Review: ‘Institute’ – powerful physical theatre at Sydney Festival

January 27th 2017


Images by Richard Haughton  

The only way to do justice this feat of physical theatre would be to review it through an interpretive dance… But my effort would pale in comparison to the skill of the actual dancers, so we’ll have to stick with words.

In Institute, a show that emphasises disconnections between our inner and outer realities, four male dancers interweave their bodies in a way that often makes them obstacles for their own aspirations. Through a series of twists, turns, and knots, they perform a physical representation of the pressures of modern life and love.

Take the character of Daniel, for example. Daniel, we deduce, is a young architect with great expectations placed on him. In parts, he opens and closes the filing cabinets that tower around him, offering portals into his subconscious. We get insight into the best and worst moments of his life as they play over in his mind, and the empathy this creates is palpable – your heart really goes out to Daniel.


In the most visually compelling moment of the show, each of Daniel’s limbs are harnessed to a crutch and manipulated by the remaining dancers. As much as he tries to put pen to paper and finish his design work, the puppeteers sabotage and redirect his movements, all the while the demanding voice of his superior booms across the stage. It serves a powerful physical embodiment of the experience of mental illness.

Another character, Martin, mutters at one point that “reality and fiction are looping”. The audience, along with the characters, begin to find it hard to distinguish between “real” commands and the demanding voices within characters’ heads.

For a dance piece about modern anxieties, Institute is very good. According to the director’s notes, it presents a comment on “our impulse to care and our complete reliance on one another” – but I didn’t get this at all. To me, the people the dancers were ‘relying on’ seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help. Thankfully, this is a contemporary dance performance, and it’s a given that we’ll all respond with a different interpretation of its message. And if that interpretation happens to come in the form of an interpretative dance, I would like to see it.


WHAT: Institute
WHEN: 25 – 28 January 2017
WHERE: Seymour Centre, cnr Cleveland St & City Road, Chippendale
HOW MUCH: General admission $56/$50 – more info here



FBi’s Arts & Culture executive producer.

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