Developed with performer-collaborators Marlo Benjamin, Samantha Hines, Harrison Ritchie-Jones and Jack Ziesing, Stephanie Lake’s Pile of Bones explores the relationship of individuals to space, each other and the body. It is an investigation into a sometimes stunning sometimes discordant landscape of bodies, and abstracting pedestrian gestures and interactions.
Pile of Bones opens with a faint glow of skin in the distance, shapes barely discernible in the darkness. In a glimmer of light we see disjointed hands, limbs, and faces moving with rhythmic certainty, unearthly compulsion, as the pile of bodies floats towards the audience. Our perception shifts and is questioned within this small illuminated patch as the performers melt and dissolve into each other, doubling and contrasting each other’s motions. This sensory confusion in the opening segment evokes a conspiratorial wonder, a sense of deep delight in the play of light and shadows and bodies.
Moving from this initial space of fragile symbiosis, the work travels into a series of visual and choreographic displays. The performances by the dancers are powerful and expressive. The articulation of motion, especially that expressed by Samantha Hines, is exquisite, with the choreographic ideas and motifs throughout the performance notable in their precision and angularity. However, in the transformation into different choreographic vignettes often centred around Hines, we lose some of the dynamic cohesion that was so particular and special in the opening image.
The images become a series of experiments, exploring gesture, weight, vibration and breath. Within these experiments, the sensation of wonder evoked by the first segment is returned to several times, with these moments being the most captivating in the performance. But there is an element of two dimensionality to this kind of exploration. While the show does promote itself as following an emotional rather than linear logic, the performance seems to lack the tension and stakes necessary to remain compelling through its duration. This results in visually stunning moments, such as a moment involving embryonic exploration of plastic, not having the space or build up that might allow them to reach their full transformative potential. For a piece whose content is so interested in the different layers of human experience, the form doesn’t seem to attend enough to the audience’s journey of delving into this space.
Pile of Bones is most delightful when the movement of the bodies is in conversation with the lighting design by Matthew Adey. Adey’s shifting between geometric exactness and softness dances with the performers’ bodies. In this shifting, we catch glimpses of movement, entering part way through moments or being thrown into a different space before a moment concludes. At times, the movements themselves seem to be controlling the illumination of the space. Less interesting are the moments in which the space is lit with a wash of light, as they lose some of this specificity and immediacy. Lighting is a major transformative device in the space, exploring across a large scope of spatial tones and dynamics, at times becoming a key presence in the space and at others being used to accentuate the performers. Costume by Harriet Oxley emphasises the strangeness of the piece, with loose, black jumpsuits gradually decaying and being replaced by a clash of floral and geometric patterns. This collision of style and pattern mirrors that seen in the shifting fabric of movement and light. Sound composed by Robin Fox maintains a deep magnetism over the performance, its urgency changing and evolving across the different images in dialogue with the dancers.
In the texture of the movement, coupled with these design elements, Lake’s audiences must grapple with the uniform chaos, the contrasting artifice and organic physicality of bodies in contemporary space and time.