22/03/2012 - 24/03/2012
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 24th Mar 2012
Fringe festivals typically introduce audiences to new and emerging performers, or artists working in modes new to them. Faux Pax, from the rather unfortunately named Black Sheep Productions [sic.], admirably conforms to this model.
Its strongest points are in being an initial dance-theatre offering from choreographer/director Natalie Clark, and a popular work staged outside of a conventional theatre. While not street theatre in a technical sense, Faux Pax shares this broad aesthetic in that it is addressed to distracted audiences already engaged in their own activities (in this case eating and drinking in a café), with no explicit pre-existing agreement from the spectators that they are at all interested in the performance.
The key requirement then is to present something which can both be watched fairly intently and continuously by those audiences who chose to take advantage of the performance starting up beside them, whilst also as a short series of discontinuous images or vignettes for audiences who, at best, only glance over every few minutes or so.
This Clark and her dancers do admirably. They are vocally loud, garrulous, and much of the physical vocabulary is similarly large.
The theatrical conceit itself however is fairly slight. The spoken text alludes, for example, to fussy customers at cafes who ask for vegetarian, gluten-free and/or vegan meals. As someone who eats with such people on a regular basis, I must say I found the suggestion that this was inherently funny rather forced — and a bit surprising amongst dancers, whose ranks are typically filled with such individuals.
There is also the usual poking of fun at phrases like “daaaarhling” and other implications of high class dining and socialisation.
The physical vocabulary is similarly draw from the etiquette of the meal. The loud unison vocalisations of chomping as the dancers face each other off across the table and clamp their jaws was particularly nice.
This is of course fine really, and amusing enough when enacted by strong, focussed and charismatic performers such as these.
In the end though, the performance is really something of a frippery or a confection. It is a dollop of whipped cream on a meringue — elegant enough, but with little depth of flavour or of construction. Given the performance lasted for barely 10 minutes when I saw it, this is hardly surprising.
Clark et al are far from the first to use the dinner party as a site to examine class or social mores. Everyone from Louis Buñuel to Woody Allen, from the recent Grind Guignol performances in Dunedin through to Shakespeare in Titus Andronicus, from the wonderful 2010 physical theatre performance of The Butler through to US performance artist Karen Finley [http://karenfinley.com/], have mined this kind of material for art.
As an experienced performer and UNITEC graduate of 2011, one assumes Clark will move to more complex work in due course.
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