otherworldly mood. Seen in a darkened space, set around with stooks of river reeds, clusters of stones and puddle-like mirrors, OneOne, nearly an hour long and uncoiling like a river or rock strata, has a calm, soothing effect.
The film, as if shrugging off an Expressionist cinema straitjacket―all those gestures towards psychosomatic disorders undergoing incubation― consistently engages, hypnotic even in its fluidity. However, with European angst mostly sloughed off, OneOne is still ritualistic, still concerned with dance as a kind of worship, or meditative practice, the performers luminous within a cave of darkness. Janessa Duffy has a dynamic vocabulary of gestures, swivelling and torqueing her torso, the curving and arcing of her body expressive of a thrumming energy that seems connected to the natural world of wind and light and stone and the river running.
Computer-generated wave forms and lattices diagrammatically map out a gigantic boulder that morphs into a whale shape, a cloud, and then into a transportation pod―or even a spaceship―evoking biotechnology, and perhaps interstellar travel. Some of the notions around Belton’s films smack of pop science or pop culture; nevertheless you are drawn in and held mesmerised by the way all the elements are synthesised so as to suggest weather patterns, ocean patterns, galaxies.
Greater than the sum of its many parts, OneOne seems to be part of a greater work in progress, one organically budding forth from Belton’s devotion to exploring and representing technological mysticism, present, past and future, through the syntax of filmed dance. It all interconnects: electrons agitate, the embodied life-forces appear on screen as solid geometries, and then waves of energy pulsate, and wash them away.
OneOne - Daniel Belton & Good Company
3-8 October 2014 | Art Box Gallery | Christchurch
Reviewed by Sheree Bright for DANZ Magazine | Issue: 39 | April to June 2015
OneOne is an engaging film and art installation of enchanting visual and audio expressions. Artistic Director Daniel Belton, Good Company Arts, numerous collaborators and contributors offer a piece with high production value and creative depth. This union results in a stunning work where art, science, and spirituality converge.
In response to a trip to see the rare ancient hollow stones of the Maerewhenua River in New Zealand, Belton was inspired to create OneOne. The sound score was created first and is an integral part of the piece. Like an ancient whispered calling it gently beckons the viewer to be present. A casual viewer will feel thoroughly satisfied with a stroll through the installation. The insightful viewer will relish spending a good deal of time with this work, discovering and exploring its many layers.
A membrane of digital images dance across the screen in a film that appears both futuristically technical and anciently organic. A moving geometrical lattice work of dots and connecting lines illustrate navigational pathways to both terrestrial and celestial worlds. They emerge, rotate, evolve, and retreat in relation to each other. Topographical images fluctuate, representing the ocean floor or the undulating earth.
Exquisite flowing movements of the dancers are duplicated, mirrored, sped up and slowed down. Images of dancers slur and blur creating beautiful tracings of their movements. Janessa Dufty dances in absolute perfection for this work. Her movements are subtle, strong, and sublime.
Artistically, the film is fascinating and can stand on its own. United with the other elements, it is inspired. Images from the screen reflect in rectangular pools of water and shaped pieces of mirror on the floor. The installation contains black boxes with uplit bundles of reeds which are also symbolically utilised in the film.
Once I take the first step towards being a participant, a whole new vista of relationships with the piece emerge. Several hollow river stones in the pools can be rearranged and played as a rattle or flute. I put my fingers softly in the water and make little ripples, then waves. I soon realise how playing with the possibilities of water impact the reflection of the film, resulting in new dimensions of the work. Mesmerised, I am now part of the creation.
It is a precious privilege becoming a co-creator with the gifts the collaborators have provided in the film and soundscape. With its universal themes, like ‘everything is in motion’, this work dissolves boundaries, and can be appreciated by the scientist and artist within us all. OneOne gives a gentle call to our connection with the ancient past, a call to our connection to the imaginings of the future, a call into the simple purity and power of now. This piece is much more than a ‘must see’. OneOne is a brilliant collaborative work of art that exists as poetry between its various elements which ‘must be experienced’. Should the opportunity arise, let yourself play and maybe even dance.
ONEONE | The Body Festival | Daniel Belton, Donnine Harrison, Good Company Arts, Richard Nunns, Simon Kaan, Nigel Jenkins, Janessa Dufty, Jac Grenfell | Art Box, Christchurch | Reviewed by Julia Harvie, 9 Oct 2014
Daniel Belton, although somewhat geographically isolated in the NZ dance scene, is an artist internationally recognised and at the height of his career, working with incredible integrity. He is an artist who has dedicated himself to his practice, a practice that exists across disciplines. This practice has evolved and yet in essence, he has stood his ground in terms of movement language and concepts.
For OneOne, a multimedia installation at the Body Festival 2014, he has collaborated with a stellar list of artists including Richard Nunns, Simon Kaan, Jac Grenfell, Janessa Dufty and Nigel Jenkins.
I arrive at the Art Box and enter a cavelike space. This sense is all encompassing from the river stones, the sound, three water trays, mirrors carved to form puddles that reflect the film projected on the wall and the sculptural presence of black glass cubed speakers that provide a pedestal for faggots of thin branches. I have brought my new baby with me and sit and feed her. I feel timeless, as though I have found a quiet sanctuary on the time/space continuum. I could step outside and find I have been transported backwards or forwards thousands of years.
I read the meticulous, articulate and poetic programme notes. They are substantial but very clear. I do not feel that they state empty promises. Everything I read provides further openings without overstating what I am experiencing in the work. This is true for the work itself as well. A rich visual world that engages with me emotionally, physically and intellectually.
There is clearly a great deal of technology employed to create this wonderfully natural sense of space and time, and although in many ways one could argue the work is entirely abstracted, it is filled with universal symbols that I can make sense of.
Installations provide the viewer with the opportunity to take a quick glance, get the gist and move on but this work is definitely worth sitting in and with for the hour long loop. Time passes quickly and yet peacefully, the viewer is given a full sensory experience. I can move the rocks, I can create ripples in the water trays and reposition myself to view the work surrounding me.
The work begins with a small male figure, seemingly standing at the opening to a cave, or perhaps the edge of the universe. He beckons to the opening. I see reference to William Forsythe's movement technologies with lines denoting form and energy as two figures arrive on something of a waka, web, whale or spacecraft. The figures employ weaving like motions to navigate through a timeless universe.
The outline of a mountain range comes into view, four figures now occupy the space like hieroglyphics, rock drawings, waves, currents or the bones of a ribcage. I see generations upon generations of one body, a body of the land – a body that expresses the form of the land, sky and water. There is a sense that it is always moving and yet never changing in essence.
Like ripples and echoes on a time space continuum, this work is a beautifully fulfilled concept that is sophisticated and refined and yet utterly universal.
DANCE NOTATION OF THE UNIVERSE
Excerpts from review of ONEONE by Jennifer Shennan | Nga Taonga Sound & Vision Wellington | Theatre View | Nov 11 2014
“OneOne is Daniel Belton's latest film, a study of the time before and the time now. The title is multilayered – soil, in te reo and three in binary. There is an astonishing 50 minute sound track with Richard Nunns playing nga taonga puoro – koauau, purerehua, and the ancient hollow river stones of a North Otago landscape that was once under the ocean but is now in middle earth. The sounds of river rushes, water and breath are a part of the soundscape. We are in Cetacean era, with fossils of whales and dolphins … and yet also in the front wave of today's sophisticated techniques to capture the look and the sound of this ancient time. Belton is a visionary artist.
Janessa Dufty from Sydney Dance Company is filmed from close and far, in sequences that are then doctored, mirrored, echoed, reflected and time-lapsed to stand for many things and people. There's an impression of a time belt, like a horizontal stave of cosmic dance notation, which has the dancer(s) always moving from east to west … well, there are three established dance notation systems but since nobody in New Zealand employs them to any useful end of literacy in movement , so why shouldn't Belton devise his own? The dancer moves through and around charted territory which has co-ordinates of physics, astrophysics, geometry, trigonometry, in a word, order in space, that is so evocative of his recent and beautiful work Satellites, for RNZB's Allegro programme. Nigel Jenkins, Jac Grenfell, Donnine Harrison and Simon Kaan are part of the creative team who all bring impeccable skills to the work. It's a knockout”
SATELLITES | RNZB national tour review excerpts/commission to Daniel Belton and Good Company
“King-hit of the evening comes in Daniel Belton's new commission Satellites, a spiraling, silvery, cosmic exposition on deep space and our tracked orbit through it. A kinetic sculpture by Jim Murphy, motion graphics by Jac Grenfell, and Jan-Bas Bollen's electronic soundscape create a mind-blowing multidimensional environment for Belton's striking choreography for 16 dancers. White-out costuming is by Donnine Harrison. Satellites is stunning. Let's hope Belton has more opportunities in the "real" world, to match his international successes in dance film, concept and design” Reviewed by Bernadette Rae | NZ Herald | August 1st 2014
“Daniel Belton's extraordinary work Satellites uses the medium of light: in projections, piercing lasers and glittering refractions to create a world suspended in the ether, where white-clad dancers clasp gleaming orbs as they dance against a background of partially revealed, ever-rotating circular bodies - perhaps the satellites of the title. The work features the music of Dutch composer Jan-Bas Bollen, kinetic sculpture by Jim Murphy and motion graphics by Jac Grenfell. Nigel Percy's lighting design is particularly impressive. In both this work and Megalapolis, dancer Loughlan Prior gives an exceptional performance” Reviewed by Jenny Stevenson | Theatre View NZ | 31 Jul 2014
“This is a stunning display of Daniel Belton's talents as designer and choreographer. The work begins with a loud rumbling sub-bass reverberating and vibrating through the auditorium. The curtain rises on huge hanging light- attracting sculptural ‘satellites', mirrored circles held by swirling, leaping, weaving dancers, and an intriguingly hypnotic display of fine, moving arcs of coloured light. Moving images are projected on to gauze and reflect off costumes and props. The dance moves seamlessly from lyrical leaping, stepping and turning to angular holds and lifts, and unexpected moments of stillness. The sound track progresses through deep bass, screaming high notes and an ongoing driving rhythm. Finally, I no longer see the dancers as three-dimensional and the light display as two dimensional; I see the reverse: two dancing ‘satellites' spin slowly through space, among moving images of light between gauze and backdrop, as the other dancers step and pose in a single beam of side lighting along the front of the stage. For me, this is an incredibly satisfying and awe-inspiring sound and visual feast” Reviewed by Debbie Bright | Theatre View NZ | 7 Aug 2014
“This was the world premiere of Daniel Belton's stunning Satellites. To a compelling original score by Jan-Bas Bollen, (correct) Belton incorporates mesmericly beautiful motion graphics by Jac Grenfell, and fascinating kinetic sculpture by Jim Murphy. The costumes (Donnine Harrison,) are simple and apt and the splendid lighting is by Nigel Percy.All facets of the production, including totally unified ensemble work from the Company, are in complete harmony. What remains is a feeling of wonderment at the vastness of the solar system and our small space within it” Dominion Post | Reviewed by Ann Hunt | August 16th 2014
