A NEW biography of an important Western Desert Aboriginal artist had its Canberra launch this week at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery. “The Master from Marnpi”, by scholar Alec O’Halloran, looks at the life and […]
A BODY lay under a sheet, centre stage, as soft electronic beeps sounded. Dramatically, a masked, male figure in combat pants burst through the rear stage door, momentarily allowing light into the performance space, with a quick glimpse of the dust and construction happening in the carpark – a fitting beginning for the performance.
“Alone” purports to be about the occult and possession, about power and the ability of one to control others. It presented as a concurrently futuristic and primitive journey of discovery, power, introversion and manipulation.
The control and power began with the masked male figure (Jack Riley), consensually directing the gaze of the audience, with a torch that highlighted blue, strobe lights and beams projected around the walls and ceiling. He manipulated his hands and arms in the beam of light, exploring the effects on light and limb.
The sheet was removed from the body and the delicate curves of a female revealed, softly and beautifully lit. In what appeared a slightly sinister version of the “Creation of Eve”, the audience was given ample opportunity to appreciate the beauty of her form, without full frontal nudity, as she unfurled her limbs ever-so-slowly. The masked man approached and, without any resistance from the female, he dressed her in a uniform matching his, minus the mask, which was a symbol of domination. Although this uniform made the female one of “them”, to begin with, she remains under the male’s power. At no point, though did this feel like a male versus female commentary, but simply two characters or entities.
The power balances as the female (Nikki Tarling) and male utilise a wooden frame. Together, they gracefully executed a series of judo-esque sequences and manoeuvres, facilitating the oscillation of domination and submission between the two dancers before equalising once again with synchronised movements.
It took a while to become aware of another, naked, male body (Alex Warren), in the foetal position in a corner and of a thin, sinister, hooded figure (James Batchelor), clad in black, slinking his way smoothly and slowly across the wall toward the naked male.
The choreography was assuredly performed, including elements of Butoh, martial arts and isolations. The performers were committed to the mood and pace, displaying balance and control, integral for maximising the dramatic tension and they cleverly succeeded in keeping background movements subtle and defocused.
“Alone” created a hypnotic and engaging atmosphere, so much so that the changes of pace, despite being dramatic, were seamless and barely noticeable. The chemistry between Riley and Tarling was evident and they executed their duets well, the exception being when she mounts his shoulders, climbing the wall, which, choreographically didn’t lead anywhere and the concentration of the dancers unfortunately broke the atmosphere that had been created, bringing back a momentary awareness of the focus and mechanics of performing.
The lighting was used to great effect throughout, from the shadows cast on walls, subtle manipulations of the audience’s focus, highlighting muscles and curves on dancers’ bodies and creating a stark, atmospheric feel.
“Alone” has been performed with up to nine dancers. This performance with four did not seem lacking, other than making the power-play individual.
With somewhat less drama than expected, the dark figure reaches the naked male, as Riley, who has relinquished his mask, shakes uncontrollably. The interpretation of possession, duplicity and control, regarding the two background figures is ultimately left to the audience to ponder, as in the darkness, the female has donned the mask, before her final act of brutality.
With a duration of around 50 minutes we were left wanting a bit more “alone” time. And at the conclusion, the audience was reluctant to break the moment with applause.