Review by Cicely Binford
Dark matter is invisible, but everywhere in the universe. It’s also the title of a new dance work developed by PRAXIS, a collective of three multi-disciplinary artists: choreographer Laura Boynes, visual artist Alexander Boynes, and composer Tristen Parr, produced by Performing Lines WA, and presented as part of MoveMe Festival 2016. Though you don’t have to be an astrophysicist to appreciate Dark Matter, you do need to have an appreciation for complexity and challenging performance art, because Dark Matter delivers on both fronts.
Sound and a single shaft of light rise up from the darkness, and as sight and sound expand into wider lightwave and soundwave forms, we begin to detect slow-moving masses behind two screened boxes. We’re unsure of their nature for a good long time, and can only just make out that there’s something bubbling away inside the screened boxes too. The elongated moment unmoors us from our location and transports us into an alien landscape. Slowly we begin to recognise the masses as human figures who then wheel the screens apart, revealing five people in white suits (designed by Imogene Spencer) embedded in a mound of white matter. This white matter is one metric tonne of rice.
The five spend the next forty minutes or so moving through and around this terrain of dry rice to a dynamic soundtrack by Tristen Parr, who plays electric cello from the rear of the stage. The performers negotiate their relationships with each other in this slippery slope of rice that appears to be both a blessing and a curse to the dancers – it changes the way they are accustomed to move. The rice surface allows them to glide like ice dancers, but it also renders moves that require steady, even ground underfoot (such as lifts) more perilous. But they don’t falter; they’ve learned how to make the rice work for them, and the infinite configurability of the mound of grain adds yet another fascinating element to this complex piece.
Alexander Boynes‘s video installations add another layer to the work; he projects hazy, darkly coloured images of the dancers moving, distorted dogs that seem to shape-shift, and other abstract patterns. Sometimes the images feel nightmarish and vaguely threatening, other times they simply evoke an otherworldliness that contains unfamiliar organic matter. Chris Donnelly‘s lighting casts lamplight across the surface of the rice, creating chiaroscuro and texture across the stage. The screened trucks are also lit from within, so that at certain moments, lit air fountains of rice spout up from its base. Donnelly uses splashes of bold colour, and everything stays quite dim, fostering uncertainty and unease. The combination of all of these elements together creates a sense that these five have landed on another planet, or at the very least some previously uncharted territory, with only the instinct to adapt and survive to guide them.
The dancers work like ants shifting the rice from one area of the stage to another. This activity keeps them busy, keeps the wolves at bay, tires them, defeats them. A life cycle seems to play out before us. There’s an interesting sequence between two dancers placed between the two screened trucks: they appear to mirror each other, but the mirror is all wrong because they’re not facing each other, they’re both facing outward. It’s an old horror movie trick that Boynes puts to good use here – reality in this space is not what we’re used to.
Dark Matter is a bold, brave proposition from people who obviously enjoy thinking and creating outside the box.