A while into Shaun Parker’s dancework Happy as Larry you start asking: just how happy was Larry anyway? For although programme and publicity suggest that the piece is about happiness, the result is muted, its emotional temperature ranging between quite happy and a bit sad.
In fact, although the Australian choreographer’s stated intention is to use different personality types to explore what makes us happy, the piece itself comes across more like a riff on childhood, concerned less with psychology than with games, toys and activities. There are two main components to the set: a giant rotatable blackboard that hogs centre stage, and an arc of bright balloons above it, like a constellation of coloured stars. The blackboard initially pictures rows of people (representing us, the audience) and as the piece unfolds the dancers chalk up a record of the performance: a single stick-like figure appears, followed by drawings of roller skates, more people, musical notes and the graffiti tracks of passing actions, all smudged as the dancers scamper up and over the board.
Set to boppy beats and sweet sounds, the choreography for the nine dancers – blocky moves that mix street dance, ballet, contemporary dance and skating – is larky but very bitty. The best scenes suggest simple pleasures and childlike wonder: the men repeatedly clamber up the blackboard and dive off into the space behind, like excited boys discovering something marvellous and new; a spinning ball becomes a microcosm of the whole world; the blackboard rotates as a skater zooms round it in the opposite direction, like an eager kid racing against time. But such moments don’t build momentum. The remaining games of one-upmanship, mirroring, chasing and hiding seem like choreographic doodles, sometimes fun and sometimes tender, but curiously inconsequential – and leaving me a bit sad about not being left a bit happier.