7–12 September, 2010. Sydney Opera House, Spring Dance Season,
Narelle Benjamin says her latest work, In glass, was inspired by the partnership of the two dancers who perform the work, Paul White and Kristina Chan. The best parts of the work are indeed when White and Chan are dancing either separately but in unison, or when one is being partnered by the other (that is when there is physical contact between them). Their opening sequence was breathtaking—liquid, silky smooth, perfectly synchronised and stunningly executed.
While White and Chan have shared many experiences dancing together, and this in itself builds a partnership, what makes this pairing work so extraordinarily well is that White and Chan also share many physical similarities. They are similarly proportioned—length of limbs in relation to trunk for example—and probably most importantly they have similar muscle tone, even acknowledging the gender difference. Great partnerships grow from these kinds of physical similarities because dance is ultimately a physical art form.
I’m not sure, however, that the work as a whole was as successful as the White/Chan partnership. In glass tries, I think, to explore some intangible ideas that don’t necessarily translate well into dance. Benjamin’s program notes say that the work ‘hovers between planes at a liminal place of transition’. To tell the truth, I’m not sure what she means by this but I guess the idea was given shape at those moments when, looking into the mirror surfaces that made up the set, I wondered whether I was looking at reality in the shape of a dancer or some other idea made visible by film projection onto the surface. There was one quite surreal moment when an image of White’s body morphed into a tree, for example. There was also one unsettling, but also surreal occasion when White held two oval mirrors, one on either side of his head so that it seemed that he had sprouted two extra heads from the one neck. The footage and other visuals, the work of Samuel James, were at times entrancing, whether or not their interaction with the movement connected in my mind. Sequences showing Chan, softly focused and drifting through a hilly, forested landscape were especially engrossing.
Watching White and Chan is a huge joy. The opening sequence promised so much and many other moments of dancing built on that promise. But I would rather have watched White and Chan just dancing Benjamin’s challenging choreography without other philosophical distractions, especially when those distractions were not meant to be ignored but were less than obvious (to me anyway).
Michelle Potter, 13 September 2010