Split – Watching Melbourne Dance


Two dancers: one nude, one clothed.

A neutral performance space, demarcated by white tape and black tarp.

A soundscape: pulsing, throbbing, rising and falling. Providing a backbone to the movement, delineating the passage of time, threaded through the whole yet strangely removed as well. Disembodied, somehow.

The framework: a splitting of time and of space. Contracting from the expansive whole to ever diminishing halves. Each section begins anew as the physical space is cleaved by the dancers, white tape laid down with ritual precision, the available time to explore the new space also diminishing in perpetual half-lives.

The rectangular floor patterns, broken into ever smaller halves, bring to mind logarithmic spirals and mathematical rigour, but also territory, ground and ownership. Similarly, the movement vocabulary stretches between the precise, the truly abstract, to the deeply animalistic and even tribally abandoned at moments, and through many shades in between.

The control, determination, and focused intent of the dancers is striking, compelling. There’s nearly no space for humour or self-reflection here, unlike many other of Lucy Guerin’s works. Especially for the first half, we are invited to compare and contrast the dancers, the body clothed versus the body laid bare. Their movement in near-perfect unison, we can view one half as the scaffolding, as skeleton, as artist’s mannequin even, and the other half as person, as character, as storyline. The physicality for this entire first half is controlled, precise, determined. Sharp syncopations, the occasional dreamy release, but a strong sense of clarity and purpose throughout.

We can view one half as the scaffolding, as skeleton, as artist’s mannequin even, and the other half as person, as character, as storyline

Then, the space is cut in two, the piece begins anew, and suddenly we are confronted with animalistic dance-creatures. Aggressive, indolent, disinterested. Calling on some interesting physical material: b-boy, (shades of Anthony Hamilton), pop & lock, among others. Dark carnivores, they circle each other in displays of power and one-upmanship.

I found this jarring, but also glorious. It took me a moment to reconcile the unusualness of seeing female performers enacting such traditionally male roles. The nudity and clothing take on new roles: pheromonal posturing and cat-leg-piss antagonism, versus the fluffed defensive stance, camouflage and elusion.

Pheromonal posturing and cat-leg-piss antagonism, versus the fluffed defensive stance

As the work elapses, the splitting of both time and space take on a new rhythm, ever increasing in frequency and speed. Each new section, briefer and briefer, feels less and less substantial until the last moment barely lands on the retinas before fading into obscurity.

This is a beautifully articulated work, the technique and control of both performers on display throughout. I found myself wondering about the unpicking of that linear progression, as I wandered out the theatre doors. What happens if the halves are merged, the process run backwards? Can anything split be made once again whole?

Originally posted on March 16, 2017:

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