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REVIEW: Double Think | Seymour Centre, Sydney

There were triumphant aspects to award-winning choreographer Byron Perry’s double-bill Double Think, but it all left our critic a little underwhelmed.

Lee Serle and Kirstie McCracken in Double Think | Seymour Centre

Force Majeure recently presented a short season at The Reginald, in association with Seymour Centre, comprising two dance-theatre works, devised and directed by award-winning choreographer Byron Perry. Both are duets, featuring Kirstie McCracken and Lee Serle.

The first, Gogglebox, affectionately celebrates our long-standing addiction to television and was designed to mark the imminent passing of analogue. There is nothing heavy, arcane, deep or meaningful in this piece, which was developed in just a week. That’s it’s strength, as it playfully explores our wholesale, voluntary dependency on entering altered, vegetative states via the infamous box, slowing brain function to virtual imperceptibility, rendering us just this side of clinically dead.

Of course, this relationship isn’t without it’s tragic moments, such as when this portal to mental paucity breaks down. The boxheaded Serle got more than he bargained for when the screen fell, to reveal his face, but he sprang to the challenge of improvisation. Though this piece was intended as little more than a warmup, it had considerable charm; not least, for example, when McCracken adjusted Serle’s posture as one does (or did, in the old days) the set-top rabbit ears, in an ostensibly fruitless quest for improved reception.

The centrepiece, though, is the titular Double Think, which took a full two years, on and off, to come to fruition. It may draw on Orwell’s concept for a thematic starting-point, but parallels pretty much end where they begin. Even Perry says, ‘it’s a performance work in constant flux, a purely visual and physical exploration into opposition and contrast’. Make of that what you will. In substance, it’s comprised of vigorous, muscular movement, treading a constantly uncertain and shifting line between narrative and abstract. But this, frankly, is the least of it. The more interesting material is embedded in various other design and conceptual aspects. The most obvious is an ingeniously-designed wall of hollow, rectangular, wooden boxes. Its flexibility as a composite, interactive prop makes for a compelling, earthy aesthetic that’s in tune with the robust choreography.  Manipulation of the blocks is a work of choreography in itself and, perhaps, at times, the more interesting one; particularly when, say, Serle, builds a platform on which McCracken dances and to which she seems to respond as the blocks are moved around, rhythmically and symmetry, as if to mimic the power of choreographers to affect and mould performance. There’s a fascinating tension, right there, with Perry’s stated determination to put performers in charge of their own stage environment, even down to operating their own lighting and sound, as well as manipulating set, representing a massive, unconventional power shift.

I was less enamoured with the call-and-response sequence in which the performers took turns throwing out a word, or term, which was danced by the other. It might’ve been fun, but I found it a little tedious and, in contrast to the playful work with the wall of supersized blocks, a little witless, inasmuch as the danced responses seemed more random than evocative (even if they did raise laughs and approval from the audience around me). The quality of movement at other times, though, is high, often balletic in character, and Perry seems to have a recognisable house style, which requires rubber bodies capable of bending every which way with serpentine ease. But some of the best moments correlate with the simplest of ideas, such as with eyes blinking open and shut in lockstep with lights flicking on and off.

Benjamin Cisterne’s lighting is wonderfully atmospheric, lifting us right out of the theatre and taking us to some other imaginary space, devoid of all distraction. Luke Smiles steam-hammered composition and sound design couldn’t be more dramatic and suggests the agitated, angular, jagged, twisting torment of the best of the rest of the movement. Despite triumphant aspects built into the work, however, I have to admit I emerged a little underwhelmed.

The details: Double Think played Seymour Centre’s Reginald Theatre on August 21-24.

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