Double Think (Melbourne Festival) | Arts House

This dance work, a new creation from choreographer/director Byron Perry, works well as a brief little satire on the human bias toward imaging the world in dualist categories, and particularly in terms of binary oppositions. I have to quote the program here, because I really like their way of describing the show: “Through movement-based conversations, one tall man and one short woman make imperfect sense as they shed some dark on a light subject in a complex world of simple objects.”

The note of flippancy you can hear is exactly what comes through in the performance. Not witty so much as amusing, Double Think dances lightly around our conceptual predilection for opposites in a slightly ironical, if not mocking fashion. The title is an Orwell reference, and part of this project seems to be about finding some sort of performative register in which to express the psychological experience of doublethink, of believing in two mutually exclusive ideas at the same time.

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It’s difficult to accept that Perry has really got his head around the idea of doublethink. I’m not sure I understand it any better myself, but there’s certainly no sense of the difficulty that Orwell implies when he writes: “Even to understand the word doublethink involved the use of doublethink.” This piece seems much too vague.

Perry seems to be dealing more in contrasts, really, than oppositions. Tallness and shortness, for example, aren’t set in opposition, aren’t presented as categorical, aren’t arranged in mutual contradiction, but are only, as it were, placed in a relationship of nearness, so that the difference between them is absorbed into the performance as an effect. This becomes problematic because the effect becomes somewhat predictable — the oscillation between tall and short, man and woman, light and dark, amplified music and un-amplified dialogue, etc.

What I find more entertaining in this piece, more entertaining than its playful though somewhat flimsy “exploration” of opposition, is observing the way in which the personalities of the two performers are able to shine through the gossamer-like choreography. Kristie McCraken is a beautiful dancer, and is beautiful in this performance, but it struck me how peculiarly modular her technique seems. Everything is discrete. Every move and gesture seems independent, though each of these discrete gestures is itself made up of further discrete and independent parts, which are also composed of separate parts, and so on, so that when she dances, it’s like a torrent of these infinite modules.

But they aren’t only parts, they are organic processes, and each has a distinct beginning and end, birth and death, which give into rebirth upon rebirth and death upon death. When she dances, it’s like watching a process of eternal renewal. Needless to say, it is utterly hypnotic.

Meanwhile, I’m not actually convinced that Lee Serle is a dancer at all — he seems more like an ideas man, which of course makes him a dancer who doesn’t dance. To be a thinker-in-performance, one who takes the stage in order to think, is always to be on the edge of performing, of the edge of dancing, of expressing some emotion or meaning, as if the choreography which he has in mind, whether his own or someone else’s were itself this edge, the rising verge between expression and non-expression. He seems to me, in this way, a marginal dancer, someone who is just getting warmed up to the left of stage; the sense I have watching him perform is of anticipation for what is about to happen.

True Manichaen critic as I am, although I found Double Think light enough, I was left wanting something weightier, too. It is an intriguing idea — the search for a visual and bodily expression of Orwell’s concept — but perhaps there are too many other ideas that have caught Perry’s imagination in putting this piece together, resulting in a distractingly loose form that too often strays from the task of exploring a single (or double) idea.

The details: Double Think plays Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, as part of the Melbourne Festival on October 12-15. Tickets on via Ticketmaster.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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