ZESTcreative delivers on intimacy and spontaneity
June 11 at Factory Theatre Mainspace
BY MILES FORRESTER
When the audience enters, they’re already there: five members of ZESTcreative are casually getting ready under three cascades of indigo-hued light. Hannah Barstow can be heard from the staircase doing ascending scales on her KORG stage piano as she warms her voice. Eva Connelly and Carman Chan are on the floor doing deep stretches, and Julien Bradley-Combs is in a corner, tuning a guitar. Somewhere in the audience, Racha Moukalled, the one whom we can presume plays the unattended vibraphone, is conferring with a member of the audience. When she returns, the ensemble assembles into a loose trapezium: the musicians line the back with the two movers before them. Moukalled hands a clipboard right to Barstow. Barstow laughs, “I guess this is my question.”
The clipboard gesture is a contract with the audience. Much of this is improvised. Not all improvised; there are moments when movements and music are completely synchronised. But things happen conversationally between the players in questions and half-answers. Barstow follows the prompt and tells a story about the first time she can remember being in nature. A lightning storm, not violent but a little overwhelming, maybe, for a child. The musicians catch the ambiguity and make impressionistic washes of jazzy post-rock. The dancers don’t attempt to reenact the scene but make their own contributions to complete it. Connelly and Chan work beautifully together, instilling the same responsive approach to composition as the musicians.
There are songs. They may be written on the spot, or prepared. They strike a balance where it doesn’t make a difference to their quality either way. They’re adventurous and confident, always landing with incredible accuracy, even when it’s in a strange land. It’s evident that Bradley-Combs and Moukalled are excellent listeners and could easily create an accompaniment to match the inquisitive melodies that Bartow weaves. Barstow sings about questions: about who she is in the community and what makes her happy. It turns out that being in a community with a common purpose of care makes her happy. How wonderful that she’s in this ensemble.
The closing piece is a lovely tableau where all five share questions with each other – the little intimate questions we ask to pass the time – cradled together head to shoulder as an ascending hill. This is the first show they’ve been able to perform for this year’s Fringe. All the performers on stage wear PPE for their protection, like us in the audience. I’ve had three years to catch on to the intricacies of emotion that are definitely apparent underneath a mask, including this kind of tenderness. I appreciate it. It’s a reminder of the world outside this theatre, which imposes itself in little vicissitudes and deeper pains in every community. I’d be excited to see ZESTcreative again, on another afternoon, at another festival, as another permutation, or even see the exact same thing I saw a second time.