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Dance Theatre

Based on the award-winning book by Helen Ward and Marc Craste

Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells

Director: Sally Cookson

Producer and commissioner: East London Dance, Sadler’s Wells and Stratford Circus

Choreographer: Wilkie Branson

Set and Costume Designer: Holly Waddington

Composer: Benji Bower

Lighting Designer: Yoav Segal

Dancers: Wilkie Branson, Mariana Camiloti, Femi Oyewole, Letitia Simpson

Dates at this venue: 17-18 May 2013 and then touring England until 22 June

Running time: 50 minutes

Review by Caroline Perret with ideas from Lucien Asbury-Perret (8 years old)

19 May 2013

With climate change already having an effect on the lack of seasons and extreme changes in weather, “Varmints” felt really relevant and potent in its ecological message to its young audience (being advised to children aged 8 and over) and chaperons. In a society where technological advances are equated to the idea of progress, how do we safeguard nature and more generally, the planet we rely on for our survival?

The idea of nature as a treasure to be cherished is poetically expressed in the show with a varmint lovingly re-poting a plant, watering it and putting its own hand-knitted scarf around it. Surrounded by a beautiful garden, he dances with the birds and bees, soon to be joined by three of his varmint friends. Now the movement of the dancers, together sophisticated and primal, communicates in a direct fashion to the viewers the harmony with an unspoilt nature. The ambiguity about whether the varmint is a human being or an animal makes us wonder about that animalistic part of us which we try so desperately to forget and ignore.

Such idyll is interrupted with the eruption of a tyre, to which the dancers react in an innocently touching and playful way, only to be immobilised and overwhelmed by the wheels getting bigger and more threatening, as they absorb the garden. The Schlemmer-like costumes of the invaders are truly beautiful and reflect the early Modernist belief in technology as a tool for democratically improving the destiny of human kind. However, such aspiration has given way to a violent and pitiless world, whose threat is echoed in the brutality of the techno music and the blindness and alienation of the invaders which is translated on stage into a robotic and synchronised dance, albeit perfectly executed.

The sound effects were well chosen for the two contrasting scenes, as were the lightning colours and the artistic projections on the garden wall at the back.

But what is to become of the varmint gardener and the plant he is so desperately trying to save? Will they be crushed by a growing network of pipes and machineries, or will the plant grow so tall as to reach the cosmos and the stars? In a flamboyance of stunning visuals and a variety of dances whose emotions range from despair and loneliness to joy and elation, the show takes us on a journey of emotions and questions, which are all ultimately very humbling.

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