views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Blue Elephant Theatre
18th November 2015


Savina Casarin in Trivialis

Photography © Lidia Crisafulli

Do you have any idea how many people you walked past yesterday? I couldn't even begin to hazard a guess. In a big, bustling city like London, you encounter so many new faces each day, you cannot remember the ones which just pass you by in the street. They share the same space for you for seconds and then they're gone. However, sometimes you don't merely walk past strangers, you walk into them - even if you aren't trying to jostle your way onto an already packed to the gills tube carriage. Sometimes by fate you do momentarily connect with a total stranger. In Trivialis, we see such an instance of fate, although it's a little more serious than accidentally bumping into another commuter at rush hour. We never find out what exactly prompts the lives of our three protagonists (Jonathan Caruana, Savina Casarin and Morrighan MacGillivray) to collide so violently, nor why they are bound together for so long afterwards, but we do sense it's a purely random encounter which triggers the situation.

Lead dancers Caruana, Casarin and MacGillivray initially walk past each other, eyes gazing into the distance, failing to indicate even a shed of acknowledgement for either of the others. Suddenly their movement becomes linked, co-ordinated. They belong to the same moment. When they spin around, their arms are stretched out, in a gesture which should knock over the others, yet doesn't. They intrude into personal space in a complementary way. These grand movements reveal how interlinked their lives have become. Apprehension and confusion are rife in the opening scenes, with the constant turning, repeated actions and dazed faces betraying part of the meaning. However, director and choreographer Chloe Aliyanni chooses to hint at the details of this devised story rather than share them all with us.

Although for some that may be a frustrating choice, it does in many respects - and bizarrely so - make this piece feel more accessible. Never more obvious is this approach than in the tomfoolery by supporting dancers Gaia Cicolani and Clelia Vuille who clown around, shuffling quickly and moving awkwardly whilst dressed in black ninja suits which obscure most of their faces and depersonalise them. Sometimes they share the stage with Caruana, Casarin and MacGillivray, weaving between the main trio and dumping props on the floor, in what is almost a cross between buffoons and stage-hands. As Cicolani and Vuille push and pull each other, they seem to be fighting over a mysterious glowing cup - you could spend time trying to figure out what it is, but ultimately, it makes no difference whether it's the Holy Grail or a supermarket can of cola, the point is that they both want the same thing and are locked in an endless struggle, with the coveted object changing hands frequently. Rather deliciously, the point is that it's pointless.

The comedic element helps vary the tone, and brings light relief to Trivialis, reminding the audience that you don't have to take dance seriously all the time to appreciate it, and that you don't have to understand the specifics to connect. Dance can be intimidating for those who don't see a lot of it, but as clever as this piece is, you don't need to analyse and overanalyse its purpose, you simply need to watch, listen and feel. The use of humour is a pleasing decision by Aliyanni and one which strengthens the production's finish. As well as making it feel more inclusive, along with the use of blackouts, the comedy helps sustain interest and ensure that the hour just whizzes by. Blackouts demonstrate a progression in the story arc, such as it is, however the full narrative is always deliberately kept quite ambiguous.

A subtle soundscape crafted and performed by Stelios Kyriakidis replicates the thudding of a heartbeat, and simple guitar strumming builds into a powerful crescendo as events reach breaking point. Later, his original music has a more calming feel to it as the strangers find a way to move on. Given Aliyanni relies on emotion rather than detail, the live music has a particular importance in reaching the audience. It's certainly a stronger production for it.

Trivialis is shrouded in mystery, but for me, that's part of this show's charm - it appeals on a purely instinctive level. A constant struggle is after all part of the human condition, and one to which we can all relate. Trivialis is a captivating hour of original dance and music, delivered by some very talented performers.

Trivialis ran from 18th to 21st November 2015 at the Blue Elephant Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Oval (Northern)

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