Originally performed in 2015 as The Host, The Dinner Party is a reimagining that explores the dynamics of power and influence between the guests and hosts in an evocative yet playful production. Shifting relationships and balances of control propel the night forward to its inevitable conclusion.
In a black cavernous space, a group gather for a dinner party. They are costumed (Gail Sorronda) in alternating black and white formalwear in a dramatic theme of opposition and loyalty. Opening with the Host (Jake McLarnon) atop the dining table, he manoeuvres his guests like marionettes to establish their roles at his party. The group movement is repetitive and emotionless, creating a disconnected and performative atmosphere to reflect their trapped presence in the Host’s orchestration. He is commanding until the moment the Hostess (Lizzie Vilmanis) enters to perform their dualistic control of the guests’ attention. The two slip in and out of each others’ embrace in a sensual catch and release.
From here the party disperses and return as solos, duos, and even trios to further illustrate, or complicate, their archetypes. These smaller, private moments reveal secret desires running between the dinner party attendees including the aggressive pursuit by the Rival (Bernhard Knauer) of the Insecure Party Girl (Josephine Weise), an illicit affair between the Host and the Lover (Isabella Hood), and an envious impulse from the Wannabe (Jag Popham) and the Hostess to hold the Host’s power for themselves.
Weise is arresting in her anxious and broken physicality as an insecure people-pleaser unsure about the Rival’s attentions. Her development into a flirtatious equal to this man in their final duet was very well done. In this dance, the innovative use of the dining table as a vertical surface allowed a physical and emotive tension to the two’s dynamic and their demonstration of strength and connection. Knauer’s domineering characterisation finds its match in Weise and the combination of power and control is impressive to watch.
Additionally, Popham is captivating as a limp and malleable sidekick. In his duet with McLarnon, the Host’s manipulation of the Wannabe’s body is very cleverly choreographed and humorous while maintaining a sinister undertone. Then, in his moment of glory, the Wannabe’s mimicry of the Host’s power is undermined by the character’s lack of integrity as manifest in his slippery and mechanic movements.
Natalie Weir’s choreography conveys the narrative excellently from the inner turmoil of the characters breaking from their archetype to the complicated and developing relationships between them all. In combination with the music performed by Southern Cross Soloists, which added depth and dimension to ever look and leap. In particular, moments like the flirtatious and flowing dance between the Host and the Lover where the violin scratched in the background to tighten the tension and risk of their affair, only to be broken by the Hostess’s entrance. The lighting design from Ben Hughes alternates between clean spots and dappled lighting to close off and isolate parts of the large empty space, illustrating the characters’ private and intimate moments as exclusively between them.
In the final scenes of the dinner party, the Host has lost the respect of the Hostess and thus her galvanising force allows the guests to have their way with him. He is thrown about and jostled out of the dominate position over the party. The inversion of the opening image into the closing portrait of the Hostess claiming her rightful place is a satisfying closure to the to and fro of the evening.
The Dinner Party will continue to tour Australia into July. For more information, please visit their website.