Jo Fong’s An Invitation is about as elusive and complex as a performance at the Fringe is likely to get. This surreal ‘alive and evolving’ production presents itself to us as a framing of life itself, as we are openly invited to study and appreciate those individuals that make up the audience, our fellow strangers. We all contribute towards this piece, whether we like it or not, in the eyes of those around us.
This production is clever but it also feels like some kind of psychological test, questions riddle the entire experience
At times it hardly feels like a performance at all, the room feels more like some strange group therapy session, that or an elaborate exercise in paranoia; you begin to question everything around you. As the tension builds you begin to wonder...that man with the lanyard...is he another reviewer or have they used a lanyard to make you think that so you don’t suspect him? How large is this company? Are you sitting on the wrong side of the room? Was there a sign you didn’t see? You’re beginning to realise you really should have Googled them before you came. All the questions and worries run around your brain as you’re sitting there petrified that the girl you were talking to in the bar just a few moments earlier will come and drag you on stage and make you attempt a pirouette.
Luckily these worries are quelled in the actual process of the dance itself, the elusiveness of the performers who mingle seamlessly with the audience come and go from the stage with ease and move in and out of fluid sequences before our eyes. It’s as beautiful as it is unnerving, the joy of movement celebrated as the performers – like the audience – work their way through an understanding: ‘I’m going to figure out what needs to be done in this space’, maintaining and breaking new rules: ‘don’t repeat things over again and again it’s boring’.
The more you relax and accept the mad unfinished immersion of this production the better, the more the conventional rules of participation are broken the better. Every person who joins in seems to be perfectly timed, every interjection seems scripted and yet...who could tell the difference? The temptation to run onto the stage, onto the welcoming empty floor is huge and some clearly do. One boy directs dancers with his fingers in puppeteer fashion, is he a plant? Or is he simply inadvertently being swept up with the rhythm? Or has he just gone slightly stir crazy from sitting in silence for several minutes? By the end it doesn’t seem to matter.
This production is clever but it also feels like some kind of psychological test, questions riddle the entire experience; and ‘experience’ is certainly the right word for the world of An Invitation, it’s an experience, one you shouldn’t miss. Although accepting this invitation isn’t for the faint at heart, be prepared to be unsure about absolutely everything. Each performance remains unique to a unique audience so I’ll never know exactly how the events in my own experience of An Invitation came together, but I think part of the joy of this piece is that I never will.