A gentle, steady rhythmic drumbeat is sounding as we enter the theatre for Lucy Guerin’s Split, and the stage floor is marked out as a square by white gaffer tape.
The drumbeat continues throughout the 50 minutes performance time, the only variation being the rise and fall of quiet and loud. The ever-imaginative Lucy Guerin, whose Attractor was so vigorously applauded at last year’s WOMADelaide, has scaled down to two dancers in Split. Melanie Lane is in a simple long-sleeved blue dress, Lillian Steiner, who won a Helpmann award for her role, is naked.
For the first half of the piece, the two women dance in almost unbelievable synchronicity. Small gestures grow into broad sweeping arms movements, turns echo each other, little hops develop into skimming leaps. They lie down, tapping the floor with their hands, rise to make turns, getting gradually faster. They are always in strictest harmony, and without emotion.
But they stop, go to a roll of tape and divide the square in half. Dancing in one part, still harmonious, but not so synchronous, they stop, and divide the space, leading to anger and aggression, which grows fiercer as the space and time are divided again. They grapple with each other. Steiner appears to bite Lane’s arm; she climbs on her back — it’s turning nasty. The now small space is divided again until there is barely enough room for the two to stand, Steiner in front of Lane. Lane takes a step back, out of the square, and falls away as darkness descends and the heartbeat of the drum stops.
Many interpretations are possible. Do the women represent body and soul? Two personalities in one person? “Two bodies, reconciled and in conflict”, as Guerin herself says in her program note?
However you may interpret it, this is a memorable dance piece. The first half is a shade too long, but the fluent dancing throughout is exquisite in its timing and technique, enhanced by Paul Lim’s subtle lighting.
There is no hint of eroticism or exhibitionism in Steiner’s nakedness, instead what impresses is the freedom it allows, giving a different dimension to the work in contrast to Lane’s clothed figure.
Like all of Guerin’s dance works, Split leaves you with plenty to think about.
Split was performed on March 5 at the AC Arts Main Theatre.