by Urszula Dawkins
The way director/choreographer Byron Perry describes his new work DOUBLE THINK seems reminiscent of some of the absurd uncertainties of I Like This, his earlier work with Antony Hamilton for Chunky Move. In I Like This, the dancers seemed at times almost to conduct sleight-of-hand exercises, manipulating lights, especially, to confound and humorously challenge audience expectation. Creating DOUBLE THINK, Perry says, the aim was to fluctuate between localised sound and light shows, intricate and detailed choreography, playing with shadows, and improvising word games. At the same time, exploring “a fairly abstract concept involving not knowing what you really think” felt, he says, “a little like sculpting a tiny clay figurine with a baseball mitt in a darkened room…”
Perry was driven to create DOUBLE THINK after reading an article called ‘The Illusion of Opposites’, he says, which proposed that the things we label as ‘opposites’ in fact tend to have more features in common than features that separate them. Perry remembered George Orwell’s notion of ‘double think’ (in the novel 1984), and set out to explore “how it might exist in a performance environment”.
“Double think is defined as the ability to believe two opposing or mutually exclusive ideas at the same time,” Perry says, “drawing subconsciously on whichever one most benefits the individual in the moment.”
“This led me to explore references to things like the Heisenberg uncertainty principal, which limits our observations of subatomic particles to either position or momentum, but never both at the same time.”
The Orwellian ‘double think’ is generally seen as having strong negative connotations, but Perry was curious to explore the notion of unconsciously changing your beliefs based on who you might be talking to or what you might be looking for. “It also struck me as a subconscious act that each of us might well be doing in subtle ways every day,” he says.
“Opinions are normally considered so concrete, and I like the idea that it’s quite possible we don’t really know what we think…or that we aren’t as in-control-of-things as we might hope to be…”
Perry confesses a fascination with allowing performers to be ‘in control’ of their own lighting and/or sound, so that the orchestration of those elements becomes “a kind of choreography in its own right”.
“In order to develop this kind of work it is essential that you have these elements in the room with you as you are developing the material,” he says. “Often a lighting idea will be the catalyst for a scene, and not simply a way to present it… With this concept especially, the sound, light and set can really become as much a part of the investigation as the dance or text is.”
In this way Perry’s exploration of opposition and duality became grounded in the work itself, existing primarily in space and form rather than as an external idea. He talks about the way filmic impressions like the close-up, the point-of-view shot or the zoom can be created through performer-operated lighting, and says he enjoys circumventing the ‘fade-up’ or ‘fade-down’ of traditional lighting by developing his own techniques.
But while this approach to creation has interested him for some time and informed his previous work, Perry says DOUBLE THINK is markedly different to I Like This.
“To begin with there’s a lot more dance in this one… It has a more sustained quality to it, maybe a bit more delicate, definitely a little more serious – not completely! – and thematically it’s a bit more conceptual.”
By “conceptual”, Perry doesn’t mean ‘Orwellian’ in any sense.
“I am attempting to look at the performance itself through this lens of contrast, contradiction and opposition; the idea of the performance as the individual in the throes of double think. I like the idea that this notion can be applied on as many levels as possible, to the structure and style of the work itself, to the scenes and the dance/text within it and also to the performers’ understanding of what they are doing.”
On the degree to which we all employ ‘double think’, Perry comments that it seems necessary to many of our interactions:
“I think every argument I have ever had involves being able to employ this process…and of course I still have trouble deciding between an Eskimo Pie and a Golden Gaytime – but I’m not sure that qualifies…” Explaining how DOUBLE THINK will unfold on the stage, he describes a work that oscillates between states – light and shadow, small and large, black and white – but he resists predicting the outcome.
“You know, you’re making something and it involves a lot of work – but until the light is switched on, you’re not sure exactly what it is…. The audience is that light and it will be interesting to see through their eyes the final form the piece takes.”
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Wed 12 – Sat 15 Oct 2011
Book online or phone (03) 9322 3713