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The enemy/other within

Jonathan Marshall at the Mixed Metaphor season at Dancehouse

Jonathan Marshall tutors in performance at the University of Melbourne, and is currently researching a PhD on the dramaturgy of French fin-de-siècle neurology.

Watching Mixed Metaphor, the image of John Travolta and Nicholas Cage from Face/Off, staring at each other over their guns, haunted my memory. The dyadic relation of protagonist and nemesis replays the model enunciated by Hamlet to Laertes: “I’ll be your foil.” The relation of self to Other, of the individual to its reflection, recurs as a talisman of perfection/death throughout culture. As in Orphée, the gateway to the afterlife is the mirror, where the doppelganger merges with the subject in an ecstatic act of annihilation. The disparity between self and Other bleeds out of the fissures of dance. The body in performance is forever denied the perfection of Michelangelo’s David; no body is as sleek, powerful or erotic. In Mixed Metaphor, these fissures concealed even in much postmodern dance become the subject of the work. The body is not only anatomised, it is reified.

In Foretaste we see not a body, but bodies. Three figures do not touch; they scarcely relate. In the far corner, a woman (Julia West) searches, but for what? One man (Dean Linguey) moves slowly forward towards us, suriashi-style. We hardly notice his approach as his fierce focus on a distant point leads him to nearly weep. In the foreground we see an ever more frenetic explosion of movement. Dressed in a giant nappy, this over-sized baby (Ben Rogan) (re)discovers the body. He leaps, gyrates, moves in every possible way, his hand constantly returning to his groin in an attempt to ground the body in something: phallus, desire, anatomy. This is Kaspar Hauser in reverse: not a man who is drowning in a flood of words, but the pre-cultural body overwhelmed with sensation and possibility. Too many movements, too many bodies yet all the same body, the ‘me-which-is-not-me.’ West’s eyes search all about, Linguey moves after his gaze, while Rogan searches physically. The audience is drawn into a literally hysterical journey which ends with the 2 men exchanging positions and roles in a way that conflates earlier differences. Active becomes passive, peripheral becomes central, and Rogan moves into Linguey’s light as both men back away from us. Birth and death are smashed into the same psycho-kinetic space as Rogan’s skull peeks out from under his tightly stretched skin: the self-reflexive self as mad.

For James Cunningham in Body in Question the space between the Other and the subject in performance is both more visible and less distinct. Cunningham’s body is a symphony of bilateral symmetry, strong and powerful with hair like a Greek god. Hanging from one shoulder where there should be a second powerful arm, however, dangles a deflated husk, a spidery weight that slips effortlessly into space by merit of its ‘imperfection.’ The Cunningham we see in the archival video projected during the performance is gone. A different body, a different individual, is present. His body is visibly divided, his smaller arm a sign of his brush with death on a motorcycle. Cunningham’s once near perfect body is not only present as archive though. It is both literally and more ambiguously present in the form of a life-sized mannequin. Cunningham dances a melancholy pas de deux with this ‘lost body’, which ends with the flesh/not-flesh hand of the doll guiding his gaze away from itself. He must give up his former self and move beyond narcissistic mourning. The arm remains: only in death will his body regain its unity, returning to the undifferentiated self of the child in the womb.

In Stephanie Glickman’s Tall the Other lies within. Here is a body internally psychically divided. The Other rubs against the actual, creating friction, un/pleasure and desire. Glickman’s legs strive to perform as would the tall, idealised body of classicism, but they cannot achieve this mastery. A phantom body overlays the movement and butts against it. Glickman struggles to reconcile these bodies. The barre is performed on the ground, translating the verticality of ballet into a ground-based, horizontal aesthetic favourable for this body. Glickman moves in and out of an open-faced cube like an insect from an Escher study, placing her body into a space simultaneously inside and outside. Here the self can gaze at itself. Legs, arms and torsos may be compared to the ideal: they are at once ‘me-and-not-me.’ Finally, the actual body is allowed its way, the Other becoming a memory layered onto the experiential. Through erotics, Glickman achieves a fusion in which bent legs and abdominal contortions reinvigorate the body and brush away the need to conform to Michelangelo’s aesthetics. The (self-) desiring body celebrates self-scrutiny. Other bodies, other times, echo throughout the theatre.

Mixed Metaphor: Foretaste, deviser-performers Ben Rogan, Dean Linguey, performer Julia West, sound production Matt Fenton. Body in Question, Igneous Inc, deviser-performer James Cunningham, deviser-director-visuals Suzon Fuks, music Lee McIver, video animation Alex Clarke, non-linear video editing Daryl Davies, lighting Iain Court. Tall, choreographer-performer Stephanie Glickman, sound Trish Anderson, costume Ruth Singer, Dancehouse, Melbourne, July 22 - Aug 1

Jonathan Marshall tutors in performance at the University of Melbourne, and is currently researching a PhD on the dramaturgy of French fin-de-siècle neurology.

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 12

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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