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Human Interest Story

Belvoir presents a Lucy Guerin Inc and Malthouse Melbourne production in association with Perth International Arts Festival, HUMAN INTEREST STORY in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St. Theatre.

It is all in the timing, isn’t it?

Lucy Guerin Inc presents HUMAN INTEREST STORY in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St, a week or so after DV8 had presented their work CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS? at the Sydney Opera House.

Ms Guerin in her program notes introduces us to her and her company of dancer’s aim to synthesise the many relationships between the news, as presented in human interest stories, and our personal experiences. Where the trivialities of our own lives and the commercial packaging that goes on around real human stories of the daily headlines on television and in the newspapers are the dominating events of our lives. “It is these tensions that become the physical material” of this work.

Keith Gallasch (Co-Editor, REALTIME) in a program essay, THE THEATRICALITY OF CONTEMPORARY DANCE, gives an overview of development of dance as theatre, and justifying its programming in a theatre company season, intimating  the Pina Bausch repertoire in the 1970’s as the point of emergence of the notion of Dance Theatre and the continuation of that tradition in the evolving works of Alain Patel’s les ballets C de B, and Lloyd Newson’s DV8, both recent visitors to these shores. He then goes on to cite some examples of Australian companies who identify themselves with this varied form: Bangarra Dance Theatre, Kate Champion’s Force Majeure, Australian Dance Theatre (ADT).

He explains that Ms Guerin is not European in influence but has directly gained from her work as a dancer and emerging choreographer in New York. A more theatrical heritage. That there is a strong sense of experiment and unpredictability about her work. He mentions STRUCTURE AND SADNESS and an earlier work MELT as works of significance in her evolving repertoire. Both for me interesting works, especially MELT.

Mr Gallasch goes on: “Lucy Guerin Inc’s low-tech HUMAN INTEREST STORY is about our relationship with the daily news. As nuance and empathy seem to evaporate around us, most alarmingly in the political world and media reporting, we need works that address this failure. HUMAN INTEREST STORY moves from an almost literal theatricality, amusingly embodying our engagement with the  mass media on screen and then, frighteningly, with the page. …It’s a powerful work, oscillating between the innocent and the ominous – a  work of our time and a richly theatrical one.”

This work is in its third presentation around the country: Perth, Melbourne and now Sydney. The Perth Festival in February may have let this work appear to be “of our time and theatrical” but after the experience of  The Nerderlands Dance Theatre in Melbourne  and DV8 in Sydney, in August, this work appears merely modestly theatrical and politically-thin if not trite.

In a black box surround, six chairs, a largish flat screen television and six broad-sheet pieces of laid out newspaper, six dancers enter in differently coloured uniforms/pyjamas. The costumes are changed often (Costume Design, Paula Levis). The atmosphere of the work attempts to be contextualised by the presence of a large military carrier truck stored in the periphery dark of the area (Set Design, Gideon Obarzanek).

The television screen lights up and the dancers in a choral voice begin dialogue accompanied with physical action/gesture/dance. The text is not very engaging or complex, and worse when the guest performer, newsreader Anton Enus, appears with a pre-recorded text, that is a faintly spoofy trivialisation of possible news reporting of human interest stories – cutesy humour – one gathers that the politics of this piece is shallow in its research and lightweight in its intention and dealing with the subject matter. It becomes obvious  fairly quickly that the political over-layering is an under prepared wrapping for the dance. It has a point but not too pointy as to make the work interrogative and intellectually stimulating. It is a bit of flaccid bore.  Beside the recent memory of the DV8 performance this work is indeed pallid and insipid, cowardly in its confrontation of the stated issues. “Lite”, indeed.

The composition and scoring by Jethro Woodward is a contemporary mix of noise, sounds and music. The dancers are a well drilled group: Stephanie Lake, Alisdair Macindoe, Talitha Maslin, Harriet Ritchie, James Shannon and Jessica Wong. Their precision and stamina in this 60 minute work is awesome. The choreography/dance however is hugely repetitive and becomes tiresome in its lack of investigated movement variety, and, remembered beside the recent physical prowess and work of DV8, once again, achingly disappointing. Text and dance wanting, really. Standing beside the dance theatre choreographic invention and style of the Nederlands Dance Theatre, this work by Lucy Guerin Inc is banal and simplistic.

My attention span wobbled considerably during the work and was underwhelmed. Timing. If I had seen this work in February instead of September would I have been as impressed as Mr Gallasch? Thinking about it over the last few days, probably not, for I found the performance of STRUCTURE AND SADNESS similarly underwhelming, both as social commentary/politics and dance. MELT  remains the highpoint of this company’s output for me.

We will see this company again at Belvoir next year. It has been programmed as part of the new season.

1 replies to “Human Interest Story”

  1. Kevin, I would have to agree with you on Human Interest Story. Like you I also attended some of the shows in the Spring Dance series at the Opera house. I would totally agree that this does not hold a handle to the DV8 Can We Talk about This? Not to mention the inspired Chunky Move "I Like This" which was just such a brilliantly executed piece about the creative process. Where does the "boundary" between Movement Theatre and Dance begin or is that just a philosophical construct or preference? For a change the Jill Sykes SMH (dance) review (on 7 Sept) pretty much hit it on the head for me. She did refer to being in an audience of theatregoers who had bought it on their Belvoir subscription of plays. Being a Belvoir subscriber I put my hand up to that, and in fact in the nature of things turned up because I subscribe and did not know anything about it beforehand. In fact I was so busy talking to my friend that I had paid no attention to the program for which I had prepaid. The piece therefore began with me thinking that for actors they were fairly good dancers! I began to wonder when the "real" theatre piece would begin and it slowly dawned that it would not.

    It very much suffered in comparison with the DV8 and Chunky Move performances in terms of inspiration certainly, as you point out. As a long term contemporary dance follower I have long ago given up attempting to find any hidden "meaning" in such pieces — the choreography and movement simply have to be physically attractive or appeal on its own terms without the confusion of any great "meaning" of the whole thing. The sort of rag doll like manipulation sequence referred to by Ms Sykes was one of the few pieces of original choreography in the piece.

    Overall my friend and I agreed that this piece belonged at the Performance Space venue, not on the Belvoir stage. Perhaps it is an attempt to "broaden the mind" of the Belvoir audience but I think it falls between two stools in that regard. Basically I go to Belvoir for theatre and often go to dance events separately elsewhere. However this piece was not sufficiently serious "dance" to qualify in that field, and I would suggest that neither was it sufficiently dramatic to be a "theatre" event (maybe if the APC in the corner had started up and flashed its headlights etc it might have been a coup de theatre Performance Space style but unfortunately it remained mute – and otherwise pointless). I am not necessarily saying that there should be no miscegenation of the art forms but I would agree with you that this was definitely a "lite" version as you say in comparison to recent DV8 etc al. The specialist dance reviewer Sykes essentially agrees with you in that view. Without being some sort of segregationist I am also somewhat concerned that another Lucy Guerin piece has been apparently programmed in the Belvoir 2012 season. To me this appears to be the start of the watering down of the strong theatrical tradition at Belvoir. What next, Don Quixote on ice? (at least that would be better than perspex cubes which I have seen enough of at Belvoir this year to last me about 5-10 years!).

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