Pros: Commanding performances, and precise choreography offer many pleasing and humorous insights into the wackiness and limits of our perceptions.
Cons: The mind wanders just a little during some of the more contemplative moments.
Spring Loaded is an annual festival at The Place showcasing new talent from the world of choreography, and this one-off show from choreographer Philippe Blanchard gives ample encouragement to the future of dance. This is That is a stripped-back installation piece that uses an intricate and affecting mixture of movement and the spoken word. It seeks to challenge the irrepressible notion that when we observe the world, we are seeing it as it really is.
Blanchard’s collaboration with filmmaker twins Luca and Gabriele Stifani – the two performers of the piece – shows us instead the fiction in reality. They do this by playfully exposing, and building upon the truth, that much of what we perceive is selected and interpreted by what we already know and expect to happen.
The piece begins with the two performers onstage seated at a desk. They introduce us to various objects around the auditorium, saying simple demonstrative sentences that soon grow into more complex statements, and scenarios that draw on our reasoning and emotions. For one comical section, the performers adorn headsets and make long puffing sounds, creating movements that suggest all kinds of activity: from walking on the moon, to freefalling, and spray-painting the back wall. It was very funny to see how much invention lay behind that one sound.
In another section, a voiceover of a sudden and brief encounter between two friends is replayed over and over a dizzying number of times. With each replay the meaning of their interaction changes considerably through subtle and sometimes drastic shifts in movement. Later on, the performers alternate slowly between nodding and shaking their heads. I was surprised to recognise just how much we rely on these simple motions to express meaning, and just how much meaning they can communicate. The light-hearted scenarios drawn on stage encouraged the audience to question and expand the often automatic and limited ways in which we perceive and think.
The charismatic Stifani brothers gave skilful performances of precise choreography. Luca maintains an unexplained persona of apprehension throughout, in comparison to Gabriel who adopts a more laid back attitude. This key contrast, and also that of their differing costumes, when set against their similar physical appearances combines to achieve an uncanny effect.
The staging is pleasingly unpredictable, with the brothers making full use of the auditorium; running off stage at points, and leaping into the audience at others. They also handled well their positioning for the onstage screen that projects live images of the action from a fixed video camera – a further level of interpretation for you to wrap your head around.
If I had any grumble it would be a tiny one – I thought the piece could be a little tighter. At some of the more contemplative points I waited in anticipation for the next thing to happen, and the potency of some of the repetitions began to wear thin once their meaning was understood. Nevertheless there is a fine balance between the humour of the show and its ability to communicate conceptual ideas in a fun and lively manner. It also brought the audience together by highlighting the common and messy conclusions we all jump to.
Conceived and Directed by: Philippe Blanchard
Choreography: Philippe Blanchard in collaboration with Luca Stifani and Gabriele Stifani
Booking Until: No further shows. This Is That is part of the Spring Loaded Festival at The Place which ends on 14 June 2014.