Anything with the title I Want to Learn to Dance Better at Parties invites a certain curiosity, even goodwill. The opening of Chunky Move’s hour-long piece is cheerful, conventional, but also deceptive. What develops out of witty snatches of social dance including Latino, salsa, folk, tap and clogging is not a good- natured look at ballroom misfits. Gideon Obarzanek, director and choreographer of this Australian company, including Kristy Ayre, Antony Hamilton, Jo LoydLee Serle, Delia Silvan and Adam Wheeler, is intent on telling the mostly sad tale not of men who have two left feet and don’t know how to use them, but of how they have stubbed their toes on life. Social dancing, we discover, is purely incidental.
The genesis of the piece was research for a TV documentary where men were asked to talk about what turned out to be their mostly negative experiences with dance. From it Obarzanek extracted the stories of five, all very different, who discuss by way of voice-over and back projection their experiences not just with dancing (one is so inhibited he doesn’t move at all) but also their lives in general. Most poignant is the widower with children who takes dance lessons to sidestep loneliness. Equally touching is the fellow who meets his dream guy in a line dance, only to be abandoned the same way after a long and happy relationship. As the stories unfold, the dancers wrestle and fall into violent tumbling. At one point they stalk around silhouetted on half-toe, with arms held out stiffly like sleepwalkers.
As the choreography becomes more abstract and Jason Sweeney and Cailin Burns’ music and sound design grow ever louder, the piece is less convincing. The original idea diffuses in a wave of flailing limbs. A dancer shuffing and puffing to illustrate someone hyperventilating with stress on soundtrack may sound literal, but not when performed in Obarzanek’s clunky style. Too bad for a piece that started out so promisingly. With continuity and original vision lost it became murky and tiresome. ★★☆☆☆
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