Northcote Town Hall, Melbourne
April 27, 2018

Stephanie Lake’s latest work, Replica, may be the product of the choreographer’s eponymous company, but it very much presents itself as a collaborative dialogue between the movers and the maker. It is a work for two talented dancers – Frenchman Aymeric Bichon and Singaporean Christina Chan – who are refreshingly unfamiliar to Melbourne audiences. The pair have a longstanding studio relationship and, after seeing it in action, Lake decided to create the entire work around their co-dependency. By exploiting both the commonalities and differences of the two dancers, we are offered a highly physical exploration of the symbiotic potential of all human relationships.

Stephanie Lake, ReplicaAymeric Bichon and  Christina Chan in Stephanie Lake’s Replica. Photo © Pippa Samaya

In many ways, Replica is like a strangely voyeuristic science experiment. It begins with a man and a woman dressed in matching beige outfits stepping cautiously into a large square marked out by fluorescent tubes of light. In this petri dish of blinding whiteness, the bodies begin to explore the space in a relatively pedestrian manner: they walk, they pause, they gesture. Then, in a fleeting pass, the man and woman grab hands and counterbalance their weight in a moment of suspension. It’s not spectacular but it foreshadows a study of equilibrium and disruption; of bodies connected and the distance between them.

Lake’s exploration manifests itself through a series of different choreographic scores. There are long passages of unison where the two dancers move sharply and precisely, flinging their limbs away from their torso then whipping them back under control. The two take turns in tracing and manipulating each other’s bodies in a kind of kinaesthetic and unvoiced dialogue. At other times, bodies are swung and thrown, flipped and pushed.

We are in abstract territory, watching these sentient beings dominate and submit to the will of the other. In a beautiful moment, Bichon gestures his left hand upward and Chan’s right leg responds by slowly unfolding à la seconde high above her head. She is his marionette, but only for a moment before the polarity reverses.

Aymeric Bichon and  Christina Chan in Stephanie Lake’s Replica. Photo © Pippa Samaya

The electronic sounds of Lake’s long-term collaborator Robin Fox frame the choreography. Distortion, thunderous bass, crackling static and percolations fill the air, perhaps offering a sonic perspective of the dancers’ inner state. Piano accordion, cymbals and guitar offer interesting colours to the mostly synthetic sound palette. But even though this is an original composition, the score doesn’t take Lake’s choreography into new territory. The music-movement combination will be a familiar one to Melbourne audiences and unavoidably authors a singular reading of the dance.

The strongest moments of Replica emerge in the final third of the work. The dancers, who have so far oscillated between varying states of abstraction, break the fourth wall in a very personal and human scene where both speak their native language. The abrupt shift reminds us that we are not just watching two dancers on stage, but a living, breathing relationship of interdependence. There is aggression, tenderness, humour, trust; real experiences that confront us and comfort us. There is a familiarity here – perhaps not in the specific bodies, but in their energy and the space they share.

As a whole, Replica seeks to explore two types of symbiosis: mutualistic (where both organisms benefit) and parasitic (where one thrives at the other’s expense). Both aspects are evident but a more extreme exploration of these opposing states may have yielded greater choreographic depth. Although the mid-section of the work lagged at times, the latter scenes offered an interesting glimpse into the complexities that can shape the peculiar connection between two living organisms.

Stephanie Lake Company’s Replica is at Northcote Town Hall until May 5


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