La Boite Indie & Natalie Abbott
La Boite Roundhouse
November 26 – December 5 2015
Reviewed by Katelyn Panagiris
Maximum, directed by Natalie Abbott, is a movement piece that interrogates failure, endurance and contrasting physicalities. The work also challenges audience notions of choreography and performance with its series of circuit training and lifts.
This challenge presents itself almost immediately as I adjust to the form of the work. The stark lighting and repetitious movement is confronting at first. I am unsure of where the work is leading and how I should respond. As soon as I realise that this is it – that the performance is simply composed of a series of movement tasks without context – I find myself at the mercy of the performance. Repetition is key in this journey from confusion to submission as I observe the performers committing to the constant rigour of the movement.
Maximum is at once a highly conceptual and innately accessible performance that places the human body at its centre.
My response to the performance is first and foremost visceral. Performers Natalie Abbott and Nathan Daveson are committed in every way. There is no backing away from the physical challenge of the movement and no demand for sympathy from the audience. In this way, I can’t help but sympathise with the performers as they engage in progressively more intense physical activity. I am with them – I feel their pain, frustration and hope – especially as failure becomes inherent to the work. No matter the struggle, they are present at all times, focused only on the task at hand. There is a generosity to this kind of commitment and vulnerability that exists in performance work like Maximum, with a simple and wholesome intent to test the limits of what is possible on stage.
With Maximum, Abbott also explores how two bodies with vastly different backgrounds can come together as one. On stage we are presented with a female dancer and male body builder. The act of observing these contrasting bodies is one of the most beautiful aspects of the work. At first the performers appear to be in competition, trying to exceed each other in their endurance. I am interested in who will succeed, who will fail and whose training will serve them best. However, by the end of the performance a question of difference becomes a question of trust. The final lift requires the two performers to move and breathe together, and trust that the other person will be there to support them in this act.
In her Director’s Notes, Abbott also speaks of her interest in seeing and being seen. This is enhanced by Matthew Addey’s clean and simple design, which forms a blank canvas pregnant with possibility. The bright white lights and white backdrop combine with Daniel Arnott’s pulsing sound design to increase the intensity and theatricality of the event. At times the design distracts from the rawness of the performers, whilst at other times it enhances the visceral and aesthetic experience.
Natalie Abbott’s Maximum is a thoughtful, considered and skillful work.
It is challenging to engage with at first, and may present a challenge if your ideal night out at the theatre involves a climactic narrative, well-formed characters and other elements you could usually associate with theatre. Instead this is a work that exists in the realm of performance, with failure clearly on the table but a strength and ferocity of spirit to push beyond personal and artistic limits to interrogate the human body in all its beauty.