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Jianna Georgiou, Salt, Restless Dance Theatre Jianna Georgiou, Salt, Restless Dance Theatre
photo Chris Herzfeld
There is a moment of great theatrical and human boldness in this performance. After performer Dana Nance (who has shortened arms) tells of the first three years of her life spent in an orphanage, the persecution and exclusion of this situation is dramatised. Then she ‘dreams’ of being able to command others with arm and hand gestures.

In the enactment of this dream long arms appear, provided by another performer standing behind her. She clearly longs for these arms, not so as to be the same as others, but to have the physical ability to determine the presence of others in a way taken for granted by most of us. When she ‘wakes’ she finds a different way of insisting on her needs—using her voice.

Salt speaks of self-worth. Director Rob Tannion has assembled scenes, movement, sound and visual design elements in response to the notion of “being worth your salt” (see interview RT118, p8). We see before us the decaying wall of a cottage (salt damage), the door stuck open with a drift of salt piled high next to it. Salt is taken from the pile and weighed. The performers let it run through their fingers. They balance each other on a see-saw. A slatted bed frame comforts and imprisons. There is discussion of salt’s uses, pleasures and value. Each performer, except one, is the star of a dramatised story from their own life where they were left feeling worthless. We see their fight to regain self-worth.

This piece marks a departure from the movement and large ensemble-based work of this mixed ability company. Often in the past a visual image and/or dominant sound design has unified the action on stage. The establishment of a performance troupe has shifted the style of the company’s work. With this move into the terrain of dramatic and autobiographical performance, my focus as an audience member was on the individual performers as people and actors, rather than on the physical metaphors being created or on the unifying image.

Felicity Doolette, Lorcan Hopper, Restless Dance Theatre Felicity Doolette, Lorcan Hopper, Restless Dance Theatre
photo Chris Herzfeld
In this show, Felicity Doolette (with no visible disability) most often played the oppressor in the dramatised action and didn’t star in her own story of loss of self-worth. She also played the ‘hostess’ at times. Back to Back has established an interesting politics of performance and disability by having company members with visibly different abilities play both persecutor and persecuted. It unsettles the viewing contract and any simple construction of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and of what we have, or don’t have, in common with anyone. Salt presented a wonderful challenge for the performers which they met with great verve, but it did re-create that old divide between performer and audience, of them and us.

Salt has a fecund starting point and a lot of ideas are presented but a clear, strong line hasn’t been taken with the material to realise the promise and power of the starting idea (the link between salt and worth) and to engage us in new ways with the question of self-worth. I look forward to the piece developing.

Restless Dance, Salt, director Rob Tannion, performers Felicity Doolette, Jianna Georgiou, Lorcan Hopper, Dana Nance, design Meg Wilson, design adviser Gaelle Mellis, lighting Geoff Cobham, sound DJ Trip, Odeon Theatre, Adelaide, 17-25 Jan

RealTime issue #119 Feb-March 2014 pg. 26

© Anne Thompson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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