Amit Lahav with Chris Evans, Ryen Perkins-Gangnes and Francois Testory
Oversized filing cabinets surround the stage. Their drawers periodically shoot open to reveal snippets of memories, or provide props and scenery.
Two men, seemingly co-workers, scrabble around their office desks, passing folders in a jovial, choreographed scene that wouldn’t look out of place in a musical. Buzzers sound, red lights flash on and off—a reminder to commence a task, or an interruption to completing it.
There’s a sense of pressure, of deadlines to be met but, as these take a darker turn, the office set-up becomes less important. The focus of Institute shifts to its characters’ personal conflicts and their connections to each other.
Each of the four characters have their torments, embodied in a physical or mental illness that seems brought on by the pressures of their environment, by the snippets of their lives hidden in those filing cabinet drawers.
Martin is tortured by a lover, Margaret, who can never quite be grasped hold of. Whether she is real, imagined, or the memory of a love lost remains unclear for much of the performance. A pair of plastic hands, an empty seat at a table—she is a character conspicuous by her absence in this all-male world. The anguish Martin experiences, however, feels real.
Gecko's ability to physicalise emotion lies at the heart of this piece. Their naturalistic movements enhance their words and actions yet are also a part of these, a bodily expression of their narrative. It’s to their credit that the movement becomes almost secondary, that it’s not the gestures you take away but the story, an emotion.
A number of images linger in the memory, disturbing and uncomfortable. Martin, shackled to long metal poles, his limbs manipulated by his colleagues in a puppet-like fashion. Later, to a wailing, groaning soundtrack, the undressed body of their older colleague writhes within the confines of a glass box; a graphic scene of despair and suffering.
Yet, amongst the pain, there’s a sense of care and companionship. The four characters rely on each other, pull one another through their troubles—through life. More than once they join hands, weaving over and under, leaning their bodies upon their connected arms.
It’s an image reflected in the closing scenes, where the three remaining men unite in a movement sequence beneath the low, hazy glow of an orange light. Their harsh, thrown movements are expelled from their bodies to the rhythm of their breath. It feels a release of their pent up emotions, but it’s also undeniably Hofesh.
Company member Chris Evans began his career as an original member of the Hofesh Shechter Company and, with this knowledge, the sudden turn in style and movement vocabulary becomes less surprising. Yet, despite the emotional aptness it feels a somewhat disappointing end for a company brilliant in their own style.
To use something so distinctly associated with another choreographer and company breaks the theatrical magic Gecko have meticulously created through an otherwise quirky and inventive work of dance theatre.
Institute is a dark, funny, finely tuned portrayal of emotion that needs no closing cliché.
Reviewer: Rachel Elderkin