“It is an absolute pleasure to witness the World premiere of Daniel Belton's work, Satellites. The subsonic throbbing bass pulses hit me first, humming through my being. Jan-Bas Bollen's sound scape has a beat that resonates within me on some energy level, and I have imagery of Native American drummers and dancers swirling around my mind. It is too much to take in all at once, and I don't. I am so transfixed by this relentless deep sound, that my mind takes in different aspects of this work one at a time. It is after the dancers start circling and spinning that I notice Jim Murphy's stunning kinetic sculptures hanging above the stage , slowly and inevitably spinning and circling around their own axes, then the visual backdrop by Jac Grenfell beautifully echoing the kinetic sculptures, and tracing ley lines of movement in space. Everything within the performance connects for me in that moment. The mirrored reflective circles the dancers deliberately carried and placed, began to glint into the audience, tiny fine reflections making up a silver thread umbilicus connecting each and every one of us in the audience into the entirety of the work itself. Precisely in that moment, I feel complete. Then within the soundscape, the bass is turned down, and all is well again within my world. Belton's choreography is in groups, lines, trios, duets, and solos. It slowly pours into the floor and out of the floor as dancers are lifted and assisted by each other. The dancers move with a sensuality, a physicality that is languid, sexy and strong. Stepping out in well-formed canons , creating fascinating shapes that seem to never stop moving. Space is everywhere, like an ancient universal mathematic language. The soundscape changes only a little throughout this work, adding in and taking out different accents, and timeless sounds, but always returns to the deep sonics. Donnine Harrison's costumes are perfect in their white simplicity, the dancers as modern space travellers. Nigel Perry's sublime lighting adds exactly the right amount of atmospheric tone. My hats off to you Mr. Belton. This work owns itself utterly, completely and deliberately. I hope we are privileged to see more choreographed staged works by you in the future” Reviewed by Kim Buckley | 10 Aug 2014 | Theatre View NZ
Satellites; choreography/conceptual and stage design Daniel Belton, music Jan-Bas Bollen, sculpture Jim Murphy, costume Donnine Harrison, animated projection Jac Grenfell. “It is perhaps no surprise then that the absolute highlight of the program is a rare chance to see Belton again having the resources to choreograph a larger group of live dancers moving before a large and complex live projection of material onto a somewhat indeterminate, diaphanous scrim. Belton's last major multimedia dance piece was nearly 14 years ago now, so one can only hope that his latest production might finally enter the international repertoire and be seen again. I will be writing in detail on this piece shortly for RealTime Australia (http://www.realtimearts.net/), so I shall not go into great detail here, except to say that Belton's work sits well upon the RNZB. The piece is resolutely sculptural and scenographic. Like the ballet maestro I cited above, William Forsythe, Belton is of the opinion that it is perfectly possible to generate ballet in which the dancer is but one element within an array of other materials, including images of slowly cycling planetary bodies and saturnalian disks (Jac Grenfell's projected animations), harsh, electro-glitch music irregularly thunking and funking away within a dense bed of radiophonic noise (a wonderful if deceptively simple score from Jan-Bas Bollen), further on-stage sculptural elements (reflective discs carried by the dancers whose scattered beams link the flat projections to the 3 dimensional on stage space within which they dart, together with two further massive metal discs which angle themselves imperiously above the dancers) and sculptural costume (striking, Bauhaus-style silver tutus from Donnine Harrison). Choreographically, Belton seems to be aiming for something like the Golden Ratio on stage: the mathematical snail-like shell of subdivided segments spiralling out from each other which was used as a key organising principle for Synthetic Cubist artists and teachers like Juan Gris and Albert Gleizes. This sense of spinning accumulation, here seen mostly side on as dancers are pulled and curled in trajectories which by and large tend to take them from left to right (except for the final closing ballerinas in Bauhaus tutus). Belton's shapes and structures may be more open, more given to breaking the line for a supple sense of relaxed posture, than those of Balanchine, but the two choreographers are working within a remarkably similar idea of formalism and classical modernism. I suspect that Balanchine's Allegro would only need minor tweaking and an increased tendency to drop off-side, to sit happily against the design of Satellites, whilst Belton's choreography would only need its urgency upgraded to go against Tchaikovsky” Reviewed by Jonathan W. Marshall | Theatre View NZ | 25 Aug 2014
“One aspect that impresses throughout the evening is the level of choreographic skill. This is true of Daniel Belton's work Satellites. It is heartening to see a resident New Zealand choreographer given the opportunity to work with the company; the start of new trend hopefully.
The design element of the work is striking, as is the overall choreographic structure. The dancers inhabit the languid movements with surety as they drift through the space, interacting simply at first then building into complex layers of solos interspersed with duets and trios. A refreshingly calm and tender world is created, where dancers support and gently tug each other into statuesque forms.
Everything in the visual field is constantly changing. Daniel Belton has established a strong and distinctive aesthetic in his work over many years and it is wonderful to see him completely fill the proscenium with movement, light, and sound. His creative team are superb: Donnine Harrison (costumes), Jim Murphy (kinetic sculpture) Jac Grenfell (motion graphics) Jan-Bas Bollen (music) and Nigel Percy (lighting). Together these artists create an elegant world that provokes our imaginations into spacious realms. Whilst alluding to a future of new technologies, the work feels in some ways ‘old fashioned' as if harking back to a modernist era – perhaps a nod to the Bauhaus masters, or rather a need for a more rigorous investigation of a less ‘known' movement vocabulary” Reviewed by Lyne Pringle | Theatre View NZ | 16 Aug 2014
Highlights from this year's Tempo Festival
Excerpt from review by Francesca Horsley | Listener Magazine | Nov 10 2012
“One of the highlights of the festival was Daniel Belton's Time Dance and Soma Songs, intricate integrations of dance and film - the former beautifully accompanied by the ensemble Stroma, conducted by Hamish McKeich. Belton's award-winning films are dazzling intellectual riddles in which he transposes the human form through digital manipulation to investigate themes of mathematical scale, history and connections to topography.
Running contrary to a contemporary notion that immediate fulfilment is all-important, Belton sees the body as an agent for inquiry. He removes dancers from traditional, earthbound settings and juxtaposes them on film with stone, ancient sculpture or abstract design, invoking the laws of physics and geometry - in much the way of an astronaut or space traveller - enabling us to re-imagine or re-see history or art. Dancers are dwarfed on screen, then brought back to full-bodied life, sometimes as fanciful characters.
Through these images Belton hints at the enduring cycles that connect and bind us. The composition by Stroma artistic director, Michael Norris, referencing JS Bach's precision, wonderfully illuminates these mysterious journeys”
SOPHISTICATED, TIMELESS AND INTERNATIONAL IN SCOPE
Tempo Dance Festival 2012 | Time Dance and Soma Songs | Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts
Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland, 17 Oct 2012 | Theatre News | Reviewed by Jennifer Nikolai
“Two pieces intricately layered with parallel through-lines, gave audiences an extraordinary experience that left us wanting more. Good Company Arts, Stroma and collaborators have a history of producing numerous award-winning projects making dance theatre works and art films on the subject of human movement.
Seeing both for the first time, the experience of the new work Time Dance was contextualized by SOMA SONGS, clearly an initial investigation into concepts that Time Dance explored further, but with a life of its own. As stated in the programme- yes, it IS “a testimony to the creative team behind SOMA SONGS that 7 years after it's first release, this unique project is gaining new interest on the international stage.”
In both works we experience a playful study of human movement and our relationship to our origins, to nature and more dominantly to the history of 20th and 21st century technologies in motion capture, photography and cinematography.
Time Dance is sophisticated and equally accessible, timeless and international in scope. It resonates as a reference to the conception of moving image, to the pioneers of modern dance, to the algebraic systems surrounding human movement. In relationship to these large systems, Time Dance pays attention to detail, through smaller studies repeated, augmented and transformed. Such attention to detail is refreshing, at such a high caliber.
Imagine what audiences initially experienced when they saw the first moving images on screen. We were exposed to a similar rare experience of viewing silent cinema with accompanying live musicians playing a stunning musical score. Live and pre-recorded sounds intertwined, as did musicians, dancers and conductors, alternating roles.
The marriage between human movement studies and the dancing subject has a long history, to which Time Dance has now substantially contributed. For those of us who see dance as an ideal form to investigate moving image technologies and time; this work gives weight to dance as the form that integrates the human figure and our more timeless relationship to geometry, geography, our journey, our planet and the passage of time.
The live and digital dancer make these studies more than a possibility, they become poetry in this work. The dance composition and performance of movement vocabulary linked thoughtfully, accurately, beautifully to the history of modern dance, human movement studies and studies in light. Dance and the moving image create a language that gives each of these subjects respect and consideration.
Time is manipulated, altered and manufactured through the duration of the performance experience. The pace at which these collaborative artists have determined the length and subject matter within the arc of the larger work as a whole, is so satisfying. Each of the seven studies is developed with individual nuances that allow viewers to be entertained investigators, a delightful combination in such a proposed study.
The moment where we get a close-up of the dancers in their duet, we get lost in who they are, how they move and their larger relationship to space. We see them, we want to see more, we get to see just enough, and we move on.
This element of tease and surprise returns again when we finally get to see a live performer enter the performance space, as she looks at herself, projected. Her presence is enormous, she occupies all of the space and yet she moves minimally in this live space, in dialog with herself and the environment. Geometry, geography, duration all meet in this moment. As the piece climaxes and then concludes, the experience of the work seems to have occurred so rapidly, with such satisfaction. Collaborators appear for a curtain call, there is a short interval and then we get more!
SOMA SONGS was a delightful accompaniment to Time Dance in its more playful manner, showing first attempts to explore space with stone. Again, investigating human relationship to materials in search of stories of architecture, the delightful play with scale as space and sound, was made even more playful with puzzles, landscape and echoes of initial studies in human movement with male subjects.. Experimentation with light parallel to geographic stratification again references time and the relationships between human-made and natural forms.
The live VJ and live audio processing performances were just as fascinating to watch as visual and sound cues rapidly moved again, so quickly through this work; a stunning accompaniment to Time Dance.
The relationships between SOMA SONGS and Time Dance make for a beautiful programme. Performances on screen and stage were equally stunning, giving full support to this intricate conceptual web that Belton and his numerous highly acclaimed collaborators have designed.
These works are internationally transferrable, timeless, accessible and sophisticated. Thank you for a stunning collaboration, may we see more. We want more”
Time Dance & Soma Songs at The Body Festival
Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts | Middleton Grange School Performing Arts Centre, Christchurch
Reviewed by Luke Di Somma & Toby Behan | 10 Oct 2012 | TIMEDANCE
“TIMEDANCE is a film/dance/music piece directed by choreographer Daniel Belton in collaboration with new music ensemble, Stroma, with music from Stroma's Co-Artistic Director Michael Norris.
We are greeted by an empty black stage with music stands and a piano on the prompt side of the stage.Soon enough four musicians (Emma Sayers, Rowan Prior, Megan Molina and Anna Van Der Zee) plus conductor Hamish McKeich join us, and the film begins.
Describing the film is a fraught business - it's an abstract, beautifully shot and edited depiction of various dancers in a series of almost martial arts inspired contemporary dance moves. The dancers are armed with elegantly non-threatening staffs, and the film develops into a piece focused on one particular dancer – beautifully dressed in a dark stripey sarong type garment, which speaks to an almost spiritual quality to this dancer, in fact the entire film.
If all art is a collaboration between the left brain and the right brain; or a collision of analytical technique and structure, with more holistic considerations, then Timedance appears to be exploring the arithmetic of dance -- the rhythms, and patterns upon which dance is built. These repeat, ebb, and flow; are broken down and built back up; are emphasised through helix or matrix type imagery scattered through the film.
What it all means is probably up for grabs, but one thing's for sure - it's an absolute treat.
As is Michael Norris' score. If Belton is providing a glimpse into the mathematical side of his craft, then Norris brings his own structural concept to the music. Inspired by, and then breaking down Bach's Suite No. 2 in B minor, Norris creates a beautiful and evocative soundscape, tastefully and gently amplified, exquisitely and sensitively played, and perfectly suited to Belton's work on the screen behind the players. A deep and fantastic collaboration is at play here.
