A week ago I was fortunate to catch Dancing Monkey Lab’s latest production, Humanoid – A Love Supreme. This multi-disciplinary production included live (composed and improvised) music, choreographed dance, and actors.
Humanoid – A Love Supreme
Direction: Mike Czuba & Melissa Tuplin / Script: Mike Czuba / Choreography: Melissa Tuplin / Light& Set Design: Leon Schwesinger / Music: Nathaniel Schmidt (composer), Mark Limacher (keyboards), Chris Dadge (percussion, violin), Nate Waters (tenor saxophone, percussion) / Dancers: Hailey McLeod, Chantal Wall, Sylvie Moquin / Actors: Hailey McLeod, Connor Williams, Geneviève Paré, Constantine Combitsis
The production I saw was a part of the “TJLAB” series at Theatre Junction Grand (608-1st ST SW Calgary). Works in progress are showcased here to experience life in front of a real audience, receive feedback, then returned to scripts/ rehearsals to be worked on again to eventually yield more streamlined and seasoned products.
Humanoid- A Love Supreme as the title may suggest is a sci-fi love story. But not in the Notebook way, but more of a 1984 way. It takes place in a dystopian future in which human tasks are so specialized and marginalized that all citizens do quite literally everything according to their manual. Physical interactions and emotions are forbidden, as they often lead to deviation from course. The opening atmosphere is set by pleasant music that makes one feel as if one is simply being or floating, and nothing else. In addition to this we see three dancers, Hailey McLeod, Chantal Wall, Sylvie Moquin, that kind of walk-dance around the room together synchronized in almost aquatic-plant kind of way (beautiful and perpetual in motion, choreographed by Melissa Tuplin). I had never seen dance get incorporated into a production like this. Along with the music, set design, and the mannerisms of the actors, I felt it was extremely effective in being the narrative for the society’s “ideal” state. To talk more about the music, it was mostly a two keyboards, harmonium, drums, and a tenor saxophone set up (the latter of which I assume especially is related to John Coltrane’s 1965 album, A Love Supreme). The fact that the mostly music was composed but also improvised, enhanced the narrative of a society where things are kind of nebulous and (deceivingly) peaceful, that when derivations and unexpected things occur, things go back to order eventually like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The musicians, led by the composer Nathaniel Schmidt, were trained in jazz and classical music, which was evident through their impressive chemistry, which was tight, flexible, and colourful.
In the center stage are our three actors, who are operators that oversee and narrate what seems to be the programming/ production of the people. There are two main love stories in Humanoid: one between a female worker on the left of the control room (played by Geneviève Paré) and a male worker on the right (played by Constantine Combitsis), and the other between the worker in the center (played by Connor Williams), and one of the dancers (Hailey McLeod).
At this point if you are confused and wanting more details of this dystopian world, I think that was intended by our playwright Mike Czuba, and that is also how the characters often feel in the story- nobody is sure why certain things are done in certain ways, and what would happen if they deviate from their routines.
Back to the lovers- couple A (Paré and Combitsis), after much fear and confusion about their feelings triggered by accidental physical contact with each other, succumb to their instincts and embrace each other. When couple B (Williams+ McLeod) discover their mutual longing for each other, the female dancer (McLeod) acts on her desire to get to know the man of her interest (Williams) by approaching him, and challenges his ability to answer for his absolute obedience his manual. Threatened by his confusion and overcome with emotions, he tries to destroy the dancer. This is witnessed by the other male worker (Combitsis), but he tells his co-worker that the action was justified, and the system resumes. Equilibrium is reached and things move on forward again. Paré and Combitsis delivered a great performance of innocence fueled by natural emotions. Williams and McLeod showed us a gravitation to each other that is so strong that it felt dangerous and chaotic.
In our own world where conformity is encouraged and asked for often without question, this production itself is a refreshing look at our most basic selves- who am I? Who are they? What do I want? Is it ok to want it?
After the show was finished, there was a Q&A between the panel (Mike Czuba, Nathaniel Schmidt, Melissa Tuplin) and the audience, in which the TJLAB coordinator encouraged the audience to ask questions regarding various aspects of the production, especially in relation to how they made them feel, and how effective things really were. For me, this was kind of a jarring experience, because discussing art is very personal for me, it takes me time to process things, and I wouldn’t normally do it with strangers. Granted I didn’t say a word, but I felt the aura of the show was still very much alive in the room and people were jumping on it with scalpels and microscopes. I understand what TJLABS was doing, but as an audience that didn’t know there was going to be a Q&A, I could have used more time to process things.
Overall, I felt this was a finished product. The Dancing Monkeys’ attention to detail is refreshing and their Humanoid world was tastefully executed. It is even more impressive however that despite all the things that are going on in the production I was able to always have profoundly emotional connections and reactions to the humanness of it all, that I think the Dancing Monkey Laboratory folks (Czuba, Tuplin, Schmidt, Schwesinger) wanted to discuss.
Keep an eye out for their next production!
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