Review: Protein Dance in Big Sale at The Place

Performance: 7-18 Nov
Reviewed by Jessye Parke - Monday 13 November 2006

Protein Dance Company’s Big Sale is a delightful mix of dance, physical theatre, dialogue and film.

It is a demanding but exciting piece which requires great stamina from the dancers. At regular points throughout the one and a half hour performance ( no interval) you wonder just how they manage to keep going.

The stage has been transformed into a construction site. A scaffolding structure creates a two tiered performance space on which the dance takes place. There are an overwhelming number of elements to take in, and that is before the performers even appear.

Discarded household appliances including an old washing machine, fridge television and vacuum cleaner – waste products of our consumer society – appear discarded about the stage.

In fact, these were not simply stationary elements of a complicated set – many of these electrical appliances fulfil a function. A camera is hidden within the upright vacuum cleaner and is wheeled around the stage throughout the piece. This and other cameras similarly hidden are used by the dancers to film elements of the performance. This footage is then transmitted in real time via a large screen and on the seemingly discarded TV sets at the side of the stage.

The piece opens with a rattle and crash as a supermarket trolley – that symbol of consumer society – rolls down a ramp on the scaffolding and clatters to the floor.

When the noise has subsided sinister figures clad in black scramble onto the stage. Like rats they crawl onto the scaffolding emerging from under, over and around the electrical appliances until the company is collectively assembled centre stage.

Throughout the piece the various – but far too few – interactions with the construction site are exquisite. One highlight is Maria Campos Arroyo’s portrayal of tranquil innocence. She swings on the scaffolding in a seemingly effortless manner wearing a long white dress and curling her ankles like a child playing on the monkey bars in a playground.

A further highlight, and a total contrast to the quiet demeanour of Campos Arroyo, is the extravagant celebrity presenter Natasha Gilmore. Her gold tasselled dress – in which she shimmies round the stage perfectly matches her vivacious character. Jazzy ball changes and other punctuated movements accent her words.

While Big Sale critically portrays many of the aspects of consumer culture, in places it reinforces media stereotypes. The piece is highly sexually charged throughout and much is made of women being reduced to sexual objects through the media. Scantily clad females are in some parts portrayed as adhering to ‘lad mag’ stereotypes. At one point there is a massive ‘cat fight’ during which the female dancers (dressed in extremely short black dresses and heels) fight by tossing their tresses at each other in a kind of stylised hair wrestling. It is unfortunate that this depiction is not critiqued.

The piece achieves its aim of critiquing consumerism and spends a great deal of time satirising it. However it offers few solutions or suggestions about how things could be different.

Having said that, it is a very entertaining work that makes relevant comments on the way we live our lives. There are many laugh-out-loud moments and even the opportunity to join in. In fact the lady sitting next to me didn’t wait to be asked; she was singing along to the music and clapping from the outset. How often do you find performances that make you want to do that?

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