Fans of Norris' music will know that it is often inspired through various patterns and numbers, and in this sense is a natural partner for the Belton's work. The Bach as a basis for the piece works well, leading to a diverse score which is at times confronting, but fairly tonal, and completely accessible. Some of the string writing in particular is breath taking; delicate tremolos and trills flow from one instrument to the other, punctuated by some fantastic pianism, all held together by conductor McKeich.
It is refreshing to see something innovative and multidisciplinary in Christchurch - we have been slightly starved of this kind of work for sometime, so kudos to Body Festival for seeing this work and bringing it to Christchurch. It deserves a bigger crowd, but those who were there appreciated it very much.
Auckland is next, and then a 'world wide web' performance, which I can only assume is some form of live streaming. Whether you go in person, or log on - don't miss Timedance”
“Dance film can be a daunting medium, from both a compositional and an audience perspective. In order to be successful (whilst acknowledging that there will be a large diversity of opinion on the meaning of ‘success', in this context), there needs to be a clear reason as to why the work is presented as a film rather than as a live dance work. Without such a premise, dance film can often seem unnecessarily ‘one step removed' from where it seems to more naturally belong.
Soma Songs, the second film of the evening, is clearly not a work that could be accomplished in a live setting – although since last seen in Christchurch, this film does have a live audio-visual component added to it. The opening images of the film depict tiny figures working their way across massive stone constructions, with the carefully composed shots gradually working their way inwards. The stone construction (a vast wall) is divided into individual blocks, with some of these scattered on the ground. The concept of many blocks forming the makeup of the whole is an important one to establish at the beginning, as this underlies much of what is to come.
The figures (moving alternately in fast-forward, stop-motion, as well as in normal time) appear to dissect one of the fallen blocks into geometric shapes, which are then rotated and manipulated before our eyes. The film action combines graphics as well as live shots, and vaguely reminiscent of an M C Escher painting, plays with notion of scale, gravity, and even tessellation as dance figures appear on all surfaces, at all angles, whilst other geometric shapes are displayed and manipulated at the same time.
There is clearly a massive amount of thought and composition behind the work, and Soma Songs has recently enjoyed further success (following an initial presentation at the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space) at the Festival Internacional de la Imagen in Manizales, Colombia. The latter of these presentations had the additional live AV set which accompanied this evening's performance also. The live AV set consists of Belton and Grenfell manipulating tuning forks and stones to accompany an electronic score. It might be fair to say that only the extremely practiced ear would notice the difference, although it adds an element of interest to the visual spectacle.
For all the complexity and careful composition however, Soma Songs is likely to be over the head of many casual audience goers. It is certainly not a film that will easily produce any emotional connection (although this is unlikely to be the aim). It is more of a film to be experienced – to allow yourself to appreciate from afar the geometry, multiplication, division and compositional placement that is offered to you over the 23 minute duration. It is successful in that it presents a vastly complex arrangement of material with clear skill, planning and construction. The question that one is left with however, is how many audience members know exactly how to process what they have been offered”
Time Dance at the Tempo Dance Festival
The New Zealand Herald | Dance Review: Time Dance | Q Theatre | By Raewyn Whyte | Oct 18 2012
“Dunedin-based choreographer/film maker Daniel Belton has received a string of international awards for his avant-garde short films. His most recent release, Time Dance, a feature of Tempo Dance Festival, shows why he has been winning those accolades.
The first figure we see on the big screen is apparently comprised of tubes and has courtly bearing. He bows and greets invisible others with a grand flourish, apparently at home in inky black space overlaid with heavenly constellations comprised of traceries of dots interconnected by fine lines. By the end of this extraordinary work, 38 minutes later, we have seen many variations on the human form. These range from real dancers performing in real time in the studio and among the strange rock formations at Castle Hill, to their movement sequences treated via 3D animation, edited, abstracted, layered, and intercut into impossible formations.
The most compelling sequences are the "real" ones dancers Alex Leonhartsberger and Verity Jacobsen in an extended Sarabande, and Mathew Roffe and Andrew Miller engaging in martial moves with brandished staves.
The film is beautifully accompanied by the Stroma ensemble, conducted by Hamish McKeich.
The score by Michael Norris shimmers in much the same way as the film, and is derived from a Baroque dance suite by Bach. At times the musicians take your eye away from the film, as they are fascinating to watch. A live AV presentation of a much more abstract Belton film, Soma Songs, follows after a short break”
Review for Danz Quarterly 2013 Dr Claudia Rosiny (Bern) | Time Dance by Daniel Belton (NZ)
“Daniel Belton, head of Good Company Arts, based in Dunedin, New Zealand, produced a new dance film, Time Dance. This work under the subtitle “an algebra of movement” had its web premiere on November 10th and can be seen on the companies website under http://www.goodcompanyarts.com/. The idea for Time Dance grew out of Belton’s last series of seven short films, as he himself explains in the program notes on his website. Line Dances (2010) were inspired by artist Paul Klee and the Bauhaus school. Time Dance is about what the title says – time as an essential parameter of dance is shown as visual markings of movement. In collaboration with composer Michael Norris and the music provided by the new music ensemble Stroma from New Zealand, these 40 minutes of black and white film float in front of your eyes and ears like a mesmerizing meditation on time and space. The visuality of time, dismantled into traces of movement, is amazing and demonstrates a very unique way of exploiting movement, music and visual art.
The film starts on a single aural level: For nearly one minute of a black screen we listen to a flittering violin solo with high tones. This tunneling leads us into a different time world when suddenly a negative image of a solo dancer in a white suite emerges out of the dark showing stroboscopic effects of his movements. Canadian experimental filmmaker Norman McLaren created an ingenious work with a similar effect in 1968. His method of making phases of movement visible in Pas de deux was at that time based on an intricate technique of putting single frames together. Like McLaren, Belton was inspired by French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey who invented chronophotography at the end of the 19th century. Belton worked with digital artists who beside analogue methods used digital effects that result in a highly conceptual landscape not only showing the “algebra of movement”, of reuniting broken parts, but also geometric grids and moving points maps.
The film consists of seven sections headed with titles referring to the music like “Rondeau”, “Polonaise” or “Menuet”. It is also the floating and rhythmic music of the Stroma quartet that adds to the concept. Norris based his composition on Bach’s famous Suite No. 2 in B minor. It is the flow of the baroque music and subtle elements of live electronics that fit to the abstractions of movement. In some chapters the dancers hold a stave in their hand and this reinforces the formal movements. And here we see the link to his Line Dances and Oskar Schlemmer’s slat dance. Especially strong are those sections when body movements with slats and the grid and points map are multiplied to several duets that balance on virtual geometric pathways and are furthermore mirrored. As well as the end of the film when a solo dancer in reversed image trails away into a landscape that was shot on Castle Hill near Christchurch. With Time Dance Daniel Belton confirms his unique signature in creating dance films.
In DANZ Quarterly’s 2012 Critic’s Survey Raewyn Whyte selected Time Dance as one of the “Highlights of the Year”. Daniel Belton and the Time Dance project was also acknowledged with “Outstanding Choreography” in this survey”
DANZ Quarterly Summer 2013 excerpt review of Tempo Festival by Raewyn Whyte:
“Daniel Belton’s new avant garde dance film Time Dance held the audience enthralled with its ever changing imagery ranging from real dancers performing in real time in the studio or amongst the strange rock formations at Castle Hill, to their movement sequences treated via 3D animation, edited, abstracted, layered and intercut into impossible formations, and overlaid with fine lines similar to spider webs and drawings of the heavenly constellations. This beautiful film was accompanied by live music - a score by Michael Norris sensitively played by the Stroma ensemble conducted by Hamish McKeich”
Review Essay by Dr Claudia Rosiny
Line Dances (seven cinematic journeys) — seven films for web and new media. Directed by Daniel Belton. Dunedin, NZ: Good Company Arts, 2010.
“They look like human creatures in artificial cobwebs of lines—Daniel Belton, head of Good Company Arts, based in Dunedin, New Zealand, created and directed seven dance films under the headline Line Dances. And, in fact, lines are the joining elements in all these films, which vary between five and twelve minutes. The unique aesthetics of the imagery are remarkable, combining human beings performing dance movements into a graphic environment that is often detached from any real spatial perception. On the surface of the cinematic image, Line Dances looks like a formal dialogue between human beings that resemble animated representations of human characters on one side and geometrical patterns on the other. Throughout this approximately seventy-minute program, a black afterimage dominates these “seven cinematic journeys,” as Line Dances are subtitled. The intermediate sequences always return to this blackness in which blurred images of an old fashioned camera show up. Each “Line Dance” has a title: Saint A in B, Portrait of an Acrobat , Realm of the Curtain, Harlequin on the Bridge, Equilibrist, Perspective with Inhabitants, Realm of the Curtain. As you read them, they do give some narrative hints, as they refer to pictures with the same title by Paul Klee.
Indeed, the idea of interacting human figures with abstract lines and geometric systems resulted from Belton’s research on Modernism, especially the drawings of Paul Klee and the background of the Bauhaus movement. Some of Klee’s pictures in fact seem to emerge out of the image like his squares in red connected with fine lines in Portrait of an Acrobat. And the use of baton reminds us of the famous Bauhaus baton dances, which Gerhard Bohner reconstructed in the 1980s. Belton uses Klee’s quotation, “One eye sees, the other feels,”as a guideline to indicate what he wishes to achieve in his films. He wants to exhaust the visual and physical potential of dance. Common stereotypes like a ballerina, an acrobat, or a harlequin are a strong contrast to these simple graphic lines. Formalism and emotional potentiality seem to melt; you don’t have to be moved, but maybe these fairytale-like figures call up sensations and souvenirs of whatever we associate with them.
Paul Klee’s drawings were Belton’s inspiration, but his artificial images also awaken references to early experimental and abstract film of this period (the 1920s), such as the “dancing” of painted patterns that Len Lye, Hans Richter, Walter Ruttman or Viking Eggeling created. These pioneers of experimental film were artists who applied drawings directly on the film material, the celluloid.
Belton’s most exciting passages are those when the interaction between moving bodies and geometrical forms leads to a metamorphosis: the lines stretch, bend, and curve, initiated through the movement of a figure; then suddenly there is a pulse in a line and the geometrical patterns become natural. In the first film, which starts with a white afterimage, the lines serve foremost as a surface, as spatial references on which the figures start to move. Later the lines form a building with an abstract cupola: “the lines exaggerate the corporeal, and develop texture within the space,” as Belton describes his idea.1 Belton works with multilayered images, with duplications of his figures that emerge out of the black and fade back, seemingly into outer space. Often the duplication—for example of the ballerina and fool couple—is displayed in a smaller size and the motion of the mirrored couple has a slight retardation. Line Dances are strongly cinematic insofar as there is hardly any reference remaining to a stage perception. We seem to look into a nirvana space that has a ground, but no limitations in all directions. The screen is the stage but with no resemblance to a theater stage. A high grade of abstraction is also achieved by a mainly black and white image. Sporadically, the figures change to color, which adds an accent of realism and narrativity to the characters.
In addition to multiplications of figures, Belton also works with size and magnitude, setting them like small toy figures in his creative playing field. Whereas the ballerina symbolizes the dance world, the fool in theater history is the figure that has freedom to query and contest. With these strong character types he also interrogates the conditions of theater and dance.
