Into a heart of darkness (or love)

Cleo Mees: Antony Hamilton & Julian Hamilton, RUTH

RUTH, photo Heidrun Löhr

RUTH, photo Heidrun Löhr

Created by brothers Antony and Julian Hamilton, RUTH, the first work in Campbelltown Arts Centre’s I Can Hear Dancing season is a journey into a baffling timber structure in which light and sound pull us forwards from room to room. Moving deeper into the structure, we also move deeper into the heart of an intimate relationship where power is asserted, surrendered and shared between two otherworldly individuals.

The world beyond the brightly lit Art Centre foyer is cool and dark, and smells of freshly cut timber. A long, wooden grid forms the back wall of a dimly lit laneway in which something is already happening: a linen-clad figure, clean hair combed back from her face, is setting out small black witches’ hats on the floor. She works with mesmeric focus in step with the music, electronic-harmonic sound spiking in volume each time she places a hat. I watch her for some time before the masked figure at the far end of the lane registers in my peripheral vision.

My stomach drops. How did it get there, this dark shape, coasting low to the ground as if it had always been here? Ragged dark hair, a rigid mask covering a face—the skin red from the neck up into the scalp—and red-rimmed eyes, transparent-blue. It glides along the corridor, back to the floor, collecting witches’ hats in the sweep of its outstretched arms until it meets the hat-placer.

We follow the pair deeper into the fragrant structure, the less-than-twenty of us grouping in clumps and trickles. There’s a crate the size of a shipping container into which light falls fast from different angles, throwing gold stripes across walls and onto our sweatered chests. There are rooms we cannot enter, through whose frame-like windows we can only peer. Deep inside is a room with a back end like a cut diamond, low ceilings sloping to meet the floor. A ladder feeds up through an opening in the roof—a ladder into the sky.

But long before we arrive in this blonde-coloured heart of darkness (or love), a particular relationship between the two beings has started to emerge: the unmasked one appears to be in control. She conducts tests, seeing what happens if she throws her masked mate different stimuli or sets him different challenges. Tasks intensify and evaporate at her will—game on, game over.

The masked one is obliging, often disoriented, evoking the vulnerability of a blinkered horse. The unmasked one, too, feels non- or super-human at times: it’s in the way her body pivots around her eyes: swiftly and precisely, unfolding, scuttling, levitating—but without ever disengaging from her object of study.

He is given over to her, but not all the time, and this is what is interesting—intermittently all of this power play slips from view and we see two people working together to explore the physics of their clothed bodies in relation to each other and to the floor. They hinge over each other, interlock in inventive ways, pull each other in swooping arcs across the floorboards. There’s a buoyancy in the movement. Also, sometimes, a pronounced sexual tension, sometimes tender release. The shifting soundscape reinforces all of this, often approximating the muscular tone, rhythm or emotional nuance of the dance—now churning steady like a train beneath the performance, now splashing out in high and dissonant clangs, now humming like a beehive in the top of a tree.

RUTH, photo Heidrun Löhr

RUTH, photo Heidrun Löhr

We emerge from a painful intensity in the relationship—the strange, somewhat sadistic games have become almost too much—to find ourselves alone with the bare-faced one. Relief. Alone like this, something opens in her and we glimpse her vulnerability, equal in measure to that of her mate. She pulls angles through space, a slender piece of wood balanced across both hands, meeting piano chords with surety.

Piano blooms into staggering synth harmony and I recognise our location: we are back at the beginning, in the laneway. Her friend emerges tall from the dark, arms raised in a terrible V over his head. She moves towards him, now lower, now softer, and I imagine her saying, ‘This is obviously all because I love you.’

They curl and unfurl in a long and lonely landscape. Low light pulls shadows out of black hats, boulders in a plain. And from a folded up place on the floor the masked one rises, carrying his now exhausted companion on his back. He casts a last glance over his shoulder—furtive?—before bearing her, sleeping, into the timber structure.

I Can Hear Dancing: RUTH, choreography Antony Hamilton, sound design Julian Hamilton, performers Melanie Lane, James Andrews, design Justin Green, lighting Benjamin Cisterne; Campbelltown Arts Centre, 24 July-26 Sept

RealTime issue #129 Oct-Nov 2015 pg. 22

© Cleo Mees; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 October 2015