Review: Zizanie

Dance began this year’s Festival with Meryl Tankard’s Two Feet and ended it with her newest work, Zizanie, for Restless Dance Theatre, Adelaide’s multi-award-winning company for performers with and without disability.

It’s good fun, but a serious message lies beneath.  The title is a French word which can mean a weed, discord, strife, chaos.  In a program note, Tankard says “I really enjoy choreographing chaos, but there is always a precise order underneath.”

She was inspired by Robbie Cameron’s The Fun Funnel, a book about an old grump who aims to rid the world of fun because he doesn’t know how to laugh.  Eventually a bunch of kids educate him, but not before he’s made life difficult for them.

The opening scene is mysterious. Dimly-lit white cloudlike shapes, which turn out to be flowers, drift across the stage. A rabbit enters, then a dog; they become friends.  Then a mouse, a bull (or a cow), a cat, scaring the mouse. They leave. Ghosts appear, projected on the backdrop, a man (Michael Noble) enters, leaves and then appears in silhouette. Five kids enter, making the stage a playground – Chris Dyke has a ball, Dana Nance a hula hoop, Gianna Georgiou does hopscotch. The man, bothered by mosquitos, comes on with a spray, killing a few small trees on his way out. Kathryn Evans has a doll, Michael Modyl walks around reading a book. Like the animals, all are different individuals, but also group members. They are a confident cast, but they could engage more with the audience.

Michael Noble and Kathryn Evans in Zizanie (Photo: Regis Lansac)
Michael Noble and Kathryn Evans in Zizanie (Photo: Regis Lansac)

The Man’s house appears, upper right. He can’t stand these noisy kids enjoying themselves, and tries various methods to drive them away.

Smoke pours onto the stage and large grey bricks begin to make a wall across the back (shades of D. Trump). But the kids persist in being happy – Evans singing to everybody  “ I love you’” and the others dancing around. A storm blows up, and as it dies away, the kids return with hoops, downcast, to John Dowland’s Flow My Tears, just some of the appropriate music used throughout the work. Centrestage, Dyke begins slow, sweeping arm movements. Nance is drawing happy figures on Grumpy’s house, but he washes them off.

The artist weeps, friends bring tissues until she is standing in a pool of white. Then – wonder of wonders – the Man appears offering her a real white handkerchief.  She takes it, wipes her eyes, and wraps her arms around his waist.  He hesitatingly puts his arms around her. The wall begins to crumble and fall.  It’s a poignant moment.  The girl leaves him and he begins to begins slow breaststroke movements as Dyke did earlier­. Régis Lansac’s magical backcloth fills with yellow flowers, the Man actually plays ball. He goes, but reappears wearing a horse’s head, taking us back to the beginning.  Meanwhile the kids return in various disguises – Evans as an egg. The Man has disappeared, and there’s lots of jolly dancing, when suddenly the house door  flings open and he is there in housemaid’s drag, singing “If I’d known you were coming I’d have baked a cake”, and the words  roll up on the backdrop. Soon all but the curmudgeonly (if there are any in the audience by now) are singing.

It’s a great finish.

Zizanie was performed at Space Theatre on Thursday, March 15

Header image:
Dana Nance performs in Zizanie (Photo: Regis Lansac)

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