Michelle Ryan is a talented professional dancer who spent many years performing with Meryl Tankard in Australia and Europe until her career was cut short when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. But Intimacy is not a sentimental life story; rather, it is a depiction of a beautiful woman who continues to live her dream despite experiencing an overwhelming set-back.
As the audience enters the Space Theatre, guitarist Simon Eszeky, one half of the duo Lavender Vs Rose, lays on his back and smoothly plays some soothing guitar licks.
Ryan is seated at a table, sipping wine while chatting and laughing with audience members. Dancer Vincent Crowley greets audience members and assists them to a seat. The feeling is gentle, convivial and welcoming.
Emma Bathgate, the other half of Lavender Vs Rose, launches into an earthy cabaret version of “Accentuate the Positive”, which perfectly reflects the attitude adopted by Ryan and the Torque Show company in Intimacy.
There is no doubt that Ryan has suffered immeasurably, but this production, while looking at difficulties in connecting with others, promotes what is beautiful in her life and memory. Every move she makes seems to cause her great difficulty and agony; when walking, there is an ever-present danger she may fall. But she doesn’t. She keeps moving, creating greater challenges for herself and placing herself in more vulnerable situations.
Audience members in the front row are asked to assist Ryan as she takes a few steps in front of them. She sits at a table and recites for Crowley some of her weird dreams, which are mostly about men and what she imagines would happen if she should come across a man interested in her, but it is never what you might expect; she looks beautiful, her face shines and her eyes sparkle as she tells several intriguingly good yarns.
An audience member is asked to walk her back to her table and she jokes as they slowly make their way; Ryan expertly delivers some very good lines. There is never any self-pity in this show, but rather, resilience, bravery and the drive to overcome whatever challenges and obstacles life should bring.
Surprisingly, Ryan asks another couple of audience members to remove her shoes, massage her shoulders and remove her pants; the men may be embarrassed but she remains totally confident and continues with clever quips about their ineptitude at removing her garments. They dress her in a shimmering deep blue dress and she dances a duet with Crowley in soft, sensual blue light designed by John Ford.
Crowley is sensational in his ability to support and lift Ryan. As she drapes her arms around him or arches her back, they capture the present and, even with limited movement, their dancing also takes us back to when Ryan was at the height of her powers. Her love of dance permeates the space.
Crowley then encloses her in a sleeping bag and, in a routine worthy of Mr Bean, he manages to strip while in his own sleeping bag. He investigates the idea of intimacy with a couple of audience members as they warm themselves around a “campfire”. The gags keep coming while genuine points are made about the difficulty of connecting with others.
Still in her sleeping bag, Ryan is placed centre-stage. She encloses her head within her sleeping bag as her hands gently creep through the opening and dance expressively like a magnificent butterfly exploring life beyond the confines of its cocoon.
In a red light in only her black underwear, she rotates on a block, revealing to all her daily difficulty in shifting her unresponsive legs. She reaches out to the sky, then wraps her arms around her body, baring her soul and offering her heart and life generously to the audience as she finds a peaceful final position.
With Intimacy, directors Ingrid Weisfelt and Ross Ganf have created a production that is visually appealing, life-affirming and incredibly moving. The music, movement and warm humanity will have a powerful effect on every individual privileged to experience the show.
Torque Show is presenting Intimacy at the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, until October 31.
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