Part of the allure of vintage film is the mismatch between the soundscape and movement, the staccato rush of characters in black and white at odds with silence, or music added long after the piece was recorded. It's this fascinating world which Michelle Heaven draws on to create dance piece, Disagreeable Object .
Heaven performs in the piece with collaborator Brian Lucas. The concept for the piece was seeded whilst Heaven was completing her masters at VCA. Lucas joined the collaboration in 2007 and performances in 2008 and 2009 were sell-outs. The piece returns for a season this evening.
"It's good returning because a lot of people missed out," says Heaven. She was originally influenced by a quote from video artist Bill Viola which discussed shifting from stillness to movement. She started to work with the idea and from that development, a character emerged. "I was always attracted to black and white films, silent films. That whole period of time in filmmaking resonated with me. Particularly when you have a sound track that isn't necessarily related [to the action in the film]. You watch movement in a very different way. They used to have that great emphasis on eye movement."
Heaven and Lucas' characters developed into a couple of dark forces against one another, but their duel proved to be over quite an unusual prize. "We worked with some writings from Jean-Paul Sartre, the book Nausea, and he had a wonderfully odd obsession with inanimate objects and they would come to life in a sense in his mind, beyond their functionality, and we played with this in the final stage of development," says Heaven.
The chosen inanimate object is a favourite of Heaven's. He humble pea, compact and perfect in construction, becomes a major feature. "The pea itself is a major inspiration for this work," says Heaven. "I find it very comical. The two characters have an obsession with it and they crave it; it just has a sort of power in the work." The pea also represents the insignificance of some things we compete for, as Heaven describes them: "The banal objects that are otherwise meaningless or not important or powerful. A pea is such a weak little vegetable and it is such a driver."
Rather than design the characters, they seemed to be conceived of the creative process. "It was more what was embodied in me and then through time it became more clear," says Heaven. "She's pretty evil, in a good way." The mood of the piece reflects this. "It's kind of macabre; it's dark and it would be a black comedy, I guess."
The two characters, man and woman, played by the diminutive Heaven and the towering Lucas, play with the concept of scale in many ways. "Michelle and I are sort of opposites," says Lucas. "If there were a gothic butler from hell, it would be my character. Michelle is small and I'm very tall, but I think the two characters share a sense of a love of drama. I think they love the melodrama as well but definitely it's a power play between the two of us."
The scale concept continues throughout the piece. The scale of importance of inanimate, meaningless objects takes on high importance in their relationship. "The whole work does play around with scale - size and time," says Lucas. While the characters are man and woman, Lucas insists their relationship is 'anti-romantic', and focuses more on how "powerless people try and find power over others."
The status of the characters is that of servants, "the people below the stairs - the butler and the maid," says Lucas. There might be some wicked attraction, but that's not the focus of their exchange, their desire and jealously over the pea.
Disagreeable Object is at The Arts House Meat Market, 5 Blackwood St, North Melbourne from March 16-19. Tickets are $25 - $30 and you can book at dancemassive.com.au or 9322 3713.