the poisoned pea

virginia baxter: michelle heaven, disagreeable object, dance massive

Michelle Heaven, Brian Lucas, Disagreeable Object

Michelle Heaven, Brian Lucas, Disagreeable Object

Michelle Heaven, Brian Lucas, Disagreeable Object

MICHELLE HEAVEN’S DISAGREEABLE OBJECT IS IMMEDIATELY REMINISCENT OF ONE OF THE ENIGMATIC SCENARIOS OF GOTHIC NEW YORK ARTIST AND BALLETOMANE EDWARD GOREY (SEE THE GILDED BAT, THE CURIOUS SOFA). AT TURNS WHIMSICAL AND STRANGE, THE PIECE ALSO HAS THE FASCINATION OF A MINIATURE SPECTACLE IN WHICH THE AUDIENCE’S VISION IS UTTERLY PRIMARY.

The action takes place in a narrow space constructed within the Meat Market venue. Inside this small room, tightly packed into a bank of seats, we peer into the gloom, gradually making out a small woman (Michelle Heaven) seated on a tiny chair and eating noisily from a metal dish. She leaves to be replaced on the same chair by a very tall man (Brian Lucas). Both are white faced and wearing black—she bustled, he in tails. Both bear the signs of evil intent in permanently devious expressions. Occasionally, as he falls prey to her poisonous intentions, the deadpan mask of Lucas stretches to a ghastly grimace. They make a striking couple.

For all their Edwardian elegance, there’s something decidedly feral about these two who might be the mad servants living below the stairs. The act of eating is central and happens in greedy grabs. She also appears part mad scientist (what is she dispensing from that tap on the wall we wonder?) threatening at every turn to destroy this claustrophobically symbiotic relationship. He has perfected the art of escape and almost wins out when in one funny and deftly choreographed sequence she attempts to force him to eat an outsized poisoned pea. From here, things escalate in every way!

Michelle Heaven, Disagreeable Object

Michelle Heaven, Disagreeable Object

Michelle Heaven, Disagreeable Object

The choreography is precise, perfectly tailored to meet the needs of this gothic little tale, which traverses what might be days or decades in just 33 minutes. There are a lot of enigmatic entrances and exits. Occasionally, the pair breaks into odd little angular dance sequences, though ever contained and always returning to their devious personae. Heaven wheels her squeaky mobile serving tray/laboratory trolley in and out, concocting her evil potions in swift little moves. At other times she appears in surprising suspension in the gloomy distance. From here she seems to angle and float as if possessed by some other force. Ben Cobham’s design and lighting plays cleverly with perspective and shadow to elegantly enhance the gothic ambience of the work in surprising ways. At times you wonder if you’re seeing straight. Similarly Bill McDonald’s score reminds us of the manifestations of this genre in melodrama and silent movie.

A disarming and diverting miniature, concluding with a very grand flourish, Disagreeable Object is nonetheless ambitious in scope. Dramaturgically tight, choreographically inventive, imaginative in design and performed by two consummate artists, I for one am grateful for its release from the Dance Massive crypt allowing more of us to experience its particular pleasures (though peas will never be the same). May it continue to see the light.

Elsewhere in the Meat Market, in another semi-retro experience, we don 3D cellophane glasses and enter a darkened booth to experience UK artist Billie Cowie’s Revery Alone, as part of his Stereoscopic showings. On a floor screen, a dancer uncurls from her prone position and reaches upward towards us. The work’s simple trickery still fascinates as we catch the fleeting realism of that elusive entity—the dancer’s gaze.

See also realtime’s video interview with Michelle Heaven & Brian Lucas.

 

Disagreeable Object, choreographer, performer Michelle Heaven, collaborator, performer Brian Lucas, collaborator, designer Ben Cobham, composer Bill McDonald, costume design Louise McCarthy, production and operation Bluebottle, Frog Peck, James Russell, Arts House, Meat Market, March 16-19; Billy Cowie, Revery Alone, Stereoscopic, Meat Market, Melbourne, March 16-19; www.dancemassive.com.au

RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

19 March 2011