United Kingdom, Caillon, Stateless: Jolie Vyann/Turtle Key Arts, Jacksons Lane, London, 24.01.2015 (J.O’D)
Co-directors and Choreographers: Olivia Quayle and Jan Patzke
Composer and Associate Choreographer: Florence Caillon
Lighting Design: Aideen Malone
Costume Design: Bicat&Rigby
Set Design and Creation: Hannah Coombe and Natalia Maslanka (Arts University Bournemouth)
In Barely Methodical Troupe’s Bromance, which opened this year’s London International Mime Festival, circus skills were applied to the subject of intimacy between men. In Stateless, hand-to-hand acrobatics and the Cyr wheel are used, along with dance, to reflect the themes of immigration and the refugee. Mixed with the applause that filled the small, sold-out, Jacksons Lane theatre as soon as it had ended (more than a few people leapt to their feet), there may also have been a sense of relief that Stateless does not let its subject down. Even the four members of Joli Vyann, looked surprised at this reaction to the premiere of their ‘first full length indoor production’. They smiled at each other as if to say: ‘They like it!’
Stateless focuses, in part, on the journey from one place to another. ‘My journey was a barbaric one,’ and, ‘It was terrible to leave my family behind,’ say the refugees whose voices provide part of the soundtrack. The asymmetrically shaped, grey or white blocks placed around the stage suggest a harsh landscape. Though weaker in its danced sections, the production evokes a sense of danger and risk as the two women and two men negotiate the flat or stepped surfaces of these blocks. There is risk, and also cooperation, when they balance on each other backs, shoulders and heads.
But if the balancing acts and the hand-to-hand work of Jan Patzke and Olivia Quayle have dramatic meaning, it is when the two Cyr wheels are introduced (about two-thirds of the way in) that Stateless is at its most expressive. In Bromance, the large circle of PVC-covered aluminium tubing became a dazzling, fourth protagonist. In Stateless, the wheels (one larger than the other) represent difficulty and threat.
At first, they are not even used as wheels. They are taken apart and reassembled to form a tall, free-standing spiral through which the performers, now in semi-darkness, crawl. When returned to its circular shape, the larger of the wheels presents a challenge. In turn the two women jump up and cling to it for as long as possible as one of the men rolls it from side to side. Jan Patzke does not show the same deftness, as he manipulates this wheel or stands spinning inside it, as Barely Methodical Troupe’s Jay Wheeller. But Stateless turns this to an advantage. The wheel becomes an unpredictable force, one that keeps the performers on their toes. As it spins horizontally, like a coin, they dart in and out of its undulating circumference, judging the point at which there is not sufficient height for them to do this.
The work ends when the two parts of the smaller wheel have been attached to the grey blocks to represent a bridge. The other three performers stand together on the blocks, looking down at Patzke who is at the front of the stage. The larger wheel spins around him, losing momentum. On the soundtrack, the voice of a refugee speaks of finding something positive in his experience. Patzke raises his head and looks at the audience; the wheel stops spinning; the lights go out. The applause was unanimous.