Performed by four male dancers from physical theatre company Gecko, Institute’s ‘story’ is as shifting and fluid as their deliciously watchable movement – it twists and turns and tangles up like their bodies. We seem to begin in some kind of cartoonishly dystopian office, with absurdly outsized filing cabinets.
Two workers, Martin and Daniel, mutter small talk and professional jargon to each other and to various bosses over the phone, but sudden harsh spotlights lights suggest some sort of totalitarian state, watching, demanding. Not that it’s gloomy – this show manages to evoke the action of office work in a vibrantly entertaining way: the two suited gents leap in unison, or perform Hollywood musical-style interlaced routines with files and folders.
But both seem drawn to those cabinets for more than just finance reports: Daniel opens one and a flickering slide-show of happy memories – but also ambitions – flickers out of it; Martin’s cabinet keeps repeating a date with woman, a stalled marriage proposal. They begin to become obsessed with theses dreams and desires, which take on a troublesome aspect; inventively staged, slickly executed movement sequences show the two men doing battle with very modern anxieties and fears.
Daniel makes flesh the expression tying yourself up in knots over something. He has an ambition to be an architect, which he seems to scupper through wild procrastination (oh too recognisably expressed in increasingly desperate movement). For Martin, it’s love that has him strung up. Self-doubt and self-sabotage are not easy concepts to dance; these two manage it brilliantly.
And gradually, we seem like we’re in quite a different institute: a medical one, signified by pills and screens, and the sense that the men’s compulsions have got out of hand. But the rugs keep being pulled from underneath our feet – for everyone in the institute seems to be sick or psychotic too…
This last development seems a little bit of a cop-out, and the show can be a frustratingly strange creature. But pinning down meaning maybe isn’t what it’s about. The narrative may elude any satisfyingly certainty, and it somewhat overstays its welcome, but the execution marries real panache with utter control; all four performers, lithe and loose-limbed, are superb. The attention to detail extends to all aspects of this beautifully realised production, from the theatrically inventive use of sets springing out of the cabinets to the now-ominous, now-jaunty soundtrack. All in all, it makes for a unique vision.