Review originally published 9 June 2013 in Theatreview
The latest production from the Dust Palace, … with a stranger … is darker in mood than their frothy Cirque Non Sequitur and the frankly confessional Love and Money. This time the theme is the peculiar intimacy which at times arises between strangers, and the irrevocability of some decisions. There’s often an implied threat to one person in the depicted relationship, or a hint of potential harm from the imbalance of power between two temporary partners, and this adds an edgy undercurrent to events.
Over an hour or so, a series of scenarios bring this peculiar intimacy into being.
Some are more-or-less ordinary kinds of encounter. A hired stranger is delivered to a private address to be an intimate partner for a relatively brief period and returns later for a more intensely charged second encounter. A couple is unable to sleep, their minds preoccupied with the desire to have a baby. Father and son meet for the first time when the son is already an adult and the father is tending towards his dotage. Son passes father a photo, and leaves, and there’s a sense of time collapsing for the father, that a decision made long ago precluded him knowing his son.
Some scenarios are more fanciful, though not without poignancy. An older man faces the realities of failing strength before magically re-discovering his former vitality, and we exult with him and share his utter delight. Two men repeatedly bet on which side a rolling hoop will fall, and one is always right, pocketing considerable dosh with a wry shake of the head. A curious young man and a faerie-like young woman chance across each other in a park, and he seduces her with his ability to stack chairs in wondrous formations. As she climbs to increasingly precarious heights for her balances, you wonder if there’s any hope at all for this relationship to continue, and you know it never will.
These interactions are supplemented by encounters filled with strength and daring and trust and finely tuned nerves of the kind for which this company is so well known, with Eve Gordon and Mike Edwards on aerial silks, Edward Clendon on aerial chain, Rochelle Mangan on aerial hoop and sling and ground-based balances; Zach Washer on ground-based Cyr wheel and extreme balance feats, and Geoff Gilson (without a pole) as the purveyor of ceremonies.
The audience is seated cabaret style, with small tables clustered around a circular stage, and the aerial action immediately above. We are seated so close to the performers that we can see Mangan’s eyeballs shimmying when she stands on the floor after a particularly fast, fierce series of aerial spins on her hoop, the single bead of sweat which rolls down Washer’s nose while his spread-eagled torso balances on one arm above Mangan’s head, tiny twitches in Edward’s finely muscled torso, and the breath fluttering in Gordon’s otherwise utterly flat abdomen. When Clendon runs the perimeter of the floor while building momentum for a derring-do flying routine, patrons duck and quickly shift to avoid tangling with him.
When Washer extends into what look like shoulder popping balances, you can’t help wincing, and when Mangan begins on the floor movements after those equilibrium destroying spins, you wonder how she is able to keep a secure pathway in space. And there are moments when Edwards, 30cm taller than Gordon, stands on her shoulders, or lowers himself horizontally to lie with most of his body extending well beyond her thighs, and you think “but that’s impossible!”
In the context of “intimate strangers” created by the narrative scenarios, it seems evident that the performers must require a similar kind of intimate distance between each another when performing their incredible feats. While they must trust one another completely to embark on their manoeuvres, they must each take full responsibility for their own physicality while collaborating. A strange intimacy indeed.