Do you have time for a quick chat?

Sue Moss

The seductive power of cults frames the territory of the chalice, a collaborative work by Two Turns Dance Company. In the chalice which incorporates dance, puppetry, video, soundscape and design, Wendy McPhee and Michael O’Donoghue explore the 12 stages of an individual’s journey into the world of the cult.

Greg Methé’s design suggests the cross-cultural elements of cults through a strong, yet spacious entrance, emblematic of a Shinto shrine. Above this hangs a nine-stranded necklace. A pile of books rests either side of the central gateway.

The use of books as a symbolic device contributes to the imagistic intensity of the chalice. They signify altars, are scattered in despair, become pathways, and represent containers of tired knowledge systems. The interminable weight and demand of the word always refuses to reveal meaning to the frenzied and compliant recruits.

Puppeteer Philip Mitchell manipulates one book as a mirror for video images of a disembodied eye, mouth and fractured face. He kneads clay on a tablet of books. While his hands shape and spawn human replicas he repeats: “Do you have time for a quick chat?”

In the chalice the dancers are separated by, and converse across, a central space. It is this terrain of the middle ground where the energy of submission, conversion, denunciation and acceptance is situated. McPhee and O’Donoghue alternately climb and fall onto and across the central structure. Spinning like rejected angels, they use each other’s bodies as levers, ladders and platforms to reach imagined higher ground.

The crack, hiss, static and distortion of Poonkhin Khut’s unrelenting sound score accentuate the dancers’ spatial travails and the constant reappearance of disembodied menacing icons. At times I missed the silence that might realise my aural response to the dancers’ body score.

Ambiguity of power relations between each recruit and the charismatic cult leader emerges as a central motif of the work. A powerful sequence features a gag of rope placed across a dancer’s mouth, containing and suppressing utterance, difference, desire and question. This image inscribes the mouth as the only place where obeisance is avowed.

The dancers’ portrayal of simultaneity or contrast (for example, McPhee’s writhing body and O’Donoghue’s muscular and compact tautness) is often relieved by the intervention of the third: the third person portrayed by Phillip Mitchell, the third image of the dancers’ shadows on a blank quarry wall, and the connecting/separating third of the space between the chalice cups.

The chalice is symbolically represented by a gesture that unites thumbs and fingers in a cup shape to trace the centre line of the body passing from lips, throat and heart to the genitals, all sites of vulnerability, violence and desire.

We witness the recruit’s territory of disorientation, love and quest for stillness. These recruits are not resilient. They comfort and brutalise each other through a journey of confusion, momentary salvation and ultimate exhaustion. The high production standards of the chalice effectively exploit the unresolved contradiction of cults where surrender and conformity jostle with cruelty, denial, and loss.

the chalice, Two Turns, director Annette Downs, dance and choreography Wendy McPhee & Michael O’Donoghue, puppeteer Philip Mitchell, design Greg Methé, soundscore Poonkhin Khut, digital video design Benjamin Wright, lighting Tim Munro, multimedia visual artist Chantelle Delrue, Peacock Theatre, Hobart, April 5-7, Earl Arts Centre, Launceston, April 12-15, Cygnet Town Hall, April 19

RealTime issue #37 June-July 2000 pg. 4

© Sue Moss; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2000