Watching this dance piece is like being in the studio audience of a TV game show, but far more dangerous and captivating
Carriageworks’ cavernous Bay 20 has been transformed into an arena for You Animal, You, a provocative, bold but somewhat muddled new dance theatre work from local company Force Majeure. It tackles the biggest of themes: what is it to be human?
Artistic director Danielle Micich drew her initial inspiration from the sensory experience of smell, having heard a story about how Australia’s Olympic archery team improved their performance using the scent of talcum powder. The resulting show takes a narrative of competition and transforms it into a unique blend of dance, crossed with physical theatre, infused with monologue.
The audience surrounds a large oval performance space, and a powerful, matriarchal woman (actor Heather Mitchell) declares that we’re going to witness a game. Another woman (Ghenoa Gela) hypes up the crowd, encouraging us to clap along and get pumped for the coming attraction. The matriarch climbs atop an umpire’s chair and addresses the audience through a megaphone. Kelly Ryall’s score booms a foreboding chord and a large overhanging circle of lights (designed by Damien Cooper) spins and whirls.
The game starts with combat; two men (Harrison Elliott and Raghav Handa) engaged in a forceful and violent dance, battling for supremacy. There’s a brief dramatic interlude, in which the matriarch encourages a younger woman (Lauren Langlois) to join the game. She wants none of the violence, but the matriarch (quite possibly her mother – it’s a rather abstract scene) is insistent that she must toughen up and enter the ring.
It’s a rather creepy scenario that’s more than a little reminiscent of The Hunger Games, but the work soon evolves into new dramatic and choreographic territory as the relationships between the performers change.
The various threads of dialogue, while evocative, sensual and fascinating on their own, don’t always feel as effectively integrated as they could with the eclectic choreography, by Micich and the cast.
The performances are wonderful but can feel fractured and detached from the work’s core, which becomes more obscure over the hour. Mitchell, the only non-dancer of the group but one of Sydney’s finest actors, is superb. She’s simultaneously imperious and vulnerable, dressed in a torn and frayed sparkling gold gown. Gela is full of brightness and generosity, delivering a finely crafted monologue touching on prejudice, and Elliott begins the performance with an extraordinary, almost gladiatorial blaze of energy and strength before his masculinity devolves.
There’s plenty to savour in this visually and aurally arresting production, packed with charismatic performers stretching physical and dramatic muscle. It will set both your heart and mind racing in some direction, but there’s a decent chance neither will reach its intended destination.