Review by Alison Stoddart
Nine dancers with nine drummers on nine drum kits. Such is the simple set of Manifesto, projecting a rallying call to arms that is flipped on its head. A call not to engage in hostility but a joyous upsurging of emotion, an exciting explosion of unity and solidarity. Choreographed by Stephanie Lake and composed by Robin Fox, Manifesto was performed at Carriageworks as part of the Sydney Festival.
Manifesto is a manuscript written in movement. And what each theatre goer reads in the manuscript is uniquely individual. The abstract nature of the performance despite being a visual and audible medium was open to interpretation. After a quick post show vox pop from audience members, an overwhelming feeling was that the drums were the heartbeat and their rhythm was controlling the dancers. The dancers were marionettes, puppets dictated by a set of circumstances outside their control.
The nine dancers open the show sitting in a semi-circle, nonchalant and unaware of the incoming storm. The first beat is struck, and they react, unfathomably with fear and foreboding.
The question is are the drums society, dictating to the lives of the marionettes, or are they purely an inner monologue, interpreted and manifested by each dancer. I liked to believe that the dancers were reflecting us all during the recent covid pandemic. If the drums were society, they were replicating to the marionettes the life we endured through covid. The influx of information, the confusion, the rules, the fear, the death. Each time the spotlight moved to a new drummer a dancer would pivot, grimacing and portraying the torturous nature of everyday life in lockdown. They are animals in a cage, confined and lied to.
Then the mood subtly shifts, and the dancers become freer. Their athleticism steps up a notch and their relationship with the drummers becomes more emboldened. There is a rising sense of community. There is a celebration of we can do this, we are through the other side as a society.
The denouement with the crescendo of sound and the smashing of the chair, while fitting, could have been more expansive, why not smash more chairs. And the drums with their primeval and primitive pounding could have been louder, a beat in the guts of all the audience.
The performance leaves you invigorated, the dancers with their athleticism and passion are mesmerising. This talented troupe are off to Germany next with their show.
The costumes are sensual, and the lighting is wonderfully dynamic.
This vibrant celebration of being, has on reflection, meaning that is not hidden away under the guise of interpretation. Its meaning, as with all manifestos is on the surface, a public declaration. This manifesto is a letter to Sydney, inviting all to come out and play.