Photos by Belinda - www.dancephotography.net.au
Untrained, a new work by choreographer Lucy Guerin and part of the first Dance Massive, is a wholly satisfying theatre experience. It calls itself a ‘casual theatrical exploration’; an entirely appropriate summation of a show that’s a fascinating combination of dance, theatre, improvisation and multimedia, all presented with just the right amount of quirk and irreverence.
Untrained presents the audience with four performers: two trained dancers (Byron Perry and Antony Hamilton) and two professional visual artists with no dance training whatsoever (Ross Coulter and Simon Obarzanek). The basic premise here is that all four are asked to perform the same instructions. How they execute these then creates individual portraits of each performer, as well as allowing for comparisons between them. As the show progresses and we are given more information and further insights into each performer, we see their commonalities as well as their differences, as performers and as people.
The piece doesn’t become, however, merely a simple exploration about difference; it’s also about art itself: about what it means to watch a performer and what is really worth watching in a performance. This is the basis of what is truly unique about Untrained. It was hard to gauge what was improvised and what wasn’t, and there were some sequences that left you wondering why on earth you were watching four men do that, while, at other times, the audience erupted into spontaneous applause because what they offered was so theatrically engaging and somehow simultaneously so intensely personal it was very moving.
Byron Perry and Antony Hamilton are beautiful, seasoned dancers and a delight to watch. The attempts by Coulter and Obarzanek to match their movements, as well as providing huge amounts of comic entertainment and an insight into how untrained dancers use their bodies, also served to highlight their skill and grace a hundredfold. Perry is mesmerising. His skills clearly extend beyond dance, since he displayed strong voice and theatrical skills too.
Guerin says of the show, "In watching trained dancers I think we feel confidence about how the movements are executed and that they will be in control of what they are doing. The untrained dancers offer us a more precarious, unpredictable experience...there is an element of risk in their attempts."
Indeed, there were more than a few moments in the show where the audience held its collective breath as Coulter and Obarzanek attempted a few back spins and head slides across the floor. Watching the trained dancers, you had an expectation of where their movements would take them, not to mention the grace displayed in getting there, but with the untrained dancers, there was a big element of the unknown and a real sense of protection extended to them by the audience.
Guerin also adds, "With non-dancers their movement training is their daily lives and their inherited physicality. So they are more able, in a way, to create movement that is ‘new' or undefined from a dance perspective; and that movement is very difficult to reproduce, even for a dancer."
I’m not so sure about the “even for a dancer” bit. This sequence in the show, where first the untrained and then the trained dancers dance (improv) and the other has to mirror them, is a lot of fun. But the trained dancers were phenomenally good at copying the mostly unorthodox movements of the untrained dancers. It was surprising how precisely they actually could match such ‘undefined’ movements.
There is a lot of joy in Untrained. The performers clearly have a good time. And why wouldn’t they? At one point Coulter (untrained) has a go at creating some choreography for Hamilton (trained) and tells him to ‘move like seaweed on the left side of your body and a robot on the right’ and somehow Hamilton does it and does it well! Later, each of the performers describes to the audience what their experience in collaborating on the show was like; Obarzanek says matter-of-factly, “They [the trained dancers] know what each little hair on their knuckle is doing, while it takes me half an hour to get my foot to move”.
Untrained closes with a choreographed dance sequence, clearly rehearsed by all four performers beforehand, and this is a fabulous way to end the show. This not only counterpoints the improv content, but also hints at the difference that can be made by practice for the untrained. I left wanting to sit down and see it all again. It’s wonderful, inimitable stuff.
Lucy Guerin Inc
Venue: Arts House, Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne
Dates: 11 - 14 March
Tickets: Full $25 Conc $18
Times: Wed & Thu 7.30pm, Fri 6.30pm & 9.30pm, Sat 4pm & 7.30pm
Bookings: 03 96390096 or www.dancemassive.com.au