Friday, March 18, 2011

In Glass

Melbourne has not had the opportunity to see much of Sydney-based Narelle Benjamin. She was a founding member of Chunky Move and performed in their early Melbourne seasons. Over the past decade, she has been steadily choreographing - often for dance film, collaborating extensively with film director Cordelia Beresford.  In Glass, which Malthouse Theatre is presenting as part of Dance Massive, is her first full length choreographic work. It premiered in Spring Dance 2010 in Sydney. Within it, Benjamin's interest in filmic possibilities is clear, as is her yoga practice that artfully weaves within the low-lying choreography.  
In Glass is a two-hander for Kristina Chan and Paul White.  Benjamin could not find more fitting dancers. On a pure brute-strength level, they are powerhouses in all directions - upright, upside down and on the side, but they are also both incredibly supple, sinuous and curvaceously expansive with a weightiness of presence. 
Kristina Chan and Paul White. Photo by Regis Lansic.
Darkly-lit, floor-bound, intertwined, solitary - the action of In Glass is a constant play between being absorbed as a couple and being a self-aware individual. 

Benjamin describes the work as being about states of unconsciousness, altered realities and mythical places.  Film is probably one of the best mediums for this exploration and the cinematic elements (visual design by Samuel James) that spread across and around movable, reflexive panels are well-realised. They dance within, behind and on top of the dancers and reflect, multiply and disembody them in the projections. The vast range of cinematic devices blend seamlessly with the physicality of Chan and White.  

Mirrored screens on three sides hem in the stage. White and Chan glide these around, trapping themselves into smaller spaces. They shine torches; they blend into and out of the often eerie video work; they linger in periods of self-absorbed reverie. White strangles himself with two mirror discs, hungrily licking his own reflection. Chan watches her video doppelganger run through a green field. Their two faces artfully melt into one on screen.  It’s always dark, (lighting design by Karen Norris) with accents punctuated by the flick of a torch or a reflection created off the silvery screens. The symbolism is everywhere - the encroaching mirrors, the constant looking at self, the bodies write large and small and melded with trees/forests in the video; the kaleidoscopic views of the curves on White’s chiseled torso or the way that White and Chan roll head to head, neck to neck, shoulder to shoulder in some sort of symbiotic relationship. 
Kristina Chan and Paul White. Photo by Regis Lansic. 
Bare flesh, rippling limbs - it's narcissism writ large, but continually undercut by the desire for another. The duets are often floor bound - they tie themselves into human knots, then break away and hit an inverted yoga posture. A sideways standing leg splay is just a split second until it morphs into a more organic sequence of movement. 

Spurned on by Huey Benjamin's sound score,  In Glass isn’t cool or detached -  it’s totally embodied and fleshy - in the choreography, the film, the set.  It’s an aesthetic that White and Chan seem comfortably at home in (more than once I thought of White in Meryl Tankard’s The Oracle in which he was a similarly imposing, ego-obsessed force.) 

The saturation of all the pulsing elements could easily push In Glass too far into heavy handed territory and while there are moments when the excess of it all overwhelms the honesty of the movement, overall, it's a powerful and bewitching experience.   
In Glass
Beckett Theatre at Malthouse Theatre
15 - 20 March 2011

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