nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
June 3, 2006
Hailing from the Netherlands, the theater company ISH takes their name from the notion that they are not one thing or the other: not quite theatre, not quite sport. 4-Ish is full of performance-ish arts like competitive inline skating, martial arts, and even meditating. And in the end, both show and company are more than entertaining-ish.
The ensemble is terrific—highly energetic, unbelievably muscular, they are for the most part captivating to watch. The loose narrative of the piece centers on a character played by Marco Gerris, the artistic director of the company and a skater with a head full of dreadlocks. He plays a goof and geek who is trying to learn the various arts but never quite succeeds. Like most good clowns, Gerris is able to spoof the forms only because he has mastered them; his skill as a skater is formidable, as well as his dancing and acrobatic skills. The rest of the multitalented performers are identified in the program by their strongest discipline: skater, roller skater, half pipe skater, break dancer, martial artist, street dancer. They are as thrilling to watch in the interstitial moments as they are in their main numbers—endless back walkovers looped in place, surprise skating maneuvers, and explosive dance numbers.
The opening piece is quite beautiful as the cast runs around legs of white fabric—booting each other out from behind them, taking the shape and rhythm of the person who ran in after them, using the fabric to create the illusion of weird, elongated bodies. We then meet Gerris's character. Skates are thrown at him from offstage that he tries to wear but falls down in. Later, he appears in a pink helmet and skates with giant wheels, while another cast member has tiny skates strapped to rubber boots and pants hiked up to his armpits. (These misfits try to skate, but are soon overwhelmed and chased off the stage by a pair of slick and daring half pipe skaters.) This is followed by a scene with a sword-swinging martial arts dude, an amazing '70s roller disco spoof where the long spidery legs of the main performers make them look like spiders or octopi, and a section where skaters use their skated feet to drum and dance on a wooden platform. These are just some highlights, there are many, many more.
In addition, there is a hip-hop DJ who provides music for the entire show. Unfortunately the show slows down during the "how to be a DJ" section. Placed toward the end of the play, it takes us out of the dynamic physicality of the rest of the performance without offering much actual information.
The heart and soul and uniting force of the show is Thor Vandenbossche. He voices everything—ambient noise, comic grunts, and nonsense conversations—as well as harmonies and rhythms that play off the DJ's music. He is the one who really ties together the entire show.
All in all, 4-Ish is bubbly, fun, and very, very athletic. It comes together in a performance that is pretty exciting-ish.