By Elise Wilson
MAA is an autobiographical dance theatre piece by actor and dancer, Jay Emmanuel. Although the piece confronts loss, suffering and abuse, these dark themes are explored with thoughtfulness. With the only text being spoken momentarily at the start, the narrative of MAA is conveyed visually through movement, dance, puppetry and drawing.
Emmanuel’s performance in MAA is striking. His movements, which unite Indian classical dance forms with Jacques Lecoq’s physical theatre techniques, are clear and precise. At one point, Emmanuel hypnotically spins in circles for what seems like minutes, captivating the audience with his rhythm and speed.
To the credit of the Director, Phil Thomson, MAA shapes itself through a journey of dynamics. Not only is there a sharpness to the piece, but also a softness, which is commendable considering that a piece about loss and abuse has the potential to weigh incredibly heavy. Instead, MAA takes care of its audience, tactfully flowing between moments of noise and silence to give the audience time to absorb the images.
Since MAA is a solo piece, Emmanuel interacts with and transforms into other characters through puppetry (by Leon Hendroff). These moments of puppetry are each handled with a unique quality, sometimes delicate and other times brutal, however they are constantly engaging. In an attempt for me to avoid spoilers, I will say that there is one particular moment where Emmanuel transforms into a puppet, which comes as a surprising yet satisfying revelation.
The set (designed by Etain Boscato and Jay Emmanuel), is both interactive and transformative. Along with the smearing of paint and poison chalk throughout the piece, the set is used to visually narrate the story and highlight the disorientation of a child in suffering. Refreshingly, there is nothing on stage that is left untouched by the end of the performance, with each object having a purpose.
The music and sound design (by Tao Issaro) compliments the atmosphere and choreography. Notably, there is intermittent repetition of a haunting voice yelling “Jay” over the soundtrack, which is unsettling and foreboding. The lighting design (by Christian Lovelady) was also cleverly coordinated, with a memorable moment being a light cast across the room, as if coming from a door opening.
Although each of these elements made for a compelling piece of dance theatre, I was sometimes unsure of whether I was inferring the narrative correctly. Without text, the piece relies on the audience’s visual literacy to interpret the story. Nevertheless, I didn’t mind the mild ambiguity I experienced, if only for a moment, because it was still engaging to watch each movement and image unfold.
Season runs until Saturday 28 October, Burt Memorial Hall. Buy tickets here