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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Habitat (Assembly @ Dance Base)

Creature discomforts as a hermit crab struggle to find a home

We have quite a cutesy perception of hermit crabs and how they move from shell to shell. The first images that come to mind are Pixar-like animations of a wee tide pool-dwelling creature scuttling around and peacefully swapping out its shell when it no longer fits them. This is not what Bettina Szabo had in mind with Habitat. In her multidisciplinary dance performance, the life cycle of the hermit crab is used as inspiration to discuss her emigration from Uruguay to Canada. Her shell is a meticulously crafted paper sculpture, made by Jacinthe Derasp, that moves magnificently with her body.

The sculpture has such a visual dominance that for many audiences it will be the main attraction – but Szabo makes just as strong an impression on her own. She has created a show that will make you ask questions such as “Is it safe to move your leg that way?” and “Are feet meant to point in that direction?”. Her limbs twist and twitch in ways that are Barbie-like and freakishly beautiful. If this choreography wasn’t in a personal solo dance piece it would be quite at home in a horror film.

But If you think that finding her place in the “shell” will bring her more comfort, you would be sorely mistaken. She goes from whimpering and shivering to stomping and roaring, seeking a new home as this one ceases to be adequate. At the heart of her performance is the connection between self and home. She shows that “home” is not just a means of shelter but a means of stability that dictates how you move through the world and understand yourself. Not doesn’t just mean being homeless, it means being naked.

Sceptics might worry that this idea isn’t enough to sustain a fifty-minute performance, but if nothing else the sculpture is so mesmerising that you don’t care. The way it plays with the light (both projected onto it and glowing from within it) and warps in time to the thunderous soundscape (courtesy of Ana Dall'Ara Majek and Joel Lavoie) is unlike anything you will have seen before or anything you are likely to see after. If you have any doubts about the necessity or limitations of live performance in light of AI look no further than Habitat. Not only is it handmade with human skill, but it speaks to human concerns and finds a monstrous and utterly magnetic way to voice them. Four stars.

Habitat will play at Assembly @ Dance Base until August 27th


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