Co3’s latest work KILLJOY is a self-proclaimed “cult horror film meets live dance-theatre” production examining the physical embodiment of corporate grind culture.
Through two performers, Rhianna Katz and Luther Wilson, choreographer Kimberly Parkin leads us through a dynamic and compelling portrayal of corporate fatigue. Set in the realm of a starkly mundane office, every dance sequence, broken up by change of lighting state or soundscape, is slowly dissolved and broken down to reveal core pain. Repetitive elements further express the themes of monotony and struggle. In this world, movement is exhaustive, repetitive, and laborious. The performers seem to not be in full control of themselves as they tear up and rearrange the space. This stylised movement- somewhere between sadistic robotic and cognisant puppet- is aided by dehumanised voiceovers and harsh white, fluorescent lighting to unsettle the audience. The near 40-minute run time makes this intensity more than palpable.
The set we are greeted with is a very recognisable office space with the opening image being a single performing opening a laptop with their face lit by its glow. The cold and unforgiving world of the 9-5 is executed brilliantly- right down to the tacky “inspiration” posters that seem to litter every classroom and doctor’s office I have ever been in.
KILLJOY. Photography by Chris Symes.
Elise Reitze-Swensen’s & Rosie Taylor’s soundscape in this grey world is of similarly dull sounds of printers and other office noises. Yet this dissolves, and over some time forms a monotonous and repetitive beat that permeates through the audience and is visceral in the way it affects the performers. The two performers, dressed as white-collar workers, begin an almost ritualistic but ultimately familiar sequence of office behaviour. It is soon revealed that this is no ordinary day at the office, with the degradation of the office sounds comes a destructive attitude to the performers as they are seemingly manipulated and jerked around the space. Rebellion seems futile, however, and a feeling of resignation and despair sets in.
Pressure to succeed, loss of power, overwork and burnout are all clearly displayed as the soundscape evolves through different states, ranging from a heavy club beat to more 8-bit soundscapes, unsettling high pitches and back to the mellow thrum of office noise. Each shift is met with a change in lighting, as we move from our office white to colourful episodes that provide no relief, but rather cement our feelings of unease.
While the set and design elements were impressive, it was the authentic struggle- the real pain and torment in the bodies and on the faces of the performers that took the show to the next level. There was stage combat, tight intricate choreography, falls, lifts (even the old “walking down fake stairs gag”) that even further displayed not only their control and rigour as dances, but also the level of variety and complexity that dance-theatre experiences allow. The melding of such realistic scenes and the obviously surreal and heightened struggle of the workers does a wonderful job of fostering feelings of dissonance and hopelessness. Moments of comedy, of humanity and surprise are not enough to settle us, and cleverly feel like a little pat on the back a boss might give one after a 40-hour work week.
KILLJOY. Photography by Chris Symes.
KILLJOY’s commentary is important and clear. In our high pace and high pressure lives, the struggle to compete and to perform is intense. There are parallels to be drawn to the psychological demands of professional dance (and indeed the arts as an industry). At some points the message feels a little too obvious and the audience doesn’t have to work too hard. I don’t think this detracts from its point, however. Deadlines, anxiety and competitive environments are not felt with subtlety. Instead, they dominate and control our lives and make us feel, as the performers accurately show, like we are at the hands of some evil power above us.
One of the main inspirations of the piece, noted in the program and clear in the piece, is the “japanese salaryman phenomena”. The term refers to salaried workers who show overriding loyalty to their job. They’re part of a broader social and cultural work phenomenon in Japan that prioritises long hours, after-work drinking, midweek Karaoke sessions, and the success of their company over themselves. The internet is full of images of such workers passed out on trains and in the street after not being able to refuse the offer of afterwork drinking from their superiors. These images are funny, just as Katz and Wilson pretending to vomit in onstage bins is funny, but paint a clear picture of the toxic nature of their lives. KILLJOY presents its audiences with a situation that is surreal and enthralling but relatable to important considerations in our own lives.
KILLJOY by Parkin Projects is presented by Co3 Contemporary Dance and runs from March 9 to 11 at the State Theatre Centre.