REVIEW: Idle (W Dance Company)

Review by Hannah Jamieson

[Let Me Wrap My Teeth Around the World]

How does one communicate the starving artist through dance alone? W Dance Company takes on this challenging feat in Idle, an original contemporary dance production exploring the effects of artistic starvation. 

It’s no easy accomplishment, contemporary dance is endlessly interpretive therein lies the challenge to tell a cohesive narrative — but Idle makes you feel hungry, building your appetite in the first act. 

Our starving artist (Louis Ramsay) lies depleted, veiled on the ground to be uncovered by a helping hand (Alex Lamm). The tender partnered moves between the two kindle inspiration for the artist, but reconnecting to creativity isn’t something that can be so easily conjured and sustained. Despite nourishment, the artist must also contend with the vermin (Carla Harré and Yiling Chen) who reside within the caves of the corporate anthill. 

The cast begins the performance dressed as blank canvases, with each member wearing loose linen pants and shirts in neutral, muted tones. However, when our two dancers return specifically as vermin, they appear strange and uncanny, with bulbous red ant heads and red bug eyed sunglasses. Their peculiar office attire, comprising red pants, a white button-down shirt, and a red tie, contribute to the vermin’s unconventional and distinctive appearance as they mimic the movements of insects. Crawling and creeping around our artist, the vermin’s shrill laughter mocks the artist’s every attempt at creative satiation. 

Suspended above the stage is a globe made out of 500 shards of white fabric. By projecting images and transitioning between colours this custom built art installation provides a visual anchor throughout the performance, emphasising the narrative’s progression and mood changes. The spoken word segments integrate both sound and visual by projecting the words onto the globe, the combination amplifying the artist’s internal struggles and frustration as they strive to attain “enough” to avoid the dread of living an “artless life.”

The second act serves up déjà vu for anyone who lived through the pandemic; masks, white PPE suits, a table of experiments, medical instruments. The red projection on the globe could be interpreted as a symbolic representation of the coronavirus, as the scientists appear to inoculate the artist with its extracts. 

Though revived and free to create, the artist yo-yos as they try to feed their artistic hunger while bound to the monotonous life and job that sustains them. The vermin return, transformed into cloud-like strata that drift across the stage, this time offering a hand to the artist. 

A variety of dance is explored. Long reaching movements in solos from our artist, a duet between the artist and the helping hand that lifts and spins them, the fighting and crawling of the two vermin. When the full cast comes together they connect and act as one, forming an extension of the artist themself. However, the impact of this image may have been slightly dulled as in places the cast lacked the full harmony expected when dancing in unison. 

The music of Idle ranges between folk to classical, oscillating between the upbeat and comical to the melancholic. The production also delves into the various noises that form the soundtrack of the artist’s life, featuring the chirping of birds, the rustling of paper envelopes, bursts of laughter, and the soft sound of sniffing. The spoken word forms a part of this soundtrack as the artist’s internal dialogue — reaching boiling point at the end of the performance and crying out “I will create, I will dream, I will not be idle” as we see the artist brimming with creative determination. 

But in the last moment the red headed vermin appear again crackling with laughter — the final sound we hear as the show closes out — suggesting that maybe the struggle is unavoidable and being idle at times is vital to the art itself. 

Idle played the TAPAC Theatre Auckland 28th-29th of October.  

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