Happy As Larry

TSB Arena, Queens Wharf, Wellington

07/03/2010 - 10/03/2010

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2010

Production Details


“…Shaun Parker is a creative force to be reckoned with” Adelaide Advertiser  

Award winning Australian choreographer Shaun Parker brings his brand new dance work, Happy As Larry, to the New Zealand International Arts Festival in March next year.

Parker won the Australian Dance Awards’ Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance last year, and will premiere his latest work Happy As Larry at the Sydney Festival before it travels directly to Wellington.

Happy As Larry takes its lead from an investigation of happiness, specifically the nine personality types found within the Enneagram psychological system used for mapping nine distinct but interrelated personality types. It also serves as a powerful tool in the understanding of self and offers a myriad of entry points into the forming of the choreographic process.

Happy As Larry combines a free-flowing mix of ballet, contemporary moves, and break-dance, fusing gritty urban realism to create an uplifting exploration of the human condition.

Accentuated by a vibrant electro/acoustic score by composers Nick Wales and Bree van Reyk, the nine performers bring fun and danger to the fore of this innovative dance work.

Shaun Parker has worked as a choreographer, dancer, physical theatre performer and counter-tenor over the last seventeen years.

A graduate of VCA in Melbourne, his performance credits include Meryl Tankard, Kate Champion, Sydney Theatre Company, Chunky Move, The Song Company, State Theatre Company of South Australia, Compagnie ALIAS in Switzerland, Meredith Monk in New York and Sasha Waltz in Berlin.

Parker has also performed in feature films including dancing in Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge and in the actor/dancer role of Paul in Ana Kokkinos’ Book of Revelation.

Happy As Larry is sponsored by the Todd Foundation.

WHEN: 7-10 March
WHERE: TSB Bank Arena

Creative team:  Adam Gardnir, Veronica Neave, Luiz Pampolha, Bree van Reyk and Nik Wales 

When fun and games turn serious

Review by Jennifer Shennan 09th Mar 2010

This curious show, defying easy categorisation, is not at all predictable from its advance publicity. Nine performers, young and fast, set a game-like mood seemingly aimed at a youth audience. But don’t be fooled – this is a serious theatre piece, from Australia, about the contemporary lives of young people, the implications of which are of course for all of us. It’s also a danced commentary on meaning in graphic abstract art.

Elements of break dance and bopping form much of the movement vocabulary, all in up-tempo fragments, and mostly, seemingly, leading nowhere in particular. Clever ball-bouncing, aerobic fitness moves and semaphore-like gestures suggest play, and exchanges take place before, behind and atop a large rectangular box revolving centre-stage. Hour follows hour, day follows night.

All this agility is impressive but we notice there’s little in the way of closer friendship or bonds developing. A kind of loneliness might be the price for living fast? An aboriginal woman moves with great grace and finesse, and would be a killer on the netball court – but she is mostly alone, and several of her arm gestures evoke, albeit fleetingly, a traditional dance that reminds us of the Dreamtime. There’s also a remarkable homage to Jackson Pollock that takes us all by surprise.

Bright electronic accompaniment matches the visuals, but a couple of poignant violin passages seem to ache for something truer and deeper. But hey, let’s keep this cool. There might be something not quite right here, oh no was that a sudden death, was that a suicide? is one of us missing in action?  

Throughout the show intriguing chalk drawings are being made on the black sides of the revolving box – graffiti? attempts to communicate? dance notation? instructions to performers? poetry on the fridge? abstract art?

The choreography has meaning alright, but Shaun Parker is bright enough to know that’s an elusive catch. I can tell you the title is ironic, even though it also works as entertainment at face value if that’s what you prefer.
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Fresh and intoxicating charmer

Review by Lyne Pringle 08th Mar 2010

The Festival continues to serve up juicy fare with the snappy dance performance Happy as Larry.

Nine personality types from a psychological map called the Enneagram model formed the basis for the development of the work. The Perfectionist, the Giver, the Performer, the Tragic Romantic, the Observer, the Devil’s Advocate, the Optimist, the Boss and the Mediator seek the notion of happiness, with varying degrees of success, through a dance vocabulary that blends several elements.

