Forklift was a unique combination of dance and circus performance, showcasing the exceptional skills of the three performers; Henna Kaikula, Nicci Wilks and Amy Macpherson, and their unlikely co-star – a 2.5 Tonne Toyota 7FBE18 Forklift.

Forklift is a production by Melbourne based dance Theatre company KAGE. KAGE is the creative partnership between Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck, and has been performing since 1997. According to their website, KAGE moves beyond simply dance, and use “visually striking dance theatre” to present the myriad moments of the human experience; success, failure, panic, tears, joy etc in a physical way.

Unlike some similar acrobatic performances, Forklift presented an intriguing narrative that invited the audience to come to their own interpretation of the deeper meaning behind the piece. Denborough, who conceived and directed Forklift, has stated that the show presents “the contrast between heavy, dangerous metal and the fragile, sensual body”. This is definitely true – it is confronting to see human bodies carted around on the tines of a forklift like lifeless packages. The bright daylight under which the outdoor performance unfolds leaves little to the imagination. The audience sees a raw view of the performers bodies, that is not softened by lighting, extensive makeup or elaborate costumes, as is often the case in circus style performances. The setting itself is also harsh and raw, presenting as the inside of a warehouse or factory, with bare metal shelving filled with drab brown boxes stacked on pallets, brightened only by splashes of fluoro colour from the electrical tape which cris-crosses the space, and the safety vests of the crew. While the contrast of the seemingly soft, frail bodies with the strong, metallic machine is a centerpiece of the show, it was the nature of the relationship between the performers that I found fascinating. Wilks starts the show with a clearly defined character. She is the forklift driver, reinforcing stereotypes (and ironically breaking others) of the blue collar worker – smoking and enjoying the naked male centerfold in her magazine. Kaikula and Macpherson’s characters are harder to place, and will have been interpreted differently by various audience members. As their apparently lifeless bodies are brought into the space on the forklift, and later begin to move, it is unclear whether they were supposed to represent dead bodies, mannequins, androids or some other unconsidered form. The driver is indifferent to their presence, manhandling them as inanimate objects, until they not only move, but become more animated and clearly self aware, conspiring to steal her forklift. From that point on, the connection between the 3 performers, rather than between the dancers and the forklift, is what held my attention as the central focus of the performance. From this point on the dance and acrobatic performances centre on the changing relationship between these 3 figures, as the forklift driver is transformed, and joins the others in their dance with the machine.

The physical strength and grace exhibited in the performance is impressive.  When I have seen similar strength based acrobatics in the past, the pairs are often made up of a male and a female, but these three perform elaborate counter balance maneuvers and impressive feats of acrobatics, rotating evenly through the roles of driver, distraction, performer, dancer, acrobat… The forklift itself is an impressive machine to be using for such a performance.  At time it reached quite high speeds for such a limited space, and the arms were often extended to their highest setting, while a dancer was suspended from the tines or performed on the limited space on the roof of the vehicle as it rotated. Through all these aspects of the performance, the three dancers maintained some kind of contact – whether physically entwined upon the forklift or holding an intense eye contact as a power play of some kind battled on.

While there was lighting being used, it had little effect as the daylight was quite bright. Sound played a more important role, with a soundtrack that evolved from simple backgrounds sounds from an industrial environment, to an integral part of the performance, driving significant change in the style of movement and the relationships between the characters.

However the viewer interpreted the story behind the performance, the physicality of the show was fascinating and entertaining. The performers demonstrated amazing strength, balance and grace. Moments of humour briefly lightened the mood, giving the audience a respite from the sometimes intense emotions being created. The show’s climax definitely followed that old showbiz adage – ‘Always leave them wanting more’.  An hour flew by, and I found myself wishing it was intermission, and not the end of the performance.

For a truly unique performance, and the chance to see a forklift used in a way that would terrify every OH&S officer in the country, check out Forklift in the forecourt of the Arts Centre, only until this Sunday!