The third aesthetic level next to the figures and forms is the elementary sound track, splashy piano music, composed and played by Anthony Richie. It is possibly the monotony of the sound that at times lengthens the hour-long program. But it is different if the films are watched in the closeness of a dark cinema, as they were when premiered last October in New Zealand. Regardless, as Daniel Belton and his Good Company’s numerous video dances have already been selected for countless festivals and gained scores of awards, it is certain that Line Dances will tour and find its audiences. At the end of January 2011, Portrait of an Acrobat was selected for the oldest Dance on Camera Festival in New York City. Seen in the context of the rise of a new genre, video- dance, which emerged in the 1980s, Line Dances offers an interesting link to art history and a unique film concept. All films can be watched on Daniel Belton’s website www.goodcompanyarts.com, the photos and videostills at www.dance-tech.net”
References Good Company Arts. Dunedin, New Zealand. http://www.goodcompanyarts.com/main.html.
Notes 1. See http://www.goodcompanyarts.com/main.html.
A Line Going For A Walk
RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 25 | Jonathan Marshall | Daniel Belton's Line Dances
LINE DANCES IS THE LATEST COLLECTION OF SHORT CINEMATIC WORKS FROM NEW ZEALAND CHOREOGRAPHER AND FILMMAKER DANIEL BELTON. AFTER THEIR LAUNCH IN DUNEDIN, BELTON INTENDS TO TOUR THE PIECES. THEY ARE HOWEVER PRINCIPALLY DESIGNED TO BE VIEWED ONLINE.
“Belton's early training as a painter is again evident in these works. He references many of the visual and thematic concerns of his previous films and multimedia dance pieces (RT92)—lines of perspective and sketched trajectories evoking Renaissance illustration, architectural drawings, as well as influences from Russian Constructivism, Futurism and the delicate, minimalistic version of Modernist painting seen in the work of Paul Klee. Belton indeed cites Klee's lectures at the Bauhaus School of Art during the 1920s as a key influence.
The Bauhaus is known for promoting the notion of colours possessing specific correspondences to each other and to spiritual sensations. With the exception of a few geometric blocks of red recalling the work of Piet Mondrian and the Constructivists, Belton's Line Dances, though, are largely black and white.
This suits Belton's purposes well. It gives Line Dances an antique feel consistent with the broadly Modernist visual iconography, as well as establishing a link between these allusions and earlier Baroque and Rococo architectural settings and theatrical modes. The commedia dell'arte Harlequin—or his representation as a figure of ironic playfulness and visual fantasy in Modernist art by Cocteau, Picasso and others—appears, as does a generic, white-attired Columbine ballerina, along with clockwork, automaton-like figures, angular acrobats (looking as if they have stepped out of Meyerhold's productions) and line drawings of fantastic spaces and buildings with indeterminate, shifting dimensions (shades of Klee's Room Perspective With Inhabitants, 1921, and The Great Dome, 1927).
Klee's influence is manifest principally in the work's conceptualisation. He saw abstract art as based on transparency and opacity, enabling multiple perspectives and viewpoints to be layered to make up a larger, composite picture. Belton either follows suit, or produces similar effects, by dividing the screen into repeating and varying fragments. The reproduction of dancers, figures, motifs, lines and even sounds across the field of perception is a marked feature of Line Dances' aesthetic.
The onscreen figures are light as paper. Lines of movement or shape are carefully traced across the screen, and then morphed into lyrical smudges. This recurrent theme gives a curious immateriality to the figure. Belton explains in his program notes that he sees the screen as an inherently "artificial" realm, hence his bodies have no weight. They arc, glitch, twitch, curve, multiply and swing, but never thud, hit, crash or stop. The look of the piece, as well as the movement of objects and human shapes, is of constantly evolving insubstantiality.
It is the conditional sketchiness of Belton's films that provides their central structural conceit, as well as their curiously unresolved ambience. Although often described as a producer of "dance films," Belton's relative lack of concern for bodies qua bodies, and his construction of the body as merely one element among a number of parabolic, architectural, painterly and photographic motifs (notably stop-motion photography, as in the work of Anton Bragaglia, Étienne-Jules Marey and its painterly versions by Umberto Boccioni) means that his cinema is perhaps best characterised as moving painting, akin to that of avant-garde filmmakers Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack and Len Lye, whose work Belton's intermittently evokes.
Klee contended that art should represent a "multiform world…[a] branching and spreading array"—which Belton literally shows in one film, offering an ever diminishing series of budding miniature figures sprouting from rods held at the shoulder of an initial character—and which Klee compares with the "root" and "crown" of a tree. Like Klee, Belton constantly oscillates from one point, outcome or physical position (the crown), through to a root, and then back again. The ideal metaphoric structure for Belton and Klee is therefore the Golden Ratio of mathematician Fibonacci and Cubist theorist Albert Gleizes: the recurrent spiral, such as one sees inside a Nautilus shell. These films never resolve, but microcosmically coil and repeat internally at an ever-reduced scale. Whilst this approach underpins Modernist painting, it is perhaps less effective for the movement in time of the screen space or of the music (which is also simple, repetitive and variational).
The planetoids threading their way backwards and forwards along a white parabola running behind the dancer therefore epitomise this cinematic cycle. Complex and sophisticated though Belton's films are, they function more as sketches than as final paintings; as a provisional, thoughtful set of lines, or as Klee might say, "a line going for a walk.”"
Daniel Belton & Good Company | Line Dances | director, performer, editor Daniel Belton | co-producer, performer Donnine Harrison | piano Anthony Ritchie | Metro Theatre | Otago Festival of the Arts | Dunedin | New Zealand | Oct 10-12 2010
Line Dances | Daniel Belton and Good Company | Metro Cinema | Festival of the Arts Dunedin 11 October 2010 | Reviewed by Bronwyn Judge | DANZ QUARTERLY Summer 2011 Issue no.22
“Despite tutus, toe shoes and piano accompaniment, there is nothing conventional about choreographer Daniel Belton's film Line Dances. Good Company's film cements Dunedin's reputation as a source of innovative dance ideas, where leading exponents in the arts work together enriching each others pieces. On this occasion it is Anthony Ritchie who has composed the score for Line Dances and who also plays it, as an introduction, to create an otherworldly atmosphere before the screen darkens.
Line Dances reiterates themes from Belton's other works, notably the dance performance Soundings, which was performed at the Regent Theatre at a previous Arts Festival. It is as if Belton has decided that if he can vary his presentation, a wider audience will eventually understand and appreciate the substance behind what he shows us. My companion was not hesitant in proclaiming that she felt on another planet from the choreographer, and Belton gave no concessions to the conventions of theatre, spurning dynamic pacing, climax and denouement. Episodic in nature, with each section cryptically titled, the energy consistently ebbed and flowed, as unrelenting as the line of the horizon.
Sir Jon Trimmer, as the fool, is the only character we see in close up, old and raddled with a kindly gleam in his eye he conducts the dancers by baton. These dancers - tiny, dainty, silent figures - appear to respond, moving to and fro. Highly delineated and balanced on phantasmagorical constructions of lines that suggest edifices, houses, churches, staircases, they defy gravity, dancing upside down along imaginary footpaths. Impeccable lighting paints their costumes so that even when in monochrome they glow lustrous against a black backdrop.This is not dance where the sweat flies, muscles strain and breath is laboured. It is far more the ultimate refinement of ballet as an illusion divorced from the earth, poised on its toes; it reflects Western society's heady preoccupation with the intellect.
Accompanied by the click and whirr of ancient mechanisms, the music is interlaced with ambient sound redolent of the workings of the antique concertina camera that looms large between each choreographic story, magnified in size as many times as the dancers are diminished in scale.
The commonality of the "digital weather, choreographic weather, weather of physics" that the dancers encounter, of which Belton writes, is unpredictability. The dancers with their stretching and contracting movements are the space that influences the trajectory of light.
They show us a "between" world. On one side is the choreographer's idea made physical by the dancers and on the other side the camera recording the dancer's images two-dimensionally. These two activities are not dependant on the observer, whereas the in-between world depends on for its actuality on the interaction of the audience, what they bring to their observation and interpretation.
Attempting to explain the nature of light, quantum physics lends itself to depiction in dance.
Moving at the speed of light, photons bounce off obstacles with random abandonment. Belton's dancers similarly tumble irrepressibly along linear pathways.
Line Dances is significant in that it contains a universal truth; whichever world we are in, whichever world we see, is different from that of the people in the other world looking back at us.
Line Dances is a vehicle for the choreographer, although Belton surrounds himself with superb dancers and supporting crew. The dancers are viewed as if backwards through a telescope, and apart from recognising the quizzical, querulous gait of Donnine Harrison, as the goose girl, they would be hard to distinguish from each other if you bumped into them on the street.
Belton challenges the way we view dance and his demands upon his art form to explicate complex scientific theories, undermines our certainty of what dance is able to convey, lifting our horizons as to what it is capable of.
Quoting the modernist artist Paul Klee, Belton states his intention is also for "the one eye to see, the other feel", but his dance seems visual rather than visceral, groundbreaking in that it draws the eye into thinking and reviewing our expectations of dance and what it might be attempting to communicate. It is a strange and enticing blend of dance theatre derived from the bygone era of commedia delle'arte and the science of today's physics”
Matchbox Magic: Dance as Film
Review by Jonathan Marshall: Daniel Belton, NZ Choreographer & Filmmaker | Realtime Arts | Issue 92
DANIEL BELTON IS A FILMMAKER AND CHOREOGRAPHER BASED IN SOUTHERN NEW ZEALAND WHOSE WORKS HAVE BEEN SHOWN AT NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL DANCE AND FILM FESTIVALS IN CHRISTCHURCH, OTAGO (WHERE BELTON RESIDES), EMPAC IN NEW YORK AND ELSEWHERE. BELTON FORMED GOOD COMPANY ARTS IN 1997, PRODUCING FILM, INSTALLATION AND LIVE PERFORMANCE.
“Although the company's output is diverse, its film work is pervaded by a sense of aesthetic historicism. Matchbox (2008), for example, draws on the imagery of the Bauhaus, Futurism, vaudeville, the films of Fritz Lang and Buster Keaton. Earlier films allude to Albrecht Durer, Renaissance perspective and Commedia del'arte.
Belton acquired an interest in art history at an early age through his father, painter Peter Belton, who serves as designer on most of Good Company's projects. Indeed, Belton considers the sculptural, painterly aesthetic of many of his films as representing a 'return' in his career. "I left high school with high marks in art", he explains, "and I was heading to Canterbury University to study fine arts, but had auditioned for the New Zealand School of Dance. They called me up and said: 'You're in!' I thought that while my body was young I should do this—and I could come back and go to art school later." Belton graduated in 1990, subsequently dancing with many companies in New Zealand and internationally, including the Douglas Wright Company, Arc Dance and Tanz Gervasi, Austria.
In 1997 Belton settled in Dunedin in the south of New Zealand and founded Good Company. "I wanted to start making my own work, not only for theatre spaces, but to fuse the visual arts with dance, sculpture and kinetic art."Good Company's recent work can be divided into two main series. The most recent triptych culminated in Matchbox, growing out of the companion pieces Game (2004) and Reset (2006). These are the most closely related of Belton's films, shot in misty, halo-infused black-and-white reminiscent of German Expressionist cinematography. Focused around the idea of a kind of combined puppet show and game-playing machine, figures interact by pushing buttons, arranging poles, dancing with each other or animating miniature figures and vaudevillian bands. Belton's earlier trilogy—Soma Songs (2006), Seismos (2006) and After Dürer (2007)—dealt with problems of space and the articulation of line and form through movement within a set of virtual, perspectival frames, or across a multifaceted and effectively multidimensional sculptural object. Dancers crawled over planes and into inverted relationships, as in the upside-down works of MC Escher.
