“It’s like I was sitting with a bunch of children,” offered an audience member following the U.S. première of Ana Kokkinos’ psycho-sexual obsession ballet. Clearly, with its unabashedly honest nudity, steamy scenes of bondage, masturbation, sodomy and even some old-fashioned fucking, this is no flick for kids. Sadly, many of the wrapper crinkling, soda gulping chatterers missed more than the split-screen opening ballet troupe warm up, they totally missed the thought-provoking themes and emotions that flooded the senses of everyone else for nearly two hours. Perhaps a revision to the definition of “Restricted” should be expanded to include IQ as well as age.
Daniel, principal dancer in a contemporary Australian dance company, leaves the safe confines of a theatre following dress rehearsal on a quest to buy a packet of cigarettes for his dance and life partner, Bridget (Anna Torv). Thirty minutes before curtain, with her star nowhere to be seen, Isabel (shrewdly played by Greta Scacchi) the company’s artistic director has no choice but to prep the understudy to take over.
At this juncture, the mystery is quickly forgotten as the screen becomes a miracle of flesh and fabric. Meryl Tankard’s fluid choreography (featuring metaphorically spot-on ropes to provide a compelling puppet on their master’s strings image) wisely emphasizes the physical rather than the more difficult to sustain lyrical motion. With him/her every step of the way is Tristan Milani’s close-body, edgy cinematography that, in turn is complemented by Cezary Skubiszewski‘s string-rich, frequently minimalist score (happily echoing the timbre of Kronos Quartet and Philip Glass’ arpeggio-centric lines—cross-references below), the icing on this visual cake is served up via Martin Connor’s exemplary editing as we soar to the limits of art and marvel at the above-the-laneway sky.
For it’s that brick-walled slight space where Daniel is abducted, sedated and carried off by three masked women who wish to explore every bare inch of the artist’s firmly sculpted body, yet even more than the full buffet of their insatiable sex feast, they want him to “Dance for us—most of all.”
Twelve days later, the parched-lip shell of a man is literally dumped out of a moving car and left to put his forever-altered life back together, even as the sights, sounds and touch of people and objects unleash vivid replays of his captivity. Long uses every ounce of his considerable skills and magnificent frame to courageously reveal his private parts and inner fears. With purposely little dialogue in Kokkinos’ and co-writer Andrew Bovell’s rendering of Rupert Thomson’s novel, he must carry the film with every gesture, leap and steady decay of his soul as the masked trio (a wonderful homage to Eyes Wide Shut) have their way with him even as his caged resistance sometimes blurs into hot acquiescence.
Helping him put the pieces back together are a specialized cop, Mark (Colin Friels in a tastefully understated performance) and post-captivity girl friend Julie (Deborah Mailman).
Kokkinos challenges her cast and audience alike. Despite a few puzzling details (a pack-a-day habit from a contemporary solo dancer; the untreated blood stains on Daniel’s face after a failed attempt at confronting one of his captors in a public washroom, which led to a beating and arrest) that needlessly tarnish the level of believability in a story that’s far beyond the ordinary, the magnificent achievement of turning on and off her audience seemingly at will makes this a production that any serious film buff will have to experience. JWR