Saturday, October 11, 2008

Two Faced Bastard

Vincent Crowley and Stephanie Lake, with Brain Lipson in the background
Chunky Move

Arts House, Meat Market, Melbourne

October 9, 2008. As part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival

Chunky Move are well known for their unconventional productions, and Two Faced Bastard is no exception. Created by Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin, it’s a performance about performance, where dance and theatre intrude upon each other’s territory.

The large space is divided by a curtain of vertical blinds, with the audience seated to either side. The curtain remains closed for much of the performance, so each seating bank sees a different version of the show.

On one side of the curtain, Stephanie Lake’s fingers busily creep over her body, an action reminiscent of another recent Guerin piece, Aether. On the other side, the remaining cast speak in a theatrical forum. Both choreography and conversation are interesting on their own, but the amplified speech sullies the purity of the movement, making it impossible to for the choreography to be viewed independently of the dialogue.

As more of the dancers defect from the forum and enter the dance, Brian Lipson begins to interview them about what the movement means. Spoken from the midst of the intricate movement patterns, their answers are well delivered and quite funny.

The noise pollution problem continually arises, totally disrupting the mood created by a sensuous duet for Lake and Vincent Crowley (pictured above). Though their silent romance continues, oblivious to the disjointed text in the background, we can’t help but be distracted.

The piece becomes increasingly chaotic, to the point where the performers even decide to stop the show, to allow the audience to swap sides. A mock battle follows soon after, featuring fanciful armour made from styrofoam and bubble-wrap.

Though the performers frequently cross the divide, they never leave the space. We see them switch from on-stage to back-stage mode, changing costumes, lounging, even quietly chatting before their next cue, a neat demonstration of the two-faced nature of performance.

Obarzanek and Guerin play to the strengths of their performers, bringing out the best in each of them. The well constructed scenes are brought to life with humour and great skill, yet by obscuring half of the performance and allowing the remainder to be tainted by overlapping sound, the experience they have created is a frustrating one.

When the curtain does finally open, we return to a version of the opening scene. As the stage lights begin to dim, the audience is illuminated, until we are left looking at each other across the vast space, wondering about what went on behind those blinds.

First published in The Age newspaper

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