Dir. Luca Silvestrini
The Patrick Centre @ DanceXchange
22nd Jan 2009
This is one for the Gymophobes. If you’re convinced that such fitness freaks are sado-masocbistically exercising themselves into an early grave: this may be the justification you’re after. It is a bit odd that a dance company – which surely relies on the physical distinction of its members – would be portraying such an anti-exercise message. But, as is often a part of Silvestrini’s oeuvre, it’s done so with a good deal of humour. It’s a satirical dig at extreme physical obsession, rather than normal, healthy lifestyles.
Dear Body is an entertaining, often comic, often poignant study of the punishing trials and frustrations that bodies are put through in order to achieve some kind of physical perfection – which, ultimately, is unachievable. Although not strictly narrative; the piece follows a basically linear progression – from the arrival of ‘Mrs Normal’ into a ‘health club’; full of hopes and expectations, through her gradual manipulation and deconstruction by the Adonic specimens therein, until her departure – broken; trussed up in bandages.
The characters are defined to great, and often comic, effect. The tanned, bleached appearance obsessive, the Earth Mother, the crazy self-punishing competitive macho-men, and the protagonist; who is, essentially, just a normal person. Which was actually one of the most shocking elements of the show. The piece contains nudity and various states of undress – and it’s not often that you get to see a ‘normal’ body exposed on stage. By normal, I mean not the image of perfection that is normally paraded in the public arena by the media. The fact that this made such an impact is telling in itself. ‘Normal’ is not the norm on stage or screen. It was refreshing, strangely shocking and touchingly vulnerable.
There’s a lot in this show: video and film from Rachel Davies, a smorgasbord of music – including some original composition from David Coulter – set and costumes by Fabrice Serafino, a cast of local extras, and speech; performed or voiced over. It’s not cluttered or complex however – each element works together to deliver an accessible and engaging message.
Silvestrini has a beautiful understanding of visual set-pieces and there are some fantastic moments of genius choreography; such as the hilarious routine in which a pair of male gym fanatics hurl each other around a massage bed in an increasingly painful and ridiculous manner. Another visual highlight involves a virtual plastic surgery prep where ‘Mrs Normal’ stands against a wall while the fanatics project onto her body the lines delineating areas to go under the knife. Their desired alterations get so out of hand that they end up just basically scribbling all over her. The message is clear: “There’s so much to change about you that we’ll just have to rub you out altogether…”
It is a dance about stuff. Not just about space, movement, or other abstractions common in contemporary dance. It’s an exploration of our standards of beauty, of flawed value systems, of our desire to be loved. But it’s never abstruse, or deadly serious. Dear Body is accessible, playful ridicule: at our posturing and our obsession with physical appearance. And well worth a watch.
– Fiona Handscomb