Like Rabbits is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s short story Lappin and Lapinova and the change of title is revealing in the shift of focus. There’s a particular verb that’s missing from the saying, which can be read into the subtext of Woolf’s original but, in this updated dance theatre version, takes centre stage.
Ben Duke and Lucy Kirkwood made a decision to bring the story into an immediately recognisable contemporary world so instead of the couple’s official union (marriage) being the point of departure, as it is in Woolf’s story, Like Rabbits begins with an elaborate courting ritual. It’s an excellent opening scene. Duke is every bit as expressive in his face as he is with the rest of his body and his side glances at an apparently aloof, cigarette rolling Ino Riga evoke a ritual that is, at the same time, weirdly animalistic and recognisably mundane. We see him trying to look like he’s having a great time, posturing, building up the courage to talk to her. There’s a touching balance of alpha male posing and fragility that evokes a palpable sense of his character without a single word being exchanged.
The power dynamics are totally changed from the original story. Here, it is the female character who appears to have all the power. She watches him, assessing him, finally chooses him and brings him back to her lair. There, she removes her outfit (there’s a really smart decision to make both characters’ costumes references to time periods we know they’re not in) to reveal a rabbit costume underneath. She then gives the man a suit bag, which he unzips to reveal his own rabbit costume. He puts it on. It seems like, in doing so, he is entering a portal into her world. Her interest in rabbits, her fantasy world, doesn’t come from him, unlike the original story where it is inspired by his tendency to twitch his nose. It is already established and she is giving him access to it.
To begin with, the relationship appears to be about nothing but sex. It’s difficult to read other rhythms of life into the choreography so it’s not until we are jolted out of this into Duke speaking fragmentary lines from the day to day life of a long-term relationship (his sister needs her to transfer the money, do they have enough washing up liquid). that we realise that this night (week?) of passion has grown into something more long term.
It’s difficult to sympathise with the woman though as, she constantly tries to resist the reality of every day life, to escape into her fantasy life. Duke speaks while Rigo dances: the restrictions of language clash against the freedom of physical movement and yet there’s no compromise to Rigo’s world. Everything appears to be on her own terms. Finally the man breaks the spell. It’s not the end of the relationship necessarily but it’s the end of something, a crashing back down to reality. He’s not an animal after all.
It’s the updating, more than the adaptation of form, that sets Like Rabbits adrift from its source material but this setting adrift can be freeing. It opens up space by which we can examine modern relationships, the process of entering the world of another’s world. Ultimately, it is the push and pull between each person’s world (be it real or imaginary) that is at the core of this, just as it is in Woolf’s original.
A Bigger Beast: An interview with Ben Duke and Lucy Kirkwood.