A body brought to book

Douglas Leonard: Brian Lucas, The Book of Revelation(s)

Some astounding contemporary performers came out of the artist-driven Brisbane venues The Crab Room and Cherry Herring in the 1990s, and they have continued to astonish with their pursuit of strikingly individual lines of development. Christine Johnston and Lisa O’Neil come to mind (both singly and in collaboration), as do The Kransky Sisters (including Johnston), who recently wowed the Melbourne Festival. Brian Lucas is also of this ilk and generation. He has remarked that his career decision to remain in Queensland has paid off in terms of a supportive and non-competitive peer milieu and an environment that has nurtured the continuation of his practice. These are artists who are deeply personal in their approach, less the progeny of a suspect deep north Gothicism than the result of new found freedoms in the aftermath of the Bjelke-Petersen regime. It is work that is singularly impressive and has legs, despite sometimes falling outside the neat categories of touring bodies. It is self-proven and self-generated, rather than subject to fashions.

Lucas’s The Book of Revelation(s) is the product of his ongoing tenure as artist-in-residence at the Brisbane Powerhouse. It has matured through a lengthy process, beginning as part of the EMERGENCY project funded by the Australia Council and performed as a work-in-progress at Sydney’s Performance Space during the Antistatic dance event in 2001, at Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the National Review of Live Art 2002, and the Brisbane Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival 2004. It is his second major solo work of dance theatre since his acclaimed Monster produced under the same aegis—a moving and tender piece about family and an ended relationship.

This work is a successful interweaving of text and contemporary dance with a beautifully crafted score by sound artist Brett Collery adding its own layer of meanings. Lucas is a strong, mature performer, and his tall, imposing physicality and tangible inner repose lend authority to his utilisation of the simplest, most iconic modern dance moves. Lucas is less interested in investigating new pathways of movement than in exploring personal themes, so meaning is foremost when he moves from naturalism to abstraction.

Repetitions in different contexts suggest the accumulated ‘scars’ we wear. Lucas wants to describe being in motion, the process of momentarily becoming the idiosyncratic ‘I’ that emerges from multiple selves. He moves, as does the text, by association and metaphor, dealing concretely with quite complex philosophical ideas. As a raconteur Lucas is engaging, fascinating us with the details of his life.

The structure is elegantly formal, composed of 10 sections, 10 words, 10 gestures, 10 steps, 10 songs etc. The piece is driven by a series of encounters delivered by anecdote and powerful physical exposition. Lucas’ grand guignol treatment of the findings of the coroner’s report on Mary Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s sixth victim, is an outrageous tour de force performed chillingly to Pink Martini’s Bolero and effectively enhanced by Morgan Randall’s clever lighting. This is essentially a detective story, and Lucas is careful in laying his clues. His uncovering of an accidental fatality that occurred in his family before he was born was laconically (devastatingly!) disclosed at the end by a slide projection. As Lucas moved between projector and screen, his body was visibly made permeable by this new found knowledge as he tangentially recited his own bodily litany of sensuous memories (“That was then, this is now…”). Poignantly, the body cannot go back, cannot inhabit a time before there were only stories, only this story, this performance.

Nudity is confronting for certain viewers, including some of those who aver the most sophistication in the hierarchies of looking. But it is crucial to Lucas’s idea that the body is the “book of revelation(s)”, “a personal text that continues throughout our lives, written and embellished by the experience of being.” Lucas’s divestiture in fact asks questions about the body’s relegation to the necessities of function, its performability, a constant self-questioning of limits and expectations that surmount purely artistic considerations.

He deftly and wittily explores the endemic preoccupation in his solo work with being both subject and object, self and other. He darkly circles the changes on this notion when he speculates about meeting Paris Hilton in the flesh but concludes that it is pointless because he already knows her cloyingly enough—through her media representation. But the inference is that the highly mystified concept of the artist’s ‘presence’ is both a presence and an absence: “Now, I’m not really sleeping—but you know that. Who’d sleep on stage?”

Ten things to admire about this work: it is accessible; it is not hurried; it knows when to stop; its sophistication is stimulating, not intimidating; it is funny and frightening; it makes you feel you live in your own skin; it is in-your-face live; it is about death; it is consummately ‘cooked’; it validates a long working life in the arts.

The Book of Revelation(s), creator/performer Brian Lucas, sound Brett Collery, lighting Morgan Randall; Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse, Dec 15-18, 2004

RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 15

© Douglas Leonard; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2005