Culture  Aging gracefully

Dance company puts the young and the old on stage together to tackle issues relating to age

What does it mean to be 78? How can we, as young university students, understand the issues that challenge the elderly? The Age I’m In, an innovative work by Australian dance theatre company Force Majeure, explores these questions about age from a variety of perspectives. The production had its Montreal premiere on October 14 at Place des Arts’ Cinquième Salle. Based around a compelling montage of over 80 interviews with Australian citizens, artistic director and choreographer Kate Champion’s latest piece reflects how aging affects human experience. The 10-person cast draws together a unique combination of performers, ranging in age from 14 to 79. Unlike most dance troupes, the cast is a mix of professional dancers and regular people. As the audience witnesses the generationally diverse cast dance together on stage, one thing becomes clear: it isn’t how old you are, but how you experience your age that matters.

The Age I’m In was created out of a project that aimed to map the Australian identity, also coordinated by Champion. The project’s original goals were translated into a universal work that captures many aspects of aging that people the world over experience. “I tried not to aim for Australians in particular,” says Champion. “I want everyone to feel as if they’ve seen a part of their own attitude on stage.” Clearly, this attitude has led to the performance’s success. Champion channels the voices of many different generations, which means that all audience members can relate to the dance they’re seeing. The performance does not tell the audience what to think, but leads them to reflect on the issues brought to the surface.

The first image we see in The Age I’m In is the full cast standing on stage, illuminating the variations in age, physical form, and life experience between them. These disparities elicit a harsh revelation of the inequalities present within society, and some of the differences that set us apart. The innocent adolescent versus the wise elderly person, the healthy versus the sick, and even the skilled dancer versus the newcomer, all become points of entry to larger questions of social segregation. The performance asks broader questions about age by challenging the audience with issues like loneliness, sickness, religion, and drug abuse. In one captivating scene, for instance, the digital screens that act as set pieces expose a young woman’s nude body, showing visible signs of breast cancer, next to another nude figure that has clearly undergone plastic surgery. Every age, it seems, has both benefits and struggles.

United by their movements, the performers create an atmosphere on stage that is built on acceptance. Champion compiled a cast of individuals that she claims “has such a strong and open-minded understanding of each other.” The choreography mirrors this feeling; the steps and the music speed up for the younger dancers, showcasing their technical virtuosity, and slow down in order to capture the courageousness and elegance of the old or less physically able performers. It is a piece, as Champion says, that “works for the strengths of the people.”

The Age I’m In is not solely a dance performance; it incorporates multimedia elements like hand-held screens and voice-overs from Champion’s initial interviews into the work. When asked about her decision to work with technology, Champion replied, “having the cameras adds a lot to our capabilities as artists. It challenges our creativity and adds a testing dimension to the medium of dance.” Amusingly, she noted that the overall stress of the performance did not come from the experience of working with dancers of widely varying capabilities; it was the technology that was constantly on her mind. But it was worth the effort. The combination of dance and technology effectively brings together the multiplicity of real life experiences that were incorporated into the piece.

Through its complex narrative structure and its insight, The Age I’m In brings attention to society’s perspective on aging and looks at it from a variety of viewpoints. The diversity of the performers gives a voice to age groups that are not always acknowledged in dance. Through her unconventional approach, Champion’s piece successfully moves toward the recognition and acceptance of age-based differences.