Cath Barton reviews Homo Irrationalis in which choreographer Karol Cysewski explores the opportunities for humour in dance.
This show started well, with two men talking out of their bottoms. That was literally what greeted the audience as we took our seats – two of the performers lying on their backs, feet over their heads, circles for eyes on their bare backs facing us and arms gesticulating as they talked. It was a neat idea, convincingly executed. As was the descent into experimental fish-like mouthing and squeaky shuffling across the stage as the two righted themselves and, joined by the third performer, began their ‘research’ into the evolution of man, from primitive organisms to Homo Sapiens and beyond.
The performance contained flashes of brilliance, images which burn themselves on your retina, including impossibly high frog leaps and – momentarily – the swoop of two bodies to form the iconic finger gesture from Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’. As in his earlier work, Wonders of the Universe, Karol Cysewski uses a wealth of choreographic language and seeks out every opportunity for humour in dance. I applaud his intention, but to me some sections of the piece were more like theatre games, albeit very-well executed ones, like the whirring machine created by the three performers at a certain point.
The mechanics for Homo Irrationalis included projection, and the set-up for this was beautifully achieved, performers and screen components coming on-stage as one squeaking, creaking mechanical being which then separated into an erected screen and three people. The actual use of projection was more problematic, with the performers in one area of the stage and the projection in another, so that it was impossible to watch both at once. Karol Cysewski used close-up filming of parts of the performers’ bodies in ways which were inventive but at times a bit juvenile – suggestive interweaving of fingers for example. Maybe this was intentional of course! After all the premise of the show is that man is moving into increasingly erratic and irrational behaviour. The trouble was that the projections, and indeed the amount of talking, compromised the dance content. Yes, a talking belly-button is amusing, but for how long? Or is that the point?
Performance – whether dance, music, theatre or a combination of the three – succeeds or not through the consistency of its energy. It may be beautiful or not, moving or not, but it must have energetic drive if it is going to engage the viewer. Music contributes to this, and Sion Orgon’s eclectic score certainly did so in this piece. So does light, and all credit to John Collingswood for his contribution to that. But overall the piece did not, for me, hold together and so failed to pull me in. For all that the audience was physically close – actually on the main stage of The Riverfront with the performers – I was left admiring or puzzling over the cleverness of the show when I would have liked to have been grabbed by it, carried along and spat out at the other end.
Towards the end the three performers, acting as a single researcher, address the audience and invite questions. I don’t know if they expected anyone to respond, but I felt that there was an invisible barrier which stopped anyone doing so!
While Homo Irrationalis performance was taking place, in front of an audience which was small but not unrespectable for contemporary dance, across the road from The Riverfront the finishing touches were being put to Newport’s Friars Walk complex, due to open its shiny shops and restaurants the following morning. As Gary Raymond has written of that, it should provide new audiences to fill the still-echoing spaces of The Riverfront and to see performances such as this. Actually I wonder if a piece like this would work better taken out of a theatre and put into the open space of an indoor shopping complex, in the style of a flash mob, but longer. Now that would be an interesting experiment.
Choreographer: Karol Cysewski
Performers: Ygal Tsur, Hugh Stanier and Christopher Owen