The pursuit of happiness is a serious business. Philosophy and modern psychology abound with theories about this most elusive emotion. Countless books have been written about the topic. Advertisers, corporations and pharmaceutical companies try to sell it in the form of pre-fabricated homes, hamburgers and anti-depressants. Will Smith even made a movie about it. But despite all this analysis and discussion, two questions still remain. One: what exactly is happiness? And two: how do we achieve it?
These are some of the questions that Australian choreographer Shaun Parker tackles in his work Happy As Larry. Presented at The North Melbourne Town Hall as part of the Dance Massive Festival, Happy As Larry is a striking, playful and dense work that contains a wide range of choreographic styles. From intricate gestural movement to contemporary, hip hop and break dancing as well as ballet and jazz, the dancers display their proficiency and extreme athleticism at all turns. No pun intended.
The work draws inspiration from The Enneagram, a system of personality traits that offers titles such as The Tragic Romantic, The Boss, The Performer and The Mediator. The nine dancers correspond to one of these 'types' and their movement vocabulary drawn from their psychological make up. An observer who is physically and emotionally removed from the action, alpha males struggling for dominance and a ballerina who is literally blocked in by the rigidity of her own body. Parker is particularly adept at revealing and nurturing the individual skills and unique presence of each of his performers in portraying their characters.
There is a clever duality in Happy As Larry. The initial simplicity slowly builds upon itself to reveal complex layers of reincorporation and transformation. Chalk creates a wall of street graffiti, a boom box and a light switch. The chalk leaves a physical trace through the space, the dancers imprint themselves, we see their movement represented in frenetic abstract lines. And there are jokes, a dry kind of literal wryness that is present in other pieces by Parker such as the 2007 work This Show is About People.
Amongst the joyful images of balloons, colourful chalk and primary colours, a sense of darkness lurks around the edges. Fear is intermingled with joy and a mood of foreboding pervades. In Parker's work, fear is an intrinsic companion to the pursuit of happiness. Fear of risks, of other people, of appearing vulnerable, of getting older, of rejection. The characters struggle to relate to one another, a series of interactions and encounters is depicted, highlighting that the obstacle to happiness is often ourselves.
Happy As Larry contains some strikingly beautiful images, the male dancers fearlessly plunging off the wall of the set over and over particularly springs to mind. It was however a touch long, with some material – although incredibly detailed and meticulous – seeming superfluous to the impact of the work overall.
Despite this, Happy As Larry is a joy to watch. If one of the aims of the work was to impart a little happiness to it's audience, then Parker and his cast of highly skilled dancers have certainly succeeded in doing so.
2011 Dance Massive
Happy As Larry
Shaun Parker & Company
Director/Choreographer Shaun Parker
Venue: Arts House | North Melbourne Town Hall
Dates: 22 - 23 March, 2011
Times: 7.30pm Matinee: Wed 23 @ 2pm
Duration: 75 minutes no interval
Tickets: $30 - $25