At the end of Australian company Lucy Guerin Inc’s Split, which continues through October 13 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, the two performers take their well-deserved bows. While Melanie Lane is in the blue dress she wore during the fifty-minute duet, Lilian Steiner is still naked, as she has been since the start. It’s an unusually fascinating moment; when Lane and Steiner first took the stage, the nudity was as bold as it was curious. It feels far more natural as the show goes on, quickly becoming barely noticeable as the two women interact. It’s eventually not an issue at all. But it’s as if Guerin (Corridor, Untrained) is making yet one more point as Steiner now stands before the audience, still in the buff, then runs offstage and comes back covered to more applause. It’s just a human, female body — a vastly talented one at that — and no one else is going to control it.
Split is a mesmerizing piece that follows two women as time and space close in on them. In the first section, Lane and Steiner are in complete synchronicity, moving to the exact same choreography within a large white rectangle. Their arms and hands swirl, they writhe on the floor, the only differences being Lane’s dress and her long, flowing tresses, which is countered by Steiner’s tightly pulled-back hair. It’s as if they’re two parts of the same woman, the public and the private, each unaware of the other’s existence. They’re not mirror images; instead, it’s like Steiner is an X-ray version of Lane, revealing what the body is doing inside the clothing, every bone and muscle celebrating form and movement. After twenty minutes, they cut the black stage in half with a vertical strip of white tape and each stays within that smaller box for the next ten minutes, but now facing each other, their movements consisting of sharp angles, their relationship taking on a fierce, primal quality that borders on jealousy. Their floor space is halved again after five minutes, then two and a half, and so on until they have mere seconds in a tiny area in which they are unable to stand side-by-side. Each segment is lit differently by Paul Lim, accompanied by UK composer Scanner’s (Robin Rimbaud) ever-present percussive electronic score. It’s an enchanting, compelling work whose exploration of the female form falls somewhere between scientific and sensual (and even cannibalistic at one point). Split — the name refers to the way the dancers keep cutting the floor in half as well as how they are like one woman split in two — flows so seamlessly that the nudity fades into the background about halfway through, only to reappear at the curtain call, as Guerin investigates the inner and outer beauty of the human body.