The best theatre ideas are often remarkably simple. The whole 40 minutes of Sensacional is based on the premise of – let’s see what happens when we project moving images on a white floor with the audience dressed in white moving freely around the space.
The target audience here is 6-36 months old, which allows for a genuinely engaged response, and a kind of experience we could qualify as immersive theatre, although I hesitate to thrust the label on this piece for a number of reasons. For a start, baby theatre is, in any case, a genre of its own. There is no point in putting a story framework around it, and very often whatever is presented to the target age could produce any number of anticipated and unanticipated responses. The most effective tactic to engage babies, as shown by some of the classics within this genre (such as this very show, now in its fourth year, and its predecessor Oogly Boogly) is to create a safe environment for the audience to use their senses.
The parents and more reluctant audience members can sit in the dark around the rectangular white floor. There is one dancer (Charlene Low on this occasion) setting the pace and ever so gently engaging the participants in imperceptible contact improvisation. She stretches and glides in slow motion around the toddlers, occasionally – as they become more open to her presence – clasping an arm or a leg around their bodies to engage them in subtle duets. Most of the participating audience, meanwhile, is busy responding to looped up sequences of flowers, birds, ladybirds, fishes and other shapes trotting Pac Man-style across this giant floor-screen (not that the toddlers mind the repetition).
It is an experience for parents and guardians too. As you watch them fend their way through this particular experiential puzzle, you begin to appreciate the more metaphorical aspects of it. Is this already a first sign of how they will be getting through life? Kicking and screaming against the prospect of going in on someone else’s terms? Cautious, holding on, watching from the side, contemplating? Enjoying their own path while trying to keep out of the way of those who are bigger and stronger? Or jumping in at the deep end, going for it, in for the full experience, no matter what?
My own baby reminded me of someone I know, clinging onto the dance floor long after everything had finished and everyone else had gone, savouring the memory of it all.
Sensacional is at the Unicorn Theatre until August 20th, but returns again in April. For more details, click here.