Who’s the boss?

Hold Me Closer Tony Danza (The Farm)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

January 24 – 28

Previously acclaimed works from Dance theatre company The Farm means that expectations are high for their new subversive piece “Hold Me Closer Tony Danza”, which has been created by Kate Harman, Michael Smith, Gavin Webber and Anna Whitaker. The immersive event is occurring in Metro Arts’ New Benner Theatre, but not as we may know it, with the space opened up and requiring audience members to move about the action, standing, sitting on the ground and maybe even participating in the provocation themselves.

Immediately, we are divided to a chosen side to observe the back and forth interaction of performers committed to their either correct or otherwise share of the chorus of Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’. Like watching a coin being continuously flipped, see them alternate sides to establish the boss as the aesthetic around them slowly adjusts towards proposition about how we form meaning and the flaws that this might expose.

Meaning can be drawn at many levels thanks to the Inception-like layering of the show’s satire and sometimes metatheatrical address to (and direction of) the audience, marshalling the crowd into their dance positions as required. There are clearly multiple levels, with the work evoking, as the creators have summarised, the head, heart and guts of passion.Its focus on misunderstandings that come from contradictions means that the show is filled with binary oppositions across its ever facet, not just the obvious Tiny Dancer / Tony Danza or Star Wars / Star Trek sort, but aesthetically in the silver or gold wrapping of participants and descent of warm golden lighting into murky green blackness (lighting design by Govin Ruben) to transition from the long initial sequence.

Extremes are seen too when the frenzied movements that emphasise a pumping soundtrack, are dialled down to a serene stillness in which we dare not breath too loudly. As frantic as things may seem at times as energy escalates, at its core it is all quite crafted and controlled, even when we are picking our side in a Jetts vs Sharks type dance battle of sorts from growing audience-turned-recruited-performer groups, ably fronted by all-attitude leaders Kate Harman and Michael Smith.

This is a physical and physically demanding, well-choreographed show, and dance artists Harman and Smith push themselves to extremes to create meaning through their bodies, when controlled in close proximity to not collide, but then united in unison when floor work sees them move fluidly as one. The result is unique entertainment in encouragement of consideration if art is life or life is art, through a lens in which the rules of traditional theatre or even dance no longer apply. And while its titular framing device appears less as an integral thread and more as a top-and-tail function, it does lead to joyous ultimate shared celebration (and sing along) to the misquoted line from Elton John’s song, during whichTony may just make an en masse appearance.

As a bold, brash and non-conforming piece, “Hold Me Closer Tony Danza” serves to challenge theatre norms and showcase some fine dancing skills. Indeed, with an ambiguous start and false finish, it will keep you guessing throughout and on-your-toes in wonder about what has just happened, what is currently unfolding before you and where things may be going, as much as appreciation of the obvious dance skills on display.


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