'The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse, if imagination amend them' Act V, Scene I, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Dynamic duo Jan Patzke and Olivia Quayle together make ‘Joli Vyann’, performing under the direction of renowned choreographer Jonathan Lunn- a nominee for The Laurence Olivier award for Best Theatre Choreographer in 1995. Together they created Imbalance, a touring production exploring the effects of technology on our everyday lives through an abstract and exciting lens.
I had a front row seat of the production at Circomedia in St Pauls. With a personal love for physical theatre and abstract contemporary performances I was excited to see movement taken to new lengths to explore this poignant issue. There is no doubt that the acrobatics and dance abilities of the duo met my expectations. As individuals their strength, agility and gracefulness was admirable- being able to walk around the space so casually with a fully grown woman standing one-legged on your head is definitely worthy of some “ooo’s” and “ahhh’s”. But when fused together, their work required trust, precision and harmony as their limbs intertwined with one another in a fashionable dance; exhibiting the wondrous capabilities of two people moving as one.
So as far as the talent goes, it was indeed a treat. Yet for me I was led to believe that the spectacle of circus tricks and dance was the essence of the cake and not the sponge itself. As marketed on their website “through character and story-telling Joli Vyann integrate exciting acrobatic skills with athletic yet graceful dance”. I expected that the performance would be based upon a fictional story that would shape and ground the performance. However this was not the case. Despite having an awareness for the abstract nature of the performance, I still expected forms of characters or context of a relatable nature to bridge the connection between the world within the performance and the audience’s own lives, in order to effectively engage with the issues they were exploring. Movement can be an extremely powerful indicator of messages and ideas, yet I didn’t feel as though those messages were supported enough by the fictional world they were placed in.
Let’s take sound for instance. The production incorporated alternative and playful aural devices throughout, some that were aesthetically pleasing and complimented the spectacle element of the movements. However, it only indicated the direction and context at specific points. During one sequence there were recordings of children talking about cyber bullying, played over a pitch black stage, when the light from a singular mobile phone lit the fearful expression of Jan Patzke’s face and cast a shadow of his figure up the back wall. It was daunting and powerful as he independently and frantically moved around the space, frequently being gravitated towards looking at his phone screen. The toxic nature of technology on a person’s mental and emotional health really touched me in this moment as “you should never feel attacked in your own home” echoed out of the speakers from the voice of a young girl. With at least one quarter of the audience being mums and children I hoped that the empathy for victims of these tortuous acts equally touched them. With one out of three children experiencing victimisation through cyber-bullying, the distressing fact that it may happen to their own children is a scary possibility.
Sadly, moments such as this were few and I’m not even sure that the cyber-bullying sequence even reached its full potential. Had they strengthened the context further and integrated movement expressing emotion rather than just spectacle, it may have clarified meaning and extracted empathy from more of the audience. Especially given the importance of emphasizing the dangers of social media and technology for the younger generations. I feel some children were left confused and only engaged by those “ooh” and “ahhh” moments alongside being restricted to their own imaginations. However, I am aware that Imbalance was not necessarily targeting children. Equally they might not have intended to spark awareness of this issue, rather than cause the audience to want to act. Or they may have just wanted to add a justifiable theme to their spectacle. Either or I think it is a shame, as though the concept is a strong one, the end product was not as flawless. Had the delivery been stronger it may have been provocative as well as impressive.
Despite exploring the imbalance of technology usage within human existence, I feel the show didn’t balance the issues at the heart of this exploration. Unlike their acrobatics and dance technique, the intentions for the piece were not defined and I was overall not as engaged as I could have been. Yet their talent is still impressive, and provided an enjoyable spectacle.