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 Gerard Van Dyck, Kate Denborough, Flesh and Bone, KAGE Gerard Van Dyck, Kate Denborough, Flesh and Bone, KAGE
photo Lachlan Woods
AS KAGE, KATE DENBOROUGH AND GERARD VAN DYCK HAVE BEEN WORKING IN CLOSE COLLABORATION FOR MORE THAN 15 YEARS, BUT IN FLESH AND BONE, THE TWO SHARE THE STAGE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A GREAT WHILE. IT’S A WONDER, NOT SIMPLY BECAUSE IT’S A POTENT REMINDER OF DENBOROUGH’S EXCELLENCE AS A DANCER (SHE USUALLY DIRECTS WHILE VAN DYCK PERFORMS).

flesh and bone

More than that, Flesh and Bone is one of those rare and deeply gratifying examples of work that could only be accomplished by artists who have spent so long developing ideas together. It’s an intimate and highly personal work, brave and revealing, and casts a particular spell that would have broken if another performer had entered the space.

It begins in near darkness, dim illumination gradually allowing our eyes to adjust and make out the pair in odd proportions—her shoulders broad and masculine, his silhouette showing off feminine hips and breasts. They’re both in a kind of drag that extends to the flesh, and after they strip themselves of their clothes they continue this process of unveiling by calmly discarding the skin they wear beneath. Still, even when they’re back to themselves, their individuality seems never to fully recover itself, this sense of overlapping identity maintaining itself throughout the hour that follows.

In making the work, Denborough and Van Dyck sought out the thoughts of a group of young people (facilitated by writer Clementine Ford). Their discussions on gender informed what was to become Flesh and Bone; there are sequences in which the traditional roles of male and female dancers are reversed, as Van Dyck is supported by Denborough’s lifts, while that most gendered of performances, the tango, is given a more permeable and supple twist. At one point he removes a pair of fake breasts from his shirt, she a prosthetic penis from her trousers. Despite the powerful exploration of gender that runs throughout the work, it would be an error to say that the piece is ‘about’ gender. It’s simply one of the conditions that the work is testing. There’s no lesson in any of this, no obvious point to be made. Each moment has an elusive but compulsive necessity that requires no explanation. There’s no logic or narrative, but everything is as it must be.

It’s also a thoroughly visual work, with each vignette offering striking images. On a curved, mirrored surface the pair create subtle illusions with a number of immense, black balloons; a massive expanse of grass forms the foundation for a quiet, introspective moment; a vast sheet of unbroken white paper is canvas for a violent moment of rupture. The most memorable scene is also the most inexplicable—Van Dyck places a small mirrored table over Denborough’s prone form and proceeds to make pasta from scratch, topping it with sauce and shaved cheese. This unfolds with methodical slowness, yet it’s impossible to look away.

As is typical of the company, the work displays its roots in dance but draws just as heavily on other disciplines, from circus and magic to post-dramatic theatre. It refuses to stay one thing, but just as importantly is always something—it’s never an act of negation or refutation but rather of continual expansion. It’s buoyant, occasionally startling and always generous towards its audience. Hopefully it’s a sign of what’s to come, too.

until then, then

Until Then, Then, The Public Studio Until Then, Then, The Public Studio
photo Pier Carthew
A stark contrast comes in the form of Until Then, Then, another piece by two long-time collaborators, Ming-Zhu Hii and Nicholas Coghlan, under the rubric of The Public Studio. Both retreated from creating new work several years ago after reaching a point of dissatisfaction with the art scene in Melbourne, and that process of negation also underscores every aspect of Until Then, Then. It’s not merely anti-theatre, which has its own conventions by now. It’s closer to an installation, in some ways, one which actively invokes theatrical traditions in order to do away with them.

Coghlan sits at a small desk, wearing a paper crown, and mutely operates a laptop to bring up a series of projected images and text. The visuals are manipulated paintings that evoke the Baroque vanitas or memento mori, the reminder that death accompanies all worldly existence. Here those skulls and hourglasses are subjected to their own digital decay and retrieval, piling up in infinite regression or finding themselves magnified to the point of unintelligibility. Some of the visuals are Bacon-esque in their ghastly fleshiness, but they never quite reach a point of morbidity.

Meanwhile, snatches of dialogue from the ‘great’ male characters of (mostly) modernist theatre—Woyzeck, Krapp, Peer Gynt—are displayed. They provide no context, and very quickly begin to suffer their own ravaging, as words disappear from sentences before they can be parsed, leaving brittle skeletons of phrases with the meat ripped off. Coghlan seems to be enacting this violence from within his tiny alcove, but his lack of expression never clues us in as to the nature of his relationship with the strangeness taking place around him.

The overall effect is a radical act of silence, in a way. It’s almost the theatrical equivalent of a hunger strike—it refuses, and refuses and refuses, and it’s perhaps no surprise that many audience members have been thoroughly confused and at times bemused by the work. It’s common that emerging theatre makers will think they’ve reinvented the form, but here we have more mature artists who seem to have come to the realisation that such a thing is impossible. The work offers no answers, and I don’t know that it admits of its own questions, either. It doesn’t exactly celebrate failure, since it doesn’t allow for the existence of success. But what the alternatives might look like remains teasingly out of the frame here.


KAGE, Flesh and Bone, creators, performers Kate Denborough, Gerard Van Dyck, costumes Lisa Gorman, lighting Paul Jackson, composer Kelly Ryall, Fortyfivedownstairs, March 7-24; The Public Studio, Until Then, Then, co-creator, performer Nicholas Coghlan, co-creator, director Ming-Zhu Hii, sound Russell Goldsmith, lighting Damien McLean, design Matthew Angel, Ming-Zhu Hii; La Mama Theatre, Melbourne, March 6-10

RealTime issue #114 April-May 2013 pg. 47

© John Bailey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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