Cheap Lecture/The Cow Piece
PICA Performance Space
State Theatre Centre of WA
Two men and 12 small plastic cows grace the stage. So begins Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion's zany double-bill Cheap Lecture and The Cow Piece, which opened the MoveMe dance festival on Tuesday. As the name suggests, the cows don't take an active role until the second work.
Created in Belgium, there's more than a touch of European dance theatre here. The two works are chanted, played, sung - often more vocal than physical. Yet those voices somehow dance to a mad rhythm.
Most of all, it's funny. The facial expressions on Burrows, on Fargion, on the cows; the philosophical musings; the references to Pina Bausch, to Gloria Gaynor; the attacking cows . . . sadly, Cheap Lecture and The Cow Piece was on for one night only. Sorry if you missed it.
The second night of the festival was all about physicality. Another double bill, the evening began with Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Faun. A re-telling of Nijinsky's seminal work, L'apres-midi d'unfaune, Cherkaoui's version uses the original Debussy score, interspersed with haunting sounds by Nitin Sawhney.
Faun was performed by gorgeous young things Daisy Phillips, from the US, and Perth-born James O'Hara. It's hard to describe O'Hara without lapsing hopelessly into metaphor - he is serpentine, oozing through his solo with an aquatic grace. O'Hara is complemented by Phillips, similarly seamless, but somehow softer.
O'Hara and Phillips entranced their audience; a collective sigh of contentment emanated from the auditorium as the lights came up.
The second half of the program saw Faun's dappled dreamscape replaced by a white floor, utilitarian lighting and industrial noise. This design forms the backdrop to Harakiri, a work based on the Japanese notion of self-sacrifice, by French choreographer Didier Theron.
Harakiri is incessant. Six dancers traverse the stage, performing robotic gestures in unison. At various points each breaks away for a solo but is drawn inexorably back to the corps. The repetitive, machine-like sound and movement builds to a series of almost unbearable pinnacles.
Physically and mentally it must be a feat of endurance for the dancers, who gave an incredible performance.
For me watching Harakiri was like experiencing a panic attack. Does that mean it is unsuccessful? No - this work intends to push an audience to its limits.
Some will be exhilarated - there were audience members on their feet at the curtain call - and some will not.
And so the MoveMe festival has begun. While these programs have finished, there's more to come. Based on what I've seen so far, it's likely to be thought-provoking stuff.