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Thursday 10 November 2016

Review: Et Lux

Posted in: Performance
By Jay Bennie - 11th February 2016

Et Lux

Produced by Black Swan Productions for Auckland Pride

Featuring Chris Olwage

10-13 February, Lot 23, 23 Minnie St, Mt Eden, Auckland

Dark and hellish, Et Lux begins its story deep in the psyche of sexual repression, torment and ignorance. Rumbling, sinister music and a gothic-inspired window set the scene for cowled acolytes to search out joy and sensuality, to repress love and lust, to snuff out hope and the human spirit.

This is powerful, troubling material, blending Dante's Inferno, and perhaps a hint of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, with black magic rituals and tormented eroticism. Drawing its cast from the worlds of interpretive dance, fire dancing, gymnastics and aerial acrobatics, the first act of Et Lux presents an interconnected series of vignettes in which human sensuality, whether hetero, homo or other, tentatively flowers.

But each beginning is doomed. Destructive forces from without or corrosive distortions from within nip each flowering in the bud. A semi-naked Christ-like figure who flagellates himself into sexual arousal, women who find momentary solace in each others' bodies, naked and semi-naked couplings, all are torn apart by the dark forces of repression and power. The transitions from ecstasy to agony are tragic, the internalised hatreds and fears are deeply moving.

Part one is beautifully presented. There are no words, just driving music underscoring occasional murmurs of delight or cries of torment. Even in the most sinister moments the beauty of the performers and their skills in dance, drama and mime are remarkable, frequently reaching that wonderful point where the audience starts taking those skills for granted and becomes immersed in the unfolding imagery and story. The costuming is sumptuous, the lighting broody, the music powerful and affecting. Part 1 is, quite simply, magnificent.

Part two is less affecting. Here there is an enlightenment of sorts, the satanic monks become less of a presence and less of a threat. Eroticism becomes more open and even embraced in a fetishistic way. The hellish dichotomies of love and hate, hope and despair, seduction and destruction are gone. In place of the dark ages are a series of vignettes of emerging sexuality and sensuality, with religion a more benign presence, shame overcome, and a sense of developing liberation. But this is less First and Second Testament and more Jane Austen cut and pasted with Fifty Shades of Grey.

Less-well constructed or realised, deprived of the powerful tensions which permeate the first part, we now see a series of sometimes powerfully erotic set pieces. Tenuously (if at all) linked performances, a sort of variety show of sensuality is paraded before us. There are moments of awe and steamy, physical beauty but Et Lux part two feels under-rehearsed and less well directed and staged.

The mechanics intrude, there are awkward pauses while cowled stage hands fiddle with apparatus or remove props. Stuff, some of it very striking and impressive, happens and then the performers just vacate the stage for the next bit. The driving, surging momentum of part one is lost, as is its power and cohesiveness, its soul. At times part two comes a little too close for comfort to a night at Calendar Girls.

If part two is a tad disappointing the show overall is still damned good, with the wide-ranging technical and interpretive skills of the performers used to remarkable advantage. Like Freda Stark released from civic oversight, or Cirque du Soleil created without regard to middle-American prudishness, Et Lux is a feast for the eyes, ears and loins.

- Jay Bennie

Jay Bennie - 11th February 2016

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