Complexity of Belonging - Falk Richter & Anouk Van Dijk
11 March 2016, St James Theatre, Wellington
Reviewed by Deirdre Tarrant
Stunning design by Robert Cousins, lighting by Niklas Pajanti and composition by Malte Beckenbach were a powerful part of this production. As we entered the theatre space a broad sweeping cyclorama screen set us in the Australian outback - in the vast breadth of this rugged, harsh environment - cameras and an airport billboard, tables that smoothly wheeled and chairs that tilted, fell and demanded sitting on or leaping from, set the stage for an explorative series of monologues and a range of technical and choreographic interpretations.
Nine people - five men and four women and one ' sometimes onstage' crew who ensured that all ran smoothly took us to private, social, sexual and political places. Places that divide people and rip us apart internally. Using a range of media tools, relationships we can relate to and stresses of self-identity and belonging whether it be to a country, to a partner, to a family get delved into.
Social media and its dichotomy of seemingly bringing us closer but making emotional distance and dysfunction the norm was the focus and the complexity of each of the casts' own stories that formed the continuum of the production. The dancers and actors both danced and acted with standout performances from James Vu Anh Pham dancing and Karen Sibbing acting. Lauren Langlois was absolutely riveting as she did both and delivered a non-stop monologue in 'bullet' points at the same time.
High tensile, off balance, falling, rolling, recovering, failing, finding, losing, grasping, twitching, catching movements were both gestural and encompassing. The messages were personal and we were forced to confront our own relationships and distances. Laura Jane Turner was constantly concerned and calm as the connecting force and the clipboard recorder. Film and live streaming brought the detail close and made confrontation for the audience unavoidable. There were wonderful words and humour from Josh Price as he dealt with a series of dilemmas in pursuing a relationship with the 'white aboriginal' Joel Bray, Ayla Manzart was gloriously lanky-limbed as he dealt with his very ochre brother and the dilemma of their ageing parents, James Vu Anh Pham voiced the vulnerability and difficulties of being Asian in Aussieland.
The need to belong generated duets that were disconnected and desperate in their efforts to communicate and constantly averted eyes reflected the frustrations of technological communication. The stories onstage and the development of the text and choreography came from the cast and were then directed and produced by Anouk Van Dijk and Falk Richter. Their process is powerful albeit the constant streaming of words was overwhelming. The power of movement is in the abstraction of communication and I wanted to be allowed to find the story for myself and not have it hammered at me!
Stephen Phillips' monologue resonated brilliantly but so too did his wonderful leaping from chair to chair and incessant rearranging of the space that perfectly encapsulated his mental state. His back curved and perched atop a chair as the work ended was a powerful image of the ultimate limitations of Skype. The limbless capacity of these incredible dancers to be individually isolated yet in unison of togetherness and the reality of aloneness that spoke to the universal truth of the longing we all have to 'belong' was heart-breaking. Gradually the movement reduced and the words subsided and we were left with a handwritten note and lingering take home doubts about ourselves. Is a relationship a place of (be)longing?
Complex, hard hitting and powerful this was not totally dance, not only theatre - in the words of the two creative forces who generated and shaped this sharing of stories - "this is an integrated form of physical and text performance - choreographic theatre." Personally I wanted dance to have a breath and text to take a step back and there to be time for both to speak. In a Festival that has kept Wellington supercharged and opinionated Complexity of Belonging was a stand out. A really contemporary work made first in 2014 with all but one of the original cast onstage. An assault on the senses and a barrage of energy and physicality that totally deserved the roars of approval it received as we leapt to our feet.