FIRST THINGS FIRST - LET'S BE HONEST. EVERYONE KNOWS THE FIRST RULE OF THE ARTS: 'NEVER-TAKE-AN-INNOCENT-BOYFRIEND-TO-A-MODERN-DANCE-SHOW-WHEN-HE-HAS-NEVER-EVER-BEEN-TO-ANYTHING-LIKE-THAT-BEFORE'.
BUT I DID.
RESULT? I THINK HE LOVED THIS INCREDIBLE AUSTRALIAN PRODUCTION BY CHUNKY MOVEMENT EVEN MORE THAN ME. THIS GOES TO SHOW HOW GRIPPING, MAGIC AND AWE INSPIRING 'THE COMPLEXITY OF BELONGING' IS.
'The Complexity of Belonging' is a modern dance epic for the internet generation. It is fresh, fast paced, accessible and highly enjoyable. Movement, mixed with dance, technology and epic monologues tear the heart to pieces. 'The Complexity of Belonging' is - safe to say - a true gem in the crown of curation shows from the New Zealand Festival 2016.
"The Complexity of Belonging is a modern dance epic for the internet generation."
I attended the opening night on Friday 11 March with my boyfriend - who has never seen a dance show before. 'How will this go?' I wonder 'Will he like it? Or will he be bored?'.
Running late, we arrived, grabbed a beer each and found ourselves (as is of course to be expected in Wellington) sitting right next to two wonderful, artistic Wellingtonians - who both shared their stories for The Residents! It was of course creative power couple Amelia Taverner and Sam Trubridge (check out their stories here and here).
We sat down in our plush seats at the newly re-done St James Theatre. The first thing we noticed is the remarkable set. 'The Complexity of Belonging' has a large wide and curved screen as the backdrop, reflecting an image of the outback of Australia. A lone man sits onstage at a desk, typing into his MacBook. Knowing nothing about the show in advance in particular, I settled in, sipping my beer, not sure what to expect.
"Although billed as a dance piece, 'The Complexity of Belonging' is in fact a three part ensemble. Storytelling and acting, dance and technology all have very important roles, each distinct and integrated."
The show opens in an airport - much like one of the movies that may have (for better or worse) defined my generation - 'Love Actually'. The story set-up was not unfamilar to that same film, as linked, but separated characters (9 all together) share their pieces of the puzzle of modern living. Each person had a story to share about connection and belonging, and what it means to be an Australian.
Although billed as a dance piece, 'The Complexity of Belonging' is a three part ensemble. Storytelling and acting, dance and technology all have important roles, each distinct and integrated. These elements play into each other and create a rich and majestic modern medley.
The storytelling is what hooks you from the outset in 'The Complexity of Belonging'. It acts as a great entry point for those not fully comfortable with dance as a medium on its own. A character comes forward at the start of the show and she share her fear of flying. The fear is linked to the airplane crash from Malaysian Airlines, she tells us. People walk past her, busy about their lives. Fear is a key theme throughout the show. Individuals want to tell us their stories, addressing the audience, or speaking into the camera. Often though, they want to talk to one another and feel honest connection and belonging. For many reasons, however, they cannot. Individuals rarely address one another directly in the show. Despite the technology, the connections are weak. The one moment of truth comes from a moving, sweet scene where the gay lover tells his partner that he has considered the options for having a child together. This is one of the few moments where characters show reciprocal interest, trust and love. For the most part, however, they are trapped by their anxieties and loneliness.
I connect to these stories and the character's inner turmoil partly from their post-colonial confusion - I have half Australian blood. But mainly I connect because these stories are my stories and my peer's stories. The man and woman who have a long distance relationship, conducted mainly through Skype. The Asian youth who notices the fear of his race by European Australian people. The therapy patient who has a 175 line list of her requirements in a man. The awkwardness of the gay couple moving from a sexual relationship to a fully committed one. If not mine personally, they are stories of New Zealand's complexity of belonging also, the stories of my friends, colleagues and family. This show uses storytelling as one element to masterfully demonstrate how confused our generation has become. How much we want to make ourselves belong, but so often struggle to speak honestly to one another.
If the characters struggle to express themselves verbally, the dance is whether we really see their emotions - soft, hard, vulnerable and brave. The show is a visual feast and one cannot help but be impressed by the feats of movement the dancers show. The mix of talent (casting wise) is also impressive - the diversity of modern Australia is demonstrated to perfection. All dancers are strong and work together seamlessly to perform in a might troop. Swooping limbs jolt and turn. Bodies are flung while delivering lengthy and complex monologues. Creative use of furniture supports limber bodies. All make for a breathtaking feast of the eyes. One cannot really describe the awe such talent inspires but at the end of the show the audience was on its feet, applauding uproariously - you get the idea.
"Finally, besides dance and performance, the technology - and the camera - is the third key player."
Finally, besides dance and acting/performance, technology - and the camera - is the third key player in this show. The innovative use of technology in 'The Complexity of Belonging' helps it really shine. A live camera films the characters onstage and the props such as a scrap board of memories, zooming in and out onstage. We see the shots in real time. The camera moves around the stage, capturing the dancers. These are then projected onto a screen (see below). Two scenes can therefore be simultaneously be being shown at the same time, in the same shared space - but the characters are still separated. The camera is a character in it's own right. It acts as a catalyst - just as we see the world so often through a phone, video or camera we see the story unfold through a piece of digital technology. This is how we are seeing the world in 2016 - via Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Skype and Facebook - through a lens. The lens is an extension of the self.
"The lens is an extension of the self"
Other screens on stage are used as backdrops to transport characters to cold, apartment blocks or show the departure board at an airport. One clever scene that stands out is between the European immigrant therapist, recently moved to Sydney, and her Australian travelling businessman boyfriend. He goes on a 5 minute rant about his misery and unhappiness, paired with an epic dance solo. Her face is fixed, silent on the large screen as they conduct this via Skype. At the end, she announces that the screen has been frozen for the last 5 minutes and she has heard none of what he just said. He reduces his ravings to two words "I'm unhappy". She bristles, advises him that he needs quit his job and when he refuses, brushes him off, declares she has another client to go to: "me, me, me - it's all I get from my clients, it's all I get from you". We sympathise with both characters and their mutual isolation. Technology allows us to go deeper into their modes of connection, allowing us to experience the Skype call as if we were a silent third party.
"Technology allows us to go deeper into their modes of connection, allowing us to experience the Skype call as if we were a silent third party."
I was consistently moved, uplifted and on the edge of my seat throughout the whole of 'The Complexity of Belonging'. Despite the sombre themes, the show feels real and urgent - never depressing. These are stories, worries and tales that need to be told. This is the plight of the modern man and woman. A world where everyone is connected but no one is connected. This is a story of my generation.
You must go and see this show for the NZ Festival 2016. It is my pick of the bunch. Bring your boyfriend, dad or brother. I can guarantee this is a show for everyone, from every walk of life.
"You must go and see this show for the NZ Festival 2016. It is my pick of the bunch. Bring your boyfriend, dad or brother. I can guarantee this is a show for everyone, from every walk of life."
New Zealand Festival 2016 THE COMPLEXITY OF BELONGING - Concept, Choreography & Direction: Anouk van Dijk and Falk Richter - Text: Falk Richter