In a sense, dancers and performance artists generally are in peculiar state of tension with the idea of twinship. The classic image of this is the dancer practicing at bar before a full-length mirror. The dancer has in mind an idea of the dance – the dance as it should be. But then there is a second dance, that of the double in the mirror, the dance as it is. The impossible challenge for the young balletist is to bring these two into a single identity, to cross the shadow between what might and what is.
Much contemporary avant garde choreography, however, is involved in a process of renegotiating this classical challenge, abandoning the melancholy zone of broken mirrors, and seeking instead to positively exploit the contradiction, to see how far and in what new ways the dubious twins can be separated.
Performer and choreographer Deanne Butterworth's collaboration with sound designer Michael Munson and lighting designer Rose Connors Dance, here re-visited more than two years after its premiere at Dancehouse, seems to consciously place itself in this tradition. Without any explicit gesture in that direction, it suggests a certain anxiety about its own identity, about what it is against the many things it could be, an anxiety speaking more to the absence of the double in the mirror than to any striving toward it.
More specifically, beyond the general artistic condition, the thematic significance of the title Twinships is somewhat elusive. The performance is in two parts, between which a number of relationships and transactions can be intuited, but none of which seem necessarily to imply any necessary "twinning".
In the first movement, two assistants unroll a long sheet of white canvas and hold it up as a screen. onto which Butterworth, behind, projects her shadow. The immediate reference is to Chinese calligraphic and landscape scrolls, a reference supported by other oriental touches, like the tai chi-influenced movements and Munson's trippy sountrack, with its vague suggestion of Buddhist chanting. A striking contrast here is between Butterworth's super-slippery shadow and the muscular twitching of her bare feet, visible beneath the screen but amputated from the shadow by the angle of the light.
In the second half, the scroll is removed and Rose Connors Dance's installation work is fully revealed, a set of mirrors in wooden frames, set at various angles to give fractured reflection to a program of digital footage. Here the pastoral grace of the martial arts gives way to a more urban physicality, even an ungainliness at times, reminiscent of netball courts, controlled demolition and obsessive weekday repetitions.
Butterworth writes in the program that she originally returned to the work with the intention of revealing the apparatus used in its initial creation; but I feel the frame or method upon which Twinships hangs remains obscure. Despite this, and despite it thematic anxieties, it still conveys a powerful effect of confidence and vitality. Much of this stems from the unity between the three collaborators and the impressive sense of scene they generate.
The multiple twins here have many faces – illuminated and shadowed, projected and reflected, native and civilised – faces which are looking, like everybody else, for the limits of separation and alienation, for the point where the repetition of small infringements gives rise at last to something substantial, something new, something more than a mere reflection. In the final moments, beneath a bank of warm orange lights and amid a chorus of bird calls and jangling piano strings, Butterworth's movements are almost mimetic, suggesting growth and fruition, like seedlings shooting beneath a mellow sun – a hopeful note on which to end.