Here's the funny thing about Chunky Move's new dance-theater experiment Two Faced Bastard.I loved the show—packed with Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin's simultaneously gorgeous and grotesque movement, weird makeout scenes between a frisky couple and a kitchen table and a downright fascinating Ewok/beatbox/manic breakdown improv solo from company member Antony Hamilton.
WW's publisher Richard Meeker, who also happened to attend the opening night performance at the downtown Portland YWCA, really liked the show too. He dug what he called the "contemporary poetry" feel of the show, with its long sections of discussion and elements of stagecraft that mimicked the "backstage" vibe of a dance show.
If it seems like we are talking about two completely different performances, well, you'd be right. Although we were in the same gymnasium, we were sitting on two different sets of bleachers, across the gym floor from one another with a blind-like screen in the middle of the room. I ended up with one Bastard, and Richard experienced the other one.
Sounds like something you'd dig? Skip the video (I think it sort of spoils some of the surprises) of the company performing Bastard for the first time last October at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. But if you need convincing, check this out:
Weird eh? But fascinating too.
I covered a lot of Chunky Move's background, as well as artistic director Gideon Obarzanek's inspiration for the piece (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the roles of performers and the roles of the audience) in my preview of the show in Wednesday's issue of WW. And after seeing it live, I'm only more convinced that it's one of the more successful pieces of dance-theater I've seen in quite a while.
I think it's so enjoyable because it truly achieves what it sets out to do: Stage two simultaneous performances and allow the audience(s) deal with the consequences. That means that half the crowd misses Stephanie Lake's luscious opening solo. That the other half misses the epic slow motion kung fu/monster battle enacted later by two of the gents on the other side. You might catch glimpses of the action through the flexible blinds, a foot here and an arm there, a screech or howl or a hulking shadow, but that's it. And it's really OK. Your brain is constantly engaged, not only with the movement and words you're seeing, but in trying to piece together a mental picture of what you're not allowed to. The disconnect is new and invigorating. And kinda makes your head hurt, too.
(FYI, I only know what happens in both sides of the show because I watched a video of Bastard that switches between the two sides.)
In the hands of a lesser group, this whole conceit could get tired very quickly. But besides the talented dancers, two actors — bespectacled, reed-voiced Brian Lipson and rugged everyman Vincent Growley —keep the action moving forward. They act as a through line and commentary on the dance vignettes, bickering over whether a performer controls the stage like a god or whether they are liable to be just as surprised as the audience is by the situations that come up during a live performance. They even argue over whether to let the audience get up and switch sides of the gym halfway through the performance. Bastards.
At one point early in the show, the temptation to check in on what's happening on the other side of the curtain gets the best of Brian. He actually peeks through the blinds and describes the movement on the other side, performing a clunky, fry-like bacon jiggle to try and show to his blind audience what the other side is seeing. He gets so into describing what he thinks all this dancing is about that he ends up walking through the blinds and starts interviewing the dancers, poking a microphone at their faces while dodging their slicing arms and kicking legs.
“What is that you're doing?" Brian demands of the dancers, as they trip on his microphone cord and lose track of their choreography. "Why are you waving your hand like that? Isn't it hard to make your body do that?"
“The real question is why do this at all? Brian finally asks the last dancer, Antony. “Good question…" Antony responds, out of breath. "I don't think about it a lot.”
Riiiight. Chunky Move has thought an enormous amount about this performance. That's what makes it so damn great.
White Bird presents Two-Faced Bastard at YWCA, 1111 SW 10th Ave., 245-1600. 8 pm Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 pm Saturday-Sunday, April 16-19. $26 adults, $16 students/seniors. Tickets at whitebird.org or Ticketmaster.com.