Review: Am I (Shaun Parker & Company)

rsz_r1222886_16043263Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 9 – 12, 2014
Director & Choreographer: Shaun Parker
Music: Nick Wales
Dramaturge: Veronica Neave
Dancers: Josh Mu, Sophia Ndaba, Jessie Oshodi, Marnie Palomares, Melanie Palomares, Shantala Shivalingappa, Julian Wong

Theatre review
With Am I, Shaun Parker & Company continues to redefine Australian dance and identity. This work relies heavily on traditional Indian forms of performance and Chinese martial arts, to create a new contemporary dance that is not only about Australia but also an international landscape. As societies come to terms with technological advancements and multiplicity in their cultural compositions, art begins to conflate and we seem to be arriving at a time when a universality, in creativity and practice, usurps geographical differences. Shaun Parker’s work is international not only because of its high standards, but also because of its global language.

Shantala Shivalingappa brings an Indian influence that gives the production a sense of dreamlike storytelling. She is an omnipresent narrator, with a magnetism that can only be described as enigmatic. Slight in stature and mild in temperament, it is a wonder that the audience’s attention is completely lost in Shivalingappa’s minimal performance style whenever she takes centre stage. Julian Wong’s talents as a martial artist are utilised to perfection. The way his disciplines are reinterpreted to create a new art form, is probably the greatest achievement of this work. The opening up of something that is seemingly rigid and old fashioned, in order to create a brand new redefining vocabulary in movement is an incredible feat, which the company should be extremely proud of. A particularly memorable moment sees the combination of Wong performing a “qigong” style routine along with Josh Mu’s responses using “popping” from the breakdance lexicon. The meeting of the two is breathtaking, and clearly (as words will no doubt fail), has to be seen to be believed.

Music is performed entirely live with a band and singers that have achieved a magnificent level of symbiosis with the dancers. Lighting design is creative and ground-breaking, with a “wall of light” that provides illumination in all senses of the word. The level of sensitivity at which both these elements are designed and directed is masterful. They are not often in the foreground of proceedings, but are absolutely crucial to the success of the show.

Am I is Shaun Parker’s meditation on spirituality. It inspires ideas on God, creation, and inevitably, the meaning of life. It is Parker using the performance space to ask the biggest questions, and what results is something transcendental and divine. This is a company determined to communicate, and the show speaks to audiences of all kinds. Its concepts are grand but universal; its tone sophisticated but never hoity-toity. It speaks to all, but seeks to appeal to the most sacred that is in us all.