views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Sadler's Wells Theatre
10th November 2014


Photography © Danilo Moroni

As Damon Albarn taught us back in the 90s, what goes in parks is interesting stuff. Dance company Jasmin Vardimon originally tackled their version of park life back in 2005, and are now back touring with a revival of their stunning work. Having missed it the first time, I can't say what's changed, but the version of Park that the company are presenting for 2014 is certainly fresh and perhaps most importantly for those of you who shy away from dance - it's accessible.

No green space would be complete without an obligatory bag lady (Nevena Jovanovic), homeless man (Uros Petronijevic) and a street performer (Estaban Fourmi). In addition, this garden has a couple (David Lloyd and Maria Doulgeri) who fancy themselves as the neighbour's top dogs, running around and intimidating anyone in their way. This park represents something different to all those people, but for a businessman (Luke Burrough), it simply means money. He invites a foreign investor (Aoi Nakamura) to fulfil his vision for the leafy spot, which involves tearing it down and building a casino. All of this is watched by the stone mermaid (Sike Muys) in the fountain.

In a case of The Little Mermaid Goes Bad (the non-Disney cut), Muys transforms into a two legged temptress, a siren who can make anyone do her bidding. The 95 minute show (broken by an interval) follows a day at the park, with a touch of magic from the mermaid, and an attempt to bring in the bulldozers by the businessman. There's a lot going on, and the piece has a surreal, almost A Midsummer Night's Dream quality to it.

There's no faulting the choreography by Jasmin Vardimon, or the skill of the eight performers in following through with her ideas. Dance sequences are mesmerising, but the exposition which links them together is often slow, and we find ourselves killing time until the next big number. The dialogue is frequently hard to hear with large chunks swallowed by the soundtrack. However, this is a strikingly visual piece; we're not here for the words. It would be nice if we could hear them all - particularly as a lot of what we do catch is witty - but it doesn't stop us from enjoying the production. Park is a feast for the eyes.

Photography © Danilo Moroni

Vardimon not only captures a huge cross-section of humanity, but gets the odd snipe and comment in. As the street performer writes a desperate apology with spray paint, baring his soul to anyone who bothers to watch, the investor defaults into tourist mode and snaps away, seemingly oblivious to his suffering. Why stop and reflect on what's going on when you can upload a picture to Instagram and worry about real life later? As for her choreography, Vardimon fuses a number of styles including breakdancing, tap and contemporary dance, into one deliberately chaotic and stylish explosion.

The backing music, originally by Ohad Fishof and adapted for this run by Vardimon, includes classics like The Power of Love (Frankie here, not Huey), Popcorn and Across the Universe. The ensemble number to the aforementioned 80s ballad was a highlight, with large, brash movements from the performers and Lloyd tearing around the park with a St. George's Cross, his character's hateful politick clashing with the beauty of the movement and the song.

Lighting designer Chahine Yavroyan gets to have some fun where the businessman sets out his proposal, with a brief multimedia interlude. There are plenty of flashing lights and projections as the pound signs go to the developer's head. Whilst there is some real poignancy to this piece, it's not all serious - we have scenes like this where the performers just have a ball.

With only one more night at Sadler's Wells, it's a shame that there aren't any more London dates in the tour. There may be a few lulls in the narrative, but what Jasmine Vardimon Company do well is dance - and when the performers move around the stage, it's achingly beautiful to witness.

PARK opened on 10th November and runs until 11th November 2014 at the Sadler's Wells Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)

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