Natalie Maria Clark's Old Tricks New Dogs is billed as a barking mad, immersive, collaborative dance-theatre venture. It is definitely that: at times, subtly mysterious, never predictable and entirely beguiling, a quality it shares with Clark's three major earlier works, How to Make Friends And Still Appear Normal, Apt Y Idos and Everything Anyone Ever Wanted.
The nine dancers who have co-developed this work with Clark are confident, fluid movers who continually morph from human to canine-like and back again. As humans, they experience flickering emotions and motivations; by turns flighty and ferocious, combative and compassionate, watchful and wrathful. They tell jokes, leap and tumble, cluster watchfully in corners, break out in twos and threes and come together in occasional unison passages.
As dogs, they move as a pack, cavort like puppies, sit and stay on command, bark madly, howl, whimper and yip very convincingly. They have a tendency to slide and sprawl but they also very effectively move the bemused audience around the performance space, herding them like sheep.
Rather than a serious investigation of the bestial nature of humanity, this hour-long performance is a delightful and cleverly constructed inversion of the rubric that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. The opening night audience members (the "old dogs") responded good-naturedly to the absence of chairs and quickly adapted to being quasi-performers as the normal performer-audience boundaries steadily dissolved.
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A soundscore by Doprah's Indira Force contributes a series of brief aural environments ranging from white noise and strange scratching sounds to percussive driving rhythms, or overtones and undertones, interspersed with patches of quiet.
Lighting states triggered by the roving Amanda Tito come and go in similar ways to the sound score and the unpredictable ebbing, flowing, pepper-potted dancers. Masks make a brief appearance, personal disclosures are made and cameo solos occasionally feature. Altogether it's a charmingly satisfying experience.
What: Old Tricks New Dogs by Black Sheep Productions
Where & when: Basement Studio, until Saturday
Reviewed by Raewyn Whyte