"I was originally drawn in to theatre by puppet shows", Belton observes. "They are a filmic window. It's like looking in the back of an old bellows camera. You open it up, it concertinas out, and it's like there's a little theatre in there, in the viewfinder. It's a miniature proscenium arch." Belton is keen to ensure that these relatively commonplace ideas about the relationship of film to theatre materialise in a complex—albeit still light and playful—mise en scène. The characters of Matchbox climb into and out of a graphed, perspectival space, its digitally added lines (provided by Jac Grenfell) converging on what would be the focal point for any one view. The performers are, in effect, rendered mechanical, inasmuch as they interact with the objects and materials presented to them by the flashing, almost Mondrian-like game device.
"[This machine] is also like the sound box of a musical instrument", adds Belton. A key part of Matchbox's alluring blend of time and reference is to be found in the wound-down score produced by Grenfell's digital decomposition of the music of Django Reinhardt and 1930s vaudeville. The game dings, crackles and pulses with these sounds, just as it produces pillars and squares, or offers spaces and lights with which the characters interact. Not only are several of these sonic and visual motifs coincident within Matchbox, but they perform the same dramaturgical function of rendering a machinic world of performance and of dancing from within an antiquated yet contemporary, partly-digitised format. Belton indeed goes so far as to shoot in digital video and reformat the image in 16 mm analogue film, even though in many cases his films are projected from a DVD dub.
It is this interest in bodies and forms whose motor force and activity seem derived from the logic of film and of the moving image, rather more than human, fleshy or three-dimensionally choreographic logic per se, which places Matchbox and its companion works close to the conceptual ideology of Bauhaus and Futurism. Like many dance film artists, Belton's interest in the form originally derived from his work on archiving his own productions as well as from producing live multimedia pieces like the stage production Soma Songs (2005). "It was always frustrating because it was never like the live show", Belton admits. "But then there was something in that loss, as well as in the discipline of locking down your reading to one visual frame." Where some of Belton's live performances have multiple points of interest and a circus sense of order tipping into chaos (Fellini-like, notably in Belton's Commedia-influenced Soundings, 2000), his films are by contrast tightly focused on small groups in glowing, misty but well-defined hazes of light, or on crisp figures which stand out before a black background amidst architectural lines and shapes.
Recalling the ideas behind the extraordinary modernist marionettes and sleek, conical, monochromatically painted dolls designed by Sophie Tauber and Oskar Schlemmer, Belton insists that "working with the human body for film is like puppeteering. You craft a choreographic story with the bodies of the dancers you are working with, but in postproduction you revisit that. You can jump cut, speed things up, reverse things, slow them down, or you can layer them." Although Belton generates much of the material which he films by giving tasks to his performers, and sees them as active agents within the process of developing the work, nevertheless the philosophy of his approach explicitly denies agency to the dancer-characters of his films. The figures who dance across his screen are not particularly human, or even necessarily embodied per se. They are formal devices within a larger mise en scène. In Matchbox in particular, the game-play set up by uncertainty over the categories of human versus non-human and agency versus puppetry produces the humour and narrative arc of the work.
In the end though, Belton's preferred metaphor to describe his material is storytelling. "We're storytelling beings", he insists. "I try to make each film have enough layers to have many readings. With the way I choose my performers, I'm not trying to get a group of racehorses together. You've got people from all walks of life, different shapes and sizes. It's about drawing them out and allowing them to offer as much as they can. The theatre is like an engine for telling [many] stories." These narrative threads, forms, sounds and movements are unified through the medium of this machine, which gathers material along its lines of sight and sound, and then beams them out. "It's like the sound box of a musical instrument", observes Belton. "When you project film, you are projecting this information out. The soundbox from a guitar or a lute is also projecting sound out, and the theatre is projecting storytelling."
Matchbox's World Premiere was at the Otago Festival of the Arts, Dunedin NZ, October 2008. It was a finalist in the VideoDansa, Barcelona Prize 2009, IDN Festival, Barcelona, Spain and in the Official selection Dance on Camera Festival International Competition 2009, New York, USA”
Daniel Belton & Good Company | Matchbox | director, performer, designer, editor Daniel Belton | co-producer, performer Donnine Harrison | performers Richard Huber, Caroline Claver, Courtney Poulier, Tim Fletcher, Emmett Hardie, Kilda Northcott | director of photography, animations, sound Jac Grenfell | lighting, animation Nils Stroop | holography Ozras Densky | art department Peter Belton etc
Into Another Dimension by David Eggleton | Oct 11-17 2008 | NZ Listener
Daniel Belton’s mesmerising dance-film choreography is among the world’s best.
“In the specialist area of video dance – or dance on film – Daniel Belton and his group of collaborators, known as Good Company, have, over the past six or seven years, established themselves among the world’s best. By the end of 2008, the Dunedin-based dancer, choreographer and director will have had his short films selected for more than 70 festivals, picking up a swag of awards, from Best Video Creation at the 2004 Canariasmediafest in Spain for Figures of Speech to Most Innovative Work at the 2008 International Festival of Video-dance in Naples, Italy, for After Dürer. This year, his films also appeared on the ABC network in Australia and on Channel 4 in the UK.
Belton has always been interested in the wonderful hybrid creations that can result from a crosspollination of art forms. At high school, he was keen on both sport and dance, as well as drawn to puppetry and painting. When he left school in the late 1980s, he was torn between going to art school and attending the New Zealand School of Dance in Wellington. Dance school won, and Belton danced with the Douglas Wright Dance Company before working with a range of dance companies in Europe. He returned to Dunedin in 1997 – with his partner, Donnine Harrison, and their daughter – and set up Daniel Belton and Good Company as an arts collective devoted to multimedia dance performance. Early dance performances enrolled artists as various as Anthony Ritchie (music), Kathryn Madill (banners), Violet Faigan (sculpture) and Michael O’Brien (bookbinding), while also incorporating moving images by Rachel Rakena and John Irwin.
The dance-theatre work Soundings represented the culmination of these early collaborations, with its magic toy shop and storybook ambience. It was, said Belton, “a big shift in scale … an opportunity to paint on a wide canvas”. Premiering at the 2000 Otago Festival of the Arts, Soundings was also staged later the same month at the Opera House in Wellington. Ambitious in presentation and expensive to produce, it seemed in some ways a small work that had been stretched, and served to confirm what subsequent works have made clear: he is essentially a master of the small scale. Soundings also seemed to revisit a lot of standard dance-theatre tropes: the rebellious harlequin, the moony pierrot, the effervescent Columbine.
Time for a shift in direction. This came with Henge (2001), Belton’s breakthrough digital film. Its severe abstract minimalism, trancelike jumpcuts and dancers who materialise and dematerialise to the urgent crackle of pulsing white noise proved the genesis for an original take on the dance-film genre. The best dance films don’t only record movement, but alter your experience of time and space in the process. So, although in some ways less immediate, less physical than live dance, dance on film can also be more physical, more fantastical, more vertiginous.
Belton’s films are like dreams of dancing, part anxiety, part elation, but they create their effects through unusual means. He has produced a series of nine films now, with the assistance of a talented crew that has included camera operator Jac Grenfell, composer Jan Bas Bollen and set designer Peter Belton (Daniel’s father), as well as a whole ensemble of dancers and actors. They find their inspiration in the foundations of 20th century art cinema: those flickery black and white silent films from Russia, Germany and the United States made by directors such as Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang and Buster Keaton. The result is a sequence of beautiful, intimate, cabaret style chamber works, whose chiaroscuro mise-en-scènes polish the grime off the tarnished ideals of the 1920s and 1930s and restore their gleam, using the energies of dance.
Belton’s mythopoetic treatments take us back to the future as early filmmakers once saw it, only he employs advanced digital technology. Using Dunedin locations (such as the Art Nouveau-era railway station foyer and the Art Deco era former Chief Post Office), his films reboot retro-science fiction utopias and dystopias. Workers in uniforms dance out their struggles against control by a supreme engineer, a dancer in white overalls engages in a reeling Chaplin-esque walk while a glowing tracery of captured dance motion floats about him, or paired lovers leap like performing fleas up and over the kind of tubular scaffolding used in experimental modern dance in the 1960s.
There’s something genuinely revolutionary about the way the Belton dance aesthetic treats the camera itself as a biomechanical dancing machine possessed of an unblinking eye. Enmeshed in the nexus of what might be called a Dunedin arts movement, he’s established himself as a magician of dance, with mesmerising choreographic routines that encapsulate our 21st century predicament”
Vital Matchmaking Review by Nigel Zega | Sat 11 Oct 2008 | Otago Daily Times | Dunedin | Otago Festival of the Arts
“Forget arranged marriages, speed dating, and Internet introductions. There's a new way to meet the partner of your dreams. Meet the Matchbox, a futuristic means of sorting out the wheat from the chaff in the dating game.
Matchbox, the latest film from the ever-fertile imaginations of Daniel Belton and Good Company, opened at the Metro Cinema last night. This is not so much a dance film, as Daniel and Co through the looking-glass portal running riot with science-fiction technology in homage to the past. Confused? Never mind. Get a ticket and line up with the eight young hopefuls heading for the dance hall and the chance of a romantic encounter.
Matchbox, written by Belton and wife/dancer/choreographer/co-producer Donnine Harrison, is the third in a trilogy of dance-based films that started with Game and Reset. It's a surreal experience, referencing silent cinema and video games, children's party games, and even Belton's own live dance theatre piece Soundings, presented at the 2000 Otago Festival of the Arts. Although Soundings was acclaimed, the cost of producing such shows is prohibitive, but by making a smart detour to digital film, Belton and his collaborators can now afford to create their own worlds with complete freedom of expression.
The world in Matchbox centres on a magic jukebox that pairs people with each other to see if they are suited. High technology features in flickering, jerky black and white as 1930s flappers and their would-be beaus line up in anticipation of finding true love. The eight dancers go through a series of tests and encounters, drawing heavily on mime and early theatre styles to tell their stories. No-one takes things too seriously, and fun is to the forefront in this strongly physical explosion of ideas. And guiding the whole show is the quietly confident Belton, the real-life matchmaker who brings together such talent. Matchbox screens tonight and tomorrow night”
Matchbox Metro Cinema | Dunedin 10-12 Oct 2008 | f*INK Entertainment Guide
“Daniel Belton and Good Company have once again wowed the audiences with a thoroughly entertaining dance film. This latest work, seven months in the making, has a scratchy black-and-white 1930s look to it. With lashings of slapstick choreography, stage humour and expansive expression, the screen action is hardly idle for a second. Jump-cut editing and sped-up interludes create a pace similar to the Warner Bros and Tex Avery cartoons of the 1930s and 40s.
It's clear that Daniel Belton is exploring dances negative spaces as a filmic style. We see arms and legs, tubes and other objects carving into the screen space. An economical colour palette, combined with grainy textural forms and satisfying foley gives an elaborate decoration to Matchbox. Songs of the 1930s are woven into the soundtrack by Jacdaniel, full of blips, squeaks, techno fills, and glitchy distortion. Imagine listeners on the other side of our galaxy hearing 'Stardust' by Hoagy Carmichael, with its bandwidth squeezed out of it, but including various cosmic artefacts picked up along the way. An oversized iTouch obelisk jukebox was, as a prop, a wondrous dramatic device. Psy-fi streaming beams of light introducing each of 14 sections of pushplay and gurgitating magical objects; rods and tubes, globes and glasses that added an abstract feel scouring the opaque murkiness like a delicate pot-scrub as the dancers combated and canoodled.
