“Douglas” by Robbie Synge

“And this came to be my gripe with the postmodern aversion to closure. It’s like, Grow up already! Take some ­responsibility for your narrative! I’m not looking for the meaning, but I am looking for a meaning, and you’re denying me a vital element of making sense of any story, which is its ending! Aversion to closure can be refreshing at certain historical moments, when ossified cultural narratives need to be challenged. But it loses its subversive bite in a culture that celebrates eternal adolescence. It becomes part of the problem.”

Jonathan Franzen

“Douglas” by Robbie Synge, which was performed at the Place last Saturday evening, would have you believe that it’s as irritating as any other conceptual and postmodernist work out there can be. The work consists mainly in a man (Robbie Synge) dragging several pedestrian props around the stage (a few wooden chairs, a light, a couple of weights, a golf ball) and connecting them in various ways – propping them up, attaching them with rope, both to other objects and to himself – and then making these structures collapse. This is reconfigured in many ways, and of course the possibilities are endless.

The program notes describe the work as follows:

“A lone figure is framed through an exposed theatre staging with a number of simple objects. Through various interactions and constructed compositions with body and objects, the work pursues an idea of ‘interconnectedness’ where objects impart movement upon the body, and where body and object become interchangeable.”

And that’s it, for 50 minutes.

“Douglas” is a work that manages to have its cake and eat it, because it manages to inject meaning without pomp. This is what David Foster Wallace meant when he spoke about the true virtuosity possible within postmodernist literature – that postmodernist art that is alive is the sort of work that will “do the most fatal thing – remind you you are reading words on the page – and still knock your socks off”.

In the same way, “Douglas” is as dry, aesthetically speaking, as postgraduate prose, yet the lighting confers some sort of aura to the props. The objects are boring in themselves, and yet the systems Synge creates in arranging them are instantly engaging. He moves around the stage with little affect, in true Rainer fashion, and yet small gestures make for oddly strong characterisation, and we see real personality emerge. Where Douglas would have you think you’re at the Place watching conceptual dance, you’re all of a sudden in a shed at the foot of the Scottish mountains watching some guy heaving stuff around. In an age (and part of the world) where contemporary dance is inexplicably [or, explicably] trying to forge itself various corporate identities, maybe “Douglas” is exactly what the dance world needs: some bloke single-mindedly dragging stuff around his shed somewhere in Scotland, away from the noise. I envy that bloke.

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