This Sydney Festival I have spent the majority of my time at The Seymour Centre – watching as punters swirl and spin off into one of three venues – all with a revolving programme – all with an exciting variety of shows to experience. Last time I was at the Everest I was there to review Mike Birbiglia a stand up comic, on this occasion I was there to see a devised work created by a range of physical theatre performers/dancers which was developed over two continents. Though my first love is text- I am always keen to branch out (pun acknowledged) to other modes of performance and am trying to bring myself up to speed on physical performance and dance.

There is something awe-inspiring about dance, for me. Me who sits, reading or writing or watching or thinking… all quite sedentary occupations and past times – the spectacle of watching someone move and twist and negotiate space with their body is impressive. Add to that a narrative created by an ensemble of performers. Ideas about the observations of humans from an animal’s point of view – and I was very curious to see what the results would be.

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As we shuffle and scatter into our pre-ordained seats, animals on stage stare at us. Beady glass eyes stare unblinkingly, watching us, as we watch them. A giant tree, knotted and thick-barked, something in it’s branches. A forest in the gloaming.

Created by pvc Tanz (the dance arm of Theatre Freiburg and Theatre und Philharmonisches Orchester der Stadt Heidelberg) Food Chain is an exploration of the relationship between humans and nature. Directors, Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood “wanted to explore the idea of animals experimenting on humans, viewing them like a David Attenborough nature documentary in reverse.” The tables have turned on the humans. No longer are humans the exploitative force – they are no longer voyeurs of the natural world – despite their blind confidence and man-made contraptions (backpacks, a tent, torches etc) – they are the hunted not the hunting.

Hailing from Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre in the early 90s, Gavin and Grayson are long-term physical theatre/dance collaborators who have toured throughout Europe and the world – both with their homegrown collaborations lawn and roadkill and in their own projects. According to their program notes, this particular production has been revisited and redeveloped for the Sydney Festival with some new collaborators included in the creation (or re-thinking) of the work.

Predominately movement based, Food Chain is more a series of links, than a cohesive narrative. Broadly speaking there is a beginning and (sometimes a gruesome) end to several of the characters, and a series of themes that are presented and re-presented. Sometimes animal, sometimes human the force and ferocity of the natural world versus the fragile and powerless human are openly displayed. Playing with audience and the idea of the voyeur – two bears with a CD player inform each other of a few dot-point facts about humans, specifically the mating rituals of humans which stuns and astounds the bear’s companion and exposes the constructed versus the natural world of humans. At one point a lesson is presented to a series of stuffed animals about survival – which presents the ide that despite the beauty of nature- it is instinctually and necessarily predatorial and/or in a state of suffering.

This is a beautifully produced piece of work. Dynamic, and visually lively with astoundingly evocative sound design Food Chain shows us the strength and power of the natural world and it may overpower hapless humans. This is made even more astounding by the fact that the hapless humans in question are imbued with a remarkable physical dexterity and strength, which is still no defense against the likes of two very insatiable bears. Vignettes of weakness and strength – foolishness and fear swing us, the captive audience between the wonder of the natural world and the threat of the natural world. At times, the curation of these vignettes is jarring – it is difficult to recover from a supremely terrifying moment of violence into a moment which is intended as comic.

Though the execution of each moment is beautifully crafted and awe inspiring, it’s not a smooth journey through this terrain and the last moment seemed to linger a little longer than necessary and was quite a soft ending to a brutal and forceful idea.