Review: Am I

Dunstan Playhouse

Dunstan Playhouse

Shaun Parker was with us last August with Happy As Larry, a generally bright, cheerful but occasionally melancholy piece exploring the question, ‘What is happiness’. My 2014 Festival began with Am I, with its implied query, takes on the far bigger question of who we are as a human race – where did we come from, what do we believe in, where are we going. The idea of expressing this in dance has been buzzing around in Parker’s creatively exciting brain for at least seven years, and its realisation is an absorbing, meticulously crafted work, in which Nick Wales’s music and the lighting of Damien Cooper and Pat Smithers are integral to its success. Let me say first, to get it over with, Am I is not absolutely flawless: a couple of passages go on too long, but this is only its second season after its Sydney premiere on January 9, and with a world tour later this year, there is plenty of time for a little tweaking here and there. We move from darkness, from nothingness into being, from the Big Bang – a startling explosion of brightness from the wall of lights which form the backdrop – through life situations, to lovemaking and birth, to war, struggle and peace, to a final quiet close. Central to the journey is the narration of Shantala Shivalingappa, who has a wonderful quality of stillness, and unlike too many dancers who speak as part of performance, a pure, crystalline voice, so that not a word is lost. Shining metal rods manipulated by the dancers led by Julian Wong and Josh Mu become instruments of control, cabalistic signs, aggressive weapons, embellishment for gestures and poses; a metal fan wielded by Wong is often beautiful and delicate and at other times a symbol of power viciously snapping open and shut, pointing and threatening. The metal of the rods and the fan itself symbolises the acquisition of knowledge, which has allowed the advancement of humankind on the planet. The six dancers are pinpoint precise in choreography, which ranges from complex hand and arm movement to rapid spins, bending, swaying, turning, performed with flexibility and a great feeling of ensemble. And it is closely welded to Wales’s score, richly influenced by medieval and Asian music, played and sung by seven musicians seated mostly in darkness above the light wall – I’ll be buying a copy of the CD when it’s available soon. The drumming is outstanding – I took it to be on a tabla, but later discovered it to be on a South East Asian clay pot. Rating: ****

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