Complexity of Belonging

Reuben Liversidge

Complexity of Belonging is indefatigable, overwhelming and utterly unforgettable.
Complexity of Belonging

Image: Jeff Busby 

Complexity of Belonging marks the fifth collaboration between German playwright and director Falk Richter and Artistic Director of Chunky Move Anouk Van Dijk. Through an audacious amalgamation of actor, dancer, spoken word, physical theatre, video projection and contemporary choreography the collaborators explore themes of cultural identity, relationships and the ever more pervasive nature of social media in our contemporary society. But this unique piece of performance art goes even further; it forces the audience to confront who we are as a nation and how we struggle to make connections in a complicated world. Complexity of Belonging is indefatigable, overwhelming and utterly unforgettable.

An enormous widescreen backdrop of a typical scorched Australian landscape dominates the cavernous stage of The Sumner Theatre, surely one of Melbourne’s most versatile performance spaces. Robert Cousins’ set design also incorporates several moveable panels that act as screens for the projection of live video footage throughout the performance, highlighting close-ups of performers faces and serving as versatile backdrops for several sequences. Multiple grey couches are used in ingenious ways, creating waiting rooms, airport lounges, obstacles and mountains. Composer Malte Beckenbach’s insistent score pounds with deep bass, jarring clicks and static dissonances throughout the production while Niklas Pajanti’s fittingly bold lighting design focuses attention and creates beautiful silhouettes of the performers.

Essentially a series of vignettes, monologues and character studies Complexity of Belonging is a truly collaborative performance. This astonishingly energetic and multidisciplined ensemble of actors and dancers features Joel Bray, Lauren Langlois, Alya Manzart, Eloise Mignon, Stephen Phillips, Josh Price, Karen Sibbing, Tara Soh and James Vu Anh Pham. Sibbing recounts her frustration at trying to maintain a long distance relationship via Skype, Price and Bray explore the foibles of romantic partnerships and Pham and Soh highlight the difficulties of identifying as Australians of Asian descent. Each moment emerges out of an overarching swirl of theatrical physicality that is genuinely thrilling.

At first glance one might be tempted to distinguish between the core group of ‘dancers’ and ‘actors,’ however any obvious categorisation of these performers quickly proves redundant. Every person on the stage is constantly in motion and working together to create an encompassing whole; when one or two individuals play out a scene the others explore the space moving, dancing and manipulating the set all in service of the ideas being explored in Richter’s text.

Just one example of this synergistic performance style can be seen in a sequence in which Phillips delivers an explosive testosterone fuelled monologue about the dissolution of his relationships due to an obsession with work. As his delivery becomes increasingly unhinged Langlois invades his space, violently wrapping herself around him and the two end up dancing a kind of demented pas de deux. A similar moment occurs during Langlois hilarious rant about finding the perfect man as Manzart bursts through manipulating and contorting her movements around the stage. Van Dijk and Richter’s choreography is remarkable.

There are several moments throughout Complexity of Belonging where the ensemble comes together in perfect unison to create bold moments of theatricality. An extended sequence in which the performers play around with the couches is particularly engaging. They begin seated one behind the other in a long diagonal line across the middle of the stage before sliding, swooping and throwing the props around to end in a tableau downstage that echoes a plane crash. This image and idea is just one of the connective tissues which brings everything together in this piece. Mignon mentions Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 at the beginning of the show and references to this tragic mystery are mentioned throughout. Repeated movements in the choreography also assist in tying everything together; the simple image of a performer lifting up their top to reveal their bare stomach beneath is just one example of these recurring motifs. These concepts reflect the desperation and feelings of futility as we try to make connections in a chaotic world.

Complexity of Belonging tackles big issues in a confronting and unrelenting style. I have only scratched the surface of the themes currently being explored on the stage of The Sumner and it’s exciting to know that this production will travel to other Australian cities and around the world. This is important theatre that needs to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. Tired of seeing the same old revivals, adaptations and classics? Well, get thee to Complexity of Belonging! Seriously, just go.

4 ½ stars

Complexity of Belonging
Concept, Direction and Choreography By Falk Richter and Anouk Van Dijk
Text By Falk Richter
Dramaturgy By Nils Haarmann and Daniel Schlusser
Translated By Daniel Schlusser
Presented By Melbourne Festival, Brisbane Festival, Chunky Move and Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
October 6 – 26


About the author

Reuben Liversidge is based in Melbourne. He has trained in music theatre at the VCA, film and theatre at LaTrobe University, and currently works as Head Talent Agent for the Talent Company of Australia.