Artistic Director &Choreographer: Ryan LoGisTic Harston
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
The Freedom of Free Will is an artistically ambitious show of two halves from Ryan LoGisTic Harston’s street dance-rooted Urban Conceptz Theatre. This show explores notions and ideas around the true meaning of freedom and free will and investigates – especially in the first half – how often freedom for individuals, groups communities or societies may have a darker flipside that impinges on the freedoms of others Such as the way some religious or political groups believe that equal rights for women, gays or other races impinges on their freedom and rights to discriminate based on their beliefs. How dictators often hang their ideologies on the mantel of freedom while destroying the freedoms of those deemed unworthy of that freedom or some kind of threat to it. Harston uses a mix of personal testimonies, excerpts from speeches – Malcolm X, Dr Martin Luther King, Hitler, and various spoken texts, with high quality image projection and music to create a dense tapestry of sometimes conflicting ideas that challenge the assumption that freedom is always ‘good’ and right.
While Harston is creating a challenging and innovative show within the street dance genre he doesn’t manage to skip a couple of genre clichés – the distorted-voiced narrator that aims to create a sense of import – this isn’t just street dance, it’s a show about the meaning of freedom – and the mysterious masked figure in black that prowls on occasion and delivers a ponderous mimed monologue to the previously-mentioned distorted voice. Nobulus’s Out of the Shadow used the same devices, for example. The first half is intellectually quite interesting with its tangle of ideas and wish to challenge assumptions, and the visuals are striking – dramatic pools of white light contrasting with shadowy swathes of darkness, and a scaffolding cube (which doubles as a projection screen) that the cast manfully haul about and clamber in and over with apparent ease. Unfortunately the choreographic content is overly reliant on the same tricks – mimed text delivered by all the cast in turn, stylised slow-mo movement (usually both hands gripping a book) which deconstructs and exaggerates normal behaviour and/or bodypopping.
The cast – Lyndal Marwick, Nathan Geering, Daniel Brown, Anthony Bayou and Nicole Guy – are generally strong and some of the breakdance moves are impressive, but the limited range of choreography on show creates a growing sense of sameness and repetition that flattens the momentum.
The second half rather questionably opens with dreamlike slow-motion to some of the most distressing images of the Holocaust. Is it possible to tastefully dance the Holocaust? Can you infer the death throes of the gas chamber while looking at images of emaciated bodies thrown in a pit? This is followed by the final speech from Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, projected onto the cube, which, with its manic energy and clever rebuttal of fascism and anti-Semitism, switches the focus to the meaning of personal freedom when used brutally and selfishly against others.
The final part of the show is more effective. The cast, within the cube and, once freed from its cellophane wrapping, over around and through it, work through various interpretations of freedom gone wrong. Images of oppression, confinement, entrapment, cruelty, torment, emotional trauma, people gone feral. The show gains some real intensity and momentum and visual imagination until the dramatic climax, as the narrative impetus, staging, performances and lighting come together to inject variety and innovation into the choreography and the show starts to achieve effective (street) dance theatre.