Review: DJD’s Mimic a masterpiece in carnivorously creative colours

By Stephan Bonfield - Calgary Herald
3 min read | April 17, 2018

Masks and mimicry, puppetry and pageantry. It was all on display at DJD’s latest artistic collaboration titled Mimic, a meeting of minds between DJD artistic director Kimberley Cooper, puppet designer and constructors Peter Balkwill and Jen Garu, mask designer and maker Frank Rader and costume designer Natalie Purschwitz.

And what they came up with was a visceral origin story of our own primeval creativity in a mud-stomped fabric backdrop, facing off with our carnivorous urges both past and present. Act I (Stamping of Grubby Feet) took place far back in the furthest reaches of humans and Act II’s narrative counterpoint (Air of Sophistication) continued seamlessly to a mock-up opium party at Lord Byron’s place that gets far out of control. Adding relentless, percussive backing was Nick Fraser’s consummate rhythmic trio, mixing exquisitely with a strange surfeit of Purschwitz’s ingeniously clever costumes designed for a medley of motley characters. In Act II, I couldn’t take my eyes or my ears off the stage for a second.

Masks and puppets often convey the hidden animus of humanity. Moreover, the dancers, in all their exquisite mimicry, seemed finally to be like puppetted embodiments of our own psychological projections, enactments of the rawest human energies that have existed inside of us for tens of thousands of years.

Act I gave four interesting panels — a creation scene, a comical beast, a tragic hunt and a horrendous kill. Acting as an eyewitness is a small, white, puppetted mini-man (Garu and Balkwill), a homunculus out of our past that emerged from another land, likely a leftover from our earliest collective inner world many eras ago. The puppet is made to move by various dancers, a psychological representation of our own emergence. But when a segmented beast appears (Kaleb Tekeste as the head, Kaja Irwin as the body and Jason Owin F. Galeos as the tail) playfully frolicking with two comic buddy-hunters (Rodney Diverlus and Shayne Johnson), the rest of the company enters menacingly soon after donning Rader’s exquisitely haunting, part papier-mâché-fusion-crafted masks. Led via striking poses from Catherine Hayward, the hunters brutally slay the beast and eat it. The last we see before Act I curtain is Hayward applying its blood as ritual makeup.

When the dancers return in Act II for a collage of social mimicry, the mock puppeteering at the opening turns into a straight-through series of tour-de-force dancing, a gruelling display of a ‘civilized’ dinner party gone awry. Hayward returns as demented hostess with a crackpot smile, wearing a red cape that is at once a drape and dining table-cloth. She even appears at one point to walk straight through the dining table in an utterly surreal moment entirely in keeping with the heavily physical theatricality that so forcefully upends conventional mimicry throughout the entire act.

We weren’t just watching ourselves being mocked and mimicked for our culinary kill skills, it was a satire of raw human energy in its most carnivorous colours depicted in dualistic dance — it was us, and yet not us. Could we admit, as ribboned intestines were pulled out from a slain cloth beast brought back from Act I and served up on a platter by Hayward (of course), that this truly is what we are at our essence, still primitive, but masked by the inauthenticity of our own social nicety?

The triple panel of Pageant, with its preening dinner guests spilling hypocritical laughter, Feast, in its grotesquerie of consumptive habits highlighted by a delightfully repulsive hyper-physical Natasha Korney, and finally Digestion, which burps its way through a gruesome finale, was almost too much raw energy to take.

But that is the virtue of Mimic and DJD’s production vision. What makes the mimicry, the brief shadow play and puppetry so articulate is how well they all unmasked the masks we wear. When the little puppet-man reappeared in Coda to drag all the dancers back to the distant land within the primordial ooze from which they emerged, we knew that it had been our own disturbing energy we saw that was, in fact, reality — an energy that reached from the audience to pull the dancers’ strings, the puppeted toys of our inner id, mimicking us every millisecond of every day.