Above : Performer Gabriel Dharmoo. Featured Image: Gabriel Dharmoo in front of the Anthropologies Imaginaires screen. Photo credit Greg Locke.

This fifty-minute experience from French-Canadian Gabriel Dharmoo is a unique and highly entertaining one. It combines a one-man tour de force performance of singing and sound effect with voluptuous accompanying movements. A subtitled documentary-style commentary on a screen behind the performer matches the vocal gymnastics to language and behaviours of imaginary cultures.

This event could be described as the Umbilical Brothers meet a deceptively satirical SBS. This performance’s subtle start is quite believable and resembles the canon of anthropological films on non-fictional tribes. However, as the show progresses the tongue in cheek comedy around the validity of commenting on a single aspect or practice by an ‘other’ culture becomes increasingly obvious.

Through this unravelling comes a subtle thought-provoking dig at Western observation of tribal cultures. Can we focus on one characteristic of existence, such as singing, play, chat or language to label their spirit, guess their complete routine or explain why the culture is now extinct?

Filming four contrasted ‘experts’, screen title slides explain the vocal techniques to be discussed and brought to life. The communication methods are captured with fine use of the the stage by talented triple threat demonstrator Gabriel Dharmoo. His face is elastic, changing glances are faux-scientifque and also cheeky as he interacts smoothly with the screen researchers and audience alike.

Dharmoo hums, clicks as well as performing stunning mouth and lip percussion below two suspended microphones. His delivery supports the quasi-correct sentiment of the piece, offering us exaggeration, examples gone awry and field work sonic sampling possibly in danger of being twisted to any extreme.

Satire and lessons on viewing the ‘other’ aside, this vocal and linguistic performance event also brings the audience back from overdone special effects possible in many arts environments. It is also a changed focus to our current detailed multimedia lives and communication enhanced by non-vocal or bodily devices.

This intimate and focused romp highlights one man on stage morphing into countless characters supported by body phonics and often atypical stage movement. Lighting and production structure borrows from a lecture–type presentation, albeit now with riveting live recreations of examples.

Screen imagery also reinforces the physicality of Dharmoo’s delivery in clinical close-up as in cliché anthropological documentaries, which this entertainment uses so effectively as its basis.

In true Sydney Festival style, participants contribute and share the experience. Dharmoo guides us to act as singers, timbral effects artists and choir members when hypnotic practices of a tribal choir and are being revealed. Dharmoo’s improvisation and vocal prowess come to the fore as this section’s improvising director. I have never been so keen to offer audience participation, or felt so energised afterward.

This enjoyable and refreshing event has very relevant and worthwhile elements which enhance the music and theatre content of the 2017 Sydney Festival. Performance dates at the Seymour Centre’s Reginald Theatre are 9-11 Jan and 13-15 Jan.