Fluorescent fever dream captures corporate horror

10 March 2023

If you’ve ever worked in a corporate environment then Kimberley Parkin’s dance theatre work Killjoy will be all too familiar, with a satirical slant that brings to mind TV’s The Office, writes Kim Balfour.

Killjoy, Co3 Contemporary Dance
Rehearsal Room 1, State Theatre Centre of WA, 9 March 2023

Where do you see yourself in five to ten years? Hopefully not tied to a desk in a dehumanising corporate hellscape.

Unfortunately, turning up to a toxic 9-5 office job is the norm for plenty, which is why popular culture is so obsessed with the subject. Against the backdrop of satirical shows like The Office, Utopia, Severance, Office Space, and gorefest The Belko Experiment, local independent choreographer Kimberley Parkin’s Killjoy is a flickering fluorescent fever dream of corporate horror.

With the first iteration of Killjoy performed at Strut Dance’s choreographic sandbox Groundworks in 2022, this version of the work is presented by Co3 Contemporary Dance, as part of the company’s 2023 Pathways program – an initiative that provides mentorship and studio space to independent choreographers. The work remains a duet, performed once again by Rhiana Katz and Luther Wilson.

Bouncing off each other’s pent-up frustration, Rhiana Katz and Luther Wilson make a compelling duo. Photo: Chris Symes

In addition to exploring the familiar themes of office grind culture, Parkin says she’s comparing the mental demands on professional dancers to that of corporate-climbing white-collar workers. In this case, it’s work that is repetitive, exhaustive and demanding, and ultimately leads to burnout.

Killjoy opens eye-wincingly, with banks of overhead fluorescent lights flicked on, Peter Young’s lighting design bathing a stark looking office in a sickly light. Comprised of iconic office themes and objects from various decades (by set and costume designer Declan Macphail of Object House with Parkin), Killjoy’s place in time is a little hazy, aiming instead for an abstract sense of a corporate environment.

The soundscape, produced by Perth duo Feels (Elise Reitze-Swensen and Rose Taylor), is integral to Killjoy, providing the humming, droning, corporate industrial sounds you’d expect in a busy workplace. Known for their upbeat electronica music using drum pads and synths, Feels has created a thumping soundscape that often leans towards a darker ominous tone.

‘Killjoy’ is peppered with moments of dark office comedy. Pictured: Rhiana Katz. Photo: Chis Symes

Killjoy begins as a slow burn, with choreography depicting how the office space gradually eats away at the workers’ psyche. The two characters’ behaviours become increasingly erratic and confrontational, whether aimed at each other or themselves.

Bouncing off each other’s pent-up frustration, Katz and Wilson make a compelling duo, their movements intense, aggressive, desperate and mechanical, much like the demanding culture in which they work. The overlaps between office culture and the rigours of professional dance culture are revealed in phrases of repetition, exhaustion and eventual burnout.

The atmosphere of Killjoy is an oppressive one which, production-wise, is a huge success. For anyone who works in an office, however, Killjoy’s corporate soundscape and mise-en-scène may hit a little too close to home sensory-wise. While the work is peppered throughout with moments of dark office comedy, it is worth noting that the audience is immersed in an environment that could have a triggering effect on some people.

For this reason, Killjoy may not be for everyone. But if you enjoy your satire dark and disturbing, it’s worth checking out.

Killjoy continues at the State Theatre Centre until 11 March 2023.

Pictured top: Luther Wilson. Photo: Chris Symes

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Author —
Kim Balfour

Kim Balfour is a writer and former professional dancer, who has danced with companies such as WA Ballet and Sydney Dance Company. Kim has worked as a freelance writer for more than 15 years, including the role of dance writer for The West Australian newspaper. In 2020, Kim was selected as a writer-in-residence at the Centre for Stories, and is writing a work of creative nonfiction on gender identity and expression in dance. As a child Kim was sometimes seen sitting on a gently spinning playground carousel, deep in thought, staring at her feet as they dragged along the ground.

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