Chocolate cake is much more than a delicious treat in Montserrat Heras’s discomforting new work, discovers Nina Levy.
- Reading time • 5 minutesDance
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Spectrums of Chocolate Cake, HERA-S Productions ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 6 May 2022 ·
When it comes to chocolate cake, my feelings are uncomplicated.
I like chocolate cake. A lot. I can still remember The Best Chocolate Cake I Have Ever Tasted (Margaret River Chocolate Company cafe, circa 2001). It was a chocolate sponge layer cake of superlative softness and delicate flavour.
For others, however, chocolate cake evokes more complicated and conflicting feelings; pleasure, yes, but also guilt.
It’s this ambivalence that is at the heart of Spectrums of Chocolate Cake, a new dance work directed, choreographed and performed by local emerging dance-maker Montserrat Heras together with devisor/performers, Kimberley Parkin, Elsa Bignell and Rhiana Katz (on opening night understudy Nadia Priolo performed in Katz’s place).
While an actual chocolate cake is the centrepiece of the work, the program notes explain that the glossy-looking dessert is symbolic of the spectrums of conflicting feelings that we all experience at times, towards ourselves, others or objects.
The action unfolds at a birthday party, in a living room furnished with shabby mid-century pieces and a touch of IKEA. Clad in pastel pistachio shades, the four dancers mime a game of charades, against the plaintive pop strains of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party”.
It’s a little cheesy, but things improve when the focus shifts to a gleaming chocolate cake, adorned with rich swirls of buttercream icing and shining cherries. As the music slows and distorts the dancers move in slow-motion, drawn inexorably the chocolatey prize.
Though we’re masked (the Blue Room is sensibly continuing to ask patrons to mask) it’s easy to imagine the delicious scent, which sends the dancers into rippling ecstasy as they inhale and exhale.
Peter McAvan’s evocative soundscape plays a crucial role as things unravel, in nightmarish ways. At times it sounds like unseen objects are violently cracking open, at others the sound seems to scream. A solo by one dancer (Priolo) has shades of Giselle’s famous mad scene; another dancer’s face (Parkin) seems frozen, a grinning rictus.
Gone are the pistachio party clothes; at some point the dancers have swapped them for neutrals. In the shadowy semi-darkness (thanks to Peter Young’s effective and affective lighting design), three dancers throw grotesque shapes. The cake is not long for this world.
Maybe my relatively straight-forward feelings towards chocolate cake are to blame, but in the main I wasn’t absorbed by the tortured emotion being portrayed on stage. While the work’s aims are achieved – the state of ambivalence is clearly rendered by the accomplished performers – I found its execution overwrought.
Notable exceptions were the moments in which Spectrums of Chocolate Cake pushed past horror. Hands appearing, tentacle-like, from behind the cake trolley, make for a comical twist. The final scene, in which the cake is reconstructed and (argh!) consumed, is darkly if uncomfortably funny.
It must be noted, too, that the opening night audience responded to the work with great enthusiasm, clearly not sharing my concerns.
Spectrums of Chocolate Cake is a discomforting watch but if you like your dance dark, this one may be for you.
Pictured top: Kimberley Parkin, Elsa Bignell, Montserrat Heras and Rhiana Katz in ‘Spectrums of Chocolate Cake’. Photo: Mitchell Aldridge
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