As I watched Shaun Parker’s dancers bounce, gyrate, swing and skate around a stage set with a giant, revolving chalk board and balloon arch, my mind strayed to a little quirk of mine which has stayed with me since childhood. When I’m stressed, excited, or just need warming up, I rub my hands together really quickly. It’s a little habit that has often been met with confusion, but it feels good. Although the dancers did not literally take on my bizarre trait, they too seemed to perform outlandish movement, just because they liked it. Throw in some hip hop, contemporary and ballet, and there you have Happy as Larry, a choreographic exploration of the nature of happiness.
This piece drew inspiration from the Enneagram, with characters developed from this psychological system which maps nine personality types. I spent a large proportion of the performance trying to determine which of the dancers were supposed to portray which type (and judging by the flurries of whispers from surrounding seats, so were fellow audience members). Reflecting this range of personalities with an assortment of styles made perfect sense and worked well within the piece. Parker put his own twist on each genre, putting an emotion and scenario behind each one and thus, seamlessly avoiding any disjointed transitions.
Phrases of stilted, gestural movement were also scattered amongst numerous solos and duets. At various points in this piece I started to feel that I’d seen this material too much, until the dancers took an unexpected turn out of it: the giant chalk board did well to maintain the pace of this piece, whether a head was emerging from it, or it was being rotated to unveil a new section.
All in all, Happy as Larry was absolutely not as I expected. Despite the dancers’ excellent comedic timing and outbursts of mock disco dancing, this piece was, above all, thought-provoking and at times, sombre. I’m still undecided as to whether this was a stroke of genius, or if I would have preferred this piece about happiness to be a tad more uplifting.