An almost perfect score: Sydney Festival’s Kiss & Cry

It begins like a fairytale – two people meet, there’s the heady giddy exhilaration of falling in love; there’s joy, heartbreak, sadness; a tiny glimmer of something else. Except there’s a twist: the two people – figures – are not human, but rather two dexterous hands. In Jaco Van Dormael and Michèle Anne De Mey’s Kiss & Cry, playing at Carriageworks for the last days of the Sydney Festival, a romance is played out on a miniature scale whilst simultaneously being filmed and screened above the action itself.

The stage itself is bare, save for various tables, tracks, and rigs, supporting all manner of miniature landscapes and sets, and as the dancers – the hands really are dancers in their own right – move through them, each setting is removed once it has been used to make way for a new one, and another illusion is created while the hands are busy dancing elsewhere. Part of the magic of the show comes from the double-event of its creation – you’re drawn to the screen above the stage, but you cannot stop watching them acting and filming it below, a kind of live picture-in-picture behind-the-scenes making-of segment which is happening simultaneously with the film itself.
Perhaps similar in style to the work of Michel Gondry, there is a rare beauty here which comes from the low-fi low-tech nature of its sets, its being, in stark juxtaposition with the believability of it, how real it looks. After several minutes, you find yourself believing that they are not hands but people, such is their nimble and carefully choreographed movement. In stark contrast to James Thierrée’s Tabac Rouge also playing at the Sydney Festival, Kiss & Crylets playing and imagination take over. Sometimes the hands [become] fish in an aquarium, sometimes upside-down worlds [take] shape. Sometimes scenarios of chases in the desert, and sometimes words [turn] up and [inspire] us... lots of little worlds [taking] shape,” as De Mey writes in the program.
Taking its name from the ‘kiss and cry bench’ where figureskaters wait for their score, Kiss & Cry’s bittersweet narration (written by Thomas Gunzig) and hands move you because bodies cannot lie, because there is something alchemical in watching the absurd become familiar; something alien yet comforting about hands (and sometimes feet) taking on the characteristics of people, the kind of free-spirited play we amused ourselves with when we were young, before words and cynicism and broken hearts and tax forms took up our time. We are not sure which way is up or down, even when we can see it being made in front of us because, like the prestige, we want to be fooled, to be caught up in a story which takes us far away from the here and now, from a present full of politicians, death, and corruption, into a world where pureness of spirit and emotion are paramount, a big heart goes a long way, and lost people are found again.
Like nothing you’ve ever seen before or since, Kiss & Cry will make you laugh and cry, sometimes all at once, and will leave you walking into the night with wet eyes, exhilarated by its poetry and breathtakingly delicacy.

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