Restless men

Helen Omand: Restless Dance Company, Laminex Man and Starry Eyed

The Laminex Man

The Laminex Man

The Laminex Man

Recognising the challenges involved in touring a company as large as Restless Dance, artistic director Kat Worth identified the need for 2 shorter works in the company’s repertoire. Laminex Man by Michael Whaites and a shortened version of Worth’s Starry Eyed fulfilled this need. Presented as part of the biennial High Beam Festival for Disability Arts, these works highlight the versatility and unique performance quality of the Restless dancers.

Laminex Man begins with a prologue of projected black and white images from the 50s of traditional male activities. Wrestling, gymnastics, farming, labouring, playing football, boxing, driving tractors, boys with their dads and military marches appear on screen as a lone performer plays a solo card game. Slowly the other 4 cast members appear in a series of scenes playing out the inherited roles of manhood. Laminex Man suggests that male behaviour remains rooted in the past.

The work is woven with Whaites’ signature humor. A chasing game sees the ringleader and antagonist fly through a paper screen leaving a torn, jagged, greenish lit space. Beginning as play to alleviate boredom, boyish antics of tickling and belly raspberries give rise to mirth as the scene begins to smack of a bucks’ night in disarray. Tackling, jumping and rolling combine to create an energetic and sweaty space precipitating a climatic shirts-off Cleo centrefold moment. Five heaving young male bodies stare brazenly out at the audience, slowly moving into Marlboro man poses, flexing James Dean muscles, boldly displaying the male body beautiful.

The understated costuming by Gaelle Mellis hits the mark, with the young men dressed in suits, shirts and thongs. The lighting by Geoff Cobham crafts the space in muted shades of black, white and green. The video by Closer Productions is looped, allowing the content to become familiar and lessening the tendency of moving images to dominate the live action.

The gestural actions of spitting, scratching nether regions, pelvic thrusts and manly poses gradually increase in magnitude. As a touching contrast, the next scene at first appears like an innocent pyjama party. But as it unfolds a homophobic defensive touch-and-repel sequence alludes to the underlying pain and difficulty men may experience in communicating more subtle and fragile emotions. Images of men coming to the aid of a fallen comrade rang in my perceptual retina, offering a counterpoint to the superficial bravado of more familiar acts of cliched masculinity. Parody and pastiche acts as the laminator in Laminex Man, keeping the surface dry.

This is an accessible work which utilises simple choreographic structures such as tableau and repetition to humorous effect. Further investigation into contemporary masculinity would thicken this work. I wanted to know how this particular group of young males feel in the year 2004. Manhood by Steve Biddulph started a whole men’s movement as a reaction to previous epochs, the legacy of which is not reflected in this work. Are we glued like laminex to archaic role models? Might youthful boyhood exuberance and play give hope to the Laminex Man?

The new version of Starry Eyed is 15 minutes shorter than the original, condensing the formerly strong sense of unfolding time (RT58, p32). The smaller cast enabled a tightening of certain scenes, strengthening the concepts being investigated. As a double bill these works are excitingly different, providing a rich and varied theatrical experience. I would have been happy to witness the full-length version of Starry Eyed, but left satisfied nonetheless.

Restless Dance Company, Laminex Man and Starry Eyed, May 4-8

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. Onl

© Helen Omand; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2004