Byron Perry on Double Think
In July 2013, Brisbane Powerhouse caught up with Byron Perry, the award-winning choreographer of Double Think, to chat about the Australian dance community, manipulating light and escaping fatal plane crashes…
Q. What does dance allow you to do that other art forms don’t?
What I love about the type of performance work that I do is that the experience you can design for an audience is only limited by your imagination. Work that I have collaborated on or directed in the past few years has included things like object puppetry, light sculpture, speed painting, text, audience participation and lecture demonstration.
Being a live art form, dance involves an energetic exchange between the viewer and the artist or performer and requires a level of engagement and attention from the viewer. They need to work a little bit too I think.
Overall I think that what dance offers me is an incredible level of flexibility. I feel like it allows me to experiment with so many different modes and styles.
Q. With each new work that you choreograph do you push yourself to reinterpret your style?
When I think about other artists I am inspired by, it’s those that stick to their interests and develop the form in their own way. I feel like everyone in the dance community here in Australia is creating such incredible work right now. I am continually surprised and inspired by the work of other dance makers. There is a sense of iconoclastic individualism that continues to make the development of the form so exciting.
Q. You’ve toured worldwide, what’s been the most interesting venue you’ve performed in?
No particular venue jumps out to me. There have been some theatres with magnificent architecture, some smaller venues that carry such an incredible history and have been pivotal in the development of dance. I remember performing on a basketball court and in massive University halls etc. but when I toured with Chunky Move to Bogota, Columbia in 1996 or 97 we performed at this venue… I can’t even remember the theatre to be honest. The whole dimmer rack blew about half an hour before the show and we were forced to cancel. We were all on the bus leaving as the audience was arriving. They saw us on the bus, realised what was happening, ran up to the bus and were hitting the windows and running after us. That was pretty funny.
Actually the weird thing with that one was that we ended up catching a different flight home than the one we were originally booked. When we arrived home we discovered that our original flight had crashed into a mountain. Creepy.
Q. You’re also a passionate photographer, do you like to combine dance with your photos?
I take a lot of the production and marketing shots for my own work and for other people’s work within the community. As yet, I haven’t incorporated photography into a performance work per se but my interest in the manipulation of light by performers probably has its genesis in my study of photographic lighting techniques.
I am developing a solo work that is based around a performance inside a camera obscura, so I guess that is the closest I have come to combining the two.
Q. Your photo for ‘Double Think’ of the two people with small blocks covering their faces is amazing. How did you achieve this?
It’s basically just a digital collage; I made stacks or piles of the little blocks and took some images of those from above. Then I shot individual portraits of Kirstie (‘Double Think’ performer) and myself, matching the angle of the lighting source to the lighting in the block images. Then I layered everything up to composite it in Photoshop.
Photo: Byron Perry
“The imagination and invention of choreographer Byron Perry are activated in exhilarating style by dancers Kirstie McCracken and Lee Serle: physical and mental twists and turns keep you constantly wondering ‘what next?’.”
Jill Sykes, Sydney Morning Herald – Read more
Double Think doesn’t pretend to be more than a modest offering of two duets that run for an hour altogether, yet it delivers so much more. The imagination and invention of choreographer Byron Perry are activated in exhilarating style by dancers Kirstie McCracken and Lee Serle: physical and mental twists and turns keep you constantly wondering ‘’what next?’’.
The opener, Gogglebox, is just 10 minutes long, but in that brief time it explores the relationship between people and the old-style analogue TV: the challenges, frustrations, passionate attraction, neediness and warm companionship. Serle is the TV, his head covered with a plastic set that becomes as meaningful as a human face through the expressiveness of his fluent movements. McCracken, as the representative human, sets the dials and leads the relationship – or did it feel the TV was taking over at times? This may sound trivial in words, but Gogglebox is funny, poignant and illuminating of us all – at least, those of us who remember the days when the TV set was a dominant force in our homes.
Perry makes a point in the program that his Double Think reference from George Orwell’s 1984 is not meant to link our thoughts with the book and its themes. Rather, he found it “an elegant description” of his visual and physical exploration of opposition and contrast, in which set, sound and lighting are orchestrated by the performers.
