Left - Gavin Webber. Photo - Tim Page
Based in Townsville, Splintergroup is a collaborative company supported by both Dance North and Brisbane Powerhouse. The Dance Massive festival provided the opportunity to see not one, but two of their full length works – Roadkill and Lawn. Both are steeped in influences of European dance theatre, cinema, physical theatre and dance but are completely different works. Roadkill, set in the Australian Outback, has many amazing images and some compelling theatrical moments, but as a whole work is unresolved, going in too many directions to sustain impact. Lawn, on the other hand feels completely satisfying – the concept matches the realization, which is not such an easy task in dance theatre. Both works are around 75 minutes, and while Roadkill drags, Lawn doesn’t wear out its welcome, even though its subject matter is bleak.
Set in a cockroach-infested Berlin apartment in the middle of winter, three men (Gavin Webber, Grayson Millwood and Vincent Crowley) are, literally, climbing the walls. Lawn travels through a range of visual and physical images exploring ideas of claustrophobia, suffocation and even hallucination. The images are diverse and beautifully transitioned into one another. There is a huge amount of different material, both conceptually and visually, and it is all well-explored and well-realized in related vignettes that shift between pedestrian activity and beautiful moments of dance. An effective set by Zoe Atkinson is a minimally furnished dingy space with crumbling wall paper and exposed pipes that makes for a playground of surreal and bizarre actions. An old wardrobe opens to expose outside worlds and comic interludes.
Simple ideas become the impetus for the action. The men bang shoes on the ground attempting to kill the crawly critters that share their crumbling abode. Soon after, they transform themselves into bugs in a Kafka-esque sequence of ground-based, sprawling movement, only to re-emerge as their mundane selves moments later and merge into a different domestic action. Cling film becomes a powerful image as it is hung around the apartment like gigantic spider webs, culminating in Webber completely wrapping a seated Crowley up like a mummy until he can’t breathe and has to claw himself out of the tightly-bound plastic. Crawling is an ever-present theme – crawling the walls, crawling bugs, Webber’s skin crawls to the point that he peels it off in long, rubbery strips.
Lawn sustains a sense of manic entrapment, desperation, frustration – at neighbors, noise, ill-working appliances and decrepit furnishings, yet there is always an underlying sense of play and surprise at work. Much of this can be attributed to the set, which is a unique playground that allows the men to achieve their ideas to great visual effect. They can scale walls, slide up and down rusty pipes, enter and exit into furniture and pull a thread of carpet to unravel the whole place, until the wallpaper is ripped away to reveal an idyllic picture postcard of a palm tree-strewn beach.
Webber, Millwood and Crowley fantastically capture the multi-faceted requirements of this piece through their physical beings, dexterity with the acrobatic choreography and their abilities to capture the emotional torment of their world. Luke Smiles' sound design and composition further enhance the overall theatrical experience, echoing and embellishing the quirks of the environment and the anguish of the men.
Lawn is a great piece of theatre. It’s not feel-good, but it certainly does make its audience feel with imagery and movement that are simultaneously accessible and challenging and consistently well-integrated and developed.
Venue: Merlyn Theatre, C.U.B. Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Dates: 11- 14 March, Previews 11 & 12 March
Times: Wed 11 (Preview) & Thu 12, 8pm, Fri 13, 6:30pm & 9pm, Sat 14, 8pm
Tickets: $24 - $37
Bookings: M-Tix 03 9685 5111 or www.dancemassive.com.au