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Craig Bary, Joshua Thomson, In Difference, FORM Dance Projects Craig Bary, Joshua Thomson, In Difference, FORM Dance Projects
photo Prudence Upton

The right for same-sex couples to legally marry in this country has become a political issue that all sides air on the political stage like dirty laundry for party point-scoring. The unfortunate result is to characterise any valuable exchanges on the issue as divisive.

Holding a very expensive, public plebiscite is logically futile when ultimately this issue will be decided by parliamentarians behind closed doors. Transforming the intensely personal issue of how one individual loves another into a national debate appears to only deepen the cruelty. While the voices of those deprived of basic civil liberties should be heard and listened to, Craig Bary’s new dance work, In Difference, prompted me to realise that the discourse could be less exposing of their lives.

Two men downstage sit, relatively motionless, opposite one another in close proximity. The set-up reminds me of Jérôme Bel’s Nom donné par l’auteur (1994)—but sans the objects, sterility of posture and the emptying of one’s subjectivity aimed at in these European dances of stillness. One man begins to cry unashamedly. The wail is gut-wrenching, like real grief over a life or love lost. The other man begins to writhe sensually, tracing his skin with his hand, stirring an orgasm, subtle in its release. Masturbation juxtaposed with weeping in this opening scene neutralises both eroticism and pathos, only making sense as an affective form of protest. It is a protest that reveals a striking paradox: in seeking privacy in matters of the personal, their most intimate selves are laid bare for all to see.

The relationship between the intensely personal and the exposure to public view continues as a theme in the simple, yet semiotically strong choice of a movable flat, built and designed by Bary and co-performer Joshua Thomson in their spare time. Its metal scaffolding is constructed on wheels and has two faces, a smooth surface on one side and exposed bars on the other; and two openings, one a door-like passage, the other a cross-like formation. The flat, while clunky, is expertly manipulated by all four dancers to divide the space, to conceal bodies and to enable transitions. Ambiguity is felt between what we ought and ought not see, the flat revealing the dancers in all manner of physical and emotional states. Karen Norris' lighting dutifully assists, blurring any edges and at times artfully eclipsing the action.

At first glance, the piece comprises mostly duets exploring same-sex (Bary and Joshua Thomson) and different-sex (Timothy Ohl and Kristina Chan) configurations; but then the movement begins to transcend gender typification, rolling out bodies in a series of couplings so attuned in depth, grace and tenderness that we are viscerally overcome by the rich movement vocabulary and its display. While some of the routine phrasing has a deliberate and measured polish in timing, spacing and placing, there are many complex conversations between pairings locked in close contact that keep the work raw and reactive—whole body tipping, turning and twisting on multiple planes, each in the supportive arms of their other.

Timothy Ohl, Kristina Chan, In Difference, FORM Dance Projects Timothy Ohl, Kristina Chan, In Difference, FORM Dance Projects
photo Prudence Upton

In one duet, Timothy Ohl begins flat on his back downstage, having just been flung by Thomson after a ‘stag-like’ combat that rips through the calmness of the quartet’s exchange: interlocking arms like antlers, pushing and ramming with equal force to finally repel and submit to the power of the other. Ohl trembles, shakes, convulses. Every cell screams with affliction in the sense of Simone Weil's observation that "if there was no affliction in this world we might think we were in paradise." Kristina Chan rushes to his side and places a hand on his chest. This gesture syphons the very energy that has called her to his aid, setting off a hyperventilation that rattles her tiny frame, only ceasing with the same duty of care from Ohl.

In another set, we find Bary and Thomson deepening their intimacy with straightened arms and hands in an open palm motif to clutch, cover and blindfold. Hands that were manipulated by Chan earlier grab at each other’s genitals. Lines of tension, zig-zagging like a proud Hellenistic bronze, never stem the flow of an acutely shared and responsive biorhythm. The bodies mingle from a single foundation, at times belying the laws of physics: Thomson floating and spinning perpendicularly in Bary's lap.

Each major interaction is set harmoniously with a discrete piece of music without bridging, creating an episodic, jarring feel that makes little dramaturgical sense. Though Eden Mullholland has composed an enjoyable classically-inspired suite, where the songs each have a different feel in their pure instrumentation—one with a coldish post-minimalist arrangement for piano, another more buoyant with syncopated beats and thicker melody, and one a Baroque-ish harpsichord number feeding the eclecticism—there is little wedding of this compositional structure with the choreography.

In Difference never strays into dance theatre, nor didacticism—even if in the final scene we are hit with the unsolicited voices of Australians giving their opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage. In taking up Craig Bary’s offer to think seriously on the topic, we could imagine a meta-ethical frame for understanding and giving value to all of the moral perspectives on marriage—a not-divisive, healthy pluralism. This way we might be clearer on what’s at stake, not only about rights and justice nor superficial political gestures, but questioning a society’s commitment to discreetly honouring a basic human value.

Joshua Thomson, Craig Bary, FORM Dance Projects Joshua Thomson, Craig Bary, FORM Dance Projects
photo Prudence Upton

Form Dance Projects & Riverside Theatres, In Difference, conception, direction, performance Craig Bary, co-creators, performers Kristina Chan, Timothy Ohl, Joshua Thomson, music: Eden Mullholland, lighting design Karen Norris; Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, Sydney, 2-4 March

RealTime issue #137 Feb-March 2017 pg.

© Jodie McNeilly; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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