Monday, February 22, 2016

Double Blind

Double Blind, dancer and choreographer Stephanie Lake's inaugural piece for Stephanie Lake Company had its Melbourne season last week on the back of a stupendous Sydney run as part of the Sydney Festival. I'd been following crowd funding efforts and rehearsal updates across Facebook and clicked through to some pretty excited reviews.

The title Double Blind alludes to the now infamous social psychology experiments conducted in the USA in the 1960s that explored obedience in test subjects. Knowing this ahead of the show made me a little apprehensive, anticipating as I was some formal investigation into pain, terror and possibly science lab sadism. It is only heightened by the sight of composer Robin Fox – himself a formidable presence – guru-like at the side of the stage at the ready at the deck.

Apparently stress levels are higher waiting to get on a roller coaster than when you are actually hurtling through the air. Waiting for Double Blind to start I could relate to that piece of research. It opens with Fox's digital sound manipulations – a series of rhythmically varied and unpredictable pulsating bleeps  – that animate the still dancers who move, investigate and respond to the space and one another. The sonic intensity is electric.

I was totally absorbed by the dynamics between the four on stage: Alana Everett, Alisdair Macindoe, Amber Haines and Kyle Page following their every movement in sequences that were richly varied.
The phrases and gestures oscillated between human and machinic registers, shifts that complicated agency in curious ways. I wondered more than once, who or what is in control?  Harriet Oxley's costumes reiterate the institutional flavour: uniform in colour, gendered, with an open slit at the back much like a very refined hospital gown.

If it sounds a bit  menacing it's not. Lake, a keen observer of people, has a wry sense of humour. It is a work that is well modulated, drawing on a range of techniques: calling on the audience to participate at times, deploying props to great effect and, in one hilarious moment, dialogue.

Double Blind's investigation into manipulation and experimentation circles around trust, disclosure, pleasure, curiosity and limits. As the performance progressed I became increasingly aware of the physical demands of the piece, the dancers total exhaustion, plain for all to see. I was most moved by this, on reflection. Lake seems to have something to say about limits, of what happens to us when we are taken there: vulnerability, defencelessness,  surrender. I received it as a disturbing gift.

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