Little Dove Theatre, under the guidance of creative director Chenoeh Miller, has brought to Adelaide an extraordinary “live art” show that is small in scope but large in impact.
Miller uses different elements of the Japanese dance form butoh to explore the nature of grief, its ability to sink into the body and echo back repeatedly, searching for release.
The performance takes place in The Mill’s Breakout space, where low-level white lighting (Hartley Kemp) and a pall of dry ice create, appropriately enough, the sensation of entering a cloud.
As the audience files in, there are two women on stage. One faces the back, lost in a repetitive dance sequence, the other faces forward, overcome with spasmodic twitching. Both sets of movement are rhythmic and mesmerising, which makes it all the more alarming when the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts” switches to Far East Movement’s “Bang it to the Curb” (soundtrack carefully curated by Dane Alexander), the lights flash and vibrate and the twitching segues into violent convulsion and disturbingly contorted facial expressions.
Three more women enter through the audience, faces similarly twisted in anguish. The dancers’ ability to surrender to the impulses of the body is remarkable, the seemingly uncontrolled convulsions giving way to thrashing dance sequences in a visceral display of intense emotion.
Face and body movements are grotesque representations of the horror of grief, and their hyper-real nature is challenging and makes it hard to fully empathise; as in real life, the tendency is to draw back from such violent expression of pain.
Nonetheless, as the show draws to an end and the audience members are asked to interact with the dancers, many do, offering comfort in the form of embrace or simply smiling, reaching, playfully dancing.
It’s this final interaction that partially renders the experience cathartic, bringing a feeling of solace and a sense of humanity, but there are lengthy periods when the dancers suffer and the audience remains seated. This in itself is an important illustration of the reality of grief: there is no complete denouement.
It might be confronting, and it’s perhaps not for those who prefer their comfort zones left intact, but Little Dove is certainly pushing envelopes and this radical testing of theatrical boundaries is an important part of any Fringe festival.
Challenging, powerful and a guaranteed once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Evangeline (Or, the grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart, and bids it break) is being presented again in The Breakout at The Mill on March 2. See more Adelaide Fringe reviews and stories here.