Two men – one mid-60s, one mid-30s – on stage for an hour. Dressed mostly in just vest and shorts, they move and interact with each other. Mostly silent, but occasionally speaking or bursting into song, and a voice providing an sporadic (and often very funny) narrative.
We learn that the older man has Parkinson’s Disease, and that the younger man is his son, a dancer who has persuaded his father to dance with him, so that they can connect, and as a way of mitigating the physical effects of the disease.
The dance is spellbinding, cemented by music often with a rhythmic (sometimes a heart) beat. There are sections that are achingly intimate and painful to watch: one as they circle closer, until they finally touch, then hold each other for the first time; another as anger and vindictiveness with each other turns to love and caring. I am alternately transfixed, laughing, holding my breath, moved to tears…
This already powerful story is made even more poignant on learning that it is also true in more ways than I had realised. They really are son, Giulio D’Anna, a professional choreographer, who has persuaded father Stefano – who does have Parkinson’s and is untrained in dance – to take part in this piece. They have now performed it 96 times all around the world, and they have decided to stop at around 100, so it’s nearly the end, with quick flourishes in Sydney and Rio to come.
Afterwards, Giulio answered questions. Why did he do it? How did he persuade his father to participate? What was it like to start when they first began? How has their relationship changed, and how has it affected the family? Does it help the father’s symptoms, and have they had to change the moves as his disease progressed? If it helps the symptoms, what will stopping mean?
This was a really effective way of communicating important aspects of what it means to have the disease. At some point, in passing, we learn ‘facts’ about what Parkinson’s Disease is, the symptoms and how they progress, and the familial nature; but the power of the piece is in the human expression and contact.
There’s been a lot of interest about how dance therapy can help with Parkinson’s, and I find I’m sitting next to Sara Houston, an academic from Roehampton University, who is researching the area through a Dance for Parkinson’s Project. She’s funded by the English National Ballet, who see this as ‘artistic with therapeutic outcomes’, as opposed to ‘just therapy’. Giulio is not keen on Western medicine or dance therapy, preferring what he describes as a more holistic approach, and I can see that working with his father in this way has been a powerful experience for both of them.
This performance was at The Place, next to St Pancras Church, opposite Euston Station – a lovely contemporary dance venue, which you should check out if you haven’t visited already.
Image: By Cinzia Camela, reproduced with permission