REVIEW: 'Kairos' and 'Room'

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Lillian Fearn, Cloe Fournier, Thuba Ndibali and Julie Ann Minaai in 'Kairos'. Photo by Regis Lansac.
Lillian Fearn, Cloe Fournier, Thuba Ndibali and Julie Ann Minaai in 'Kairos'. Photo by Regis Lansac. 

Meryl Tankard/FORM Dance Projects
Bay 20, Carriageworks
Reviewed January 19

James Thieree/La Compagnie du Hanneton
Roslyn Packer Theatre
January 11

Kairos sounded intriguing on paper and it remained intriguing in the theatre but it was also rather perplexing at times. According to the program, Kairos is an ancient Greek term, meaning “the right or opportune moment for doing, a moment that cannot be scheduled”. Commissioned and produced by FORM Dance Projects, this world premiere was directed, conceived and choreographed by Meryl Tankard (with choreography also attributed to the cast of six dancers who performed the piece).

The inspiration for Kairos is broad, coming from the events of the past three years which are described in the program as “dramatic and turbulent … a world collapsing and expanding through a concertina of floods, fire, plague and war". Kairos is a serious work which feels highly symbolic but doesn’t always communicate its meaning to the audience.

Most of the design elements are visually striking, particularly the video design and photography by Regis Lansac that was projected onto transparent hanging fabric panels. I was initially confused by the concentric circles which were being hand-drawn/painted on the floor by one of the dancers as we filed into the theatre. It occurred to me later that they may have been a reference to the nine circles of hell described in Dante’s Inferno, but this remains a theory as there was nothing about it in the program. Composer and pianist Elena Kats-Chernin played live, and was even pulled into the action in the work's final moments (still playing the piano!) before being replaced by the Child (Isabelle Kharaman). She sat up on the piano stool and played some familiar musical fragments from earlier in the work. This felt like it carried considerable symbolic significance but again, I’m not entirely sure what it was.

The cast performed well. I particularly enjoyed the way Julie Ann Minaai carved out space as she moved. Lilian Fearn looked every inch the tall, graceful goddess and Cloe Fournier spoke with conviction. This spoken text was in French so I’m not sure exactly what she said but I suspect it either was or was related to Arthur Rimbaud’s poem – The Sleeper in the Valley – which was referred to in the program. Other highlights included a section in which Thuba Ndibali directed fellow cast member Taiga Kita-Leong like an owner training/disciplining their dog, and I thought I saw a brief reference to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in the USA in the way one dancer knelt on the neck of another who lay still on the floor.


The cast of La Compagnie du Hanneton.
The cast of La Compagnie du Hanneton.

James Thieree’s ROOM made its Australian premiere at the Roslyn Packer Theatre with a comparatively long two-week season. Two weeks may not sound long but it is considerably longer than the 3-5 day runs of most Sydney Festival shows. This French company has appeared at the Festival in the past and has been popular with audiences. 

ROOM is a large-scale piece of comical absurdist dance-theatre. It combines song, dance, mime, acrobatics, clowning, aerial work, live music and spoken word in a work that engages and amuses as it romps along merrily for a full hour and 40 minutes (without interval). The large set is designed to be broken into pieces and re-arranged into a seemingly endless range of new iterations or "rooms" throughout the show. The cast of 10 performers have a diverse range of skills and all wear different hats at different times, but the undoubted star is Thieree who not only performs but also created, directed and wrote the original music.

James Thieree is a very charismatic performer and a marvellous mime who fully involves his audience and colleagues in whatever is happening onstage. He didn’t hog the limelight but always seemed to return to its warm embrace in what felt like a reciprocal relationship and a natural fit between them. The choreography blended mime and dance into movement that was sometimes ugly and authentic, at other times smooth and graceful, revealing the movers within the cast to be highly trained and versatile both in terms of their dynamic range and dramatic characterisation.

The set was incredible, including tall, narrow "wall" panels on wheels that dwarfed the performers onstage but could nevertheless be controlled and moved by them. In one section this movement of the set looked like a choreographed routine with a cast member hidden behind each panel. There was also a run-down-looking beige sofa, a piano and raised floor pieces (again on wheels). The overall aesthetic was of a once grand old house with high ceilings and architectural mouldings. But a lot of care, thought and attention had obviously gone into these set pieces and props, many of which were works of art in themselves, from the child-sized toy horse Thieree rode around the stage at one point to the metallic bird puppet manipulated by one of the cast members that looked like it had been put together from the remnants of a musical stand and a brass instrument.

The program notes for ROOM were quite open ended, leaving each audience member to make their own interpretation of the work. Thieree himself poked fun at this, asking out loud: “What does it mean?” at one point. To my mind it was a parody of the rehearsal and creation of the show itself. This played out in sections including a musical audition in which the violinist couldn’t stop speaking whilst playing; a stagehand who wanted to know where certain props had to go; one performer who wanted to talk to a busy director about their part; a musician who struggled to stay in time accompanying a dance routine; and a downstage phone that kept ringing an obviously frustrated director (played by Thieree).

In this analysis the "room" of the work's title is the rehearsal room/s in which it took shape and also the much larger "room" of the theatre in which the audience ultimately encounter the work. ROOM mines the humour and the frustrations of putting together a show and dramatizes them in a theatrical space that is traditionally designed to conceal the realities of how the set is made and the process by which the work has come together. In doing so this charmingly absurdist piece of dance theatre reveals truths about the absurdity of real life in a quirky and engaging way.


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