A mellifluous medley of dance, text and theatre, Jasmin Vardimon’s Justitia combines adroit strenuosity and innovative storytelling to present a thrilling meditation on themes of truth, culpability, justice and perceived realities. Vardimon’s experimental format – which gumptiously employs choreography and speech in tandem throughout – proves an apt vehicle for showcasing the thrilling narrative at hand, steering the characters through a cascade of arresting travails and permitting ostensibly conflicting tones like levity and gravitas to permeate the story concurrently.
The piece begins with a court stenographer judiciously recording the development of a trial, her typing projected conveniently onto a screen above. A snapshot of the crime at hand quickly unfolds: beautiful, unassuming Mimi has been implicated in the death of her husband Charlie’s best friend Seth. Accompanied by the presiding counsel of Mimi’s defense lawyer, the trio acts out three possible scenarios that could have led to this outcome, prompting the question of whether Seth’s death was the result of a violent attack, an unfortunate accident, or a deadly rebuttal made in self-defence.
The blend of dialogue and interactive terpsichore between the characters at this point is a joy to behold: play-fighting between the pair of friends on the night of the crime is peppered with amusing taunts and improbably graceful athleticism, and the detail evident in the reverse motion used to rewind each vignette (a literal reversal of music and movement) is nothing short of astounding. The small but sturdy cast is evenly matched in energy and capability, though certain individuals find ways to shine: Luke Burrough’s Charlie is militantly precise in his motility, while the gentle grace of Aoi Nakamura’s Mimi and sleek, slithery crawl of Christine Gouzelis’ stenographer expose their respective backgrounds in ballet and modern dance. Paul Blackman’s Seth is particularly captivating, his lean form deftly assuming shapes that read as calculatedly clownish and intimidating at once. Periodic cameos by Vardimon herself, a true maestro of port de bras, are equally rewarding.
Perhaps most impressive is the balanced relationship between Justitia’s performative and technical facets. Though the gigantic rotating stage – segmented into three separate sets, each outfitted with its own design and props – is undeniably imposing, Vardimon never lets it overshadow the action taking place within its confines. The retro living room (that is, the scene of the crime) levies no untoward influence on the murder versus manslaughter versus self-defence quandary, while Seth’s warmly lit therapy acts as a clear conduit for admissions of remorse, a clear foil to the austere courtroom, which compels the very same guilt-ridden subjects to defiantly thrust an innocent face forward.
Alas, the piece is not without its minuses. The second act drags out clumsily following an intermission cleverly worked in under the guise of a recess from court. The audience is treated to a final reprisal of the group therapy bit, which this time around reads as shtick thanks to a lengthy and rather heavy-handed monologue delivered by Mimi’s lawyer (a shame, as Mafalda Deville is otherwise splendid in her role); likewise, the ultimate revelation of the truth behind Seth’s death is overtly melodramatic to a fault. Still, the overall effort is as ambitious as it is entertaining, and Justitia’s heroic reconciliation of seemingly incompatible emotions – humour, veneration, awe, shame – largely eclipses its faults, few as they are.
Read the Exeunt interview with Jasmin Vardimon.