The Happiness Project


The Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome


AS the lights dimmed in the studio of The Patrick Centre, the anticipation heightened. The performers emerged, in single file, taking up their positions to the backing track accompaniment of a lone violin.

The virtuoso violinist/composer, Alexander Balanescu then joined in with the track to play live, the haunting, evocative music that would weave and interact throughout this beautiful piece of contemporary dance.

Drawing us into the action with pleading actions and expressive facial gestures, Hannah Kidd stood atop a box as the other three dancers moved around her. Dane Hurst, Estela Merlos and Matthieu Geffre completed the troupe and it was immediately apparent that the appreciative audience were in for an exciting evening of extraordinary dance; 65 minutes of sheer delight, performed with conviction, emotion, originality and grace.

Defining happiness through changing relationships, connections and possessions was perfectly interpreted. Do we try to be happy to please others? Is happiness transient if we buy expensive designer clothes? Are we happy craving love and affection? How often do we mask our feelings?

With solo, duet, trio or quartet sets, the seamless transition between the themes was magic.

A small amount of props, included yet another box, which opened to reveal a bright light, the significance questioning interpretation, especially when dancer Hannah placed her head inside. Did it represent a monitor, a mobile phone screen or was she simply hiding her feelings within the box?

Elastic 'strings' attached to the back of a raincoat gave rise to yet more innovative thoughts . . . are we tied down by happiness? Was the dancer mirroring the violin? Powerful moves with strong postures challenging the forms and shapes were brilliant.

Estela Merlos performed an unusual dance with a glass of water as the focus. Was it half full or, was it half empty? The negativity versus the positivity of emotional perceptions.

The impact of a huge sheet of polythene played a key element in the piece. Like waves on an ocean, a place to hide or possibly a shroud, the dancers implemented the prop with agility and skill, finally writing phrases and words onto it that they perceived as their happy thoughts.

Such a joy that the violinist was an integral part of the action and a highlight was when he used his bow to 'conduct' the quartet in a chorus of laughter. At the end, a bowl of strawberries proved to be the key to the secret of happiness as each dancer devoured the luscious fruit with joy and delight. Is it the simple things in life that bring us most pleasure?

With concept, direction and choreography by Didy Veleldman congratulations are in order for a superb show. The Q & A afterwards offered lively discussion and an interesting insight into the creation and execution of 'The Happiness Project'

Elizabeth M Smith and Rosemary Manjunath



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