International Reviews

Untrained – Lucy Guerin

Untrained_Lucy_GuerinThe Studio, Sydney Opera House
Presented as part of Spring Dance
Wednesday Sept 2nd

 By Lynne Lancaster.

From a kinesiology point of view this is a fascinating work as we observe four different men, two trained dancers and two untrained, explore and analyze movement. The cast has changed slightly since the work premiered as part of Dance Massive in Melbourne earlier this year. The cast now includes Byron Kelly and Luke Smiles who are both renowned in Melbourne’s dance world, having worked with Guerin’s company and Chunky Move, and untrained dancers Ross Coulter and Simon Obarzanek. Yes, Simon is choreographer Gideon Obarzanek’s brother! Both Simon and Ross are visual artists, who in Untrained try their hand at dance.

The concept behind this work is deceptively simple, yet very revealing and demanding. The four are given various sets of instructions and movement phrases to work with such as closed eyes, open mouths, ‘be a cat’, ‘do a back spin’ and ‘act out your favourite movie scene’. With very simple lighting, the minimalist set is just plain black backcloths and a grey playing square in the middle of the stage with four water bottles on one side and sets of instructions and props on the other. The work opens as the four cast members stand individually in the centre square. Even then the four personalities radiate differences. While the performers never leave our sight, with only one exception, it is only when they enter the square that they are ‘seen’.

Perhaps this work harks back to the 1960’s-70’s New York post modernist question of ‘what is dance?’.  The artistic explorations of that time used untrained dancers and rejected traditional structures and forms. Guerin sees Untrained as one of a range of recent contemporary dance works that examine theatrical forms in terms of their effectiveness and ability to communicate to an audience. She describes Untrained as a ‘proposition’ rather than an idea that comes to a narrative or poetical conclusion. In the audience you put yourself mentally on stage with Obarzanek or Coulter and imagine what it would be like to be performing.

As the work progresses we are drawn in and discover the performers’ various personalities and who can or can’t dance, sing or generally perform. There is a cool, casual, relaxed rehearsal and improvisational feel, reinforced by the tracksuits and runners they wear. A ‘blokey’ sense of humour pervades the work.

What is fascinating is the differences in height, body style, shape and flexibility of the four performers and how they cope with the assorted skills (or lack of) required in turns, jumps, tumbling, etc . For Guerin the layer of training for the trained dancer is always present. By placing the contrasting physical presences in the same space one after another, sometimes paired, Guerin gives us a high powered lens to observe the similarities, differences, individualities and idiosyncratic foibles of four human male bodies in motion.

An interesting point is raised both in one of the monologues in the show and by one of my colleagues. What would happen if the ‘untrained’ dancers start to improve in technique? Would Guerin try to persuade them to remain ‘as is’? Another intriguing question is how different would this show be if it was developed and choreographed on women rather than men?

While aimed at the roughly 18-35 age bracket, much fun was had by all and the packed audience loved it.

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