Missing each other and their audience, the National Youth Theatre’s Playing Up project was able to continue the training and performing of their company comprised of isolated young performers online – collecting all their missings and musings of lockdown existentialism into a fast-paced yet sentimental digital performance: Tiny Dancers.
To fit onto our screens, these tiny dancers may have shrunk in size, but never in energy, talent and depth with this collection of genuinely original sketch responses on what it means to be simultaneously both together and apart across a lifesize human world.
Filmed mostly on smartphones, and embracing trends of pocket directorship with TikTok or YouTube-style sequences, each tiny dancer moves on screen to a beat of consistently fresh and youthful creativity. Just as many of us have spent lockdown shouting our restless ideas and emotions into the void of social media: this digital bombardment of faces and voices seems to distill a universal need for connection, empathy or just to be seen and heard across various divides.
The digital applause made possible by the live comments section during the YouTube premier was also a nice touch of community and another of the company’s wholehearted embraces of the digital stage and its opportunities for evolved connections. Now relatively nostalgic echoes of theatrical convention are, however, also preserved in moments like a quite mesmerising mime and movement sequence, as led by movement director, Brian Duffy.
While starved of the satisfaction of any kind of overarching narrative throughline (not particularly co-existing in any shared space or time or even universe), the piece keeps a good pace with each scene tacked smoothly onto the next through slick topical or visual connections. Feeling somewhat erratic at times, more considered narrative links could have held together the sometimes imbalanced jumble between more shallow futuristic “what ifs” and in-depth, intimate meditations on current issues.
Knowing that each performer filmed their parts in isolation, some scenes almost come across as the result of deliberate practical challenges set to the student cast by their director, Milli Bhatia: can we perform a deadly, high-stakes fight scene from two different rooms, complete with DIY special effects makeup? (nearly); Can we convince you that we’re sitting side-by-side in the same car? (why not?)
But the challenge conquered most bravely and touchingly was in the convincing chemistry achieved between separated actors in the duologue scenes striving for more simplistic explorations of this apart togetherness. Coupled with Isley Lynn’s poignant writing, painfully identifiable drifts in connection that can occur even in close proximity are devastatingly distilled; “You just feel really far away,” a man pleads to his partner during a volatile couple’s therapy session.
Facing my screen and feeling part of the viscerally tense emotions of a couple’s video call dinner date, or the heartbreaking, face-timed affection between a man and his hospitalised brother has me excited for the depth of connection these gifted performers could be capable when in the same room, and inspires much hope for the ongoing resilience of theatre performance and training.
Tiny Dancers is available to view on YouTube until the 31st July 2020. For more information, see the National Youth Theatre website.