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Melbourne International Arts Festival

Walking the imagination

Barry Laing encounters Lone Twin

Lone Twin, Ghost Dance Lone Twin, Ghost Dance
photo Ayesha Amos
Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters are Lone Twin, UK performance makers with an extensive body of internationally acclaimed work since 1997. Indefatigable travellers, sojourners and conjurers of clouds, Lone Twin alighted on Melbourne for a 4-week residency, wryly referred to as a “Mid-career Survey”, as part of the 2005 Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Walk With Me Walk With Me Will Somebody Please Walk With Me is a ‘performance as lecture’ introducing Lone Twin’s work to date and their preoccupation with walking as their principal means of performance making. Lone Twin walk towards horizons, into literal landscapes and whimsical, obdurately optimistic imaginal terrains.

Unabashed and droll, Gregg and Gary (as we come to know them) engage in a kind of storytelling ping-pong elaborated as a progressive list of numbered ‘points’ read from notes on clipboards. Each point begins “(And) This is ...”, followed by phrases and stories which ‘name’ things, locating them briefly in ‘images-as-words.’ We are invited to ‘see’ and imagine for ourselves what is named: “17. And this is waiting for the water to recede”, “26. This is what we do just for the fun of it”, “125. And this is what we do to imagine the future.” The list acquires a logic of its own, a ritual entwined in the event that brings into peculiar relationship new phenomena profoundly connected to the old, the mundane, the forgotten and the as-yet-unperceived. The performance is an act of remembering.

Video plays while stories are told of, for example, walking for 18 arduous hours back and forth across bridges spanning the Glømmer river in Norway: “We walked…and some of the people of the town came and walked with us.” They befriended them, exchanged observations, jokes and songs. A gentle humanity, vitality and absurdity floods into the vacuum left in the absence of a punch line. Details become meaningful and resonant, connections between things becoming things themselves.

The performers gesture, dance, and sing with the aid of an MP3 player, megaphone and laptop, all in a kind of a strange, cumulative loop that both refers to previous works and becomes a performance in itself. The house lights remain on. There is nowhere else but here and yet ‘here’ becomes peopled with others, full of elsewheres, and the experience is slowly bathed in Whelan’s and Winter’s liquid imagination.

Lone Twin are ‘ecologists’. In The Days of the Sledgehammer Have Gone, enthusiastically engaged in “becoming the weather”, they ponder the “sinister and ludicrous past” of water as it circulates in the perpetual hydrological cycle including rivers, clouds, rain—and us. The human body is 75% water and therefore inextricably implicated in this cycle. Gary wonders if these ‘waters’, passed as sweat, may have been encountered before: “my sweat, your sweat, Jimmy Connors’ sweat, Bruce Springsteen’s sweat—which happens to be Gregg’s favourite sweat at the moment.” Sweat figures crucially as the by-product of labour, endurance and a commitment to the completion of extreme physical tasks.

Clad inappropriately in Army surplus ponchos and hiking shoes, various paraphernalia including Norwegian hunting horns and with the ubiquitous clipboards slung around their necks, Lone Twin attempt to make a cloud! Concealed beneath the ponchos, each performer labours buried in multiple layers of clothing, accumulating body heat: Gregg for 6 hours collecting water from the Yarra river that day, Gary for much of the performance with vertical rows of theatre lights one foot away, performing a rain dance that looks like dog-paddle standing up. “This is what I do to feel a part of things; this is what I do to blur my edges.” Either side of more stories and ‘points’, increasingly funny, entangled, gentle, yearning and touching on acts of kindness, the audience is invited to throw cups of Yarra water over Gary and Gregg’s bare torsos—the burden of clothing now removed, rapid evaporation, a cloud. The clouds failed to appear, or we failed to see them. Trying to be helpful, 2 women bending over perilously close to Gary exclaimed: “But there’s steam coming from his pants!” Everyone laughing, talking, grinning. Becoming a part of something, regardless.

Lone Twin understand that it can rain in the mind, and imagination in this work is miraculously transformed into, and imbibed by, sweat; the body, finding fatigue and water, forced to find another place, time and form to flow in. The imaginal is made ‘material’ or realised in the cycle entered into, the economy, the ecology of a vast set of possible inter-connections and relationships.

In To the Dogs, Lone Twin rode fold-up bikes in all directions for 7 days across Melbourne, following lines drawn in the street directory to the fringes of the city. They returned each evening to offer a series of hilarious cumulative performances, missives from each day’s encounters, trials, objects found; stories and images of a Melbourne that was sometimes familiar, and as often not. A Melbourne of dead ends and Michael Bolton songs blaring from cars at intersections. A Melbourne peopled with work—troubles and homesickness, Peter “not suited” to Melbourne, Melbourne not suited to him. Nina, disgruntled with her job, later meeting Peter (Gregg having given her his phone number!). Each performance was a generous series of ‘Toasts’ and ‘Ciaos’, odes and elegies, and wishes of good luck: “To frappacinos/ To Aussie Rules/ To Steve Bracks—nice legs!/ To Gary’s arm/ To a kiss for the winner/ To as far as you can go/ To the edge of the city/ To what’s going on/ To the dogs!!!”

To close their residency, Lone Twin dressed as cowboys in Ghost Dance and shuffled a slow line dance, trance-like, in silence and blindfolded, for 12 hours! Members of the audience joined them, keeping them company, dancing late into the night.

Lone Twin’s performances entertain walking as knowledge. The ecology of water connects people with place, possible pasts and yet to be imagined futures. Dancing together teaches something of becoming an-other, becoming each other. The conviction applied to carrying things out translates into labours of love. Performance: “to carry through to completion, to complete by adding what is wanting” (OED). ‘What is wanting’ is met in Lone Twin’s work with humour, gentleness, optimism, hope, friendship, community and soul. They engage us in the here and now through the eyes of travellers, that we might see ourselves as and become a part of things: that we might enter into the world with grace.

Lone Twin, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Oct 7-8

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 5

© Barry Laing; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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