For many, contemporary dance is a strange beast. It’s not quite as simple as ‘either you get it or you don’t.’ But there is often an undeniable weirdness to it, a sense that there is an inner language from another world, and that you are only just scratching at the edges. Such was the case for me with Lucy Guerin’s latest work Split, being performed as part of Dance Massive.
Split consists of two dancers, dancing within a rectangle marked out for them in white tape on a black floor. As the piece progresses, the dancers divide the space into smaller and smaller rectangles, until they are crawling on top of one another in a bid to stay within the white lines. One of the women is naked, suggesting to me that the piece is simply a meditation on the human form and human movement. As the two bodies are pressed closer and closer together by virtue of their shrinking dance space, limbs tangle and the human form combines. Throughout the piece, the shapes of their bodies fold from the beautiful to the strange, providing plenty of grounds on which to consider the many possibilities and vulnerabilities of the female form.
The piece – choreographed by Guerin, and performed by Melanie Lane & Lilian Steiner is underscored with a pulsing, electronic track by Scanner, which drops the audience into a wholly other space, one in which the ordinary gives way to new rhythms, shape and movement. Combined with some lovely lighting from Paul Lim, Split seems to ask: how and where do we fit? And what do we make of it when we do, or when we can’t?
These are provocative questions that are undoubtedly timely, but the choreography was simply too elusive for me to stay engaged throughout the piece. It was very Contemporary Dance – which is not at all a bad thing, it’s just not my thing, and I spent much of the time feeling like I was missing something, and counting down the 50 minutes until it was over. The lack of any story or character partially explains my sense of misplacement; there simply wasn’t enough development for me to remain engaged throughout.
Still, the skill of Lane and Steiner is impressive; their focus and control is intoxicating. Combined with Guerin’s choreography, they created a world detached from the normal, but still thoroughly attached to the vulnerabilities and foibles of humanity. Split is challenging and elusive, but it is a piece of art by a fascinating choreographer, and fans of modern dance will find much to inspire and provoke them.