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Review: Zizanie at the Space Theatre

By Lisa Lanzi

Restless is Australia’s pre-eminent dance theatre company for young artists of mixed ability. Their mission is to create and present unexpectedly real dance theatre nationally and internationally, that is collaboratively devised, inclusive and informed by disability. I have been fortunate to follow this company’s evolution since its inception with Sally Chance at the helm.

Zizanie has been created over a number of years with guest direction by Meryl Tankard. The Company received wide-ranging funding to support the development and subsequent performance of this work at the 2019 Adelaide Festival. Luminaries Larissa McGowan and Carol Wellman-Kelly have supported the work in rehearsal.

Above all it was the magnificent performance integrity of the entire Restless ensemble that gave strength and some meaning to this iteration of Zizanie. Chris Dyke is a powerful and eminently watchable dancer with a stage presence to match. Dana Nance and Kathryn Evans both have that elusive quality of ‘spell’ in their theatrical personas and their particularly expressive movement vocabularies are striking. Jianna Georgiou is a performer who exudes confidence to match her beautiful exactness in technique while Michael Hodyl brought a calm focus to his role as a book-loving persona with considerable corresponding movement excellence. Michael Noble was cast as the ‘grumpy old man’ and both as live performer and ‘silhouette’ gave a nuanced performance embodying the eccentric guise of an older man then morphing into a more emancipated character toward the finale.

The performers were accompanied by Regis Lansac’s large-scale, complex video animations, the final montage featuring an homage to the 1907 Kiriki acrobats. These visuals employed a glorious colour pallet which contrasted well with more sombre black and white sections. This aspect of the work did much to convey the varied meanings of the French word ‘zizanie’ : discord; stirring the pot’; and … weeds! The straightforward, idealistic story sees an older man blocking out the wonder and fun in the world by a building a wall until he is coaxed to change his views. We are also treated to Luke Smiles’ intricate soundscape and the design genius of Jonathon Oxlade with accompanying hilarious props, both enhancing the work’s charm.

There is definitely much to appreciate in Zizanie and I hope the piece has a further life for Restless and this remarkable ensemble of artists. However, I left the theatre disappointed and extremely frustrated by the choreography and the simplistic unpacking of the theme. The episodic nature of the piece was jarring and did not serve the whole. I found the movement elements underwhelming, too one-dimensional and ultimately the performers were underused and not at all challenged. This ensemble are capable of so much more as evidenced by the very few moments where we glimpsed a hint of complex and satisfying movement brilliance only to be disappointed as the cast were returned to (for example) overly repetitive hula-hooping or ball-game moves. Given the international reputation of the Director and a position in a world-class Festival, Zizanie did not fulfil its potential.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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