This is one of my favourite shows in fringe so far. It’s a musical romp through different perspectives on dance and why we do it. Good Habits with Schwarz on vocals and cello and Shaw on the accordion and percussion are fantastic! The music, including the title track “I Don’t Know How to Dance”, are excellently skilled and form a beautiful basis for the atmosphere of the show. The performance alternates between the audio recordings, underscored by Schwarz and Shaw while Hansen listens intently until he is inspired to move, and fully choreographed scenes separate from the interviews.
For me, the highlights of the show are these set pieces which see playful interaction and teamwork between the trio. Schwarz dancing while playing the cello, and Shaw and Hansen having a dance battle with accordion in hand are scenes that could drag a joyful response out of Eeyore himself. The interview recordings are great and full of interesting gems and perspectives. As these play, a black stool is endowed as though it is sharing its story and Hansen spends most of the interviews on stage listening to the stool in silent intrigue. In the moments where Hansen joins the monologues with movement inspired by their stories and feelings, the show sings in harmony. I can’t help but wish there was more of Hansen’s beautiful movement and less of watching him, watch a stool. Sometimes the recordings play for several minutes without any other action and it tests the attention span of this Gen Z, stimulus-craving reviewer.
This is a fabulously inclusive show. Close captions are projected on the back wall throughout the show and audio description is provided in the form of narration before each scene. This narration feels absolutely natural in the show and provides signposting for us in an experience which does not contain classic narrative. For this seamless integration alone, this show should be applauded and there are plenty of people in the audience who might normally be excluded from the fringe experience, who appear to have a wonderful time! Ka mau te wehi!!
There are definitely a few “first-time” glitches on opening night, including some technical difficulties which can be forgiven. It is the opening night of a fringe season after all, but I hope that the team will continue to work the show and lift it to another level. I Don’t Know How to Dance is already fantastic, but I can see a couple of opportunities for development. I’d love to see a clear language established for where everyone sits while the interviews play. If the interviews are coming from the stools, then I’d love to see Hansen dance with them rather than around them. During these sections, the two musicians seem to disappear into the background for long periods as though they’re scoring from offstage. I’d like to see the same process of musical inspiration from the interviews as we see in the movement, in some way. I think this would tie things together a little more and have us all fully engaged and responsive to the generous words given by interviewees.
Finally, I ask the question about who the audience is in the world of this show. While it’s a wonderful experience to witness there is a clear fourth wall. Throughout the show I see audience members tapping their feet, wriggling their fingertips, nodding their heads.We want to dance, we want to be a part of the show. Unfortunately, in its current form, it doesn’t feel like we can. The show sweeps on regardless of our response and I would love to see the audience have some agency to get up and move. To clap along and cheer and holler. Perhaps the “relaxed” nature of this performance makes this separation intentional, but I think there is a lot of opportunity to bring in the audience more. We are so lucky in 2021 to be here, in a theatre, performing and experiencing live art. I’d love to see this show more intentionally acknowledge and include the audience right in front of it.
Overall, I Don’t Know How to Dance is a sumptuous theatre experience. It’s unique, beautiful and inclusive. I loved it! Shall we go again?
I Don’t Know How to Dance runs at BATS Theatre until March 12th at 8:30pm. Tickets can be booked at the BATS website and you can check out the Good Habits website for upcoming gigs.