Love & menace to a heartbeat

Francesca Rendle-Short

No don’t do it, you want to scream. You’ll get hurt.

At one time you see them there, a long way off, upstage in a far corner but achingly close because of the drama of the figures, their movements, the eyes that span the distance to hook you in. Their eerie skull-capped faces. Stark yellow vinyl raincoats (you can just about smell the plastic). Striped-naked bodies. These masks—in slow mo—chart moments of excruciating love and tenderness mixed with a nearly intolerable menace and violence. To a heartbeat music.

You’re too young. Innocents.

But these characters don’t hear you. None of them do. They live dangerously. Teetering near the edge, sliced up and on the edge. They tip over, reappear, disembodied, provocative and sexy. For these characters—and not just the masked innocents—love to seduce. Whether they’re kids teasing each other mercilessly, fat controllers or simpletons with plywood teeth, they suck you into a world of suspended disbelief, vulnerability.

This is a dance work that pulls you in, eyes singling you out of the crowd of the audience, tempting—oh so tempting—you onto another plane. Do you dare? Take a risk?

They play with you. Humour, laughter, followed quickly by moments that take your breath away. To leave you very nearly desolate, unnerved. It’s raw, confronting. Guaranteed to get you. And all executed with precise movements and an acute sense of timing whether the characters are synchronised swimming on highways, near-to-bursting roly-pollies on a construction site or sculptures of roadkill.

This is physical theatre that dares to do something. This is a piece of work that is screamingly simple and naive at times—its striking aesthetic of witty primary colours, circus acts, the tap tap tap of feet in lines and circles—all the while swiping at an all too familiar landscape with its searing underscore of comment and satire. And, what’s more, it’s a work that changes, a work being developed in performance (I saw 2 of 9 in Canberra).

Clearly Kate Denborough has drawn a group of dancers around her who work well together (Gerard Van Dyck, Phillip Gleeson and Tuula Roppola) as Kage physical theatre. Denborough knows what she wants. And she gets it. And judging from comments afterwards (in the post-performance forum, a feature of The Choreographic Centre) she likes to keep a tight reign, and does. Bold and confident throughout.

What remains long after the performance, are the acute visuals—just like seeing the suite of Jeffrey Smart paintings that inspired the work—coupled with snatches of music. Oh the music: the original score by Franc Tetaz holds the pieces of the work together, swimmingly. (And it seems fitting to discover the music was incorporated into No (under) Standing through express post dispatches.) From nostalgia to funk, to one of the final vignettes when a slow drawl of a piece emerges (along with sheer testosterone) with its melancholic slide guitar. It takes us to the final ecstatic, captivating and strangely private moment.

This is a piece—uncanny as it is—you won’t want to let go of. It sticks.

Kage physical theatre, No (under) Standing Anytime, devised/directed by Kate Denborough, The Choreographic Centre, Canberra, April 26–29 & May 2–6, Next Wave Festival, Athenaeum, Melbourne, May 18–28

RealTime issue #37 June-July 2000 pg. 6

© Francesca Rendle-Short; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2000