There were appreciative aahhs from the audience as the dancers bobbed an swayed aplenty. The cast really seemed to be having a good time, laughing and joking around. "We had a really great team of people to work with" says Belton. To be sure! Local luminary dancers and character actors delighted their homies. Daniel B and his Good Company can be proud of this latest venture. They are being hailed around the world at festivals as this f*INK goes to print”
By David Eggleton | New Zealand Listener Magazine | Nov 18-24 2006
“Modern Dance can seem like dancers’ secret business, a closed circuit employing a code that’s hard to crack. And dance presented on film loses the immediacy and physicality that you get from dance live. Athletes of the Imagination - five short films presented as part of the Otago Festival of the Arts - triumphantly overcomes such objections, not by denying that modern dance is an abstract and rarefied display, and that film distances and filters out physical presence, but by emphasising and playing off these perceptions.
Daniel Belton and Good Company are a loose conglomerate of talents who assemble for dance-theatre projects. Belton as choreographer maps out the structure to which others bring their distinctive contributions: in this case, dancers Donnine Harrison and Kilda Northcott, actor Richard Huber, digital camera operator Jac Grenfell, sound engineer Nigel Jenkins and clothing designer Juliet Fay are among the contributors.
With its minimalist grey-on-grey palette, and with performers clad in Grecian tunics or white overalls, this is dance theatre that reaches back to pioneers Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan, whose motifs of fluttering veils are registered through the blurry movement of costumes made to look phosphorescent. Clued-up balletomanes may spot references to the Platonic forms of the Bauhaus Movement. Some of us will pick up evocations of German Expressionist movies of the 1920s. Everyone will get the giddy acrobatics, wild swayings and balancings that the silent greats Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin have made familiar.
This body of work is a tribute to early modernism: the utopian promises that technology, astronomy and physics after Einstein seemed to offer. It’s done as a kind of pantomime, but the gesticulations and gyrations are supported by a digital layering of images and sounds. And within modernist grids and cubes, crowds of tiny dancers sketch geometrical theorems - vortexes, vectors, lines of force - or dart about like sparks of electricity. As the films cleverly compress and expand time and space, you can’t help getting caught up in the whirling conviction of it all as Belton pays homage to that long-ago optimism that still resonates, however faintly, for our jaded 21st-century moment”
A Workout for the Mind
Athletes of the Imagination | Rialto Cinema | Dunedin Otago Festival of the Arts | October 13th 2006
by Nigel Zega | Otago Daily Times
“Daniel Belton and Good Company go from strength to strength. Their latest offering, Athletes of the Imagination, is a series of five haunting films, collectively breaking new ground. Its a compendium of dance, music, film graphics and creativity, referencing genius from Len Lye to futuristic interactive games and space exploration. It’s dance Jim, but not as we know it.
One viewing is not enough to take in the half of it, and the packed Rialto screening was pin-drop silent in concentration. Each film had a long list of credits. These are team efforts, but at the helm is Belton. Different films share common dance riffs, linking the works. The process of film is used not to record, but to create.
Figures of Speech offers an interactive game, involving humans in sliding puzzles, balancing movement and space. Game takes us further into the surreal, where a holographic game fights back and takes over its player, with satisfying results. Reset will be familiar to serious chess players. The trauma and torment surrounding a hard-fought board game are expressed by players, hopefully making emotional progress. There’s frenetic fun too, with some gloriously skilled comic dance.
Soma Songs, the longest piece, stretches the imagination the most. It needs an open mind and full attention, as the ideas come faster than you can take them in. It goes beyond physical space into an imaginative dimension, where nightmare and dreams mix, and ethereal figures weave graphic blueprints in weightless space.
Seismos, the final piece, echoes many of the devices used, but is the first to use female dancers. Despite similar moves and techniques, it makes for a rounded ending. Give your mind a workout. See Athletes of the Imagination on tonight or tomorrow afternoon”
Electronic Wizardry at Work
Soma Songs | Dunedin Public Art Gallery | June 24-26 2005 | Review by Alison East | Otago Daily Times
“Daniel Belton and Jan Bas Bollen enter the packed auditorium and seat themselves at their sound desks. The highly complex musical “weaponry” includes programmed laser beams, computers, microphones and bass guitar, rocks and tuning forks. Behind them, on three large screens, the video images appear as a series of jerky, sporadic, changing and evolving shapes and figures.
A rock wall is navigated by two dancers who jump around the page like human hieroglyphs. We become like archaeologists mining a dark interior landscape of stone. The sonics created by Belton and Bollen sound like chisels on rock, cut through by other sounds, as a hand is passed over the laser beam. This is the Belton teams’ most mature work yet. I say team, because one cannot help but marvel at the integration of art forms at play here. Videographer Jac Grenfell is also a master of 3D animation software and digital image re-sampling.
Other important artists include sound engineer Nigel Jenkins, international guest dancer Tom Ward, and artist Peter Belton. Producer Donnine Harrison has helped put it all together. There are too many important others to mention. The highly innovative 65 - minute event of moving geometry, building pulsating rhythms and shifting light takes us on a strange genealogical journey through mathematical and architectural time, leaving us floating on the final structure like humans lost in space. Well done, team”
Soma Songs | Dunedin Public Art Gallery | Jun 24 - 26 2005 | Dunedin Entertainment Guide
“This stunning programme of dance, architecture and sound showed recently at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. It is a collaboration between Daniel Belton and his Good Company of international and local guests. Three screens of video projection showed dance and geometrical investigation, with poignant animation by Jac Grenfell, and twisting, every-space-covered dance by Belton and Tom Ward (UK). This projected dance is not ‘real’ dance as Belton comments, “you can’t hear the breathing”) but perhaps this is ‘augmented’ dance, where the dance is slowed, or quickened, there are close-ups and animated shapes. Yet the experience was nearly as good - your eyes are drawn back and forth across the performance area immersing the audience in the spectacle. Jan Bas Bollen from Amsterdam was the Mozart Fellow here in 2002, and the live sound performance from himself and Daniel Belton gave the performance its groove and magic. Their laid-back approach and alien instrumentation was spot-on, as they played up to the screens. Nigel Jenkins’ is again lending his technical sound expertise to Good Company, and Aduki’s dancers’ costumes were belled in the pants like Gene Kelly’s sailor suits. Dunedin is fortunate to be home to such a talented crew. It is the networking of creative people that makes Good Company and impressive unit making highly original works. Fantastic!”
Ghosts in the Machine Review by David Eggleton | New Zealand Listener Magazine | 23 Jul 2005
“At the beginning of Soma Songs, two male dancers, dressed in white overalls, move in nimble fashion along the wall of a limestone quarry, not so much representing labourers at work as symbolising a line of energy, like a ripple of light, being emitted by the high white wall. Soma Songs is a multimedia touring dance performance that takes the form of digital video projected onto three separate screens and was supported at its premiere by a platform of live music. It's part of an ongoing series of dance works – the 15th in 12 years – put together by choreographer Daniel Belton and his collaborators, known collectively as Good Company.
Belton's recent pieces show an obsession with what might be termed technological mysticism (that intersection where the ghost in the machine blends with the human spirit), which is expressed through (or compressed into) the power of dance. Soma Songs, all film sequences, resembles something sewn together out of scraps of gossamer: it's delicate and ethereal.
A sawn block of stone becomes by turns a stumbling block, a puzzle block, a juggling block and a building block: it's a cosmic cube, a cornerstone of the universe. The dancers (Belton and visiting Brit Tom Ward), positioned mostly as white blurred figures against a dark background, so spectral that they resemble holograms, dance rings around the cube like forces that have been released from within it.
The music, put together by Dutch composer Jan-Bas Bollen, evokes core samples, sound waves, a planetary hum. There are scrapings on stones, the clack of sticks. Bass guitar thrummings are augmented by tapped tuning forks, and hands being waved over infra-red sensors to trigger bursts of white noise. Digital artist Jac Grenfell fills in the video screens with computer-assisted designs of half-circles, circles, angles and grids: the cube turns into a 3D jigsaw, its component parts disassembled then reassembled by the dancers.
These dancers, made to vibrate mesmerisingly like hummingbirds, or stage fits like psychotics in strait-jackets, pull their own dance phrases apart, then rebuild them, their time-lapse movements reminiscent of 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge's gridded photographic sequences designed to accurately demonstrate human movement. By the end, the dancers arrive at a state of anti-gravity still clinging to their cube mother-lode, which now resembles a spacelab. Two figures in space, they are stranded there without lifelines. The effect is haunting, and brilliantly realised”
Circular Linear Motion - Expanding, Contracting Light and Sound
Review By Bronwyn Judge | DANZ Magazine | Sept 2005 | Daniel Belton and Good Company | Dunedin Public Art Gallery
“Soma Songs is an unusual and riveting work involving acclaimed international artists from various media. Unlike conventional dance performances, the live element is the presence of the technical wizards: image resampler and projectionist New Zealander Jac Grenfell and audio resampler and composer Jan-Bas Bollen from Holland. British dancer Tom Ward and Daniel Belton greatly add to the success of the piece when they appear as digital footage.
It would not do it justice to call it simply a dance work, although the performance is devised by choreographer Daniel Belton and Good Company. There is in fact no live dance as such, Daniel and Jan-Bas provide live music, using sensor sound to accompany an intricate engrossing film show that covers three large projection screens. The screens are filled with examples of Greek architecture, building blocks and dancing figures in a dizzying progression of morphed images retaining just enough information to be recognisable and yet altered to a degree that requires an audience’s serious focus and involvement to read.
The most impressive aspect of this performance is the superb integration of every element into the whole. Even the graphics of the title are spelt out in computer-generated circles and lines for the opening screen shot. There is an intriguing play between what is real and what is virtual and this is carried through different layers of the work. Dancers spectacularly spin upside down with ease while set design modules are carried as if they are weighty blocks of Oamaru stone and are shifted with apparent difficulty.
It is essentially a monochromatic piece but the senses are assaulted, such is the speed and complexity with which the artwork is projected. A shorter programme would lose nothing in interest but would leave an audience a little less stunned. While the Royal New Zealand Ballet with horror ballets like Dracula seek to attract young male viewers, which is the apparent audience demographic for horror films, Belton has taken another tack entirely but with a similar audience in mind. Soma Songs could be termed intellectual in content. It doesn’t really touch the lush landscape of the emotions and is definitely a masculine work. The next project in the pipeline is apparently a female version. It is tantalising to anticipate whether it would do as much for defining gender specific dance as this choreography of architecture and the human form in constant circular and linear motion, cradled by waves of expanding and contracting light and sound”
Lumin: a Visual Masterpiece Reviewed by Sandra Grieg | The Press | Christchurch | Oct 2002
“Opening shots of the windswept hills of Lindis Pass with their muted colours of ochre, brown, clay, and tussock gold, began the beautiful exploration that was Lumin, the new art film from Daniel Belton and Good Company.
This visual masterpiece, 2.5 years in the making, was a collaboration of artists of the highest calibre both internationally and nationally. All facets of the production, dance movement, sound, costume, lighting, and film technology were of outstanding quality. Intertwined, they made for an hypnotic and totally absorbing experience. The luminous white light combined with glorious movement and soundscape bombarded the senses in a mysterious and ethereal way.
Also presented were two previously released films. Henge first shown in 2001 at the New Zealand International Film Festival, is a surreal and magical film, using film technology and effects, with emphasis on the circle and resonance of stretched plucked strings and ritualistic movement. Manipulation of images created a new dimension for the imagination. This abstract work needed no explanation, just the will to relax and absorb.
