Shame, power, money: so many issues and expectations surround female nudity, in both life and art. It is disappointing that Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin’s 2017 duet Split – which features a completely naked dancer – doesn’t really interrogate these fraught ideas.
The piece begins with two performers – one in a blue dress (Ashley McLellan), one in the buff (Lilian Steiner) – dancing in unison across the stage, which is outlined with white tape on the floor. To the insistent pulse of an electronic soundscape (by composer Scanner), the dancers’ low-key movements gradually gain technical amplitude and decorative grace notes with floridly curlicued wrists and a sudden starfish splay of fingers.
Though the juxtaposed figures are suggestive of a public and private self, the choreography registers more as a compellingly varied compositional exercise to a fixed beat – along with a display of buttocks – rather than an exploration of identity. The nakedness doesn’t feel justified.
The focus shifts when the dancers divide the square space in half with white tape. Instead of dancing on either side of this border, they occupy the same section. Unity is abandoned and things turn fractious – hair is pulled, arms yanked and feet are threateningly sniffed. Despite the aggravation, the pace and dynamism of the movement sag somewhat: a sequence involving stomach-ripping cannibalism seems especially heavy-handed.
The bisection of each area reoccurs with a moody shift in lighting until the pair inhabit a tight spot in the upstage right corner. The point is vague, though, – is it a comment on colonial plunder, overpopulation, the disintegrating social contract? Despite strong performances, Split skirts around concepts that need fleshing out. It’s more interesting in theory than in practice.