Wednesday, July 28, 2010

“distinguish between the operations of my various senses” - a review of Human Abstract by Lucas Jervies

There was a moment part way through Human Abstract when I actually wrote in my notepad: “if Leanne can’t make it [i.e. the choreography] look good...” But, of course, she could. And did.

Leanne Stojmenov, that is. The Australian Ballet’s form dancer. And that was pretty much when I stopped being anxious about the show being an overcapitalised wank and dared to hope that it might be a “glorious expedition... an honourable undertaking...” Which, it almost is!

For me, the weirder the show got, the better I liked it. (That said, I could have done without the fencing headgear -- I mean, WTF?! -- and Andrew Killian’s Little Red Riding hood act...) The opening choreography (the first dancy dance after the sofa prelude) was overwrought and way too florid for my liking.

But I liked the contrast between Sabina Perry’s jerky, hyperextended dance and the whirly-twirly balletic stuff happening around her. And I especially liked Stojmenov’s dancing behind Robert Curran and Perry, as if she were their subtext or their music. Laura Tong’s solo, too, was brisk, economical, precise and evocative... quite the best I’ve seen her do in a non-character role.

One final gripe: the sound was abrasive and way too loud. It lacked the sophistication and tact of the gloomy -- but effective -- lighting design.

After the jump, the director’s cut of my Herald Sun review.

Human Abstract by Lucas Jervies. Original music by Adam Ster. Lighting design by Rob Cuddon. JACK Productions. Merlyn Theatre, Wednesday July 7, 2010.

The best art is sniper fire: it slays you with a single well-aimed round to the head or the heart. Human Abstract is not that. It’s carpet bombing: overwrought, messy and wasteful. It kills you with shrapnel.

Formed by a trio of highly-ranked dancers from the Australian Ballet and ex-pat choreographer Lucas Jervies, JACK Productions is nothing if not ambitious. It takes the whirls and twirls of traditional ballet and the hyperextended jaggedess of the avant-garde and throws in spoken word, a commissioned score, fencing headgear and a karaoke version of an old Patsy Cline song. It’s a show to dazzle the senses.

But I doubt that lesser dancers than Leanne Stojmenov, Robert Curran, Laura Tong and Danielle Rowe could pull it off.

Star of this show, however, is guest dancer Sabina Perry. She recites extracts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as if it were the easiest thing in the world. She also features in the work’s most outlandish scene in which she morphs into a vast, headless, tree-like thing, like something out of the film Species. Her belief in the work is contagious.

Meanwhile, other dancers enact her senses of touch and smell, sight and hearing.

Human Abstract is a show about loss and isolation and our unwillingness to connect with one another. It’s a product of an incredibly determined attempt by Lucas Jervies to connect with us. And for that, at the very least, it deserves commendation. And an audience!

Production photography by Sergey Konstantinov.

An edited version of this review was published in the Herald Sun on July 9, 2010.

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