The new Melbourne season of LAWN at the Malthouse opened on Thursday extending the now five-year long popularity of this work that premiered in 2004 with its first performances in Brisbane and Berlin.

The new Melbourne season of LAWN at the Malthouse opened on Thursday extending the now five-year long popularity of this work that premiered in 2004 with its first performances in Brisbane and Berlin.

Created, choreographed and performed by Splintergroup dancers Vincent Crowley, Grayson Millwood and Gavin Weber to the live score of composer Iain Grandage, LAWN unfolds in a low-rent apartment in Berlin.

Inside the protagonist, played in tripartite form by the dancers, endures his recently arrived, very loud Death-Metal loving neighbors, and, his own mind. The stage setting designed by Zoe Atkinson and illuminated by Mark Howettpresents a stark room, papered and repapered in cheap wall covering layer that are torn at each marginal perimeter as if the scene was ripped in it entirety from a book. Inside this space the meals are meager and the furnishings are sparse – a soft chair, a table, wardrobe, basin, mirror and radiator.

The work commences with a Kafkaesque- image of cockroaches running down Webber’s arms and unfolds a series of vignettes of domestic banality- breakfast, dressing, television, the frustration of a dust obsessed character trying to remember ‘Staub” (the German word for dust). These index points are intercalated with imagined horrors and oppressions, where the most interesting dance takes place. The character is haunted by his own personifications who hound him, fight with him, stalk him and move his body like a floppy marionette mirrored at times by his own limp suit.

The dance realizations here are sometime astounding but the visual metaphors can be overt to the point of heaviness. In one scene the dance extends vertically, spider-like, literally up the walls in a feat or vertical poetics- the character almost saying “I’m crawling up the walls here”. This attention to dimensionality in the work also extends to the fourth dimension – time, with intriguing tempo dilations and accelerations. In another metaphor the character is wrapped- suffocated- in plastic food wrap cocooning his body in a shimmering film until his air supply is cut off and he struggles to puncture free.

In another scene the character flips between TV stations settling on a translated martial arts movie (as we infer from it sound track)- the absolute despairing commonplaceness of this finds expression in a stylized and mock martial arts combat between two of dancers. At one point a thread is pulled from the characters mouth and in an ingenious staging that seems to code- “my life is unraveling”-the thread then pulls from under his skin and then pulls seamlessly through the wallpaper, exposing a gash. The dancers pull the wallpaper off revealing a hyperchromatic trompe d’oiel tropical beach pasted up by a past occupant as a kitsch antidote to the drabness. There are certainly highly innovative moves in the work- not only the verticality, but especially the vigorous overlaying of visual and kinetic textures that the dances achieve in their sustained floor work.

Notwithstanding it longevity, this performance was by no means tired (and it was the second of the evening). If it were to be faulted it would be that the work is now so familiar that anticipation- a preempted move that should have been a reaction- is very common. This does detract a little from the impact of the dance and especially from the physically difficult sections where the body is lifted across the floor in slow motion, and from the fluidity of the dancers interaction.

In this performance, it made the significance of these carefully conceived passages harder to read and made the emotional coding sometimes ambiguous – several scenes rich in ironic pathos came over to many in the audience as slap-stick.

These caveats aside LAWN remains a well staged, innovative and highly enjoyable work- and it was received enthusiastically. And why we may reflect on what is truly worse for an artist – a Queenslander house set in lush lawn or Berlin in winter with no resources- LAWN reveals great creative strength and technical accomplishment in a work that is now the international calling card of its creators.

LAWN by Splintergroup

Lawn is a co-production of Brisbane Powerhouse and Dancenorth in association with Sasha Waltz and guests.

Choreographed & performed by Vincent Crowley, Grayson Millwood and Gavin Webber
Rehearsal director: Michelle Ryan
Dramaturge: Andrew Ross
Musical composer and performer: Iain Grandage
Designer: Zoe Atkinson
Lighting designer: Mark Howett

Mathouse, Southbank
Season closed

Gary Anderson
About the Author
Gary Anderson is a leading medical researcher based at the University of Melbourne and is currently completing a Masters in Contemporary Art at the Victorian College of the Arts.