Erik Kaiel / Arch 8 Dancers
No Man Is An Island, Tetris
9 October 2016
No Man is an Island is rather a signature work for Erik Kaiel, who is both choreographer and performer in this intriguing duet, which the audience watches up close and personal, forming a playground square on the stage of the artsdepot’s main theatre – the Pentland – as if someone drew an imaginary chalk line for us to sit around. This theatrical deconstruction is becoming a habit at the Pentland, since this is the second time I’ve reviewed at the artsdepot, this year, and on both occasions, I’ve sat on the stage!
This opening duet pits two men in a challenge of balance and counter balance: one, Kaiel himself, is largely inert, lying down, eyes shut; the other (Joseph Simon) is alert, eyes wide open, initially encountered in a crouched position, waiting, as if to pounce. As soon as the audience is settled, Simon stands on Kaiel and walks over his body, treading on hands, shoulders, back and head. He pulls the body upwards and shapes it by twisting and turning the unresponsive form. In due course – still with eyes closed – Kaiel stands up but his opposite number continues to climb over him in a dance that begins to take on the feel of expert hand-to-hand acrobatics.
Bald-headed Kaiel is very much the strong man with Simon the nimbler athlete, maintaining his balance through a range of awkward situations, but only kept upright by the strength of Kaiel’s support. Every conceivable juxtaposition of two bodies’ occupying the same space is played out in fifteen minutes of great physical intensity before the pair do a quick change in the final seconds and Kaiel, grinning, offers Simon the opportunity of taking up the inert position on the floor. An offer that the slighter man, understandably ignores! It is an absorbing and enjoyable work that may seem confrontational but requires complete collaboration and intense concentration between these two remarkable performers.
After a brief break, the audience resumed its conventional places in the auditorium for Tetris, although it was not a conventional audience, being heavily dominated by young children (certainly, under-10s) and their parents. For the first ten minutes of this hour-long piece, I was – I have to admit – worried about the suitability of the complex gestural movement sequence on stage for such a young audience. The kids around me were distinctly unimpressed, causing stress for parents unable to keep them either quiet or still!
The four performers, including the returning Simon, ran through a series of vignettes, many of which seemed to reference games and all mirroring the physical intensity of the opening work, especially in terms of the acrobatic relationships amongst the quartet. An early section in which bodies were manipulated into spaces between other forms was clearly a nod towards Jenga; bouncing bodies with legs in plié positions suggested space-hoppers; we could imagine Tetris and Twister, too; with swiftly rotating wrists indicating imaginary Rubik cubes. Real Rubik’s then arrived on stage, apparently pooed from the four dancers’ posteriors in the manner of Caga Tio, the rather surreal Catalan Christmas tradition of a pooping tree trunk! Believe it or not, it’s the way Catalan kids get their presents!
By this time, the children around me were thoroughly absorbed. And, who wouldn’t be when these funny people on stage seem to be producing multi-coloured boxes from their backsides! But, then the show became the ultimate in audience participation with the performers coming down into the auditorium to bring the children on stage to participate in all manner of fun and games. And, it wasn’t just the kids that went onstage, since two unfortunate adults were press-ganged into giving “horse rides” to the youngest children, reluctantly crawling along on all fours from side to side at the front of the stage. As if to prove that this was not just a children’s show, voluptuous Paulien Truijen ended up briefly on the lap of one of the father’s behind me, (and if there appears to be a hint of jealousy in that observation, it is certainly intended).
I wasn’t ignored altogether because the other male dancer, Kim Fischer, invited me up on to stage; but – as a critic – I dutifully refused; only to be booed by the people behind. To be honest, these boos were well worth it since the alternative might well have been to become a “horse” for someone else’s child! I did plenty of that for my own.
Despite my reservations about joining in, this show was a lot of fun to watch; and it was clearly loads of joy for the young people – whatever their actual age – to take part in. Kaiel is clearly a choreographer with an eye for making close contact dance and another for creating physical theatre with a strong appeal for the young.