The movement is almost non-stop, the dancers outstanding for their plasticity and expressiveness. It is rich in choreographed action that relates as much to the everyday as the more synthesised styles of contemporary dance, building from a collaborative base in which all the components play an integral role. Yet none is allowed to overwhelm McCracken and Serle as the deserved stars of the work: their performances are dazzling.
Collaboration credits are shared by composer Luke Smiles, lighting designer Benjamin Cisterne, costume designer Natasha Fagg and Ben Cobham, who constructed the movable set. Force Majeure, which Perry joined this year as associate director, no doubt had a hand in the polish of the presentation as the show’s producer.
By Jill Sykes, Sydney Morning Herald
“These 50 minutes of contradictions, experimentations, lights and strange sensations are an odd pleasure not to be missed.”
Meredith McLean, The AU Review – Read more
Double Think is a fast and stupefying descent into something dark and beautiful. This double whammy of a show is mesmerizing in its absurdity and complex choreography. Dance theatre being as trendy as it is at the moment, Double Think is something eccentric and refreshing against all the current dance troupes and popular acrobatic acts.
The first performance, Googlebox, takes us on a retro romp. The telly; the idiot box; the tube as it used to be called is a fading tool in today’s world of smartphones and flat screens. Deep in the Turbine Studio at Brisbane’s Powerhouse the lights go down, and the T.V’s glow comes up.
But the performance doesn’t peak and then quietly slink away. Double Think almost flew by; when the stage lights went up once more it was a disappointment to realise an hour had already passed.
Double Think, the second dance and title performance, showed more character. It spoke more with the audience, quite literally. Performers Kirstie McCracken and Lee Serle begin to talk and share more than what their bodies were already expressing. The word play causes a stir in the crowd, many audience members giggling. But it kicks up a notch again when the pair sits down, and looks right at you. Talking over the top of each other, trying to explain what the show is or what it isn’t. It’s a fascinating representation of contrasts and the essence of the title, Double Think.
This performance covers all bases. You might be in awe at the beauty at one point, moments later to be laughing at its tongue in cheek wit. There will be moments that are almost frightening in their bizarre imagery, but you will be prepared for it because the performers have a way of easing the crowd through the mood shift.
The music choices in this production are incredible. Luke Smiles operated as Sound Designer and achieved the right balance of entertaining but meaningful. The song choices are relevant to the performance, but also just a pleasure to hear.
These 50 minutes of contradictions, experimentations, lights and strange sensations are an odd pleasure not to be missed.
Meredith McLean, The AU Review
“An excellent contribution to Australia’s growing contemporary dance repertoire, and Perry has certainly here marked himself out as one to watch.”
Time Out Sydney – Read more
Not everyone realises it, but contemporary dance is alive and kicking in Australia. We have some excellent choreographers, companies and dancers who can kick it with the best on the international stage. Choreographer Kate Champion’s Force Majeure outfit have been Sydney’s major contribution to the scene for the better part of the last decade, with Champion developing and popularising her style of gestural dance-theatre through works like Food and Never Did Me Any Harm. Champion is sharing the love around a bit with Majeure’s new double bill, which features two short works by long-time company artist Byron Perry.
Short duet Gogglebox opens the evening, a seriously cute pas de deux between a woman and a television. Luke Smiles’ smashed-up soundtrack and fun-loving choreography from Perry reminds us that contemporary dance can be a lot of fun. Dancers Kristie McCracken and Lee Serle embrace the referential, cheeky style and give us a brief meditation on the relationship between the watcher and the watched.
Longer work Double Think is the real focus of the evening though. It premiered last year at the Melbourne Festival, but this is the first time Sydneysiders are getting a look at it. It’s full of tantalising ideas and beautiful images. Perry’s choreography, Smiles’ soundtrack, the set by Ben Cobham and lighting by Benjamin Cisterne work in almost perfect harmony with the dancers’ bodies. It’s rare to find a performance work that so excellently integrates all elements, but here they truly seem symbiotic.
McCracken and Serle have a degree of control over their manipulation of those elements, and that openness-within-restriction is the question on which the work turns. Perry has an excellent eye for creating visual mind-benders on stage – a sequence which appears to allow the audience a bird’s-eye view of the performers was a particular favourite – and his use of the spoken word demonstrates a healthy interest in the absurd or surreal. What does a word mean? What does a movement have to do with it? Does anything fit together the way we expect it to?
