Posted: Fri, Nov. 4, 2011, 3:00 AM

By Merilyn Jackson

For the Inquirer

Tui is the Maori name for a black bird with a small white tuft at its throat. When the English came to New Zealand, its native habitat, they named it the parson bird. Honeyeaters, Tuis have two voice boxes and some of their sounds range beyond what we humans can hear. On opening night at Subcircle’s Christ Church fall run, called Seed, Gin MacCallum and Niki Cousineau danced like two wavering voices that hushed us and left us craving to hear and see them.Cousineau and MacCallum choreographed, and New Zealand’s Carol Brown, who has worked with Subcircle and Group Motion here in past years, directed. Jorge Cousineau created a spare and moody set, vaguely reminiscent of the Mutter Museum, with glass-doored specimen cabinets on either side. His video screen runs on a wide band across the stage and slowly morphs through organic, sepia-toned scenes. The Cousineaus run Subcircle and are both recent, and very deserving, independent recipients of Pew Fellowships.

I can’t say how enjoyable it was to see MacCallum dance here again, after her departure from Philadelphia. She’s an artist whose mysterious quality reminds me of a 19th-century poet – frail, romantic, possibly a little shy or neurotic. Paired with Cousineau’s cool rationality, it made for a glorious frisson that lasted throughout the one-hour dance theater piece. Together they wove a spellbinding web of fantasy.

Dressed in a man’s black suit, Cousineau is like a scientist dissecting a bird. From it, she pulls various objects – a red ribbon, a blue feather, twigs – no doubt secreted to decorate the nest. As Cousineau deliberately arranges the objects and notates them, MacCallum interferes like a little magpie, creating disorder.

They veil their heads in black, don pink or red high heels, crawl under the table. MacCallum becomes a specimen lying on the table, ripping the paper sheet to shreds and eating it. Cousineau calmly removes the wad of paper from her mouth and places it in a jar.

Rosie Langabeer’s mournful accordion notes glaze the scene with a dreamlike aura. She later sings unearthly fragments of song: “Mad with honey” is one. In her clangorous percussion section the dancers squat, swoop, lunge to the floor and then, on all fours, behave erratically. They swerve their heads or torsos one way, pull back, teeter. A coat floats down behind Cousineau. She wraps herself inside and flaps the sleeves as it wafts her aloft.

Sometimes you can see the tuis flying about like that, whimsically capricious, intoxicated by fermented nectar.