Friday, March 25, 2011

In Glass

Narelle Benjamin
Dance Massive
In Narelle Benjamin’s In Glass, Kristina Chan and Paul White are suspended in a space bordered by mirror, calling to mind the reflective and reflexive quietude of a rehearsal studio, but never particularly acknowledging this allusion. On the contrary, the work initially seems purely about organisms moving through space, sometimes impacting on each other, but rarely exploring the psychological, or the intersections of personality.
This isn’t a reprimand: Chan and White move so fluidly together that, particularly in the early sections, they are eminently watchable and there is a certain liberation in observing a physicality without persona.
With the aid of Huey Benjamin’s (sometimes excruciatingly) New-Age-ish soundtrack, the experience is one of observing some strange sea creatures of the deep, perplexing but patently controlled in an almost evolutionary sense. Or a beautiful piece of machinery in which every intersection of its parts occurs in exactly the right way and at the right time.

Unfortunately, as the more psychosexual narratives emerge, the titular symbolism is lost, and the great potential of the reflective surfaces is rarely realised: the mirrors’ presence is at best incidental, at worst pointless, and for the most part downright uninventive. In one oddly emotive sequence – amongst such a meditative absence of ego – White carefully spins two large oval mirrors against the floor, holds them up, licks them (perhaps a mythical allusion – Narcissus?), and generally twiddles them. It’s largely uninteresting: sightlines in the Malthouse’s Beckett Theatre seem to preclude, for most audience members, any useful view of the reflective surfaces and instead we’re watching an otherwise accomplished dancer muck around with two unwieldy and unattractive props. Mirrors are not always magnanimous with their reflections and the choreography fails to overcome this practical challenge.

In their best moments the large ‘mirrors’ are cleverly manipulated so that they both reflect what is before them and reveal what is behind, or so that they swallow dancers whole. But at other times they are cluttered with a series of digital projections alternating between uncomfortable sentimentality and weighty artistic expressionism. With two such poetic dancers present, why try to embellish the work with anything that distracts from a simple elegance of bodies in space? Why not just embrace the indulgently romantic movement?

And speaking of unfathomable, why on earth did White have to make four meaningless costume changes, between almost indistinguishably neutral costumes?!
There were just too many disappointments in this work, detracting from the satisfying conversation choreographed for two skilful and compatible dancers.

Anica Boulanger-Mashberg
Attendance at Dance Massive (Melbourne) was made possible through the arts@work Critical Acclaim program. Critical Acclaim is an arts@work (Arts Tasmania) professional development program aimed at increasing the breadth of critical discourse and discussion in both the arts industryand the public arena.

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