A curious bunny enters a field of flowers to the sound of crickets. The flora sways gently in the breeze as more critters arrive, their twitching noses sniffing at the air, detecting the world around them. It’s a scene of uncomplicated beauty – the first of many – interrupted by the appearance of spectres and accompanying bells. The capricious world of Zizanie, conceived and directed by Meryl Tankard and seen here in its world premiere, is full to bursting with wit and whimsy.

Zizanie Michael Noble and Kathryn Evans in Zizanie at the Adelaide Festival. Photograph © Regis Lansac

Ball sports, hula hooping and fly swatting all feature in hectic scenes that are underpinned by an order so precise, the serious cultural and environmental messages are seamlessly propelled to the fore. These vignettes remind us of a simpler time before we needed electronic devices to be entertained.

Regis Lansac’s outstanding videography lends much to this tale packed with quirk, gentle humour and heartfelt scenes. Jonathon Oxlade’s layers of set and costuming marry beautifully with animation and live action video to create a rich visual tapestry onto which, the frequently surprising action unfolds.

Zizanie (a French word that can mean discord, mischief, chaos, or messing about) is zany enough to tumble into a romp on more than one occasion, but the meticulous motion of the dance leaves no room for doubt about the seriousness of the communication. Tankard’s message, “We are not born to hate” resonates throughout. The makers of this mischief wholly succeed.

ZizanieMichael Noble and Dana Nance in Zizanie at the Adelaide Festival. Photograph © Regis Lansac. Photograph @Regis Lansac

Dana Nance’s ‘hundreds of tiny people’ scene is technically brilliant and deeply affecting. It speaks to the heart of this work that celebrates difference. The story arc is perfectly timed and Michael Noble’s transition from cranky man to a person whose icy heart has melted, is exceptional.

The Kiriki Japanese acrobat-inspired videos are ingeniously charming, particularly when the characters spontaneously appear to approve of their own work. Unifying tunes (some mimed and signed) are well chosen – Dick Dale, This Mortal Coil, Django Reinhardt, and Eileen Barton are amongst the heroes here.

The plot, inspired by Robbie Cameron’s The Fun Funnel, leads inexorably towards a happy ending, but no amount of thinking we know where this is going, can prepare us for the contagious happiness in the closing scene. We leave with a spring in our step, a song in our hearts, and an appetite for desert, humming all the way home to spend the rest of the evening considering the power of the humble cupcake.

Meryl Tankard and Restless Dance Theatre’s Zizanie is an intoxicating, utterly delightful visual and aural cornucopia of pure, unadulterated joy.

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