Gary Gardiner and Ian Johnston are quantifiable and measurable; they each have a weight, a height or a waist line. Gary Gardiner and Ian Johnston are also both human beings, consisting of 57% water, and well, some other stuff. 43 Percent, a Tramway co-production for this year’s Unlimited festival, is all about this other stuff. Who are we beyond our measurements, beyond medical classifications? How can we define ourselves differently, as complicated bodies full of stuff? And what does all this have to do with dancing?
In trying to answer these questions Gardiner and Johnston draw on an eclectic range of sources. They sing, they tell stories, Andrew Duggan and Zac Scott supply the soundtrack, and they definitely do a lot of dancing. They even stop for a tea break at the half-way mark. We also see them from a variety of angles, a video feed is projected onto the back wall, switching between a birds-eye view, and angles taken from either wing. Audience members are brought up on stage, prizes handed out for a ‘best-selfie competition’, and we are encouraged to clap, cheer and sing too. There’s a bit with a rubber dinghy and a hose. There’s a lot going on, so much so that the work is inevitably a little rough around the edges, and a little too loosely structured at times. Yet the whole is heart-warming. They set themselves a difficult task in defining the entirety of their beings in an hour, but sort of succeed, presenting us with a series of vignettes that sort of fit and sort of don’t, that go on a little too long, or don’t go on long enough. It’s not a perfect show, but it’s all the better for being flawed. As a whole it feels very human, relatable.
‘Talking head’ videos from family members, projected onto the back wall, serves as another means to define Gardiner and Johnston. These testimonies from family members, typically suffused with warmth and praise, thankfully manage to avoid being entirely self-serving. Instead, they demonstrate that being a little self-involved is a pretty okay thing to be, we all think about ourselves, about who we are, our place in the world. These videos anchor the pair in a social context, showing how they are constituted in part from the testimony of others. The 43% of stuff they are made of isn’t all located within their bodies, they don’t possess themselves but form it with others. Gardiner and Johnston seem to extend an invitation here to us, what identity would we give them, and do we recognise them as more than the sum of their visible parts?
43 Percent is most engaging when the performers manage to succeed in creating common ground with their audience, extending the work outside of themselves. For me, this happened when they danced, headphones on, in their own little worlds. Their relationship to music, to dance, so clearly about expression, about joy, is infectious. They dance because they love to, because of how it makes them feel, because of how it says more about them and their place in the world than statistics or labels or testimony or histories ever could. It’s positive, it’s messy, it’s got tonnes going on, I’m not sure it all made sense to me, but whatever stuff they are made of, whoever they are, they definitely know how to dance.