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Robyn Orlin & City Theatre and Dance Company

'We Must Eat Our Lollipops With The Wrappers On'

by David Mead

May 16, 2008 -- Repertory Theatre, Birmingham, UK

Introducing a post-performance discussion, David Massingham, Festival Co-Artistic Director, said, “I wanted to find something for International Dance Festival Birmingham that dealt with current issues, that helped dissolve the myth that dance is just about beautiful bodies making amazing shapes.”  He certainly did that.

Robyn Orlin doesn’t pull any punches as she and her amazing dancers wade into the AIDS/HIV issue.  The lollipops of the title are a metaphor for condoms, and the message is pretty simple: use condoms for safer sex.  Yet the show is far from a sermon and it doesn’t suggest a solution.  Rather, it is a commentary on the South African experience and, as such, reflects that country’s spirit, passion and dreams through the use of traditional song and dance.

Orlin makes the point that the issue concerns everyone, not just the cast or those in far off South Africa, by involving the audience from the very beginning.  As the audience entered the auditorium, they were greeted by the dancers in the aisles offering lollipops from red buckets that later doubled as drums and seats.  The choice of red was deliberate, symbolising blood and lives lost.

The work mixes song, dance and theatre to great effect.  One dancer slowly takes the wrappers of a handful of sugar lollipops, sucks them, then presses them against various parts of his body.  Later he encourages some into the front row to suck them before putting them in his own mouth: an unusual but very effective demonstration of the threat.  We see a woman in pain and dying because of a lack of medicine.  One of the men, in a woman’s frock as is all the cast, tells us how (s)he is going to go out and 'have a good time' with as many young men as she can find before she dies.

The shoes of some of the audience are borrowed and placed on the stage in the shape of an AIDS ribbon, a poignant reference to those no longer with us.  The final scene sees the cast covering themselves in what look like huge table cloths with blow up balloons, complete with smiling faces painted on them, on their heads.  It was both very funny and very disturbing at the same time.

But that is Orlin’s genius.  She keeps us thinking, even worrying about what we are seeing and experiencing, while on another level giving us a show we can enjoy.  The message is very much that, yes, this is a huge problem, but that equally we must not let it extinguish our spirit.  As one of the dancers said afterwards, just like apartheid, it is a problem that can be overcome.

All this was accompanied by live projections of the audience and cast that ran throughout the show.  Such camerawork can often be distracting but here it served to draw this viewer closer into what was happening on stage.  At one point some of the audience even became part of the show as close-ups of their faces were projected on to white cloths held in front of two performers’ faces.

Don’t let the theme or subject matter put you off.  Yes, “Lollipops” is a show that makes you think, and it will rattle a few.  But it is full of humour and in a strange way, full of hope and rather uplifting.


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