Bell Chimes duet – 31:35 – 35:50
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In the “Bell Chimes” duet from DV8’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, Lloyd Newson (choreographer and performer) and Russell Maliphant (performer) dance unusual partnering that somehow contains both tender intimacy and violent aggression. The duet is situated within the narrative context of the story of serial killer Dennis Nilsen, who would lure men back to his apartment to strangle, kill, and then hang out with them.
The duet begins with Maliphant, standing in nothing but underwear and boots, facing a mirror in a dark room as sounds of bell chimes play the semblance of a hopeful dirge. Newson-as-Nilsen approaches from behind Maliphant, wearing a similar expression (and hair cut) but covered in far more clothing than the latter. Their gazes align with unmeeting eyes as Newson manipulates Maliphant’s ready but yielding, almost-lifeless body. Newson burrows his head underneath Maliphant’s arm and walks forward, causing Maliphant’s hand to trace along his shoulder. This theme of forced yet tender physical intimacy continues throughout the dance, always with Newson initiating and Maliphant yielding. In one moment, Newson drapes Maliphant’s hand on his shoulder and leans away, causing Maliphant’s hand to fall gently down the slope of Newson’s torso, the perverse simulation of a lover’s caress. The chiming bells of the musical score follow the slow rise and fall of a beautifully discordant melody as the interactions between the two men pulse from sudden forceful acts that fade into tender, sustained resolutions.
The partnering in this duet exemplifies how released, draping weight can be used to lift a partner. Maliphant never demonstrates muscular exertion, though he does subtly redirect Newson’s force to cause himself to fall in certain ways or directions. Most of the help that Newson gets to shift and position Maliphant around the space is the weight of Maliphant’s mostly limp body. He allows Maliphant to drape across his back or fall into his arms, shifting the limbs as they trace heavily along the floor. This release of tension towards the surfaces of contact affords the partners unusual resolutions to contact initiations that they use to retell and reimagine between their bodies the sad disturbing story of Dennis Nilsen and his victims.
In his Dance Research Journal article on Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, Gavin Wittje proposes that this duet and most of the physical relationships in Dead Dreams represent not only the story of Dennis Nilsen, but also of the “toxic shame” homosexual men historically feel about their sexual identities (63). Wittje also argues that Newson, by identifying with Nilsen’s and admitting to his own brokenness, elicited a kind of pitiful empathy, seeking to transform shame into redemption through connection (via the performance), and that the audience “… in our visceral reception of and compassionate response to [the performer’s] gestural expressions of pain and yearning come to know both their faces and Nilsen’s” (65).
The grief and dissatisfaction in Newson’s performance extends beyond his expressions and into the choreography. We watch Newson fail over and over as he tries to connect with an unaffected Maliphant. Each beautiful bit of partnering sullied by the unreciprocal nature of their union. The unimaginable dance of a serial killer and his recent victim stands in as a metaphor for any unrequited affection that might pervert, by totalizing, our imagined understanding of another person. But Wittje sees this as more than glorification or pure self-loathing.
Somehow just admitting to our brokenness within the context of sexuality can be nourishing, for the cycle of apology initiated by a dropping of our guard and an affirmation of vulnerability immerses us and our partners in a larger circuit of desire. We dissolve in an asubjective flow, as Deleuze or Guattari would say. Instead of seeking to stand outside the flow and draw from it, we feed into it and feed our partners, and come to feel no longer excluded, but included —by the very fact of our suffering and dissolution—in something much larger, something that heals. (Wittje 76-77)
Hinton, David, Lloyd Newson, and Sally Herbert. Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men. London: ArtHaus Musik, 1990. Internet resource.
Wittje, Gavin. “Ethics in a Time of Aids: Dv8 Physical Theatre’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men.” Dance Research Journal. 47.2 (2015): 63-78. Print.