Jo Lloyd: Confusion for Three

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Choreographer Jo Lloyd’s problem is not how to make work that is new but how to make work in a new way. Per Marianne Moore:

Unconfusion submits
its confusion to proof

How do you make a cofusion for three? How do you reinsert a little chaos into an artistic process, a way of making work, which has become habitual? How do you generate productive perplexities, the potential for surprise?

***

We discover Rebecca Jensen sitting on a large square of white matting, stretching her hamstrings and the rest. Shian Law enters from behind the seating bank. Jo Lloyd follows. These two put on sneakers and then leave the room, jogging, heading out into the foyer through the main doors. They’re gone a long time. Jensen continues stretching. When Law and Lloyd return they look flushed, as if they’ve just run around the block. What really happened behind the closed doors, outside the theatre. Is this a metaphor for the performance as a whole? The dancers undergo an experience, but one that is hidden from the audience.

***

The dance proper begins. First Jo Lloyd. Then Shian Law. And then Rebecca Jensen. Solos give way to duets and then trios, then duets, solos and so on, the various combinations flowing together, the dancers either improvising or responding to an obscure cueing system or both. Their movements are grounded in a kind of non-technical vocabulary that ostentatiously announces its emancipation from history with loose flailing arms, heads thrown back and lots of reeling. Bodies move like streamers in a strong wind or like inflatable wavey air dancers: whippling and ripping upward then collapsing or folding up.

***

We see fragments of modern dance or – more distantly – ballet swept up in the tumult of limbs and forms fashioned so recklessly that it sometimes borders on satire.

confusion_for_three

Lloyd describes the work as a personal indulgence. She calls it her Disneyland piece: it’s a performance about what she likes and what she likes to do. De gustibus non est disputandum. For the audience, this is an intimate encounter, but necessarily enigmatic.

***

At times the dancers appear absorbed in separate worlds – working manically to free themselves from an invisible tangle of associations unique to their individual artistic identities. At other times they appear dependent on one another for provocation. Loose canons emerge as one dancer imitates the next, and the third, too, a step behind again. Or there are fleeting synchronisicities, reoccurring gestures, or the start of something like a wrestling constest. The stresses and challenges gradually become visible: the need to hurry along a spectacle which seems to have little natural momentum and which seems always to be always on the brink of grinding to a halt. You can see the thoughts of the dancers racing; and thought interrupts action. Tiny gaps begin to open, each one suspending the progress of the performance for an all-but-imperceptible moment.

***

Law, Jensen and Lloyd are on hands and knees, side by side in the back left corner of the mat. Lloyd stands and positions herself human pyramid style on top of the other two. Then she half raises herself on her knees and reaches – somewhat unsteadily – between her legs, a gesture repeated elsewhere in the performance. After the pyramid has come apart, Law tries to hold open Jensen’s eyes with his fingers as if inspecting her pupils. Soon after this he drags the other two from the edge of the mat into the centre. Some of this material – although perhaps freely improvised – feels constrained. It feels somehow forced.

***

Jo Lloyd takes off her t-shirt. Then, after a few minutes, Rebecca Jensen takes off her t-shirt. Both women are topless. Then, a few minutes after that, Shian Law takes off his sweatshirt. Everyone is topless. The surplus clothes – grey, yellow and black and orange – are tossed to the side of the stage. Now it’s flesh which seems to stream, the incessant rise and fall, unfolding and refolding. This theme of shedding and peeling back layers is continued minutes later when Law half pulls back the white mat to reveal the floor boards beneath.

***

At some point during the latter half of the performance, a gym rope is unfastened from the wall to the left of the stage. It hangs in the centre of the room like an exclamation point. Rebecca Jensen goes up first, climbing about two thirds of its height. Then Lloyd. Then Law. It’s a fine use of the space, emphasising the height of the North Melbourne town hall theatre. Through the first half of the program, Duane Morrison’s sound design moves from atmospheric glitches into a soundscape of scraped piano strings and pulsing off-tempo basslines. As the rope is released and the climbing begins, this resolves into thumping piano accompaniment, a large sound suggesting wonder and revelation.

***

Much of the appeal of Confusion for Three is in discovering something which is accidentally beautiful: the neat and square use of the space, the clarifying symmetries of Jennifer Hector’s lighting design, Morrison’s sound design, and the sputtering energy of the three performers, stripped or in their bright costumes.

***

They exit stage left. The audience remains hushed. Do we know what the end should look like? There is more confusion. Indeed, by this point we invite the confusion. Confusion for all, we say.

Confusion for Three, Wednesday 26 August 2015, Jo Lloyd, Rebecca Jensen, Shian Law, North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne.

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