Postmodern Ballet: Patches, by Little Eggs, at the 2015 Sydney Fringe Festival

Adam Chalmers goes home

Patches was a profoundly moving, emotional experience. For a long time I’ve viewed “interpretive dance” as a punchline, but having seen Little Eggs’ latest show, I understand that movement and dance can be just as emotionally and mentally compelling as any novel or film.

Over a half-dozen scenes, Patches gives its audience an insight into the New South Wales Foster Care System. Performers Georgia Britt and Julia Robertson played two foster sisters – although at times one or both seemed to become a parent. I didn’t think movement alone could ever really communicate all the nuances of such a complicated real-world emotional relationship, but Britt and Robertson brought me to tears as I vividly felt what their characters were going through. Each scene played with elements of strength, weakness, cooperation and competition in a way that truly drew me into their characters lives.

Neither performer was afraid to physically exhaust themselves – I could often see their arms shaking with exertion. Sometimes they fell over or mangled an acrobatic movement in an obviously unintentional way, but this bravery and physical vulnerability only added to the sense of emotional vulnerability that I felt throughout the performance. Good theatre takes risks, and by that metric this was excellent theatre.

The lighting and sound design complemented the action nicely without ever drawing attention away from the performers. I loved the scenes where Britt and Robertson used handheld torches – the beams of light exaggerated every movement and helped them fill a large room that, at times, felt like it dwarfed the two performers.

My favourite moment in the show was when Britt guided Robertson through a series of strong active movements of whirling arms and pumping fists. For a while, Robertson would continue them by herself, but eventually give up and stare motionlessly at the audience. And each time, Britt would guide her through the motions again, until eventually, after dozens and dozens of repetitions, Robertson could continue on her own. It evokes the slow, painful process of helping someone overcome their weaknesses, of helping someone you love grow around the emotional scaffolding you provide. I was shocked by the way such a simple, repetitive movement could convey an emotional truth that would have taken pages and pages of text to properly describe.

It’s difficult to convey just how much the performance affected me. Human brains are wired to find patterns and meanings where there are none. We find numbers or clothing lucky. We see faces in toast and Martian rocks. We fall in and out of love with strangers over a bus ride. Patches fascinated me, because it held a mirror up to my brain’s pareidolia and gave me a chance to watch myself creating stories. Patches exists somewhere between postmodern performance, where we’re shown randomness and asked to find meaning, and ballet, where we’re given a single story and a guide to mapping its elements onto dance. It was a fascinating, powerful piece. It wordlessly communicated all the love and pain of these foster sisters, and also changed my understanding of theater. I’m nowhere near talented enough to capture Patches or the Little Egg theatre company in words. Fly to Brisbane and see their next show. It will be worth it.