Jem Treays has ploughed a deep furrow in recent years to unearth his family history and working out how to turn that information into entertaining and accessible dance. The First Time Machine from 2014 was played out in partnership with brother Aiden and explored their family history through stories and anecdotes of their forebears’ achievements and adventures.
Since 2013, Treays has worked on a new concept of reversing that perspective. Starting with recent family history, he has produced a kind of reverse time-travel, looking forward instead of back, seeking to divine or predict a future that is full of hope, dreams and even depressing reality. As in The First Time Machine, Treays has worked with another family member, eleven-year old daughter Ella, to work out the issues and wrestle them into a thoughtful and expressive dance-theatre performance format.
The show opens with Ella Treays introducing herself through a playful solo that shows her as an unforced and likeable performer with a modest demeanour and an authentic glint in her eye that is mercifully free of affectation. Secure on her pointes, with attractive insteps and a handsome leg line inherited from her precociously talented, ex-dancer mother, Frances Newman, she explores her dance talent across a set-strewn stage with a variety of ballet, contemporary dance and gymnastic vocabulary.
Dad Treays arrives on stage and with his young daughter present their relationship in a series of skits that is both a theatrical show and an autobiographical exposé of how dad and daughter, an older man and young proto-woman relate and grow as creative individuals. In their most sensitive moments, the performers engage through intensely close physical dance material that is breath-taking in its confidence and sensitivity. Only an authentic, loving father and super-confident child can afford such a physical indulgence in this day and age and it is to the performers’ credit that they can show this without anything to prove. It’s just honest and genuine. Pure theatre.
As a performer and personality, Dad Treays shows his natural aptitude for whimsy, self-deprecating humour, laced with a serious intent and yet keeping a mean eye on his decline as a performing dancer. Once a supremely fit and physically virtuosic dancer, his repeated mantra to himself (on turning 50) to ‘must get fit’, resonates directly to the audience. He looks ahead in time and sees his body increasingly limited in range and ability, but still retaining a passionate hunger to stay creative and forceful. He is a dancer and father with noble past achievements and a puzzled future about what comes next.
Daughter Treays is conversely full of the innocence, joy and open-eyed wonder at what the future will hold. She has no history yet to speak of and so belongs all in the future. She speaks easily of the dreams that are shared with all young people of a strange world full of future mysteries and wonders that will perhaps be opened up with the guiding hand of a loving adult to help them through to fulfilling their destiny. Daughter Treays seems to have struck gold with a father that is offering access to a future on her own terms while being able to share a genuine relationship of some kind of ‘equals’.
The performance ends ambiguously with Dad Treays alone on stage, perhaps exhausted from his efforts to wrestle his personal life into ambitious theatre, while Daughter Treays sits in the audience gazing back at Father. What does it all mean? Why does this show exist? Is it theatre or autobiography? All these questions arise and are gone. We are left with the simple joy of enjoying time in the company of a special dad and daughter.
Transition is on tour in Wales during October 2015