Park – Jasmin Vardimon Company

Feb 27, 2021

Martha Buss

Martha Buss

Opinion

Venue: Vimeo (digital viewing)
Date: 12 September 2020
Ticket price: Free

A punchy symbiosis between theatre and dance that addresses community values and social behaviour.

Streaming for two days only, I jumped at the opportunity to re-visit Jasmin Vardimon’s critically acclaimed Park. To open we see two solitary figures building a connection through sound and movement. Immediately the audience gets a taste for the observational comedy that runs throughout, before a third character makes a slicing entrance and instates the urban atmosphere. A bustling scene of life builds. We are introduced to a Monty Python–esque businessman, a hassled rough-sleeper and an elderly shopper each going about their day in a self-centred rhythmic fashion. There are joyful interactions that simply utilise the basic surroundings, disarming the pursuit of material happiness that we see so frequently in the modern world.

As Park evolves, the atmosphere is cut momentarily by hostile exchanges that highlight the tightly strung tempers and class diversity at play. Fragile characters have their vulnerabilities laid bare, yet Jasmin Vardimon finds moments of cheeky playfulness within these real and tender depictions. The audience is able to identify with familiar relationships yet the production does not allow them to get ‘comfortable’ in predictable storylines as we are swiftly led through a spectrum of human emotion. This edge-of-seat excitement is exemplified best through the daringly forward duet that pushes romantic boundaries far from polite courtship! Light-hearted touches such as this flirtatious display, and a humorous break of the fourth wall pre-interval, guarantees Park’s success with family audiences.

Although the immersive atmosphere of theatre is sacrificed when viewing work digitally, this 2004 performance of Park lends itself to the screen as audiences can capture finite character details, such as a patronising eye roll that they may have missed from the back of a Grand Circle. The effortless use of clunky props and energetic interaction with an intricate set makes for an engaging display of athleticism. With fleeting use of projections and new pockets of mise en scène revealed, there is vast potential within the jagged set and this is found to enforce storylines and extenuate personality traits (who knew that a basketball could be so divisive?) The dancers move seamlessly through street and hip-hop styles, as well as exploring lyrical and balletic phrasing. Skillful character portrayal, paired with undeniable attention to costume and make-up, provides an intriguing depth to the production: I was most curious of the mermaid figure that snaps into life, going on to explore a siren’s true temptress nature.

Park by Jasmin Vardimon Compnay. © Danilo Moroni (above) and Ben Harries (feature image).

Park provides a powerful commentary on how we occupy communal space, both alongside our peers and amongst unfamiliar persons. An articulate example is in the choreographic nod to Speakers’ Corner where a tense battle of turn-taking sees two polar opposites preach their views on Nationalism. This theme is cleverly escalated in the subsequent movement phrase. Accompanied by Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Power of Love’, the whirlwind impact of a waving flag knocks all walks of life from their previously mundane paths to highlight the control blind patriotism can have over a given community. I cannot help but feel the prominent ‘Dear All’ lettering inscribed early on in the park’s concrete is a direct address to the audience: an invitation to contemplate the values exposed and reflect on our own stiff British-ness when interacting with the unknown.

Shifts in the choreographic tone provide light and shade to the harsh inner-city setting. Routines are predominately between two or three, yet a welcome change was to be found whenever the ensemble came together in hypnotic harmony. With an established physical theatre repertoire, the eight performers in Park successfully showcase how the Jasmin Vardimon Company train to a high standard in both voice-work and technical ability. This is just one of the attributes that support the company on its ever-growing success in the contemporary dance scene.

A thinly veiled construction barrier dissects the stage as the performance concludes and in doing so distances ‘us’ from ‘them’. We are removed from their world and given space to reflect on the fact the characters are seemingly caught in a glitch, forever looping. The lyrics ‘nothing’s going to change my world’ accompany repetitive motifs (an example of how the mostly natural soundscape is interjected by musical tracks chosen carefully for their purpose). We leave Park on the content image of a spontaneous party at which all are invited to release their inhibitions. Yet we are hit with a stark reminder of humane flaws just before the blackout, with a last-minute nod to death.

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