Dancing Grandmothers @ Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide 25/10/2018

The show begins in silence with a sole near shaven-headed woman we later learn to be Artistic Director Eun-Me Ahn in an almost monk-like two-steps-forward-two-steps-back style dance across the back of the stage. It is as though an invisible elastic band is pulling at her like she is a human puppet, weightless as she slowly moves centre stage. The silence is punctuated by incidental coughs and throat clearing from the audience. Several minutes of back of stage video projection of footage from moving vehicles is drowned out by a flood of lights and she is gradually joined by the professional dancers of her Company, some dancing wildly while others gradually come out of some kind of seeming catatonic state. Music of an industrial, techno nightclub style fades in and we are entertained for the first half of the show by a performance of dancers at first dancing independently although infrequently interacting with serial movements.

Individuals leave the stage and return having exchanged costumes, the only way to discern gender at times is to note the presence or absence of lipstick. Although the dancers alternate and take on the styles of previous dancers, the repetition lacks any greater variation except for music and lighting changes. This first half of the show comes to a close with a hive-like performance by the dancers of seizure-like activity in silhouette, the dancers are like insects on their backs struggling to turn themselves over, gradually coming to stand motionless while the final dancer takes longer to join her colleagues.

The first we see of any grandmothers is two elderly ladies shuffling across the back of the stage like a reprise of the opening moments of the show before a faux interval screening of Eun-Me Ahn’s found/“audition” footage. In and of itself, the footage is of interest and is amusing but is overlong and does detract from the flow of the show especially the lack of backing music or even sound at this time. The longer second half of the show is a contrast to the linear, non-narrative, repetitive, faster dancing of the first half, now revealed as dances based upon the uninhabited stylings of the grandmothers in their natural habitats. There is a series of vignettes with the professional dancers and some of the grandmothers from the footage interacting in a loose narrative that could be interpreted as a meditation on the past, evoking memory juxtaposing youth and age, touching across time and culture in that culture adapts and changes over generations. Included amongst the pieces, there is brief incidental blink-and-you’ll-miss-it partial nudity and at one stage the performance devolves into a theatre of the absurd with the dancers laughing maniacally and some running around the stage like wild animals.

The show culminates with the appearance of disco glitter balls carried by the grandmothers as well as being lowered from above transforming the Dunstan Playhouse stage into a disco dance floor. The show closes when the music ceases altogether and the only sounds are the foot scuffling and breathing of the performers as the lights dim to blackness. Eun-Me Ahn returns and then she, the Company and the grandmothers invite the audience to join them on stage for an impromptu dance party encore. The calculated choreography is discarded as the more adventurous members of the audience accept the invitation and fill the stage with uninhibited dancers who have been itching to move since the middle section projection of the grandmothers’ “audition” tapes.

This was a well received show about defying age and expectations or limitations that are often placed upon the aged by society and questioning what it is to be old. It would have certainly felt enabling to the older members of the audience (those that Eun-Me Ahn called out to at the end, “Grandmas, grandpas we loves you”) and for the younger people it would reinforce that the older generations may not be really be that old after all.

OzAsia Review by Jason Leigh

For tickets and show times for Dancing Grandmothers head to BASS

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