MACHiNENOiSY's Daelik and Delia Brett have long sought to marry the low-fi, pedestrian movement practices of Contact Improvisation with high concept theatricality and showmanship. In their latest work, Bamboozled, which premiered last night at The Dance Centre as part of the 25th anniversary of the Dancing on the Edge Festival, it's not an equal partnership. There's too much individual role-playing and not enough shared moments of dance.
Granted, as the artists note in the program, the piece is a conscious riff on the "cult of personality" that ruled the nineteenth-century stages of vaudeville, burlesque, the fairground sideshow, and even silent film. And so to the tune of composer-musician Petunia's zydeco-inflected score, we are treated to a succession of larger-than-life types--contortionists and cowboys, bearded ladies and disappearing men--and their various one-note, look-at-me schticks. The problem is that those schticks go on a bit too long, or are unnecessarily supplemented and embroidered: Bevin Poole makes an endearingly awkward chorine struggling to insert herself into the posed tableaux of the other performers at the top of the show, but we are treated to about two or three poses too many; and the conceptual force of Tanya Podlozniak's live narration of Daelik's disappearing act is undercut by Poole's narration of her narration, and, as if this weren't already stretching things, Alex Ferguson's subsequent narration of Poole's narration of Podlozniak's narration.
By contrast, the contact sequences are few and far between: an early cross-gendered duet by Daelik and Brett that ended far too quickly; a later trio that sees Poole more than pulling her weight alongside the company's co-directors; and a moving, largely prone duet between Daelik and and a pregnant Podlozniuk that yielded some of the most compelling images of the evening. These movement sequences seem to unfold independently from the main theatrical action, which struck me as odd, as the moments when dance and theatre do come together formally and conceptually in the show are among the strongest. I am thinking especially, in this regard, of the jerky cowboy trio composed of Brett, Poole and Jamie Tea, or the dual waltz between carney Ferguson and Poole and Tea as a pair of Siamese twins joined at the ankle.
I longed for far more of these instances, when the force of MACHiNENOiSY's abundant ideas about social and gender transgression, for example, cohered with their choreographic mash-up of different performance styles.