‘Harlekin’ – Derevo | London International Mime Festival
Despair, violence, rage and a monkey on a tiny bicycle: Derevo’s ‘Harlekin’ is the fulfillment of the avant-gardist’s hungriest desires. Wickedly surreal images come hard and fast, punctuated with moments of sudden playfulness, beauty and humour. Anton Adasinsky, the craggy-profiled pulse of the company, is dancer, mime, clown, tragic hero, comic relief and the title character. He carves out a dark, frenetic descent into an unconscious place beyond comfort or convention. He revels there for 80 minutes with the help of enigmatic Elena Iarovaia and shadowy Tanya Khabarova – all three of them pale, bald and slightly manic.
The show begins at the end of a phantom play on the other side of a patchy orange curtain stretched across the stage. Out pops a puppet-master, who hangs up his toy performers – a little Harlequin and petite Columbine – before stomping off. Is what comes after only in the minds of the puppets?
The shadowy, bluish light cast over most of the stage, and frequent interjections by a fog machine, enhance a stark, bare aesthetic. The set is made up of boxes and ladders, and most of the props (a bunch of flowers, a violin, a crown) are portrayed by nothing more than bendable white wire. The gaping, empty spaces on the stage are granted presence by the energy in the air and, throughout, there is a sense of dislocation, connections missed, reactions misgauged, love unrequited.
Most of all, there is Harlekin himself, whose pathos and rage are by turns gently enchanting and darkly disturbing. Adasinsky’s putty-like features contort into masks of lecherous glee and abject agony. At several points the luxurious obscurity of it all folds back on itself to produce profound emotional clarity – as when Harlekin and Columbine long for each other from separate stained-glass windows – but most of the show is a circus of the obscure. The performances, combining elements of mime, commedia and butoh, are meticulously precise and yet maintain the spontaneity of long-form improvisation.
It takes some time for a mind intent on interpreting and ‘getting it right’ to adjust to the dreamlike anarchy here. Derevo deliver visual theatre at its most maddening, haunting and virtuosic. Harlekin points you down the rabbit hole, shrugs gently and then walks off into the darkness.
'Harlekin' by Derevo
Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House
London International Mime Festival