In complete contrast was Wireless danced by Belton and Donnine Harrison. An accessible and humorous trip down memory lane for two innocent would-be lovers, and the way we were. Complete with a nostalgic musical score, sepia tone flashbacks, and smooth flowing choreography beautifully executed, this dance turned into a film was a winner”
A Fantastical Journey into Belton’s Surreal World
Soundings - Daniel Belton and Good Company | Opera House Wellington | Sunday Star Times | Oct 2000 | Reviewed by Ann Hunt
“To say that Daniel Belton has discovered unplumbed depths in this mysterious and magical work would not be entirely true, nor would it do this innovative and daring choreographer justice. He did however need a vessel seaworthy enough for a longer and a stronger, more beautiful one than Soundings would be hard to imagine.
Belton and his extremely good company have created a surreal world complete unto itself, one that is so satisfying and multi-layered the longer you watch it the more you discover. Cross-disciplined, it effortlessly bridges dance and theatre, visual art, couture design, music and film. From the moment Simon O’Connor places his fool’s hat upon his head, we embark on a fantastical journey that takes us to the heart of ourselves and back. Are we led by fools and visionaries, or harlequins and jesters? Do we journey logically or with blind faith, and does it really matter?
Belton has worked with visionary theatre artist, Lindsay Kemp and his influence is very apparent. Yet there is also a kinder, more optimistic intelligence evident. The closeness and need for family pervades the work, particularly in the powerful dance for the Crippled Man (Kristian Larsen). The choreography is a collaborative effort. Belton has enabled his nine dancer/actors to shine, which they do brilliantly. English visitor Tom Ward’s dance lineage is very apparent. But such is the cohesion of the cast and the work that the ensemble is always paramount.
The production values are impeccable. The splendid partnership of of designers Peter Belton and Kim Garrett provides an abstract, yet oddly solid space and the imaginative music and sound design of Belton and Nigel Jenkins perfectly encapsulates it. Images of candle-lit Victorian theatres and Picasso’s Blue Period paintings imbue the dreamscape with a melancholy attachment while Tanya Carlson’s capricious costumes hint at story book archetypes without dictating to the audience’s imagination.
Belton has collaborated with his dancers and actors to produce a work that is profoundly affecting. The image of a boat as a metaphor for life’s journey, could in less capable hands, be banal. Here it is given new and shimmering resonance”
Soundings - dance theatre making current
Directed by Daniel Belton | Regent Theatre | James Hadley | Theatre News Magazine | Oct 2000
“A commedia del'arte Fool appears in the spotlight, his white face an enigmatic Buster Keatonesque mask. A huge coin is produced and dropped through a slot - with a thundering clunk - into the bowels of the theatre, and the curtain slowly rises to mechanical sound effects, revealing figures enshrouded in smoke. Every once upon a time there comes along a piece of it weaves in the actuality of live performance, reminds you of the childhood wonder that inspires most theatre practitioners towards their vocation. 'Soundings' was nothing short of an inspiration. A beautiful dream made real before your very eyes (incomparable to the technical wizardry of film). Director / choreographer Daniel Belton courageously eschewed the self-referential pretensions of post-modernism, and fashionable attitudes of cynical realism, to create a flight of fantasy.
In my opinion, this work was far and away the highlight of the Otago Arts Festival. What could be more appropriate for the context than a world-class piece of entertainment which originated right here in Dunedin? I realise I rave. But for this reviewer, 'Soundings' stands out as a personal favourite out of all the live performance I have seen in New Zealand. Both as theatre and as dance, this was a most successful work, blending multi-disciplinary elements into a beautiful unity. Belton's previous choreographic work has impressed with its lyricism and technical assuredness, but 'Soundings' is an ambitious leap up to a far greater vision. Rather than any sense of his imagination being stretched by this increase in scope, its virtuosic somersaults were a revelation. Here choreography was the foremost part of a surreal theatrical world, populated by entrancing characters who have been likened to Picasso's acrobats, or the more carnivalesque figures in Fellini's films.
Peter Belton's set was best described as an Expressionistic advent calendar, mysteriously swathed in drifting smoke. Yet really the Victorian grandeur of the Regent Theatre was as much the setting, turned into a music box with a mellifluous moving painting. Lighting, content, soundscape and characters were all painted with a sfumato touch which evoked but did not define, allowing the audience to collaborate with their own interpretations. The overall effect was like a dream inspired by various children's storybooks, although specific references were wonderfully subtle and allusive. These were broad ranging, and as complex as the subtexts and sublimations of adult dreams.
The company wore evocative carnivalesque costumes by Tanya Carlson. These resonated with commedia del'arte or story-book characters; but resisted finite interpretation, and were marvellously complementary to the movement-style and character of each performer. Every one of these had an impressively distinct persona, with their own manner and tone of physicality, influenced by past work and personal styles. Like the different characters with which a child endows their toys, each dancer was a colourful individual, creating movement collages of delightful variety simply by passing across the stage. The dancers each deserve mention: Donnine Harrison, Tom Ward, Simon Ellis, Bronwyn Judge, Melanie Hamilton, Kristian Larsen, Kelly Nash, and a modestly choreographed Daniel Belton. The standard of dancing was uniformly high, blending an apparently effortless grace with intensely passionate investment in each move. Though Belton was obviously something of a magician behind the scenes, this role was most closely taken up onstage by Simon O'Connor, as the 'Fool' whose sounding out his environment directed much of the performance. Both O'Connor and Richard Huber, playing an equally commedia del'arte-like clown (but no simple stock 'type'), were perfectly cast. Two of Dunedin's finest performers, the simple precision of their work was an asset to the production.
The recurring use of a poignant theme by Arvo Part set a tone of heightened reality, complemented by soundscapes by Nigel Jenkins. In my ignorance of the technical details of dance, Belton's choreography stood out for its balance of abstract, aesthetically pleasing moves with those which lent themselves to emotional/narrative readings. Beautiful solos and passionate duets were seamlessly unified with more theatrical interactions, never overburdened with definite narrative, but integrating just enough whimsical incident. There was a wealth of dance vocabulary and beautiful images in this piece which suggest Belton has the vision of a true artist.
The surreal use of props such as an upturned boat and electric cables fitted the fantastical way in which the space was inhabited. Copious use of smoke, subtle lighting (by Kim Garrett) which shifted like cloud-shadows, and gigantically amplified sound effects augmented the sense of mystery. The magical delight of the piece can be exemplified by its ending, when each character walked into a giant book held open by the Fool, who then closes it up and walks off with it. The spell was over, leaving an audience too entranced to believe in trapdoors”
The Miniature Rules in this Imaginative, Spirited Show
Soundings | Daniel Belton and Good Company | Opera House Wellington | Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan | The Evening Post | Oct 2000
“One of the dancers in this show wears a gorgeous patchwork dress which seems by the end of the evening to symbolise the whole of Soundings - exquisite tiny pieces stitched together which we have the pleasure of hunting through to recognise, in the fragments, old loved garments. This is a prismatic kaleidoscope world in which the miniature rules. We glimpse characters in a travelling troupe, with a few clues to their identity. But Belton has deliberately resisted organising them into a single narrative, instead choreographing a dance of small things. We don’t always know where we’re going but we do know we’re all in the same boat. Images float by from the paintings of Breugel and Bosch and Tiepolo. A Venetian Carnival scene gives way to Fellini’s La Strada and Alain-Fournier’s The Lost Domain. From the Grimm Brothers we see the little Match Girl and The Goose girl. There’s a whiff of Sendak, another of Tienniel, all suggesting that the child’s sense of logic and view of the world are at least as valid as adults’ constructed versions.
The set, designed by Peter Belton, is a giant peepshow book, with characters in fetching costumes by Tanya Carlson, hiding in little cameo cupboards. The props are enchanting. A violin played like a mortar and pestle, a quill pen that tries to write but can only find moving bodies or flesh as manuscript, crutches for a 16th century cripple and a set of jump leads to spark us into the present. Nigel Jenkins’ soundscape is a seamless marvel of the sea, the wind and bird song, with Arvo Part’s Fratres and catchy Renaissance dances, and always the ticking of passing time.
This spirited show, with a cast of nine distinctive dancers, is fresh from success in the Otago Festival of the Arts”
Web Sight Soundings by Daniel Belton and Good Company | Opera House Wellington | Jennifer Shennan review | The Listener | Nov 2000
“A dance dream, Soundings was commissioned by the Otago Festival of the Arts for performance in Dunedin and then brought to Wellington, being done just twice in each place. Choreographed by Daniel Belton and performed by nine dancers of his Good Company, with actor Simon O’Connor playing the Fool, it is a work of wonder and whimsy, of echo and memory, a twilight dance without a plot, more foreplay than the other. Relying on an atmospheric text rather than a consummated narrative, it invokes such questions as "what does happily ever after mean?", "Which star is Grandad living on now?" and "Where do Hansel and Gretel go when we've finished reading about them?"
The action revolves around a troupe of commedia dell’arte-like characters on the road, but there is no particular destination, nor does there have to be. The use of several time and depth-sounding devices suggests that time marches on, yet stands still, too. There are echoes here of Lewis Carrol, Mary (The Borrowers) Norton and perhaps M C Escher: it’s the kind of thing that can change into something else before your eyes. Belton and his dancer wife Donnine Harrison clearly have little children and are sharing experiences in a way that suggests that theatre, art and domestic life are plaited. The soundscape, engineered by Nigel Jenkins, is mesmerising, offering further proof that Belton is increasingly a catalyst for other New Zealand artists (he has previously commissioned scores from Anthony Ritchie).
Tanya Carlson’s costumes are a delight , the props are stunning and admirably risky, and the final image of each character waving from the three-story-high peepshow book designed by Peter Belton is indelible.
The standout performers are Daniel Belton himself as a tumbling clown and Bronwyn Judge in electric red shoes, though any member of the company would stand out if they had the same chance in cameo solos. This is a spider’s web dance - not ours to touch, and certainly not to unravel, just to marvel at the gossamer”
Choreographer Realises Potential
Soundings | Regent Theatre | Otago Daily Times | Suzanne Renner | Oct 2000
“Soundings, an intriguing and whimsical dance-theatre work by Daniel Belton and Good Company, which premiered at the Regent Theatre last night, marks an impressive leap of artistry.
Small elegant performances choreographed by Belton in the past carried a hint of what might emerge with time and opportunity, so to see the realisation of this potential on a larger scale was satisfying. The attention to aesthetic detail in all aspects of the show has resulted in a magical creation that is pleasing on many levels. An atmosphere of nostalgic charm is created by interesting lighting effects, a haunting musical score, a playhouse set constructed like an Advent calendar, and a cast costumed as Victorian mime characters.
A Fool (Simon O’Connor) initiates the action and then stalks the stage mysteriously listening for ‘soundings’. His targets are a group of innocents, who are manipulated to enact a series of strange happenings in surrealistic mode. As the Fool’s assistant Richard Huber was delightfully eccentric and comical. To balance the acting, dance sequences are threaded through the work. Although its overall statement might have been perplexing to some, a creditable feature of this work was its sense of progression and completeness. Belton has created an unusual spell-binding dance work”
Forging a New Direction in Dance
Soundings | Daniel Belton and Good Company | Opera House | Wellington | Jenny Stevenson | The Dominion Post | Oct 2000
“Dunedin-based choreographer Daniel Belton is seeking to establish a new path in New Zealand dance with his work Soundings, a theatrical and visual spectacle where dance creates the ambience.
