Park is the latest assault on the boundaries between dance and theatre by choreographer Jasmin Vardimon. Devised around a hyper-real representation of a park and its residents, it’s a thrilling urban fantasy that fully demonstrates Vardimon’s drive to strike away at the pretensions associated with theatrical genre. In doing so she has created a show that is accessible to all. It’s a magical piece of work, and one which delivers on many of its ambitious goals.
The piece is made up of a series of overlapping vignettes that pull together the dramas experienced by the regular and the not-so-regular inhabitants of an inner city park. There’s a bag lady, a graffiti artist laying his emotions bare with spraypaint and an agitated thug rallying against some injustice he can’t quite get hold of or find the words to describe. A homeless man tries to get some rest curled up by a fence, and a couple of foreign tourists take photographs of a fountain.
Dominating proceedings is a mermaid, the fountain’s inhabitant, drawing those that enter her territory into a Siren-like spell (and more often than not, taking the audience with her).
As the various strands play out, the thug, played by Leon Baugh, finds himself being subdued and dominated by both Mafalda Deville’s drunken tyrant and Fernanda Prata’s startlingly seductive mermaid. The graffiti artist (Conor Doyle) also falls for the mermaid, and into self-destruction.
Vardimon’s choreographic style, emphasing raw physicality, slapstick humour and compelling eroticism over displays of formal technique, works wonders in drawing out and enlarging the various narrative strands, bringing a surrealist hyper-reality and romanticism to proceedings.
Whilst initially this seems like a British park, both the styling and the larger-than-life characters give it a feel more Latin than English – if anything the style owes a heavy debt to the bold and colourful traditions of Catalan dance theatre. Perhaps the presence of one Portuguese and two Brazilian performers has had an influence on the work, though it feels very much like this is Vardimon’s preferred territory.
The sensual, and sexual tensions at play are also extraordinary, and pretty alien to most of us who have spent any time observing inner city parks in Britain. The men ooze a brooding matador-like masculinity, classically tragic anti-heroes doomed to fall into temptation by the teasing mermaid – and who wouldn’t be? Fernanda Prata commands every inch of the stage she touches, every twist and turn surrounding her in an aura of unbridled sexuality.
In a masterful display of coordination, both Prata and Doyle at one point combine bodies to bring a ten-foot Prata to the stage, managing the tricky feat of amplifying the sensuality rather than slipping into a circus act, and delivering one of the show’s defining moments.
If anything, the only thing that perhaps lets down Vardimon’s masterful production is that the hints of grand myth and tragic narrative never resolve into something deeper, something truly epic. However Park is more of a dream narrative, one that fractures and peaks until finally you wake to find yourself cheering at the performers, shortly to retire to a brisk autumn night and perhaps look diffently on your own local park as you pass it on your way back home.