[2014071] Am I

[2014071] Am I

Shaun Parker & Company @ Dunstan Playhouse

2:00pm, Sat 1 Mar 2014

Right. So. Ummm…

So… yeah. Clearly I’m struggling to write something here. OK, let’s try this:

Am I was one of the most overwhelmingly wonderful performances I’ve ever seen. Ever. I’ve written about over a thousand shows on this blog, and Am I would be in the Top Five. If not Top Three. Or Two.

But… there’s a little Devil that sits on my shoulder as I write this, and he whispers in my ear: “Sure you loved it, Pete, and raved about it to anyone and everyone in the days and weeks that followed, but not everyone who also saw it shared your views. Some even indicated that they found it a little… well, meh.”

And I’ve listened to that Devil, I really have. I’ve thought long and hard about why this performance affected me so much, about how it managed to worm its way into my brain and stay there, releasing dollops of euphoria whenever I reflect on Am I.

And I reckon I’ve figured it out. And it boils down to one moment, one small fragment in a show that is as impactful as any other I’ve experienced: The Big Bang. But more on that in a moment.

I arrived at the Playhouse via an unsuccessful detour to see the Skywhale, taking my seat in the front row (the best seats I could could find when I bought my tickets relatively late). The neighbours to my left were unimpressed that chunky scruffy-guy was sitting next to them, and the aisle seat to my right remained empty (Am I was a lockout performance)… but more on that later, too. And whilst I’d been attracted to Am I by the intricate and tightly choreographed gestures shown in the Festival’s ads, I wasn’t really sure what to expect… except, I hoped, plenty of movement.

So when Shantala Shivalingappa appeared onstage, her movements imparting precision yet appearing serene, and spoke… I was thrown a little. “Once upon a time” she began, before narrating text that bordered the philosophically mystical… all the while accenting her delivery with deft gestures. Behind her, a wall of lamps occasionally lit up in sequence, like a huge analogue pixelated display; the cool-down of the lamps created a warmth to their part of the storytelling, as the wall showed trickles and pulses and heartbeats.

And then it happened.

The brutal blast of The Big Bang.

At the end of one of Shivalingappa’s lines, without warning, the wall of lamps lit up in unison… not only was the effect temporarily blinding (almost painfully so – I couldn’t look through my glasses), but as the light hit me full-force in the front row, so did the heat. My body felt like it was being washed over by an unstoppable wave of energy, and as the wave passed by – and my eyes recovered – I saw the rest of Shaun Parker’s troupe suddenly standing onstage.

And I started weeping. The manner of their entrance was so physical, yet also so visceral, that the tears seemed to be the only coherent response my brain could come up with. But as soon as I saw them standing there, I knew this was going to be special.

The rest of Am I was an emotional blur, a constant battle between absorbing what was before me and frantically dabbing away the tears of joy that filled my eyes, obscuring my vision. The dancers brought forth a physical interpretation of the narrated text that I found intoxicating; when a collection of glistening batons joined them onstage, their sharp syncopated movements were mesmerising. The choreographed fan of the dancers in a line was amazing; the piece where the narrated items of worship were visualised (starting with gods and deities, familiar and foreign, before the narration spilled into television, Facebook, Twitter) was both poignant and funny.

And then came the glorious ascension of the final piece.

I found myself on my feet applauding before the house lights came up to greet the performers. Am I provided me an absolutely stunning experience: an amazing sense of scale (from intricate hand movements to stage-wide sweeps), a blistering use of technology, and a cooperative melding of text and movement. And that’s not even taking into account the live musical accompaniment, delivered from a suspended platform.

…And now I’ve run out of words again.

Am I. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

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