Chunky Move: Two Views of "Two Faced Bastard"

June 11, 2010

Chunky Move
Luminato Festival

Toronto, Canada

June 11–13, 2010

Reviewed by Wendy Perron and Michael Crabb


Brian Lipson and members of Chunky Move in
Two Faced Bastard. Photo by Chris Budgeon, Courtesy Luminato Festival.


As an audience member, you usually don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. But in
Two Faced Bastard (2008), you sometimes know only what goes on behind the scenes, and you wonder what is going on “out front.” In creating two performance spaces divided by a slatted curtain, Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin, directors of Chunky Move, an Australian dance theater company, divided the audience into two separate groups. Two writers from Dance Magazine sat on different sides.


As we walk in, Stephanie Lake is already ambling around. She jogs in place, shakes out her limbs, and chats with the technical guy in the corner. Very low-key. Between slats we can see chairs and hear voices. Maybe the people on the other side are actors, not dancers. Soon they slip through and join Lake in her vaguely Trisha Brownian movement.

Brian Lipson, who serves as some sort of authoritarian voice, starts questioning the dancers about why they do what they do. Each one answers thoughtfully, sincerely, sometimes while still dancing. It all seems rather, um, educational—until a sudden loud drone with a strong beat plunges us all into a heightened drama (music by Darrin Verhagen and Gerald Mair). Green lights add to the ominous feeling. Brian accuses Mike McLeish of having a crush on Lake, which he tries to deny. Their argument builds to apoplectic levels.

It becomes clear that Mike (or his character) does have a thing for Lake, though why it should upset Brian is unknown. Mike and Stephanie start a pained love duet—with a table between them. The heat of their movement jolts the table. This is not a joyful make-out session. Brian re-enters and brutally puts an end to their liaison.

Some episodes are absurdist, as when two or three of the seven performers dress up in big cardboard boxes. They look like cubist sculptures, almost like Picasso’s costumes for Massine’s Parade of the 1920s. While they go stomping onto the other side, Michelle Heaven, possibly the best dancer in the bunch, dashes here and there to accumulate an elaborate outfit with Styrofoam parts, a duckbill mask, and flippers. We can’t wait to see what she’s going to do. But when she is fully, ridiculously adorned, she crosses to the other side so we don’t see her. We hear only a recording of the song from Carousel, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” But we are not bereft for long. Antony Hamilton works himself up into an amazing solo, splicing together King Kong, beat boxing, and robot moves. It’s hilarious, but we are aware that the other side has gotten more laughs overall.


Finally the curtain opens up, and we see the big mess that’s been made by those Cubist stompers. Chunks of Styrofoam and cardboard are everywhere. It’s as though a cyclone has hit, but you’ve only witnessed half of it. As you gradually see the other members of the audience, all the performers slowly reach out one arm. Somehow, it’s a haunting ending. ––Wendy Perron




We know there’s another stage and audience beyond the dividing vertical blind/curtain. So where does that place us? Are we backstage as “unseen” observers—a rack of hanging costumes suggests as much. But then, when six seated performers begin a quasi-philosophical discussion about the nature of theater, it seems they’re aware of our presence. “What do you want from an audience?” asks Mike McLeish, as Lee Serle gets up, takes off his everyday gear and dons a pleated smock to pass through the curtain. As it parts we see a woman dancing. So maybe that’s the “real” performance?

Others follow Lee as Brian Lipson confides his “weird lust for chaos” and penchant for disrupting a performance. By the time all but Mike have passed to the other side, Brian, who’s getting argumentative, can’t resist peeking. He tells us what he’s seeing, hilariously attempting to imitate the movement. Eventually he breaks through. Again, we can briefly see dancing and hear the now invisible Brian asking questions. Dancers occasionally come through to us, their manner suggesting they’ve stopped consciously performing. They begin moving the chairs through the curtain. Brian returns and in a Kafkaesque scene interrogates Mike about “Steph” (Stephanie Lake) who by deduction we realise we’ve not yet seen. He continues his accusatory questions, following as Mike tries to escape to the other side. Finally Steph appears and a funky dance breaks out to a grungy urban mix. The men now line up a row of chairs and start repeating in unison some of Brian’s opening-scene spiel. There are ominous bangings from the other side and a glimpse of something potentially sinister happening on or under a table.

All these comings and goings make it hard to get a fix on anything and Brian is living up to his penchant! Fleeting opportunities suggest those on the other side are garbing themselves in weird cubist outfits, confirmed when they come our way wearing improvised Styrofoam and cardboard box costumes. A near fight breaks out. Bits of Styrofoam fly everywhere, later to be toyed with by a Punchinella-like character of birdlike deportment who introduces herself to the strains of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Mike grapples with her. Steph is now on our side, and Mike is eyeing her closely. Maybe Brian was right and they do have something going on.

After about 50 minutes the curtain parts. Antony is lying at Brian’s feet. Was there a bust-up? He’s helped up but staggers like a zombie before joining a brief, weirdly spacey ensemble dance. Brian and Mike begin to chat, but it’s hard to hear them. Chairs are lined up again and Steph “performs” for the rest as the stage darkens and spotlights hover over us and the audience opposite. Odd, absurd, unsettling, funny, and compelling—but altogether a memorable hour. –Michael Crabb