Howling Like a Wolf • Glam Adelaide

Howling Like a Wolf

Everybody involved in staging this work has helped to create a superb and memorable piece of dance/movement.


Presented by Restless Dance Theatre
Reviewed Friday 17th August 2012

The Restless Dance Theatre Youth Ensemble, with a few guest performers from Tutti Inc., No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability, and Company @, have spent the last 2 ½ years developing their latest work, which opened this week. Being inclusive companies, not all of the performers are disabled, and the eighteen members include some experienced, established performers.

This is a piece that takes a lot of thinking about, and I am not just talking about me in my job as a critic. It challenges everybody that sees it to engage with it, and explore the myriad concepts that it introduces. At its core is an examination of communication, in its non-verbal forms, such as facial expressions, body language, writing, visual images, and physical contact.

Not all communication is positive. Not all communication is intentional. Much communication is misunderstood, when the person sending it has an intention that the person receiving it fails to recognise. Ask anybody who has said something on a social communication web site and been bombarded with angry responses because those who read it interpreted it in a completely different way to what the author intended. Forgetting to add that ‘smiley face’, or an ‘LOL’, at the end can instantly turn you from being seen as a wit, into appearing to be a twit.

That brings us onto the topic of how we perceive communication that we receive, how we interpret it, and how our brains process it. That, in turn, leads to the ways in which we might respond to it. A whole field of psychology is devoted to the topic of communication and many would be aware of the work of Eric Berne in the 1960s on what became known as transactional analysis. He looked at communications between people in terms of transactions, defining three internal states, child, parent, and adult, operating within each of the communicators. His 1964 book, Games People Play: the psychology of human relationships, explains his findings.

The work of Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s, described in their book, Frogs Into Princes, is known as Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). It draws on the linguistics theories of Naom Chomsky, which he used for analysing language, as well as the work of Gestalt therapist, Fritz Perl. Chomsky’s work led to the establishment of the field of Cognitive Neuroscience of Languages.

This is the sort of depth of research and study that went into creating this work. The programme tells us that reference is made to the work of 19th Century French neurologist, Guillaume Duchenne, in analysing and categorising facial expressions, and which muscles are in use in each facial expression. The enormous range and complexity of the subject can be seen by the length of this work, ninety minutes being rather longer than the average modern dance performance, and the scope of their interpretation through movement.

What, then, does this look like when turned into a dance work, you are probably wondering. The short answer to that is, of course, to go and see it for yourself. Eleven women and seven men, all clad in black, engage in an intricate series of interactions, performing as individuals, in pairs, in groups, and in ensemble. They act out, in movement, a vast range of communication forms covering all sorts of emotional situations from love to hatred, happiness to sadness, anger to fear.

An electronic wall of sound, with Jed Palmer playing the music that he composed for this work, is the background for the entry of the performers, and then we hear the recorded voices of several individual members of the cast reading from a range of sources, mostly psychology texts and including, of course, Body Language, by Allen Pease.

The performers present a work of enormous variety in an intense, sometimes confronting production, and highly captivating production. This is a very demanding piece, a challenge for the performers, to which they have risen, with excellent results. They present a production with passages of darkness, of light, of great power, and of gentleness. They have every right to be very proud of their achievements. It is not just these eightteen young people, though, that need to be congratulated, as a great many others assisted and contributed towards bringing the work to fruition over that extensive period of development. They are all to be commended for their efforts.

Near the end, a wolf appears, and the performers all take on animalistic personae, slowly being drawn to the lights at the far end of the building, with the rest of the space falling into darkness. This does, however, present difficulties for the audience. Previously, two groups had sat in parallel rows, facing one another across the performance space. Now, the further along each row one sat, away from the performers’ final positions, the more difficult it was to see past all of those who intervened. This, plus the distance and the limited lighting did make it rather difficult to determine what was actually happening at the far end of the space, once the performers had all crawled their way down to the lights, which eventually faded leaving just one burning. A burst of howling, the fading of the final light, and the exit of the cast ended the performance.

You are, no doubt, wondering about the title of this piece, and that is an interesting comment on communication in itself. Guest director, Zoë Barry, who is better known as a musician and composer, has previously explained that, when the group were each asked to act as a statue to depict a word that they were given, Eleni Androutsis, one of the performers and a member of Company @, was given the word “love”, and responded by depicting somebody baying at the moon, like a wolf. When asked why, she explained that she had seen a Valentine card with two wolves howling at the moon, and assumed that love must be like that.

Geoff Cobham’s Design and Lighting Design offers some new and unusual ideas, and works marvellously well with the performance. Costume Designer, Mariot Kerr, maintains the use of all black outfits for most of the performance, briefly adding white bustles, corsets and hoop petticoats to create a stark contrast.

This is a thought provoking work that draws the audience into the performance and engages it with the discourse. Everybody involved in staging this work has helped to create a superb and memorable piece of dance/movement.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Restless Dance web site
Restless Dance Facebook page
Howling Like a Wolf company blog

Venue: Queen’s Theatre, Playhouse Lane, Adelaide
Season: To Saturday 25th August 2012
Duration: 90mins no intvl
Tickets: Full $28/conc $23
Bookings: BASS on 132 246 only (fee applies), or at TryBooking online here

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