We’ve all sat through them. Those high school presentations by students who are utterly obsessed with a topic, filled with every possible fact related to it. These presentations often seem like the speaker has been driven to include everything they know or otherwise they will let down both themselves down and the subject of their passion / obsession. They have little awareness of how much their audience could care less for what they’re talking about and often can bore those watching to tears.
In ‘100 Years of the History of Dance as Told by One Man in 60 Minutes With an Energetic Group Finale’ (aka History of Dance) our narrator Jacob, played by Joseph Simons, begins the show daring to take us down this path. The audience are his classmates and Jacob wants to tell us every single fact he has devoured about dance and the artists who inspire him to fuel his obsession. But rather than losing us in the facts and figures, Joseph takes the audience gleefully with him through the ‘tree of influence’ of choreographers who have shaped the last 100 years of the dance world right up to the ‘energetic group finale’.
Let me get this out of the way first. Joseph Simons is an incredibly talented dancer. I could have watched him dance for the entire show. To my untrained eye he is able to embody the styles of numerous choreographers, whilst lecturing us on their history with an infectious charm and humour. In what would have been a completely different and equally entertaining (if not far more expensive) show, Joseph could have performed excerpts from the repertoire of the choreographers he referenced and the audience would have gone home entertained. But Joseph and his team have created something more memorable in History of Dance through their narrator, Jacob.
In Jacob, the team have created a unique guide through the last 100 years of dance. Joseph plays Jacob with the right combination of effortless charm, youthful exuberance, flamboyance, vulnerability and boundless energy to balance out his know-it-all nature. For this outcast, dance is when he feels most alive and he wants us to know it. Joseph’s performance has us from the first moment he engages with the audience. We are shown the styles of more than 15 seminal creatives from the dance world. Our narrator shares their histories, what drove them to create their master works, why they have left a legacy on the dance world and the tragedies that befell many of them, not the least of which is how many were lost to AIDs.
We are shown Merse Cunningham, Bob Fosse, Rudolph Nureyev, Alvin Ailey, Pina Bausch, Michael Bennett and Gene Kelly to name a few. Each artist is given the reverence and humour they deserve, with highlights being the ode to DV8 Physical Theatre and the deep-dive into Gillian Lynne’s creation of the movement style for the musical Cats. I leave the show wanting to learn more of each of them.
Some of the most moving and memorable parts of performance however, are when we learn more about why certain artists inspire and influence Jacob. As a flamboyant high school boy, dance is his inspiration and his dream, and his refuge and escape. In moments of reflecting on these artists, Jacob ponders on what it takes to be an influencer, on referencing work vs stealing, on the unique palette choreographers create with and on legacy and what he will leave behind. These moments humanise Jacob and my only wish for the show was that there were more of these moments throughout the piece.
In History of Dance, Joseph Simons has created both an ode to the influencers and instigators of modern dance and an investigation into what makes them tick and what leads them to create their legacies. Both a showcase of his skills as a performer, and a meditation on legacy, on inspiration, on what connects us with artists, History of Dance has much to offer both lovers of dance and lovers of live theatre and is an impressive second solo work from an artist to watch.
Ads J attended ‘100 Years of the History of Dance as Told by One Man in 60 Minutes With an Energetic Group Finale’ on 1st August 2019. History of Dance tours Australia until the end of September 2019.
Cast & creatives
Created and Performed by Joseph Simons
Directed and Co-Written by Emma Canalese
Original Music by Enrico Melozzi
Lighting Design by Jason Glenwright
Set/Costume Design by Adam Gardnir