I could make a guess at which dance played which character type but after one viewing it is a little too hard to tell. I am planning to go back and give it another shot – the work warrants multiple viewings.

It will particularly appeal to young adult audiences; there is much in the work that speaks their language.

A talented cast, gathered from all over Australia, dance their hearts out. They are stunning: precise, nimble, surprising and technically excellent as well as being stand out performers who know how to connect with the audience. They fill every inch of the performance space with an intoxicating mix of gusto and lack of pretension.

Shaun Parker is impressive as the choreographer. As well as the immaculate casting, the production elements are superbly integrated. Nick Wales and Bree Van Reyk co-composed the music. I believe this is their third collaboration with Parker and there is an obvious synergy with the movement and dramatic intent on stage. It is a varied score, rather like the choreographic language, from driving hip hop derivative beats to luscious string based sounds that augment beautifully the emotions being explored through the dancers bodies.

In some ways the set is another star in the show: designed by Adam Gardiner, it is brilliant. Consisting of a large rectangular box that sits vertically in the space on rollers, it serves firstly as a blackboard with Dean Cross, who is also a visual artist, expressing his inner thoughts and feelings with chalk throughout the performance. The piece orbits around his brilliant dancing and stage presence.

It also moves upstage and downstage, manipulating our perspective and the depth of field in the performance space. One of the most memorable and exhilarating scenes in the work comes when it pivots around a central axis gaining momentum as a crazed roller skater, Lee Wilson, moves in a risky circle outside the set while a woebegone ballet wannabe flails in an upstage corner – the draught from all this action fanning our faces in the audience.

There are many clever moments as the relationships between Cross’s drawings, the set and the action onstage are teased out. In another great scene Cross draws maniacally, his whole body engaged and twitching, as eloquent dancer Marnie Palomares moves in counterpoint; her movement expression is deft, precise and refreshing. At times throughout the performance the objects threaten to overpower the dance.  

Each dancer comes across as a strong individual or personality, as we get to know them in a series of solos duets and smaller groupings. There is not a lot of unison dancing.

At first I am struggling with the choreographic milieu but it gradually unfolds until the final unison section, where the vocabulary is the most satisfying for me. The intensity of execution in this section leaves the audience buzzing. Movements are flung, fleeting, gathered and dropped – almost spat out with disgust – as each dancer searches for the elusive ingredients that constitute happiness.

The dancers are a cluster of stars. Paul White is breathtaking in a wickedly difficult solo that becomes more and more outrageous as he is egged on by the chorus until all his virtuosity is spent, when they lose interest and I am left wondering how a body can do the things he does.

Ghenoa Gela is a forceful, distinctive and enigmatic presence. Her forte is the masterful isolation of body parts, and at one point laughter fails to reach her face in a very disconcerting scene. Seeing her cut up the dance floor in the final unison is another highlight. 

My eye is often drawn to Miranda Wheen; she has a quiet command of the performance space with her exquisite dancing. Harriet Ritchie has outrageous extension and technique. The three women execute a startling trio, all girlish delight and shivered silliness. Here we are introduced to the fantastic movement phrase that makes up the final movement. It is interesting for me how different movement can look when the intention behind it changes.

I wanted more of the women; wanted to see them really let rip, to show off like the men do.

The men do it well with glorious movements in and out of the floor – breaking-type moves blended with contemporary dance chops, soaring leaps and daredevil antics off the top of the set.

There is a lot of very fluid partnering, both Josh Mu and Matt Cornell are fantastic, Mu inhabiting some extremely precise phrases and Cornell executing stunning leaps and falls. Lee Wilson as the oddball, pants off, upside-down roller-skater, brings comic relief, skilled movement sequences and a density to the narrative.

Throughout there are glimpses of the kinds of manipulations and one-upmanship we humans execute in our search for happiness, sometimes at the expense of others.

In Happy as Larry a living, breathing world is created that is fresh and intoxicating; Parker and his virtuosic team have created a charmer.

Yes the quest is constant and the object elusive but one thing is for sure: the audience were certainly HAPPY at the end of this performance!
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