Sometimes I Have To Lean In…: smart, funny, unexpected

Gerard Bester supports Alan Parker during his demonstration of time travel through space. Photo credit: John Hogg.

Alan Parker and Gerard Bester have crafted a journey that spans thirty years. A journey that has us laughing at first and eventually doing that slow nodding-in-agreement thing at a rather poignant reflection on life and the memories we hold which shape who we are.

The intimate honesty and vulnerable sharing in Sometimes I Have To Lean In… makes me want to use the artists’ first names. So I will.

Alan and Gerard are wandering the space as the audience enters, playing a mixtape soundtrack from a sound system on stage. They take turns changing the music – skipping to their song preference, a song that makes them remember something happy, perhaps.

We’re not quite certain what they’re up to, and the feeling we get is that they’re not either. Gerard sidles up behind Alan and goes in for contact, a lean, hoping for a connection. Alan gives him a side eye and walks away. What unfolds is an uncomfortable exchange which in their obvious self-consciousness, earns a sympathetic audience who chuckles along at the recognisably uneasy negotiation between two personalities, two bodies up close and personal.

Sometimes I Have To Lean In… is playful, fun, and funny.

Together these two men clown around, teasing each other with mutual adoration. Alan says, “When I first saw Gerard perform I wanted to be him”. Gerard retorts, “When I first saw Alan perform I wanted to be him. I mean, I wanted to play Alan playing me”.

In pretend interviews, they slowly melt off their chairs in a bid to disappear from the journalists’ attention and questions on fame. They crack silly jokes. Gerard pulls out Alan’s production journal from the work he premiered at the Dance Umbrella 2007, The Brightness Of Beige, and together they affectionately mock the naiveté of their younger, green, choreographic selves… acting out obvious, child-like gestural movements to Radiohead’s Creep. In this innocent ordinariness, they reveal the anxiety which accompanies dreaming of accolades and the fear of failure in this fickle arts industry of ours. But oh, did we laugh.

It’s a quirky work. Until it’s not.

In blue darkness, as Alan slowly dances off-kilter, off-axis, Gerard quietly and somewhat sadly speaks of those who claim the limelight and those who hold up the walls… but walls are useful, he explains, they hold up the roof.

From this touching scene, the mood changes when the leaning turns bad. A man in a bar leans… leans far to the right. Gerard’s anger with him marks the shift. Earlier, in the interviews their white male identity is raised. We giggle at it then, at their honest admission. Now, as the stage darkens, Gerard appears in a spotlight upstage, distanced from us, isolated. No doubt this imagery is linked to the far right leaning man… in questions of identity, in the frustration of sharing white identity with those you share nothing else with, in the responsibilities of admitting to and doing something about being white and privileged in this country.

It’s all fun and games until we have to lean in and face the ugly truth.

Parker and Bester’s Sometimes I Have To Lean In… took me by surprise. In a good way. It is highly recommended and even though they’re both white, both men, “both don’t look like dancers”… their smart dance-theatre making, and openness on stage can speak to all.

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