The Good Company is a collection of fine dancers. Dressed in the colourful garb of a commedia troupe without the masks, they perform with idiosyncratic movement that goes a long way to establishing their characters. They are discovered and revealed by a nautical character and his trusty scribe who are conducting depth soundings.
There is no narrative to the work as such - it evolves in a meandering series of episodic vignettes linked or dissolved by the soundings couple who orchestrate the action. An imposing set of great height contains nine doors which open to reveal symbolic objects such as stones, an egg and a chalice which are incorporated into the choreography. A gentle humour which is neither mocking nor satirical but merely a sort of understated slapstick underscores the choreographic intent. As a result there are no belly-laughs but a layering of visual gags with just a hint of pathos creates a feel-good atmosphere and endears the characters to the audience.
The work goes a long way to forging a new direction in contemporary dance. It is replete with colour, theatrical images and fine dance with strong characterisations by all the performers. Daniel Belton’s voice is one that will no doubt be heard a lot more in the future”
Review by David Eggleton | New Zealand Listener Magazine | Aug 14 1999 | Concertina (whakaopi/to fold), choreographed by Daniel Belton | Good Company Arts | Dunedin Public Art Gallery
“A fragment for three performers danced in a setting that might have been the corner of some vast and possibly infinite library out of a Jorge Luis Borges short story, Concertina was an exquisite miniature, as delicate as a tissue of rice paper printed with a Zen poem. Daniel Belton, Donnine Harrison and Sean Feldman, dressed by designer Tanya Carlson in identical long pleated white dresses, at first resembled whirling dervishes, but, as they spun and delved and plucked at imaginary books and then gave little leg-flicks, they began to seem more like librarians hard at work.
Wrapped in their tunics of white and equipped with short feathery haircuts, each had an angelic delicacy, their long pleated skirts rustling like wings. But, when they shed these outer skirts, like discarded wing casings, they began to seem less like priestly librarians and more like fluttering insects, floating delicately, swaddled in filmy filaments of cotton and silk.
Moving with waxy flexibility in front of artist Violet Faigan’s screens of books - pages outermost and pleated and shaped to resemble the cylinders of industrial machinery - the three dancers were the spirit of a beehive or wasp nest: tiny flying insects tunneling with finely calibrated movements through some crumbling autumnal moment, some Proustian recollection of time past. The symbolic resonance was underscored and confirmed by composer Anthony Ritchie’s music, introduced by the murmer of cicadas and a scrap of melody squeezed from a concertina, and then picked up by the mellow timbre of a violin and their crisp notes of a piano. Altogether a thing of scrupulous execution, a calculated register of tremors”
Concertina Directed by Daniel Belton. Performed at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. THEATRE NEWS | Aug 1999 | Review by Alys Longley and James Hadley
“Concertina was publicised as a multi-media performance, involving twelve artists in different media. The dance component was very much where attention was focused, and where attention is focusing increasingly thanks to a string of ambitious dance projects (such as Shoal Dance and Leaf, both 1998), staged at the Art Gallery by Daniel Belton and collaborators. Belton has now consolidated such pursuits in his formation of the charitable trust ‘Daniel Belton and Good Company’, which aims to expand on opportunities for collaborative projects between Dunedin artists of many media.
Concertina takes the concept behind the word - usually used in relation to something folding, like the wind box on the instrument, or a paper chain being folded out - and expands it towards its most creative interpretation. The intriguing poster for the show featured Belton as if wearing a huge cone-shaped skirt, a concertina of folded pages. In performance, the three dancers wore a more movement-compatible interpretation of this costume idea, designed by Tanya Carlson. The flowing concertina skirts operated like kinetic sculptures through their use by the dancers.
Sculptor Violet Faigan designed the enthrallingly creative set. Large friezes of what first appeared to be carved poles, akin to the undulations of ornate table legs, turned out, on closer inspection, to be many books, covers opened out against the wall. The opened out pages where painstakingly folded into intricate origami concertinas, juxtaposed with each other across the frieze. Lighting by Jamie Nevill accentuated this elaborate construction.
Prominent Dunedin composer Anthony Ritchie composed the piece’s score, a chamber piece featuring violinist Paula Smart and pianist Terrence Dennis. Ritchie’s musical landscape was sympathetic to the dance, helping to evoke journey and transformation. Videographer John Irwin was another background presence in the piece, whose graceful slow-motion footage of the performance was projected on the side walls of the gallery.
The dance performance itself was a beautiful addition to the body of work created by Daniel Belton and Donnine Harrison since their return from the United Kingdom. With visiting dancer Sean Feldman they created a choreography full of the joy and breath of movement, and the growth of inspiration and flight. Their interpretation of the concertina concept centered on the intake of air between a concertina’s folds, alike to a lung breathing in, and the vitalising embodiment of creative energy. The programme helped make sense of such themes, stating: ‘ In breathing life back into something that had lost its energy and awakening of the heart occurs. The heart, having its own intelligence, awakens the soul.’ It also quoted writer Ben Okri: ‘...Statures become melodies, melodies become yearnings, yearnings become actions.’ Such quotes are evocative of the feeling which the choreography achieved, incorporating balletic twirlings, the movements of birds in flight, and a sense of the transition from being anchored to finding a dance of hope and belonging. The three dancers excelled in their faultless synchronicity, whirling apart and recombining, akin to the folds of one concertina”
Shoal Dance by Daniel Belton | Dunedin Public Art Gallery | Reviewed by David Eggleton | New Zealand Listener | June 6 1998
“Shoal Dance, choreographer Daniel Belton’s latest piece on video (following on from last year’s Insideout and Homing) was filmed and edited by Barrington West and Alf West and presented for a month at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.
An ensemble of three (Belton, Donnine Harrison and Rachel Krische), clad in shimmering, loose-fitting tunics, whirl and spin like waves curling and collapsing in a tumult of surf and foam. They are celebrants of propulsive movement, energetic movers and shakers, whether loping along the beach at dawn, or shoulder-rolling, flexing and pivoting in a studio, or plunging into a swimming pool and drifting upwards, trailing clusters of white bubbles.
Theirs is not a aquacade of synchronised swimming, but a tentative search for natural forms and shapes: the vortex of purling water in a standing wave, the undertow of ocean currents, the curves of a tumbling paua shell. At once fragile and exuberant, stiff-necked and wonderfully free, Belton’s work, showing bodies traveling through space and time, and danced to violin music composed by Anthony Ritchie, is 15 minutes of packed lyricism”
Beauty, Expression in Dance Performance
Review by Nigel Zega | Otago Daily Times | Jun 22 1998
“Life must have been pretty grim for the first of Dunedin’s early settlers. But Daniel Belton’s collaborative dance project Leaf is more of a celebration of the good things about starting life in a new country after a long sea voyage.
Leaf, commissioned by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society as part of Otago’s 150th celebrations, follows a young couple arriving in New Zealand in Victorian times.
The duet danced by Belton and his partner Donnine Harrison is a joyous affair, from an atmospheric welcome to a strange land to the fun and learning to be shared with new experiences. Belton has a strong physical presence and even his most fluid movements show an uncanny precision and control. He is a powerhouse of energy and emotion, well-balanced by Harrison’s almost regal grace. Together they build on each other’s strengths, culminating in a performance of expression and beauty.
Belton has involved several Dunedin talents in the project. Haunting music from composer Anthony Ritchie is played by pianist Terrence Dennis, and striking costumes are by designer Tanya Carlson. A film of the dance project by producer John Irwin runs this month at the gallery, where there is an exhibition of artist Kathryn Madill’s prints and selected period cuttings in a hand-bound book by Michael O’Brien, and photographs by Andi Lohmann”
Melt and Flow Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan | NZ Listener Magazine | Nov 8 1997 | Dunedin Public Art Gallery
“Two short works choreographed by Daniel Belton - his solo, Inside Out, and Homing, a duo danced by him and his (life and dance) partner Donnine Harrison - have recently been performed at the dunedin Public Art Gallery in their “Vernacular” series. Video of the dances was screened continuously in the gallery, except for several daily timeslots when they were performed live. Both works proved fully accessible to enthusiastic audiences of a wide age-range, suggesting that galleries elsewhere may feel encouraged to present similar performances relating to simultaneously exhibited work.
Belton makes dances that look like tai chi on fast-forward - seamless flow, in and around the vertical, towards and away from the horizontal, seemingly nonchalant about balance, yet impeccably weighted and centred at every moment. In this serene choreography, the bodies do not hurtle through space, fling themselves onto the floor or crash into one another as adversaries. Rather, they fold and roll, melt and flow, breathe and pause, sigh and yearn, smile, fold and roll, melt and flow...
The mesmerising trail of his work seems more like a river than a dance technique. We should not be fooled into thinking their is no technique, however. It is just that the work’s themes and aesthetic are what we are offered, not the sweat and tears of the process. All effort is disguised, and the necessary energy exactly judged, and so calmly performed that it is palpably good for you to watch.
Inside Out was an intriguing solo that literally brought the dancer, in a series of spirals, into physical contact with the life-size paintings surrounding him. Peter Belton, Daniel’s father, had produced a series of paintings of a male in motion - commencing with studies after Tiepolo and Rembrandt, but soon following his own brush and his own son. The accompanying percussive soundscape was recorded with river stones. It was a lovely meditative piece.
Homing, a longer work, took as its theme the memories and thoughts of home when away on the far side of the world. (Belton and Harrison are recently back in New Zealand after a five year stint pursuing successful dance careers in Europe. Belton spent the time principally in the Arc Dance Company, with director/choreographer Kim Brandstrup, whose work, The Sleeping Beauty, we will see next year from the RNZB.)
The booming Kakapo, the fluting Kokako, snatches of Telemann and the bagpipes of Scotland (or is that Dunedin?) were interspersed with sequences by composer Martin Lodge. The mural by Kathryn Madill echoed as many and more fragments of thought and communication between hemispheres. Bird feather or writing quill, letters that keep thoughts warm, that help spell out plans of journeys. Harrison and Belton moved as one and I could have done with it three times over”
Looking Past the Southern Horizon
VERNACULAR: Recent work by Dunedin artists | Dunedin Public Art Gallery | Reviewed by Helen Watson White | Sunday Star Times | Oct 26 1997
“The Dunedin Public Art Gallery has assembled an impressive flotila of local craft and art in this multi-media show. The flagship of the fleet is a collaborative dance/video/art project based on the choreography of Daniel Belton. It is danced by Belton with Donnine Harrison, with music scores inspired by Otago University Mozart Fellows, Anthony Ritchie and Martin Lodge.
Twenty four performances of the two dance works, solo Insideout and pas-de-deux Homing Hokinga Mai, have been offered at the gallery during the season, and at other times play inside and outside the exhibition in Paul Sharapoff’s sensitively crafted video.
A searching, suggestive banner-painting by Kathryn Madill, also entitled Homing, makes continuous dialogue with the dance by concentrating on themes of journeying and connection. In both works, letter-writing (with a quill) makes bonds, in the Belton by physically joining two bodies and in the Madill by invisible suggestion spanning time and black space. The power of the symbolism is so great that a handwritten letter assumes the importance of a ship, whale or light plane in Madill’s deliberate but whimsical distortion of scale. The whole presentation has a circular feel, in that these two reflections of each other are positioned by the entrance/exit: You come back to them after a small trip around the world.
By the time you’ve taken in Peter Belton’s large dynamic body-drawings, you feel as if you’ve perceived the dance works not just in two dimensions (on wall or screen) but also an illusory third (the video giving an impression of depth through double imaging), and a fourth dimension of sense-filled time”
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