REVIEW: LAKE by Lisa Wilson

Originally posted on Perth Culture blog on Apr 29, 2014. Linked here until the blog goes dark.

Lake  - High Res Image

Lisa Wilson’s Lake had a one-night stand at Mandurah Performing Arts Centre (MPAC) on Wednesday, March 16, and what a torrid affair it was. Lake is a dance theatre piece that takes place on a stage flooded with a shallow pool of water and it explores the tumultuous relationship between a man (Timothy Ohl) and a woman (Kristina Chan). They’ve come to an isolated spot at a lake to camp, and rather than finding some peace and quiet and a chance for some good R & R, they instead uncover some disturbing truths about the nature of their relationship through a water elemental embodied by Hsin-Ju Chiu.

The MPAC is a lovely venue, but unfortunately the closer you sit to the stage, the more your view of the action is obstructed, much like the first couple of rows at His Majesty’s. I was seated in row H and I quickly discovered that any of the dancer’s floor work was completely obscured to me both by the tall stage and the patrons’ heads in front of me. These particular patrons were only 13-year-old girls, so I can only imagine how little I might have seen had I been directly behind the average Australian male.

After about 10 minutes of frustratedly ducking and weaving my head around and craning my neck to see what the dancers were doing to create these lovely arcs of water in the air, I gave up and moved to the back of the auditorium. I would have stood if I had to, but luckily there were plenty of seats at the back. MPAC should have sold seats from the middle backwards rather than the middle forwards.

Once I settled in at the rear of the auditorium, I began to appreciate the piece more, although I can’t help but feel I missed a little something in the brief moments between when I left my original seat and found a new one. I kept having the nagging thought that while my back was turned, I missed out on a vital bit of action that would have clarified the rest of the work for me somewhat. But as it was, I had to just go with it, whether there was a missing piece or not.

This water dance is beautiful indeed. Watching the three performers splash around in the nearly ankle-deep water is truly unique. The water extends their physical movements even further into the space surrounding their bodies, and it also cushions the blows of impact with the stage floor or each other. But this has an unexpected effect in that it allows the performers to be even more aggressive in their physicality – they appear to land more heavily, swing more violently and tussle more vigorously, and the water can even become a dangerous weapon. The effect is unexpected, and there were more than a few gasps from audience members.

Bruce McKinven’s set is simple but spooky when paired with Jason Glenwright’s lights. The downward-dangling bare branches at either side of the stage give the impression of a world turned upside-down, and also give the performers somewhere to hide in obscurity while the others are in focus. The music composed by Matt Cornell is unsettling, too – it’s a mix of the primal, the ethereal and the techno-nightmarish.

Especially intriguing moments are when the water nixie (Hsin-Ju Chiu) shapeshifts to become various inanimate objects such as a tent, a sleeping bag, a log, or a campfire, at Timothy Ohl’s disposal. The opening scenes when we discover that all is not right with the couple are also quite emotionally and physically truthful.

However, the way their struggle with what lies beneath the surface of their relationship plays out does tend towards the repetitive (which of course also reflects real life), as they continually tussle and separate, tussle and separate. Particularly jarring was the video projection that interceded the live action at one point, as it didn’t appear to add anything particularly revelatory or compelling to the narrative.

In the end, the novelty of the water dance wore a little thin, even with the interjection of bubbles and a rainstorm, but it certainly makes quite a splash.