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Chicken Shed Theatre Company - 'Globaleyes'

The power of integrated theatre

by Stuart Sweeney

April 20, 2005 -- The Rayne Theatre, London

Integrated dance, featuring a mix of performers with and without special needs, sometimes poses a difficult question for reviewers: should I take into account a worthy concept? In addition, works that address humanitarian issues raise another problem – whether to make allowances because of the nature of the themes addressed? Thus, Chicken Shed’s “Globaleyes” is doubly fraught - an integrated company taking globalisation, the environment and human rights as the foci for a theatrical presentation. The good news is that the risk has paid off and this revival of the production first seen in 2002 is a great success.

In fourteen scenes, a lot of ground is covered with material from a range of sources including Naomi Klein’s “No Logo”, Anita Roddick on third world development and Amnesty International for human rights. This mix could have proved indigestible, but by focusing on the impact of these issues on humanity, this unified approach keeps the work accessible and entertaining without preaching.

There is much to savour in “Globaleyes” and a key element is the strong visual quality achieved by the Costume and Set Designer, Graham Hollick, the Lighting Designer, Paul Knowles, and a number of contributing artists. This is particularly effective in the contrast between the second and third scenes. “Frantic” uses rolling tubular platforms crammed with up to thirty performers to simulate the crowded chaos of an urban existence that becomes ever more desperate. In the following scene, images of nature are projected onto long, narrow, silk strips to ambient music and slow dance; this arresting montage will stay with me for a long time.

Throughout, the choreography draws on modern dance and physical theatre.  Perhaps the differing heights and shapes of the performers, from tiny children to lanky guys, helped the choreographer, Christine Niering, to think spatially in new ways. In Chicken Shed’s trademark ensemble scenes, large groups cluster and disperse, climbing on each other’s shoulders or stretching on the ground, so that the full three-dimensional canvass of the stage is explored.

In one of the smaller scale sections, “Mother Twin”, a system of harnessing was developed at the suggestion of writer-in-residence, Paula Rees, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Linked to another dancer with tightly bound material, Paula is able to desert her wheelchair and fulfil her wish to move more freely. After this idea was used in the original production of “Globaleyes”, Company teachers visited Addis Ababa to work with local dancers and the harness concept was extended to dancers back-to-back, with one upside down. This results in innovative moves with extraordinary sculptural effects and rolling locomotion around the stage.

The issue of resource allocation is tackled with a single piece of chalk. Whoever has this can draw a circle for habitation. The group is at first relaxed and friendly, but as the chalk is passed around, areas of stage are carved out until the tallest character draws out a huge circle and banishes the others to tiny areas that can barely sustain life. Like much in this staging, a simple and effective device.

In this ensemble work, everyone plays his or her part.  But, focusing on a few of the performers: the tall Loren Jacobs moves with grace and power and Sebastian Gonzalez, who I last saw as Peter Pan, again shows that he is a fine dancer/actor. Two performers with Downs Syndrome caught my eye: Hima Shah dances with fine musicality and Phil Constantinou is a great mover. In one of the final scenes of reconciliation and hope, Constantinou rescues Gonzalez from hopeless despair and strips away his outer layer of clothing, as if emerging from a chrysalis, so that he can take up his life again.

Music Director David Carey, has used a number of contributors and sources ranging from African rhythms to “cheap, tacky, end of the pier” for the comic scenes and even sampling from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. Overall the score works well alongside the drama and has enough musical and lyric interest to stand on its own. The band and sound design are to the highest professional standards.

When the performance ended, I needed a couple of minutes to regain composure before I could talk sensibly – it is that powerful. “Globaleyes” follows in the noble tradition of Kurt Jooss’ “The Green Table”, Christopher Bruce’s “Swansong” and Darshan Singh Bhuller’s “Planted Seeds” in using dance and theatre to express ideas on conflict and exploitation and is one of the most potent and successful art works I’ll see this year. For dance fans and anyone concerned about the condition of the world it’s a must-see production.

Edited by Staff.

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