Two of Australia's leading contemporary dancers connect in this beautiful but challenging piece
Narelle Benjamin and Paul White’s Cella is an evolution of sorts. The 65-minute dance work choreographed and performed by the duo begins with the two dancers rolling across the floor in slowly encircling patterns – their bodies arch as they turn over, creating a rhythmic movement that acts as a counterpoint to Huey Benjamin’s rumbling soundtrack. But as in nature, there are patterns that develop, falling into and out of synchronicity and symmetry as Benjamin and White circle one another.
It’s a good ten minutes before either performer rises to their feet – until then you can almost imagine they’re primordial organisms sprawling out across the stage; or perhaps they’re part of some kind of perpetual motion machine, ticking over and over before us. The boundaries are blurry at every point in this work, but it has a strong focus as it grows: the body and biology.
Benjamin and White are both veterans of Australian dance, but White has been based out of Germany since 2011 where he’s been performing with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, one of the world’s most influential dance companies. It’s here that Cella had its first developmental showing last year, and it arrives in Australia in wonderful shape, with great fluidity and connectedness across all of the movement.
Benjamin is now into her fifties but appears to have few physical limitations. The juxtaposition between her smaller and older frame – and even the texture of her skin – to White’s younger body is essential to the piece itself.
Both have impressive and brief solos and show exceptional physical and emotional stamina. But the most memorable moments come when Benjamin and White come together as a single being, creating interlinking and complex images with their bodies. As they overlap, they start to look like bizarre and surreal anatomical diagrams; like something the spun out from Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. All of this is enhanced by Karen Norris’s perfectly calibrated and frequently understated lighting design.
This will be a challenging work for some audiences; its languid, slowly shifting movements and sparse soundtrack may challenge your patience. But if you’re able to dip into the appropriate near-meditative state, there’s sublime beauty in these extraordinary performances and in the simplicity of the images that emerge.