By Thea Hartman and Kate Briggs-Price
To our shame and huge excitement and curiosity, the opening night of ZoieLogic Dance Theatre’s Heist was the first time either of us had seen a dance-only production. And on top of that, whilst between us we have a few years’ worth of mostly amateur dance experience, we know nothing about contemporary dancing, which was the show’s predominant style. In a nutshell, we went to the opening night of this show with absolutely no expectations and completely ready to see contemporary dance with fresh eyes.
And that is exactly what happened. As ZoieLogic Dance Theatre Artistic Director Zoie Golding expertly put it (she created the show after all), Heist mixes “the adventure of Mission Impossible, the gaming of Crystal Maze, and a little bit of the heart of The Goonies” – an emotionally dynamic, cleverly woven, action-packed show bursting with the most graceful moves which kept us on the edge of our seats throughout.
One of the most striking aspects of Heist was in the way it established the tone so promptly and accurately from the very first minute with the help of soundtrack and a villain with robotic moves, deeply unsettling facial expressions and Matrix-like costume. We like to think that we don’t get scared easily, but we definitely found ourselves huddling close into each other as the villain slowly approached our end of the stage. This almost instant characterization was also instilled into the four ‘good’ guys – despite there being absolutely no words spoken for the entire duration of the show, we quickly got a real sense of the dynamic between the characters in the first act, as their movements started to organize themselves into patterns and motifs to show their quirks and mannerisms, their teamwork and their willingness to do whatever it takes to escape the prison.
Interestingly, the storyline was quite minimalistic. Whilst the general plotlines were conveyed by the characters’ interaction with the set, the soundtrack and the dancers’ movements and facial expressions, the lack of words brought with itself a lack of specificity which Heist turned on its head into a vagueness encouraging audience engagement. We did not know exactly why the four men were imprisoned, or what they tried to set free at the end of it, but when we talked about it after coming out of the show we both thought it had something to do with identity. Whether or not that’s what it actually was about is a different question.
The great thing about the show is that none of this guesswork actually matters: you don’t get brownie points for identifying one specific metaphor the author wanted to convey. The focus was simply on how the incredibly skilful and graceful movements affected the audience’s emotions (and trust us, they did). The plot was merely shaped by some classic heist film tropes (e.g. the chase scene), and the fantastically adaptable set which enhanced the experience of the show by being as fluid as the dancers’ movements; the essence was all in the relationship between movements and emotion. As the dancers were climbing the prison’s walls showing some real parkour skills, we waited anxiously for them to fall. As they supported each other through their feeblest sequences of choreography we felt feeble with them. As they were running from the villain through the set which became a maze we were rooting for them to get away.
For us, that was the essence of Heist. It did not matter that we knew close to nothing about contemporary dance. It only mattered that we opened our eyes and hearts to see and feel this show, and we left NST City all the richer for it.