In Imago, Travis Clausen-Knight & James Pett (United Kingdom) move in a largely-empty white room, their bodies making shapes and weaving together. Sometimes organically and gently, but often with an air of tension between them. They move with great ease and efficiency, displaying technical skill honed from their years of performing with well-known companies. I spent a long time feeling distracted by this proficiency, and wondering about what I expect of a fringe aesthetic, and challenging my own assumptions about what does and does not “belong” on the fringes. What are the fringes of an international theatre circuit, and on a local platform? When might a fringe move to a centre, and a centre move to a fringe?
The dancers’ fitting together and coming apart like advanced lego pieces, trying to construct a new robot, reminded me of ways in which the urbanite’s body has been hammered and cut to fit rooms. In Imago, the room also featured flowers, lighting fixtures, and boxes, moved and manipulated in simple ways to create new scenes. I wondered about the ways bodies are disciplined and controlled in contemporary society – after all, here is a pair of artists, literally rearranging artificial things in a room painted white.
Every moment exuded an air of calculation and control, except perhaps for the last scene where the performers gave weight to each other, lifting and flying around the space with greater freedom – control leading to freedom. It was only in the last scene that I felt comfortable – and able to breathe. They were partnering with each other, yielding to each other, sending each other through space. They were sensing each other’s weight and breath – this was happening in earlier scenes as well, but it was the difference between seeing a flower grow in the wild, versus growing in a manicured lawn. Beautiful in their own ways, but suggesting different possible realities. Personally I much preferred the ease at the end.
Having spent a lot more time at screens in the past two years, including to watch live performances as hybrid beasts, it felt particularly bittersweet to watch these artists finally soften into each other in their ending duet. They seemed to find release. Their physicality reminded me of all the voluptuousness of screen-free life, that a lens can rarely reveal. Though the theme of the work was about abusive relationships, the abstraction of the piece led my mind to wander away from narrative, and to wonder if the extreme infiltration of technology into our lives and bodies is a form of dysfunction. In the synopsis for Imago, they ask “do we become reconstructed in the hopes to hold onto some idea of happiness?” And I wondered what kinds of happiness human beings seek – in the pleasure of flowers, but perhaps from abusive lovers, in the pleasure of dancing, but perhaps at the hands of unkind choreographers, in the instant gratification of social media, but perhaps at the cost of losing genuine social connections.
Their extreme physical precision reminded me, upon reflection, of ways in which victims and survivors of emotional abuse are capable of shaping their bodies and conducting themselves in ways they know will not trigger an abuser. Their tight sense of bodily control reminded me of the kinds of possibilities that can appear because of having undergone immense challenges. In terms of dramaturgical development, and certainly as a personal bias, I would have preferred seeing less of the tension and more of the release, to focus more on what happens after exiting toxic environments. In future works, I hope that the artists will spend more time yielding and softening. Revealing less of the rigidities we already face in our hyper-mediated, and hyper-choreographed, environments, and more of the freedoms they can experience, as two incredible movers sensitised to the possibilities of the human body.
Imago streamed online from 12–23 January 2022 as part of Singapore Fringe 2022.