Dance review: SICK, Midsumma Festival, 2022

Confusing cross-generational performance delivers bewilderment with a large dose of discomfort.

Being offered foam ear plugs at the door was the first hint that the upcoming performance was going to be surprising. Why would one need ear plugs for what was billed as a dance collaboration? 

Two 1970s Hammond organs sat at one end of the hall, and a large prop featuring an image of urinals at the opposite end. Cool set.

The marketing material explained that performer and co-choreographer, Ryan New, is a person with autism and promised ‘complicated critiques pervading notions and expectations of artists with disability’.

When New and his fellow choreographer and performer, Phillip Adams, entered the space, they wore over-the-top costuming, including blue ballet tights, rhinestone and stud-laden biker jackets, and large tulle frills around their necks. They then leaned heavily upon the Hammond organs to create an ear-shattering cacophony of jumbled noise. Unfortunately this noise was not momentary and the use of ear plugs soon became apparent. There ought to have been a warning for those with sensory issues.

Read: Theatre review: The End of Winter, Griffin Theatre Company

What ensued for the next 50 minutes was a puzzling combination of dance moves and odd actions. New and Adams do indeed have ‘mismatched bodies’ as the leaflet stated, which at least made them interesting to look at, and the imposing presence of the third performer, Bo Svoronos, who towered over New and Adams, proved captivating.

However, there didn’t seem to be a thread of narrative that linked the frenzied soundtrack and activity to what was promised in the advertising, which spoke of the beauty and awkwardness of moving and failing and seeking to shift perceptions around the capabilities of artists – and everyone else – with a disability.

There’s undoubtedly dark humour in the production (Svoronos casually bent down at one point and used one of his powerful hands to swiftly karate chop a ceramic gnome right in half). My neighour laughed loudly several times, clearly enjoying the sheer absurdity of it all.

All in all, SICK relied too heavily on the use of the Hammond organs in a very unmusical, unsettling fashion. The appearance of props – including buckets swung wildly on ropes, stuffed animals, a set of ceramic garden gnomes that the performers proceeded to smash, and an enormous papier-mâché style gnome head – was surreal.

As the show’s leaflet attests, for New, ‘sick’ implies an impulse to act out of the ordinary with his body and thoughts. In that respect the show hit the mark – there was nothing ordinary about it.

Unfortunately, the lasting impression was confusion and a headache from those damn organs.

Presented by Theatrepeople at Temperance Hall as part of Midsumma 2022
Choreography & Performance: Ryan New, Phillip Adams and Bo Svoronos
Set & Costume Design: Jake Preval

SICK was performed from 9-12 February 2022.

Sarah is a freelance writer working predominantly in the Arts. Her clients include Nickelodeon, Child Magazines, aMBUSH Gallery, Kidspot, and the RSPCA. Her short play, ‘Celebrity is the New Bleak’, was performed at the Victorian Arts Centre, and in 2018 she co-founded the annual Stellar Short Film Festival to support Australian filmmakers.