The Absurdity of Humanity is NZDC’s new double-bill performed on Q theatre’s Rangatira stage. The double-bill’s curation features a complementary contrast between boisterous anarchy and harrowing quiet.
First up is Lina Limosani’s Whispers from Pandora’s Box.
A lone performer sits on a chair as a luminous box slides apparently unaided across the stage towards him with a will of its own. Opening it, he unwittingly releases the evil and madness within – it exerts a curious influence on him. He is trapped in an artfully and articulately performed cycle of quick-change emotions. During his struggle we are introduced to the first of several clown-like looking characters, painted faces reminiscent of Jigsaw, Joker or a mime, blod- stained clothing, unkempt and manic in appearance. Throughout the work they squawk, dither and exert their control as individuals and corporately. Deserving of mention is Carl Tolentino who performs his insanity with 100% commitment in each moment, and commands the gaze.
Contrasted in character are three powerless and fearful ‘chickens’, unable to break free from the violence, objectification, and amusing yet disturbing games they are subjected to. I am curious as to their significance in relationship to the clown characters as they make attempts to freedom. How badly do they want it?
Following the tone of the initial scene, the work is a gratuitously hysterical and violent performance. The scenes of insanity and depravity are comical, accompanied by gimmicky sound effects and a carnival-esque soundtrack to complement the clown-like characters. It feels like a circus-themed Tom and Jerry, and draws many laughs from the audience.
So much is happening on the stage, it’s difficult to know where to look, adding to the confusion and chaos of the work. The moments of unison in the piece are very satisfying, providing breaks from the pressure of choosing what to watch. Sweeping spins, suspensions, and clever partner work travels the stage seamlessly. The work has several pleasantly unpredictable and risky moments that enhance the theatricality of the work.
The work’s conclusion is theatrically abrupt, and left me with questions. Where do these relationships end? What are the absurd madnesses we carry within our own natures? What is our relationship to them?
Following the intermission is Ross McCormack’s Matter.
Five plinths supporting tall, industrial, rusted poles are placed in the space under focussed spotlights. It is difficult to determine whether they are aggressive or atmospheric. Minutes before the intermission is signalled to an end with dimming of the house lights, a lone performer in black inhabits the stage, understatedly yet determinedly examining one pole with relentless focus.
High angle amber side lighting cuts through the haze. I can’t help but appreciate how the space has been carved in a very 3-dimensional way. Light and shadow provide areas of focus and neglect. The assuredness of the poles creates places of tension, and division, not just on the floor but also drawing attention to far above where my stage gaze usually rests.
A pod of performers clad in black begin navigating the space. Unexpected explosions of sound almost blow me out of my seat- yet they are unfased. Throughout the piece the unpredictability of the soundtrack grows anticipation. I am always waiting, but it never comes when I expect it. I find myself bracing as high pitch rumbling gives way to dissolution of tensions.
Performed with a strength that is not forceful, but nuanced – understated and effective – I am left with a sense of quiet. The movement gives an impression of intentionality that dissipates into a directionlessness until a new movement idea is introduced. Power is passed from performer to performer without a sense of competition – it is an intriguing dynamic that falls eloquently within the structured space they occupy. The kinaesthetic connection and empathy I feel from and for the dancers leaves me emotionally drained.
Matter offers a series of striking and provocative images – bodies walking through the air, a body with an upside down head, two-storey people poles – some of which are so mesmerising I would have liked to have seen them explored further. The way the set, lighting, and sound elements are coordinated with these moments provides a depth and texture that resonates deeply and stirs the soul.
Overall the show is entertaining and satisfying, with more than a little emotional punch to leave me thinking into the evening. The performers prove great physical and performative endurance. The Absurdity of Humanity is a bold step in a different direction for the NZDC, created and performed with passion and nuance.
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