Luke Murphy’s duet for himself and Carlye Eckert, Drenched, was surprisingly well-suited to the smaller First Floor Theater at La MaMa Moves! festival, but failed to bring to light any new ideas or juxtapositions of its male–female relationship theme.

Luke Murphy and Carlye Eckert © All rights reserved by Ellen Jacobs Associates
Luke Murphy and Carlye Eckert
© All rights reserved by Ellen Jacobs Associates

The First Floor Theater was consumed by several projector screens, of varying sizes, and three rectangles of also varying sizes were laid out in white spike tape on the black floor. Much of the piece was accompanied by video and voiceovers of famous love scenes from films, occasionally referenced by the two dancers but most often serving as a backdrop.

Ms Eckert is a spectacularly smooth mover, able to inject even the most mundane of phrases with slicing dynamics and an enviable sureness between floorwork and standing. Mr Murphy, the choreographer, came across as slightly less assured: he is tightly wound and bound, often purposely sickling his limbs and spending much of his time in inward rotation. Together, the two of them have impeccable timing; though this piece was not a world première – it debuted in 2012’s Absolute Dublin Fringe Festival – the synchronization of the two dancers’ movement belies the piece’s newness. In solo moments, Ms Eckert commands the stage, even when she abandons all pretense of movement and takes a seat at the downstage stage right corner, picks up a microphone, and begins answering the many detailed questions of an online dating service’s profile-builder. Her carefully cadenced voice, faltering more and more with the slew of seemingly ridiculous questions, always feels real and intentional.

But this piece says little that is new about the oft-danced dichotomy between man and woman, romantically involved. An example: Mr Murphy lights two spots on opposite corners of the stage, one for him and one for Ms Eckert. Each have a basin in front of them and the supplies necessary to do themselves up for what the audience supposes is a date. As innocuous music plays, the two wash their faces, change their clothes and primp. But why? Are we supposed to be comparing the differences between the two sexes when it comes to getting ready? Is this commentary on the masking of one’s identity in order to present what we suppose is the best version of ourselves when meeting someone new? Mr Murphy never references the moment again, and the vignette ends as inauspiciously as it began. It feels superfluous.

Even the title is confusing. Beer makes a prominent appearance in this dance: it is consumed by both dancers in a dance club-esque scene, and Ms Eckert later tosses beer after beer to Mr Murphy, who quickly cracks them open, takes a sip, and then tosses the nearly-full can aside. Later, buckets of water are dumped on the floor, and the two dancers skid and slide from upstage to downstage. It’s interesting to watch, for a minute or two, but what is being drenched here? Are the dancers drenched in... love? The buckets-of-water section felt as if it borrowed a little too much from the show Fuerza Bruta, too. And the entire exercise quickly became much less fun for the audience than it did for Mr Murphy and Ms Eckert.

The video and sound projection, of course, competed distractingly for my attention from the dancers. I challenge a choreographer to find a compelling and symbiotic way to incorporate video into a piece without making the audience feel as if they must choose between the two at any moment.

Only near the end of the piece, in a partnering duet, did Mr Murphy skirt something intriguing: again and again, Ms Eckert would hurl her body against him, only to be strongly repulsed by Mr Murphy. Later, when he was on his back on the floor, lifting Ms Eckert above him, she used the heels of her hands to press rather strongly against his forehead. What Mr Murphy hoped to convey with this unexpected use of violence was unclear, but it at least gave the piece a temporary break from its one-dimensional portrayal of love and heterosexual relationships.