People Like Us
One Extra Company
Choreographer: Kai Tai Chan
Director: Peter Kingston
Musical Director: Mara Kiek
Design: Tim Kobin
Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre. March 4-16
Reviewed by Angela Matheson
Kai Tai Chan understands the common ground between people. With director Peter Kingston, he has created a dance-theatre work which dismantles stereotypes and reflects Australia in all its cultural diversity. It is performance at its best.
People Like Us looks at the bonds which form people — the links between family members and the ties to ethnic heritage. But it is not parallel experience which is seen as the bond between people. It is the coming to terms with our diverse personal histories through
experience which is, instead, envisaged as the common bond.
In this way, a Chinese Australian grieving for the massacre at Tienanmen Square and a country mother who has decided to cut ties with her heroin-addicted son embrace in the dance as friends.
It is a sophisticated and visionary work. It probes our understanding of culture by presenting issues from multiple points of view and forms. Chan's generous vision of humanity works to combine the different forms of dance, theatre and music with apparent effortlessness.
Kim Hillas as the country mother provides a strong narrative base for much of the work. Her exploration of the family history which has constrained her is naturalistic, yet she blends into the expressionistic dance against AIDS with the company and melds into the chorus singing the Tienanmen chant as it marches to meet the tanks.
Tim Kobin's simple props and design draw out the complexities and contradictions of multiculturalism. Kai Tai Chan speaks of his assimilation into the Australia he loves while cooking an aromatic stir fry in his wok. A Bondi life guard scrutinising prospective club members doubles as an Australian immigration official assessing Asian refugees. Rene Thomas, a Eurasian, dances a requiem for AIDS victims while holding golden Christian angels.
A female quintet which includes Margaret Roadknight and Jeannie Lewis provides an aural chorus drawing upon a history of music ranging from Hildegard Von Bingen to Cambodian folk songs. The integration of the singers into the theatre and dance reinforces Chan's vision for a multicultural Australia which shares and mixes its diverse backgrounds and art.
People Like Us is one of Kai Tai Chan's final productions with the One Extra Company he formed 15 years ago. The company is one of Australia's leaders in innovative and political dance and has toured Europe and Asia. Chan is leaving due to funding decisions by the Australia Council which he believes restrict the company's
Judging from the cheers and multiple curtain calls, it is obvious that audiences love People Like Us. The Australia Council may not be ready for the vision of Kai Tai Chan, but Australia certainly is.