The many faces of death

Anne Thompson: Lina Limosani, A Delicate Situation

A Delicate Situation, Lina Limosani

A Delicate Situation, Lina Limosani

A Delicate Situation, Lina Limosani

In A Delicate Situation, Lina Limosani attempts a considered and rigorously composed drama using dance and visual imagery. She commenced the work on an Asialink residency at Rimbun Dahna, near Kuala Lumpur in 2008. At this time Limosani became intrigued with Malaysian mythology, in particular the demonic Pontianaks, the vampire ghosts of women who die during childbirth. She turns the image of these figures into a personification of death and we witness a middle-aged woman in a changing relationship with the demon.

Performers Carol Wellman Kelly and Suhaili Micheline Ahmad Kamil are well cast as the Woman and Death respectively and intriguingly different as dancers who work sensitively and skilfully together. The visual elements are beautifully chosen and realised. We move from death, a realm of darkness, white material and struggling body, to a 1940s British home in Malaysia. Each visual field is sparse but bold with the influence of puppetry-based visual theatre evident. The bodies move in relation to the visual elements. This is just one of the satisfying aspects of the show: the rigorous composing of the dancing between all the elements—dancer and dress, dancer and dancer, dancer and objects, furniture and floor.

Each ‘scene’ is so strong and evocative that the work, even though organised as narrative, is experienced more as a set of intense images, metaphors and physical explorations. A body struggles into a suspended white dress. One dancer completes the picture proposed by the other, an ignored Malaysian servant intuiting a British woman’s desires. A dancer rearranges busts (three dimensional death masks) on a sideboard and the other dancer’s head is caught up in this activity. One dancer inhabits a room in which the furniture moves, eventually leaving the space on a carpet runner. The ghost or death figure keeps transforming, becoming at one stage a large white sheet with long, spindly arms and hands drawing in the older woman.

What was arresting and strangely moving was the shifting power dynamic expressed between the two figures in the drama: from British colonial matron blind to her Malaysian servant’s presence to tormented woman struggling to complete domestic tasks for her dead husband present as white bust (death mask) to woman tenderly held by death. The interplay of the colonial story and the drama of a woman’s relationship with death illuminated both narratives with death as foreigner, as servant, torturer and nurse—a colonial story as one of the unrecognised dependence of coloniser on colonised and then a story of the terrorising of a coloniser by the colonised and of the colonised’s great kindness to the coloniser.

The exacting choreography was intelligent and finely honed, clearly emerging from a well worked-through interplay between investigation of situation, ideas and the physical skill of the performers and choreographer. Because of the potency of the double play of narrative and imagery the piece lost a little momentum towards the end when the story of the relationship with death was privileged over the colonial narrative, but this is a very minor quibble. This was dance theatre of great originality, thought, depth of feeling and relevance.

Adelaide Festival Centre: A Delicate Situation, director, choreographer Lina Limosani, dramaturg Andrew Brackman, set, costume design Eve Lambert, sound design Hardesh Singh, lighting Neil Jensen, Space Theatre, Adelaide, 22-24 May

RealTime issue #122 Aug-Sept 2014 pg. 36

© Anne Thompson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

18 August 2014