Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; November 10, 2014
‘Off the wall’ goes some way in describing Jasmin Vardimon’s “PARK”. As a first-timer seeing her full company in action, the evening was educational to say the least. Her uniquely theatrical combination of spoken word, physical theatre, pure dance, popular music, song and frolics twinned with suicide in the park fountain provide a snapshot of her work and approach. It’s the sort of thing that is vital to keeping the dance scene – as a whole – alive. To be (gently) shaken and reminded of the current work at the forefront of contemporary dance is very welcome.
Quirky and full of twists and turns, “PARK” acts as a microcosm for the eight characters whose lives are fully played out across a rundown urban public space. The work is as socially relevant today as it was when it was first created ten years ago. Vardimon’s observations of human behaviour are acutely accurate, tapping into the individual humours of the audience. She is often provocative, not least with her flag of St George waving thug, however it forms just part of the complete theatrical experience.
The audience are greeted with an empty timelessness in the park, the waiting and stillness synonymous with the single character on stage. As the work develops, life in every practical sense of the word is here; all the time the performers conveying their separate lives fully through actions that embody their beliefs and their world. While Vardimon’s work is sometimes harsh and uneasy, a sense that sometimes makes not particularly welcoming, it does have humanity, and provides a clear link between life and art.
The dance itinerary for “PARK” is vast and varied: The movement vocabulary reaches out to the physical extremes. It translates into the eight very different lives of the characters who make up life in all its variety and the many scenarios that transpire. In what appeared to be takes on the psyche even animals were introduced into the “PARK”, humans cleverly becoming dogs and ducks. The performers’ stamina, and their total commitment to the piece, was admirable.
Vardimon’s choreography always surprises, switching from pure physical theatre to set movement phrases and back again. In among the particularly grubby narrative are some wonderfully satisfying and purposeful dance sections full of pure athleticism and that, even in the fast and intricate sections, were always in complete unison regardless of whether all eight performers were involved or just two. The many elements gel superbly. The dance combines seamlessly with elements of physical theatre and the very physicality of the stage set to provide powerful moment after powerful moment. The human, physical moments shone alongside the dance theatre, reminding the audience of the changing face of dance and what it encompasses.
The score is an eclectic mix of voice, spoken word, classic pop, and even a loose a capella parody of “Singin’ In The Rain”, complete with dancer with umbrella. The movement and accompanying score, whether droning or the simple sound of the falling water of the park fountain, highlighted the physical degradation of the set.
Parks are everyday. We take them and the people in them for granted. But in the embrace of the Jasmin Vardimon Company they can be viewed as unfamiliar and fresh.