Photographer: Gregory Lorenzutti

As part of the Unwrapped season at the Sydney Opera House we are privileged to see SPLIT a most striking , confronting and challenging work from Lucy Guerin , one of Australia’s leading choreographers who is based in Melbourne .

The two performers , Melanie Lane and Lilian Steiner, give mesmerizing , dynamic performances in amazing synchronicity with great precision and timing . Lane wears a rather unflattering long blue dress , Steiner ( who won a Helpmann award last year for her performance ) is naked.

It is fascinating to see the difference between the clothed and the nude body ,how the muscles change and shape , how drapery changes the line of the choreography etc. (Life drawing students would love it ). I was also possibly reminded of the movement and motion studies by Eadweard Muybridge .Are the dancers representing two halves of a single person? The private vs public faces of a person ? One notices the freedom of Steiner’s unclothed body contrasted with the rather more restricted, clothed body of Lane.  

There is a large square delineated in white tape on the floor and for the first half of the work the dancers are in complete unity to the drumbeats. It becomes almost trancelike .Eventually the white tape is used to divide the space into smaller and smaller sections, with the danced dialogue between the two becoming fraught and explosive, yet with hints of possible reconciliation. As the sections are divided into smaller and smaller segments , so does the length of time of the section and the movement becomes more and more controlled and restrained.

Guerin’s choreography uses ballet as a base but deconstructs it .Stylized everyday movements are included , hopping in arabesque , thigh slaps, shoulder touching , rolling floorwork and some fascinating balancing and lifts among other things. Arms are sometimes straight and angular yet at other points they whirl madly like windmills, are held close to the body in pirouettes , or are more fluidly balletic and rippling. Hands at times are insect like or claws . At first actions are clear, like mime, ( eg annoyance  )but this fades upon fragmentation and repetition . The predatory conflict escalates as the space grows smaller and smaller – at one point Steiner is almost vampire like, appearing to devour Lane’s entrails. ( a reference to her character’s persona being envious of Lane’s being able to have children perhaps ) ?  And at one point Lane’s persona retaliates and seeks to brutally dominate Steiner’s , Steiner seems to attack Lane’s arm ,  then climbs on her back – and there is hair pulling .

Scanner’s insistent pulsating drum beat of a score, with just subtle variations , (sound design by Robin Fox ) , drives the work . There is some dramatic use of shadows ( lighting by Paul Lim) , snappy blackouts contrasted at times with warm , clear lighting .

An intriguing work celebrating the human body with numerous layers of meaning that raises many issues , poses many questions and doesn’t really answer any of them , leaving us with much to ponder afterwards .

Lucy Guerin Inc’s [Facebook] SPLIT  is at Sydney Opera August 8 to 13, as part of UnWrapped.