This Show Is About People | Shaun Parker

This Show Is About People | Shaun Parker(l-r) Matt Cornell and Anton. Photo - Stephen Oxenbury

This is an intriguing work from dancer, countertenor and now dance maker, Shaun Parker. A series of speech impediments meant Parker could sing before he could speak, and this has clearly remained a great inspiration – the singing voice is very much at the heart of this work of dance theatre.

'This Show is About People' puts a collection of oddball strangers (some more eccentric than others) together in a transit lounge – a halfway house of sorts where the characters never actually depart for any place, but question and struggle with their beliefs and values surrounding such weighty themes as death, love, the afterlife, religion, war, hypocrisy, power and greed, amongst others. At times this is an interactive process for the eight onstage performers, but more often than not, it is a solitary exploration.

The rather soulless lounge, with its tasteless décor, has been simply but effectively designed by Robert Cousins. Judiciously, technology takes a back seat in this work. There are a few simple devices to aid the action: automatic doors, a vending machine (which even serves up a couple of dancers), a public telephone, and a digital scrolling screen giving various orders to dancers and/or the audience, but nothing to obstruct the impact of the music and movement.

Although ostensibly a dance work, the most remarkable element is the musical accompaniment; the live performers – two musicians (Llew Kiek and Nick Wales) and four vocalists (Mara Kiek, Jarnie Birmingham and Silvia Entchera) who double as onstage characters – were extraordinary. The music mix is eclectic, with Bulgarian folk music and medieval music featuring predominantly. Paired with the choreography, which often concentrates on just one or two dancers at a time, the music intensifies the characters' inner conflicts. The pure, delicate performance of countertenor Tobias Cole teamed with the charmless surrounds of transit lounge creates an unsettling viewing experience.

The work is strongly directed, and uses mime and something Parker describes in the program notes as 'word art' to darkly humorous effect. However the script also includes a few unfortunate, awkward monologues, which didn't lend anything particularly profound or powerful to the work.

In terms of performances there wasn't a weak link – each of the collaborative dancers (Guy Ryan, Anton, Marnie Palomares and Matt Cornell) were technically and dramatically strong.

Despite being so well executed, conceptually 'This Show is About People' is a little disorderly and disjointed with no real resolution. In spite of some powerful moments due to the synergy between the music and movement (notably an absorbing solo for Cornell, a dancer to watch), the choreography is not always compelling (some phrases lean toward well worn at times) and would benefit from a little editing. As Parker's first full-length ensemble piece, 'This Show is About People' shows much promise and certainly bears the mark of an inquiring artist.

Melbourne International Arts Festival in association with Sydney Festival presents
World Premiere
This Show Is About People
Shaun Parker

Venue: The CUB Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre
Dates/Times: Thu 11 – Sun 14 Oct at 7.30pm
Duration: 1hr 10min no interval
Prices: Full $40 / Groups (8+) $36 / Conc $30 / Student $22 / School Groups $12
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166
The CUB Malthouse (03) 9685 5111

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