Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre and dramaturg Emma Jordon explore issues of ideology and masculinity at The MAC
This exciting and challenging dance theatre production from Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre sees four performers – Jenny Ecke, David Ogle, Vasiliki Stasinaki and Dylan Quinn himself – indulge in a rich mix of food, movement and conversation.
Integrating the artistic vision of Palestianian artist Dina Matar in various projections, and the work of Egyptian commentator and political activist Mona Eltahawy with the help of dramaturg Emma Jordon, The Meal examines how social precepts can be enforced, and barriers broken down, through the simple act of sitting at a table to eat.
With the Pick 'n' Mix mini theatre festival in full swing, it's a busy night at The MAC in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. Thankfully, however, there are no G8 protests at this event, despite George Galloway performing his show, George Galloway vs the G8: Live and Uncut, in the same building at the same time.
The Spartan set for The Meal features a table arrayed with crockery and wine glasses, bread rolls and kippers. Initially, the four protagonists in the ensemble circle the table randomly before greeting each other and exchanging gymnastic embraces.
This musical chairs scenario, with occasional sensual kisses delivered between all four, creates an early sense of confusion and sexual ambiguity before the group finally take to their seats, one male, one female sitting on either side, facing a member of the opposite sex.
During these non-verbal exchanges between the two couples, Greek performer Vasiliki Stasinaki assumes a bossy, alpha role over Quinn, while in the other couple, the male (Ogle) is clearly the dominant figure. Is this a comment on contemporary social relationship values? It's difficult to tell with any certainty at this early stage.
This relatively relaxed sequence comes to a sudden end as the group enter into a Russian Cossack style dance, with much shouting. (Their table manners at this point leave a lot to be desired.) Carefully choreographed, this segment is much more vibrant and entertaining, and it's a pleasure to follow the movement of the stampeding dancers as they work around each other. It's all the more amazing that no crockery is broken.
The yoga style gymnastics from three of the group then spread to the floor surrounding the table, with innuendo and role reversal clearly a prevailing theme, while the henpecked Quinn stays at the table and the dominant female takes control of the group. This sequence is all played along to a backing track of 1980s Depeche Mode and Erasure. Subtle it is not.
Clothes ‘maketh the man’, but maybe not in this case, as themes of cross dressing and transgender equality (or lack thereof) are introduced. The poor, put upon Quinn is quite literally chased around the table half naked. Maybe the subtext here is that he was indeed 'chaste'.
A quiet balletic episode from the alpha male ensues. This is accompanied by a monologue voice over, which warns against sexual harassment and misogyny in contemporary society. Given the overall theme of the performance, however, the absence of any allusion to domestic violence towards men is conspicuous.
The Meal then goes from yoga to yoghurt, as a bizarre sequence follows involving tens of yoghurt cartons being brought out, perhaps to provide a sweet ending? Or is this merely a fridge too far?
Without any obvious signposts, it is left to the audience to decide. Yet after the show, Ogle reveals that this final sequence is a reference to the excessive choice available in capitalist society, which ultimately serves no real purpose.
The final act finishes in silhouette and is greeted by enthusiastic applause from the exuberant MAC audience, who know from previous experience that to attend the Pick 'n' Mix festival is to expect the unexpected. While the sparse set and ambient lighting are perhaps this production's greatest assets, that is not to detract from the skill and commitment of the four performers.
The Meal is thought-provoking fare, an unusual performance piece that packs in issues that are many and varied. But it is, nonetheless, a harsh indictment of modern society, with all of its many faults, and an interesting challenge to modern masculinity.
The Meal travels to Armagh Market Place Theatre on June 15, Newcastle's Annesely Hall on June 21, Derry~Londonderry's Millennium Forum on June 26, Ballymena's Braid Arts Centre on June 27 and Enniskillen's Portora Royal School on June 28 – 29.