Dublin Fringe Review: Tardigrade

I don’t speak French. What on Earth is a Tardigrade?

As it turns out the Tardigrade may well be extra-terrestrial. The Tardigrade [noun], also known as the moss piglet or water bear, are micro-animals. Imagine a tiny, bear-like caterpillar. Savvy? But it’s not just skin deep, the critters are also known extremophiles. If that doesn’t sound like your average Saturday night it means that the Tards can survive even in extreme environments! – of pressure, temperature, radiation and even the SPACE.

I thought this was about drama, Colm.

The Dublin Fringe Production of the same name is a refreshing exploration of contemporary life. Its medium is dance. Its attitude is fierce. It is educated but unpretentious, and is as diverse and as courageous as its namesake – the interplanetary bugbear. It is a magical mystery tour of the universe as imagined by choreographer Phillip Connaughton. The camp fantasy of a closet naturalist presents Swan Lake, Star Trek and micro-bears from outer space – through dance. Obviously. Now that’s what I call a synopsis, baby.

Sounds bonkers! Could I get some time and space coordinates for this?

It is, and you may.

Tonight is the last show, it’s at 21.30 inside the Samuel Beckett Theatre establishment.

And you liked it, I suppose?

Tardigrade is a good example of what Fringe theatre (real ‘Fringe’ or not, it’s a curated festival after all) should do. Dare to explore. The Connaughton Space Odyssey is an exploration not just of the human body (there is some nudity) and its limits, but the reality(ies) in which it can exist. I thought I understood Boudrillard, I’ve seen The Matrix.

For the uninitiated, Jean Baudrillard is a big voice in postmodern philosophy: he’s into exposing liminal spaces, hyperreality, the absurdity of epistemology at the turn of the millennium, all that, if that’s your bag. If you’re seriously interested, take the day off and read his book, Simulacra and Simulations. That said, if you told me I was going to see a “Baudrillard show” I’d have my bat out to swat the pseudo-intellectuals.

Tardigrade avoids all that, cutting straight through the funny bone to the witty stuff. The show opens with Connaughton walking his dog on a projector. Then a parade of Sesame Street singers take the stage, and you’re thinking, “Sure, because this wasn’t already bonkers.” It’s not only hilarious, and “Oh cute, a doggy!” and great costume design, but ultimately it sets up a critical frame for of Tardigrade. The world of Tardigrade is one of where communication is interrupted, as if to disrupt not just the fabric of dance or drama but the doldrums of day-to-day insanity.

Is this a comment on life online, where we walk digi-dogs? Is it a gender thing, this naked dancing? Is it a choreographer’s existential crisis? The dancers don’t hear the music. Yes. It’s all of these things and maybe none. But this isn’t the Inquisition. You’re better off seeing the show, when you might decide that, yes, it is better to ‘just enjoy the madness’ than try to understand. Besides, if I analyse the tits off it then I’ll spoil the surprise.

The show’s choreography is in its turn whimsical, sexual, aggressive, moving and experimental, and is executed precisely by its dancers. The set is a clear slate – one might call it “the desert of the Real”. It’s a place where, you imagine, almost anything is possible.

Even those fabulous costumes.

Seriously, how?

You might also think, “These flabby, genderless mutants are pretty good at singing, actually.” Michael Gallen’s music is a little like Einstein on the Beach, performed by Ewoks*, you might say. It’s stunning and whimsical and you’ll like it. Armed with your whimsy and your sense of humour, be really brave during the topless dancing and the booty pooping of this bottomless wonderland, and I hope you’ll discover something new. Sensuality, and some kind of meditation on mortality, probably. Stalk through the woods with Phillip’s box monster. Allow him to flirt with you, and to do something beautiful. Go to the woods, where lithe adolescents are chased by the horny pink satyr himself. Travel on an inter-dimensional mission with acrobatic space cadets. Whatever. I’ve used all my words. This show is as bright and brilliant as lightsabers.

*http://vimeo.com/104189970

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