Java Dance Company: Chocolate

Joyful, heartbreaking, alive: Java Dance Theatre’s ‘Chocolate’, reviewed

It seems quite a claim to say Chocolate is choreographer Sacha Copland’s best work considering her immense talent but it’s true, says Emily Writes.

I am not a fan of immersive theatre or interactive dance or whatever you want to call it. I don’t want to get involved. While my son will wildly volunteer for any and all audience participation spots I’m more likely to try to make my body shrink into a chair, willing myself to become invisible. If I ever am picked, I’ll refuse, even I’d cheered on.

So how I ended up onstage covered in a sheet with liquid chocolate dripping into my mouth laughing hysterically speaks to the magic of Java Dance Theatre’s Chocolate.

I’ve been a long time fan of Java Dance and the choreography of its founder, 2019 Creative NZ Fellow Sacha Copland. Their award-winning Artisan Series has made me interested in dance in a way I never was before. I’ve been to almost all of the shows, and they’re all great, but what makes them truly wonderful are their companion pieces for children. These performances, wholly separate from the main series, are testament to the company’s immense respect for children as deserving of intelligent and funny dance and theatre.

I saw the children’s companion piece to The Wine Project, the second production in the Artisan Series, called Dirt and Other Delicious Ingredients back in 2015 and I was blown away. I’d never seen dance or theatre for children that was equally enjoyable for adults, while still being clearly made for children. I saw Cheese next, the children’s companion piece to The Creamery. Milk poured on the dancers as children shrieked; live music mesmerised them. Next came the children’s show Treat, and now Chocolate.

As an avid watcher of this series I feel quite comfortable saying Chocolate is Copland’s best work yet. From the moment you’re asked to remove your shoes, a staple in many of her shows, you know you’re in for something special. In a packed out venue, we took front row seats – every other seat was full. There was a real buzz in the air and also the smell of…chocolate.

Tapere iti at Te Auaha on Dixon St was the perfect, intimate venue, the audience sitting close enough to touch the dancers (more on that later!)

Live music with dance is as delicious as a salted caramel slab of bitter dark chocolate. The performance began with Tristan Carter and Charley Davenport on violin and cello – and suddenly the very taste of chocolate came alive in dance and sound. As each audience member bit into their own piece, in time, we were forced to slow down our senses, experiencing the sensation of chocolate on stage as we tasted it in our seats.

Dancer Lauren Carr is an absolute revelation. She swings from joyful and hilarious – my face hurt just from mimicking her happiness – to suddenly heartbreaking. Her pain is a sledgehammer. Her loss is felt keenly as the music disorientates you, you feel as if you’re staggering with her – I almost wanted to reach out for her. Her burial reminded me of the work of Marina Abramović. I was afraid of what the audience might do to her prone body, but the gentleness and calm of the crowd put me at ease.

It showed a faith and trust in the audience that has come to characterise the entire Artisan Series. Joining Carr on stage, Emma Coppersmith and Ella Williams brought our wounded woman to life again, and it felt like a rejuvenation for us all. The skill of Lauren Carr is so awe-inspiring at this point we thought she was actually levitating.

Three women on stage, holding each other up – powerfully asserting and lifting each other above the mess of life as they’re living it – felt like exactly what we needed to see at this moment in time.

Fresh from the Xintiandi Festival in Shanghai, and before taking Chocolate to the Edinburgh Fringe next month, the Java troop seems keenly aware of the way we of the world are reacting to each other right now. Chocolate is joyful and just so funny but it’s heartbreaking too. Above anything else, it feels hopeful.

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As the lights came up and the true mess of it all was revealed I wanted to stay immersed. I reluctantly went home and found my six-year-old resisting sleep. I told him about the show. About chocolate being dripped on my face, I showed him my feet, still a little dusty from chocolate shavings.

He kissed my cheek where a tiny chocolate smear remained, for just one forbidden taste.

“I love chocolate,” he said.

Java Dance Theatre: Chocolate, 9-14 July at Tapere iti at Te Auaha, Wellington. Tickets.


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