anoukvandijk dc @ The Space
6:00pm, Sat 4 Mar 2006
As soon as I read the description of Stau, I was sold. “Dissolves traditional theatrical boundaries to examine the relationship between audience and performer.” I loved the very idea, the image that was conjured in my mind… like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, but arty.
Prior to entering The Space, the audience was required to remove their shoes, to check all their belongings into the cloak room. There’s hushed giggles from the audience; the sense of expectation is building. But I was disappointed to see that, upon entering The Space, there were three rows of seats arranged on each side of a square in the center of the Space. Bugger, I thought – this doesn’t look very interactive.
How wrong I was.
I sat in the front row, about 3 seats from the corner. After the crowd had assembled, Anouk van Dijk popped in to thank us for attending, and informed us that “Stau” translated as “traffic jam”… lovely. The house lights dropped to an inky blackness. A sound like record player static started repeating at a very slow tempo; some spotlights revealed two dancers in the centre of the square. Slowly – almost imperceptibly, at first – they begin swaying towards, then around each other. It’s the most beautiful, smooth movement; they never touch, and it’s distinctly sensual without being sexual. Suddenly they break out of their synchronised swaying and start dashing around the confines of their square; at intervals, they turn and leer towards the audience, coming face-to-face with the crowd, pausing, then swanning away. It’s mesmerising being so close to them as they perform, seeing the sweat roll down, seeing the strain on their faces.
Then they disappear, crawling underneath the crowd; the static noise loop stops. It’s dark again; faintly, we hear the noise of a mobile phone. One ring; two rings; the exasperation of the crowd grows, and then suddenly the lights are on – the mobile phone is part of the soundtrack. Then they’re back, one having removed her civilian clothing. Nude, she starts lifting her leg in a very balletic motion; there’s a breathless moment as the crowd contemplates the revelation if she extends the movement, but she stops, holding the pose… then disappears.
Suddenly, there’s a commotion behind us – theatre staff have invaded The Space and are removing the seating. Some patrons indignantly relinquish their seat; others leap up and help with the collection. Mere moments later, all trace of the seating and elevation are gone; we are standing in a big, empty room.
With four dancers.
Who are all wearing civvies.
A down-light is switched on from above; people scurry to see what it has illuminated. It’s one of the original dancers; a patron happened to be caught by the spotlight, and she dances around him. Another light comes on, then another, then another; wherever there is light, there is a dancer, and maybe an audience member; if the latter, they are held motionless and incorporated into the performance.
The dancers perform their dance, the light goes off and – they’re gone.
And then you realise why they’re wearing civvies, rather than a costume… they finish their dance, then run (either individually, or as a group) through the crowd to their next mark, their next spotlight. And the audience, themselves moving from place to place to follow the dancers, don’t notice another civvie-clad person moving through the crowd. But when all the lights are off… the audience is lost, unsure where to look, wandering aimlessly across The Space. A light comes on, a dancer illuminated: the crowd move in that direction. Another light goes on, maybe two dancers entwined: the crowd split. Indecision about with light to moth about. And then it hits me – we, the audience, are dancing. We are being nudged in the directions the troupe want us to go in. It’s not a four member troupe – it’s a hundred and twenty four members.
I start drifting outside the obvious lines that people seem to follow… it’s beautiful. Streams of people trotting from one point, to another, to another, few of them realising the patterns they’re helping make. A few others, like me, are breaking out of the pack… but we, too, seem to be congregating in the same points, gravitating to the same locations dictated by optimal sight-lines. We’re another little dance. Within a dance, within a dance.
At one stage, a single light comes on – and we discover the four dancers all wrapped around our esteemed Premier, Mike Rann. The audience cracks up; I later discover that the troupe had no idea why… Rann was just the person who happened to be near the next “mark”.
There’s another odd nude moment, then all dancers are up against the wall, pushing. They drag a quarter of the audience to help them out (whilst the previously nude dancer struggles to dress herself) – and suddenly the performance is over. The applause is rapturous; the hubbub as the audience recollect their shoes is crackling with energy. Smiles are everywhere.
To be honest, I grin like a loon just thinking about this performance. I love the performances which are participatory; it brings to mind First Night from FF2004, where the stage was in your head. But beside the personal involvement, this was so beautiful, so lush, so wonderful… but now I’m dribbling like a jubilant fanboy idiot. I’ll cut it short – this is easily one of the most exhilarating performances I’ve ever seen. Ever.
And I hate to dance.