New Zealand company Java Dance Theatre is no stranger to the Fringe. Their site-specific, immersive Back of the Bus was a sell-out in 2014 and 2016. Now they present a new, multi-sensory piece about everyone’s favourite sweet treat.
If you’re not a fan of chocolate or have issues with ingesting it, don’t sit in the front row – just in case. There’s a lot of audience participation built into this show and while at times it can be a little squirm-inducing, it creates a great deal of comedy and some magical moments.
Chocolate is a melting pot of contemporary dance, skilful live string and percussion music and vocal sounds (it also features a literal melting pot). It’s often weird and eerie and is deeply atmospheric. It’s an innovative piece of work, not least because it stimulates all five senses – four of which involve chocolate encounters. We see chocolate, taste chocolate, smell chocolate and touch chocolate in different forms and in unexpected ways. While it’s not possible to technically hear chocolate, the music is designed to emulate what it might sound like, if chocolate were an audio experience. As cocoa dust rises in the auditorium, caught in the haze of the lights, the deep, rich aroma filling the venue, there’s a wonderfully moody atmosphere.
The only problem with this production is that while there is a story unfolding, it’s unclear and confusing what that is. So it’s hard to invest in the characters, especially in the bits involving less spectacle and sensory interaction. There’s a central relationship with tiffing lovers, and what appears to be chocolate angels getting involved. Then a death, cocoa infused resurrection and the shaking of maracas.
It’s well constructed and performed (other than the plot) with a cast of five creating the soundscape and effects. The stringed instruments and percussion create an earthy, passionate and intentionally odd vibe, in a created world where chocolate is revered and worshipped in an almost cultish, yet deeply elegant fashion. Tasting is a slow, delicate thought out process, contrary to the way we tend to consume in the first world. But it also gets messy (the clue’s in the marketing pic) with molten chocolate, to artistic and amusing effect.
Chocolate uses age-old techniques to create modern production vales. No amount of screen technology can replace a live theatrical experience in which you not only watch and hear but interact with movement, smell, taste and touch.
You can see Chocolate at Assembly Rooms – Bijou until 24th August at 14:30. For tickets, please visit www.edfringe.com