zen zen zo physical theatre @ The Ringbox
10:00pm, Sun 14 Feb 2010
Walking into The Ringbox for the second time this evening, I wasn’t really expecting to see eight people, deathly white, curled up on the stage.
Naked. Okay, so they – four women, four blokes – all had modesty patches.
Their dance – and let’s be quite clear here, because this is a dance act that belies its inclusion in the “Theatre” section of the Guide – begins as these foetal humans start slowly rocking back and forth, back and forth. And then, effortlessly, they’re on their feet, pacing the stage as a pack, hissing at the audience with bared teeth, occasionally emitting an animalistic squawk. It appears that they’re acting as individuals within a herd – there’s a distinct lack of synchroneity, and an unabashed willingness to confront the audience with their nudity. And that’s pretty daring, pretty confronting, for the first dance.
The problem is, it doesn’t really progress from there.
Every piece largely follows the same format, contains the same elements: Nudity. Slow, focussed movements, contrasted with faster, sharper actions. Chirps and squawks and growls. Reaching to the crowd with anguished looks on their faces.
Yes, the second piece – “Butoh Babies” – was at least humourous and thematically identifiable, with the learning-to-walk segments being pretty cleverly devised. And the creation of their own smoke machine in “Tokyo Vogue” was certainly impressive. But – as mentioned before – the overt lack of sync between the dancers made it really hard to tell if they were taking the piss or not.
Because there’s so much here that can Work, and so much that seems Desperate. Pegging eggs into the audience – really? What’s the point of that? What’s the meaning of the differences in the dancer’s form? Aren’t the modesty patches a compromise in themselves?
Maybe I’m over-thinking things here. It’s all cheap titillation with some movement and good music and some vogueing and look there’s boobies. Or maybe I’m under-thinking things, the modesty patches are just a means to a non-R-Rated show, and there’s a much higher spiritual meaning to the entire performance than I’m prepared to concede.
Clearly, I’m a bit confused about Zeitgeist. Kudos to the cast, certainly, for stripping it all off on a cool night with a biting wind, and they’re certainly a lithe and limber lot. And the penultimate piece, “An End to Dreaming,” is a genuinely exciting bit of movement. But, overall, I just can’t tell where the choreography ends and the Wank Factor begins; if there’s a higher significance imbued in the piece, then I can’t see it. Sorry.