Photo: Robert Benschop
Sometimes an impeccably joyful and engaging yet simple idea or rationale can spring from a dance show.
Netherlands dance company – or to be exact, body projects team – Arch8, came to Hong Kong with their show Tetris, which does not look like a dance show at all. In it, an ensemble of four dancers rummaged around the Hong Kong Jockey Club Amphitheatre at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, more or less playing with the audience instead of putting on a show.
It all starts inspired by the video game Tetris, in which differently shaped blocks fall from the top of the screen and the player needs to find ways to stack them perfectly to avoid the appearance of the dreaded ‘Game Over’. Conceived and choreographed by Erik Kaiel, the piece explores the possibility of human bodies acting like Tetris blocks, but instead of just being an experiment, Tetris turns out to be about much more than that.
The show opens with four dancers sitting closely together in the performance area. One rises and walks away from the group. She stands alone, then suddenly bends so that her body resembles the L-shaped Tetris block. Another dancer rises and walks to her. They touch, then sit down together. One dancer puts her legs over the other’s, then they start to imitate the Tetris game with their hands.
Suddenly, the performance area becomes a playground for the dancers. The other two dancers join, and the chemistry between the four creates an almost palpable magical atmosphere. Of course, the dancers, Ryan Djojokarso, Mayke van Kruchten, Kim-Jomi Fischer, and Paulien Truijen, are long-time collaborators, which gives them the advantage of being able to easily create a warm ambiance that speaks to the audience of their friendship.
The performance is only an hour long, and most of the content of Tetris is about connection and conflict, and the company members’ long-term friendships are what make the show work. The dancers play with each other by stacking themselves on one another, pulling someone away to their advantage, as well as imitate each other’s movements. In each part, there are different formations, but the idea is more or less the same. Nonetheless, the vignettes they create are very animated and funny, making the children in the theatre laugh with each new one.
Imagine that these adult dancers are instead kids in a playground, then what the audience sees is a reenactment of honest human connections. These dancers are friends, but they also have their own agenda. They will fight with each other, not violently, but still in a selfish manner. They will try and trick others for laughs, but they will also laugh with and help one another.
Photo: Robert Benschop
Interacting with the Audience
If you know anything about Arch8’s programs, then you know that they focus on physical contact, and I think Kaiel is brilliant to come up with a show for children that also stays true to his company’s theme of human relationships.
Not only does Tetris pinpoint human relationships through the physical contact among the dancers, it augments this theme by having the audience join in. One of the highlights of the piece occurs in one section when the dancers begin playing with Rubik’s Cubes. Eventually, they discover that by moving the Rubik’s Cube they can control each other’s movements – moving the cube is like pulling the strings of a puppet. After duly expressing their amazement at this discovery, out of the blue, they invite the children in the audience to play with the Rubik’s Cubes, so that they can have a go at controlling the dancers’ movements.
This was the first interaction between the dancers and the audience, and it got the loudest reaction from them. Not only did they enjoy the dancers’ comical performance of contorting their bodies as if they were out of control, but it was also the first time the dancers came into physical contact with the audience. As the piece develops, the dancers essentially climb up onto the audience’s seats. One or two fall back to the performance area by rolling between audience members.
I read this as an invitation for the audience to take part in human contact, the real activity of the show was not just witnessing relationships formed on stage, but those formed in the whole theatre. The audience response was one of enjoyment during this section, as it was in the last part when the dancers invited the audience onto the performance area to ‘dance’ and play on their own, enhancing the theme of ‘connecting’.
All four dancers are very skillful facilitators of the ideas the work explores because what I saw was amazing, with the audience performing in formation and with rhythms without any rehearsal. Happiness was in the air, and I saw ordinary people connect and play without any hesitation. After a while, the four dancers slowly walked away from the performance area and watched as the audience continued to play. And, no one realized it for quite a while. It really says that to connect with each other is simple. Just reach out and do stuff, then happiness will ensue. Basically, this seems to have been what the show was all about.
graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London with an MA Theatre (Applied Theatre) and earned his BA English at University of Central Oklahoma. Lee is a playwright, screenwriter, theatre director, acting workshop convener, and performer in Hong Kong as well as a researcher in heritage and immersive theater.
Arch 8 Tetris
Choreographer: Erik Kaiel
Performance: 11 Mar 2017 20:00 The Hong Kong Jockey Club Amphitheatre, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts