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Arts Hub Dance Massive Diary – Cockfight

RICHARD WATTS

The Farm’s Cockfight
Meat Market, North Melbourne
24-26 March
3 ½ stars

Intergenerational tensions and masculine insecurities are explored with dramatic physicality in Cockfight, a dance theatre piece created by Gold Coast company The Farm in association with NORPA and Performing Lines.

Set in a mundane office, the work sees Gavin Webber (co-director) and Joshua Thomson (co-director/set designer) battling for supremacy with every weapon at their disposal, from petty control and dismissal tactics, to stag-like clashes in which office chairs replace antlers.

At times broadly comedic, with a Buster Keaton-esque physicality on show, Cockfight switches effortlessly to moments of beauty and poignancy, strongly assisted by Luke Smiles’ sound design, which integrates songs by Le Tigre and Cat Stevens into his moody and evocative score. Mark Howett’s lighting design is also noteworthy; his skill is perhaps best displayed in a scene reminiscent of Blade Runner, where a narrow beam of light shines through the rotating blades of a fan, highlighting Thomson’s tortured hands and Webber’s prone body. Elsewhere his lights gleam from filing cabinets and ventilation ducts, bringing life and mystery to the banality of the realistically designed set.

Choreographically Cockfight is structured around lifts and grapples, circus-like table slides, dramatic leaps and a subtle sense of constrained intimacy which speaks directly to the masculine rituals on show. The movement vocabulary occasionally feels restricted, but this is balanced out by the work’s enthusiasm, which sees the stage showered with paper planes and scattered files throughout. Other images, including haunting blank masks and the beating wings of a Sooty Shearwater created through a standard piece of office equipment, are striking and inventive.

The two performers give it their all – by the time the 70-minute work reaches its tightly knotted finale the pair are sweat-soaked and breathless. Entertainment and artistry are well balanced; this is not a challenging work but it is rigorously crafted.