Double Think is a primarily formal exercise – Perry isn’t here interested in theme or character so much as image or sensation – but the work promisingly balances that formal maturity and ingenuity with a sense of fun. It’s an excellent contribution to Australia’s growing contemporary dance repertoire, and Perry has certainly here marked himself out as one to watch.
Time Out Sydney
“Double Think is a tightly realised piece of dance/theatre. It’s slick, engaging and arguably Perry’s best work yet”
Stephanie Glickman, Herald Sun – Read more
IT SOUNDS heavy. A dance work based on George Orwell’s 1984 and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
But, in practice, Byron Perry’s Double Think is a richly nuanced duet between two unique dancers — Kirstie McCracken and Lee Serle. It melds sinewy movement with well-conceptualised lighting design and hums with an offbeat sense of humour.
A wooden wall with multi-sized movable blocks creates frames for faraway action and platforms for slippery-limbed solos.
Torsos and arms splay out of geometric openings, mirroring each other with a kaleidoscopic pulse.
Supported by Luke Smiles’s sound design, movement and visual design have their own intertwined choreography that never feels forced.
Tall, lanky Serle and McCracken, petite and fluid, rift off each other like comfortable friends.
There’s a harmony in their attack, a conversation in blinks, a casual word association game accented by body ripples, shrugs and slumps and a satisfying sense of a multi-dimensional relationship at play.
Double Think is a tightly realised piece of dance/theatre. It’s slick, engaging and arguably Perry’s best work yet.
Stephanie Glickman, Herald Sun
“Perry tinkers with time and space to remind us of the indispensable nature of humanity. That requires no doublethink at all.”
Chris Boyd, The Australian – Read more
WRITING about Byron Perry’s Double Think is like unfolding a tesseract — a four-dimensional hypercube — into three-dimensional space.
Even after you’ve dumbed it down a whole dimension, it’s still incredibly intricate and difficult to describe. On a thematic level, the title may refer to the Orwellian mental task of being in a long-term relationship, of being social and solitary.
The first half of Double Think shows the actuality of a working relationship. It’s orderly. Synchronised. Rehearsed, of course. In a wondrous scene, we see a man (Lee Serle) and a woman (Kirstie McCracken) on opposite sides of a large table, from above. Their sweeping and rigorous gestures are codified – agreed to – but still oddly tender. That said, this domesticity has all the weird strategising of a war game.
The second half folds back on itself. A dodgy flute riff had me thinking of Glen Campbell crooning “such are the dreams of the everyday housewife”. We see the flawed origins of the relationship when the new partners are hopelessly (literally) out of step with one another.
Throughout his work, Perry uses the presence and absence of space, light and noise as metaphors. The few moments of darkness and silence are weirdly illuminating. They are moments of privacy rather than isolation; of meditation rather than escape.
Spatially, the set (a Ben Cobham design) looks like a monochrome game of Tetris, or something built from Cuisenaire rods, or even one of those unravelled hypercubes.
Even more impressive is Benjamin Cisterne’s highly theatrical and extraordinarily well-judged lighting. Apart from defining and redefining the space, Cisterne has light ticking across the set like the sun time-lapsing a path through the heavens, leaving flickering sundial shadows in its wake. He also plays with retinal afterimages (yet another juicy metaphor there) just as Perry plays with the idea of blinking: of showing and seeing.
It’s unusual for Perry not to be in one of his works and he clearly delights in his “outside eye” role. He has the eye of a cinematographer or digital photographer. He manipulates and atomises the world but is incapable of dehumanising it.
Perry casts the quicksilver Serle, tall and lithe, in his place opposite McCracken. She’s all shoulders and arms in the opening burst of dance. Watching the yaw and pitch and roll of her limbs had me thinking of robotic arms on space shuttles and technology’s dismal mimicry of human movement.
Perry tinkers with time and space to remind us of the indispensable nature of humanity. That requires no doublethink at all.
Chris Boyd, The Australian
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Photos: Byron Perry