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SHRIMP (article first published : 2007-01-18)

Thanks to sponsorship by the ever-supportive and pro-active Royal Netherlands Embassy, the Musho! Festival had the pleasure of presenting Shrimps as one of the two international productions featured on the festival. The other was Exile at Home sponsored by Tararam – South Africa Israel Culture Fund.

A physical theatre collective based in Amsterdam, the Dam Company has “a commitment to creative exploration of our art and dialogue between different artistic disciplines and cultural traditions”.

With over 20 years experience in contemporary dance and physical theatre, the Dam Company “explores physicality, voice and energetic processes in response to different environments and media and creations address contemporary themes, embodying responses to local culture and the impact of changing times on the daily lives of people. … Liberated from a loyalty to any specific school or out-dated methodology we remain alert and open to new options in each different process.”

Appearing on the current Musho! Festival, Dorit Weintal and Simon Rowe who are the founders of the Dam Company, gave outstanding performances in the thought-provoking Shrimp which gave rise to much comment and argument after the show from the theatre practitioners present. This is good and healthy – the ghastly alternative would be to be ignored!

Simon Rowe grew up and worked extensively in South Africa before moving to Amsterdam in 1995. In 2003, he met Israeli-Italian director and performer Dorit Weintal whose background in fine arts influences her strongly visual stage designs. Their professional - and personal - relationship is committed and compelling, and a less comfortable physical closeness might perhaps not have held the audience’s attention for the hour and a half performance.

Shrimp - “a message for all of us lying on the bottom of the ocean breathing the blue bubble of hope” - is a result of research and creation periods conducted between 2003 and 2005 in different countries and political conditions. It “presents a microcosmic world within which two individuals represent the ideologies and decadence of power as well as its effects of estrangement and isolation on the fragility of the individual. The performance is set at the intersection of the fictitious and real. Everything is questionable.”

The stage is strewn with the cast-offs of society: a bicycle wheel, broken pieces of mechanical devices, lead piping (which eventually spouts water, the elixir of life) and general rubbish. Oba (Dorit Weintal) is unhappily plucking at a body she believes is showing the ravages of time while Bardi (Simon Rowe) sits motionless under a towel.

The performances are stunning – Dorit is mesmerising, luminous and riveting and Simon is strong and ironic while evincing a confused pathos that is appealing. Together they travel a journey governed by global conflict in search of a universal truth. The journey sees them looking at symbols of humanity and trying to make sense of life – “It’s all up to us and now we have no-one to blame”, they say. The journey takes in love, compassion, togetherness (numerous sequences of intensely close bodily contact), humour and frenetic activity. Sometimes responsive to a strong music rhythm, sometimes completely dysfunctional and disconnected. They discuss marital relationships, identity displacement and the philosophy of the people of Israel. The most memorable line was that from Oba to Bardi: “In your pockets leave some space for things that you love because they are your stones of sanity.”

However, this journey left many audience members unfulfilled as they felt they needed a clearer process and destination.

And, indeed, where did this journey go – and did it have any form of closure? I believe that every piece of performance art - whether it be dance, drama or music - takes its listeners/audience on a journey. And inside that journey are smaller journeys, or forays into new territory – a symphony is made up of several movements, after all. But there should be an end point which brings everything together. This doesn’t have to be a facile, happy-ever-after scenario but it needs to be clear. And clear enough to have made sense of the journey on which you have invited your audience/fellow-travellers.

I understand from Simon that Shrimp is a work in progress and no doubt these two highly creative minds will end up with a highly effective and clear-cut final product divested of some of the “journeys” into more esoteric zones that take it too far away from the heart of the piece.

Congratulations to Musho! Theatre Festival, the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the DAM Theatre Company itself for presenting this production to Durban audiences and allowing us to be part of what I believe is an exciting creative process. For more information visit www.thedamcompany.com – Caroline Smart




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