irregular revelation

philipa rothfield: carlee mellow, expectation

Carlee Mellow, Expectation

Carlee Mellow, Expectation

WOMAN TEETERS IN THE DISTANCE, A GIANT PUMPKIN FOR A HEAD. SHE CUTS A SURREAL FIGURE. SHE IS IN HEELS, SKITTERING ACROSS A SMALL PROSCENIUM ARCH STAGE. VEERING FROM SIDE TO SIDE, SEEKING EQUILIBRIUM, THE WOMAN-VEGETABLE FAILS TO SETTLE, FAILS TO ACHIEVE STASIS. SHE ABANDONS THE TASK, SQUIRRELING ALONG TOWARDS THE DISTANT AUDIENCE. THE PROSCENIUM ARCH OFFERS A TALE, OF WOMAN AS OBJECT, AS HYBRID, BUFFETED BY ELEMENTS BEYOND HER CONTROL.

She is so far away that we watch almost dispassionately. The frame in a distance flattens. When she leaves, she becomes more real, a body rather than an image. No longer part vegetable, she comes towards us, moving to a melange of rhythms. She draws upon a history of dance training, pulling out moves and stringing them along a line. Inexorably, she approaches. As she nears, her body becomes round, flesh, soft. She dances nearer and nearer until her face becomes a player. Emotions, affects and intensities flicker then pass. Not exactly real but not quite surreal either, like switching stations on the radio.

Facing the audience, she emits a string of sounds. We are close now. The music is part of all this somehow. It matches the shifts, the proximities, the intensities, the progress. It seems we are at a peak. Clothes come off. Her naked body speaks, of dancing; muscular, buff. Even nudity tells a story. When the performers in the musical Hair stripped off, their nudity made a statement. Mellow’s nakedness emerges after a slew of expletives, like a full stop.

From a linear point of view, thus far the gaze of the audience has been increasingly enhanced by the tactile approach of a body. The volume of its flesh has been continuously increasing. Beginning as a distant figure, a subject-object, she is now more assertive, an intensity making decisions rather than a thing that responds.

The next phase is more twisted. She finds clothes and pursues a duet with a rope, melding and folding in movement. She traces a retreat to the rear of the theatre space, threading her way towards an ultimate inversion. She hangs upside down, like the Hanged Man of the Tarot pack. Technically and traditionally, the Hanged Man represents submission. Not submission as annihilation but giving up something to achieve something else. A creation through reversal, perhaps.

While Expectation follows a linear pathway of increasing revelation, it also reverts into a twisted transformation. Perhaps nothing is revealed. Is something expressed? Mmm. What I perceive is a powerful commitment, an intensity of feeling, a modulation of theatrical effect and an episodic movement through phases. The cavernous Arts House space has been treated to good effect, creating frames and scenarios that make this piece feel like more than a solo work. The shifting occupation of its massive depth—far, near, high, low and diagonally—cuts back from any linear sense of progress. We are rather treated to a series of differences that vary in intensity. Mellow exudes a performative strength that seems to heighten as she comes nearer. Perhaps her own energy becomes more directed toward the observer when she vocalises and strips or perhaps the observer reciprocates something in response.

Expectation follows Carlee Mellow’s performance in Deborah Hay’s solo project, In the Dark (RT98, p22). It resonates with Hay’s attitude towards performative attention. Its theatrical tenor also suggests Margaret Cameron’s dramaturgical influence—whimsical, surreal, with a strong performative focus. Since Hay’s work is about performance quality rather than any physical look, the movement belongs to Mellow. There is a trace of Ros Warby too. Mellow’s weird soundings reminded me of Warby’s vocalisations when performing Hay’s work, as if both women were abducted by the same aliens.

My enduring impression of Expectation is a sense of delight at Carlee Mellow’s courage and commitment. There is a freshness in this work; a degree of structure but also an aliveness that left me alert. Perhaps this piece is not alone in its concern to achieve something in the moment, to connect with its audience, but it does so in its own way.

Arts House, Future Tense: Expectation, choreographer, performer Carlee Mellow, composer Kelly Ryall, design Bluebottle, dramaturgical consultant Margaret Cameron, Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, Nov 9-14, 2010

RealTime issue #101 Feb-March 2011 pg. 41

1 February 2011
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