[20060028] Devolution


Australian Dance Theatre @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

8:00pm, Wed 1 Mar 2006

Score: 6

It sounds like an unbeatable combination – the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), teaming up with multidisciplinary machinist guru Louis-Philippe Demers, to produce an exploration into the man-machine interface. Alas, the mental images conjured up by this description – for me, at least – far eclipsed the execution; a shame, really, given the ADT’s fantastic collaboration with photographer Lois Greenfield in their 2004 production, Held.

The piece opens in spectacular manner, with a projection of an amorphous blob – no, wait, it’s a collection of limb… no, wait, it’s a melding of people… and now there’s more blobs/people as the “camera” pulls back to yield an ordered grid of these blobs. And then the performers are there – they create a wonderfully staccato field of movement, all twitch and nerve. The music throughout is a cacophony of industrial noise – white noise, screeches, pounding. Rest assured it is not everyone’s cup of tea – think Nine Inch Nails’ “Screaming Slave”, but without the rhythm.

The first appearance of the “robots” is impressive, as three huge suspended light riggings trundle in from the wings, raising and lowering and tipping to illuminate as their programming deems fit. They are soon joined by half-a-dozen ominous looking tower robots at the rear of the stage, which bend and straighten and tilt their spotlight “heads”. Sadly, that is all they do.

And therein lies my problem with Devolution. The robotic elements of the piece, whilst looking impressive, were nowhere near as active, nor fluid in movement, as I expected. The human elements were impressive – the ADT are, as usual, in fine form – and the choreography (of the humans) is wonderful. However, the robots are given far too much freedom in the piece for far too little return – the eight spiders, for example. And the two big robots. In both cases, they’re given the entire stage – but give the audience only stilted limited performance, with crippled hobbling movements.

If you forget most of the mechanical input, it’s still a satisfying piece – but the idea remains much better in my mind than on stage.