Choreographer and Director: Jamaal Burkmar
Jamaal Burkmar’s new 60-minute dance performance piece Donuts is a celebration of the classical American sitcoms that have become part of television history, and whether they are set in work or domestic spaces they have friendship at their heart. Staged by designer Rebecca Bevan on a familiar-looking sofa surrounded by lamps, the audience is instantly at ease in a recognisable scenario where nothing bad will happen for long.
Three friends are lounging on their sofa, relaxed and happy with each as they chat and play. As they prepare for their night out, the different shades of their relationship become apparent with a possible romance and the sunny optimist keeping everyone’s energy high. Only, one of the friends is hiding a secret and when the others find out it seems as though nothing will ever be the same again.
Burkmar’s creates a strong scenario across the three acts of this mini comedy-drama which draws on theatre and popular culture to infuse his choreography with sharp storytelling and characterisation. The choice of 1990s and early 2000s sitcom is an interesting one which creates a kind of shorthand for the audience allowing us to recognise the standard tropes while successfully encouraging the viewer to invest in character development, all with an ultimately positive outlook on life.
Divided into three semi-distinct sections, Donuts begins with what Burkmar describes as a ‘Cold Open’, a segment excised from the main story which, in this case, sets the scene for the more dramatic scenario to come. Here, we are introduced to the three dancers through several playful skits, using the sofa as their base but expanding onto the main floor as the mirror, teach and mock each other gently, establishing their close bond.
In the officially entitled ‘Part 1’, the piece explores sitcom cliches, especially the will-they-won’t-they romance and the attempts to hide bad news. There is an excellent sequence after the secret is revealed that delves into the anger and upset it causes with vigorous movement indicating sadness and a sense of betrayal which feels incredibly vivid as the dancers gesture heavily and move with power around the stage
Burkmar’s decision to use three performers – Maya Carroll, Iolanda Portogallo and Dorna Ashory – adds extra tension first in the romance as one person is very much left out, but later as that same dancer becomes a peacemaker, she desperately works to bring the friends back to together and, in an occasionally clownish performance, brightens the gloom that descends in the final act.
‘Part 2’, the third segment of this story, is about the aftermath, taking on a more sedentary and physically limited style in which the remaining two friends find a coldness developing between them. Much of this activity is centred back at the pivotal sofa, moved to the opposite side of the stage, a place that is the same but marginally different. It is also filled with more solo work, particularly for Portogallo, who brings about a happier resolution.
Donuts very occasionally feels a little overlong particularly during the Cold Open, but once the primary story begins, there is so much to enjoy and admire about Burkmar’s piece and its smart appropriation of classic sitcom attributes.
Reviewed on 15 February 2022