Sand covers the floor at 215 New Street as the lights come down and a hush falls over the audience. A figure begins to move about, performing an aerial solo within a net-like apparatus as if moving through a jungle’s canopy. Thus begins HABIT@, this year’s Fringe offering from Teddy Fatscher’s Matter Movement Group. Taken from the program, HABIT@ asks the audience; “Are you a product of your environment or is your environment a product of you”? Through an hour of immersive dance and physical theater MMG takes the audience on a journey spanning the scope of natural habitation, introducing them to strange creatures, mysterious rituals, and immersing them in the world of the dancers and their movement.
At its core HABIT@ is an immersive performance experience. Aside from the sandy floor which draws the audience out of their urban headspace and into the realm of the performance, the dancers themselves aren’t afraid to get up close and personal with the evening’s patrons. Before the start of the show a good humored voiceover warns audience members in the “splash zone” to be wary. As dancers performed near the front rows, bits of sand and drops of water flicked off their skin, often coming in contact with those nearby. Coupled with the vibrant music choices, this intimacy made for a performance that’s impossible to ignore; a vibrant undulating explosion of energy with the audience right in the middle of everything as it happens.
In regards to the choreography itself, MMG showcases their diverse strengths via the variety on display here. Each moment throughout the evening feels choreographically distinct from one another. Following Katherine Corbett’s opening solo is the first piece of group work which featured sharp isolations in the arms and upper body in tandem with the use of poles as props which are reminiscent of spears given the set dressing. Afterwards two dancers break away and perform a duet which explores anatomy, physicality, and movement via curious gestures shared between the two.
One of the evening’s most stunning moments is when two massive birdlike entities emerge, hiding their faces with feathered fans. This segment brings an uncanny, otherworldly air to the space as at first it’s hard to make heads or tails of the two beings. Anatomically it shouldn’t make sense, until suddenly the realization strikes that each “bird” is actually two dancers; with one bent over at the hips and the second straddling them in reverse. This gives the illusion of added height as well as constructing a birdlike shape as the bent over dancer serves as a tail of sorts. This bizarre manipulation of the human form into a shape that is distinctly non-human only serves to highlight MMG’s dedication to creating an immersive and otherworldly environment within the scope of HABIT@.
Following the superb and unreal avian performance, two dancers appear dressed as elephants and perform a clownish acrobatic duet. Both demonstrate excellent use of their masks, delighting in the wild flailing of their elephant trunks as they move about the space. Next comes a quartet performed on different levels with two dancers positioned on the scaffolding high above the space. Ritualistic in its intentionality, the movement ushers in Fatscher’s first appearance as he is literally birthed into a pool of water as rain falls from the ceiling of the space. This quickly transitions into an aerial solo by Fatscher beneath the rain, highlighting both his technique and physical prowess.
This push and pull between the human and inhuman continues throughout the course of the work. One minute the audience is treated to a high flying performance on aerial spheres and the next they’re entranced by gigantic luna moths, whose massive bioluminescent wings lull them into a hypnotic trance. The idea of a birthing or point of origin is also pervasive. For example, a moment in which a dancer becomes wrapped in an aerial silk, moving within it as if it were a womb or cocoon.
The work hits its climax as the dancers emerge from the pool as a collective, movement wild and unrestrained, showering the audience with both sand and water. The more they move about the space the more sand seems to cling to their skin and they seem to become one with the natural world they’ve constructed. Then, as soon as they appeared, they dive back into the pool. Returning to their point of origin.
Intense, otherworldly, and bursting with primal vitality; HABIT@ proves itself an enrapturing experience in audience immersion. Sitting mere inches from the performers, feet in the sand, as the pulse of the music pulls you far away from the familiar comforts and into a world that suggests the rebirth of the human identity in nature.
[215 New Street] September 5–22, 2019; fringearts.com/event/habitat