Swedish collective Räserbyrån miss a series of tricks with Rustle, a non-directive show for ‘babies and their adult’ which lacks the playfulness it attempts to inspire.
When it comes to presenting dance & performance work for (very) little people, Rustle quickly establishes Swedish dance collective Räserbyrån to be fans of the ‘nondirective’ approach.
Billed as a piece for ‘0-2 year olds and their adult’, a passerby could pretty easily mistake the company’s 25-minute production for an elaborate playgroup. Tots are introduced to a space dominated by paper bags of varying shapes, sizes and colours. There’s a ‘wall’ upstage, made of four layers of large bags. Smaller ones, sometimes containing musical surprises, are scattered closer to the mats we sit on.
Räserbyrån clearly focus their attention towards engaging infant audiences through mind and body. This’d explain why Rustle is as much (probably more) a sensory experience than a dance or even theatre piece. And why text, action and characters are not of primary concern. In fact, they’re more or less absent.
We’re asked to keep our babies and toddlers still for about 10-minutes – whilst the performers blow bubbles and catch them in a paper bag, accompanied by music. We then watch a little light show involving static shadow puppets behind the paper wall. As the ‘performance’ section fizzles out, parents fill the slightly awkward silence by assuming their babies are now allowed to crawl, grab, crumple and rip. We’re pretty much left to entertain our own child in the space until they start crying or getting fidgety, though the two ‘dancers’ do the rounds blowing paper in the direction of various children.
I have no deep-rooted issues with ‘nondirective’ work, but Rustle is perhaps so slight with regards to content – and actually oddly monotone in what it provides for children to interact with – that neither me, or the 2-year old I brought along, was ever able to really engage. Whilst the performance had a ‘beginning’, it lacked a defined ‘middle’ or ‘end’. A performer standing up, somewhat seemingly randomly after about 25 minutes and literally announcing the show to have ‘ended’ is not the best sign of a well-structured piece, for instance.
Everything just felt a little serious and a little stilted, considering what is expected from its audience. So perhaps Rustle‘s biggest fault is that the performance-making lacks the playfulness that it attempts to inspire. I was waiting, for instance, for the moment my tot (et al) were invited to break down the paper wall. They would have loved the ‘bashing’, the ‘devastation’, and maybe some adults (those who wanted to) could deduce political meaning from that action too. But moments like that are never invited, and the company’s body language (in where we’re seated, and where the performers stand/seemingly ‘guard’ in the play section) suggests to parents that it’s not welcome.
That’s fine, and Räserbyrån’s prerogative, but there was a distinct lack of much else to do. Musical instruments were present in some bags, but these lived in the corners of the space (another cue, surely, that we shouldn’t go there or engage with them). I was waiting for a moment the performers facilitated an impromptu ‘tot’ orchestra – but again, the moment never came. Parents weren’t ever given the confidence that they could really ‘play’, either; it didn’t seem right to break the rules the company had silently seemed to establish. And again, that made everything a little stilted.
Perhaps the other overarching fault of Rustle is overambition with regards to age range. Objectively, the gap between a 0-year old and a 2-year old’s development is as vast as the Atlantic. My infant companion (19 months) is just getting her head around talking – so designing a show both for her, and some of the little bundles in attendance who’ve only just managed to open their eyes for the first time – is a palpable feat. It doesn’t feel like Rustle has truly factored in realities like that – and it, unfortunately, works to its detriment.
As with almost all shows aimed at little ones, Rustle‘s heart is definitely in the right place. But the babies in attendance (mine included) seemed far happier playing on the steps you encounter as you exit the building, begging the question of whether the ‘sensory experience’ was really worth the investment.