Look At Me : : Seen

Basement Theatre

Chloe Baynes & Tori Manley

September 17th – 19th


“A dance piece with no bodies? Crazy fad culture? Duelling saxophones? Come and meet the experimental insanity and a brain stretching experience at Look At Me: the contemporary dance double bill featuring the best work ever choreographed by Chloe Baynes and Tori Manley”.


Look At Me is a double bill featuring works from Chloe Baynes and Tori Manley. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to see before the show started, as a look at the Basement Theatre website gives only the information above.


The show opens with Chloe Baynes’ work entitled “________________”. That’s actually the title. The piece begins with a large, stretchy fabric screen obscuring much of the stage. The dancers move against the fabric, pushing body parts into it. These moments are my favourite in the work – seeing a hand, face, torso pushing into the screen. It reminded me of that scene from Star Wars where Han Solo gets frozen in alien techno-goo.


Eventually, the dancers push against the fabric and it falls from its tethers. The dancers are still hidden by white, shroud- like costumes. There’s a section using small torches and a cute moment when the lights are like eyes, creating sweet, ghost-like characters.


The use of fabric/suspended fabric has been used to great effect by some of contemporary dance’s pre-eminent choreographers. I am reminded of Alwin Nikolais’ remarkable Tensile Involvement (1953) and Martha Graham’s iconic Lamentation (1930). So many decades later, modern choreographers are truly ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ when they reference this device. I find it essential that any new work expands/adds/contributes to the original offerings, going beyond what has been created before.


The work is accompanied by saxophonist Jarrod Baynes, dressed in a black morph suit – mask and all. The Basement is a small and restricted space. I found the saxophone uncomfortably loud, and the atonal, improv-style playing taxing to sit through for thirty minutes.


The lighting for this work was very low – deliberately I am sure – but unfortunately it was so low that much of the work was invisible to the back couple of rows of the audience. Although there were some nice moments, I came out of the work underwhelmed and restless. It was very long, and there was no (visible) dancing. Now, that could completely be the point – an absurdist work, sans dancing, playing on the idea of the unseen. I think if it was billed as a 1970’s student performance art happening, I would’ve been more satisfied.


“_____________” concludes with the saxophonist being sucked back into the amorphous lump within the fabric, as the cast members bumble their way off stage through the audience foyer doors. I think everyone in the audience enjoyed the subtle absurdity of this moment – there were plenty of giggles.


The second work, Tepid Banter, by Tori Manley and Joanne Hobern, was a very different offering indeed. The work opens with the dancers reclining on the stage, referencing Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (circa 1511-1512) from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. There is a lengthy opening sequence where the stage manager fills the stage with an enormous, random assortment of props and objects. Normally, the humour of this opening would’ve worked a treat. Coming off thirty minutes of the previous work really affected my patience I think – which was unfortunate for the second piece.


Tepid Banter develops from conversations, interactions, the said and unsaid between Manley and Hobern. A simple, engaging concept, it is explored fully and creatively. The work is emotive without being taxing; mostly funny and appealing, occasionally uncomfortable and bittersweet.


The key to this piece is the exquisitely genuine relationship between the two dancers. Both have a sophisticated and detailed stage presence used to full effect. Both have a strong repertoire of contemporary movement vocabulary – used sparingly but with impact.


This work is full of delightful moments, but moves along with a kind of loose narrative that concludes with a real sense of human empathy and closure. I loved Hobern’s onion-chopping sequence, Manley’s loading her of friend with miscellaneous objects, and the fluidity and release of the women’s movements in and out of an unforgiving concrete floor. Manley and Hobern are delightful performers and talented directors. Interestingly, in the programme they have billed themselves with Concept/Physicalisation rather than Choreography. I appreciate this detail – Tepid Banter is more physical theatre than dance, but is stronger and more succinct because of it.


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