A question of visions

Zsuzsanna Soboslay, Mixed Metaphor Week One

Do bodily suffering and the etching of emotion and identity go hand-in-hand? Is the quandary of living, breathing (and hence performing) concomitant with agony? Classically speaking, an agon is a trial or contest between humans and the gods. What humans are we? And, in performance, whose gods are being served?


1. Saints: Tony Yap, St Sebastian

St Sebastian lies bound downstage in a white square. Four mourners (are they?) approach through a curtain of incense, in distilled expressions of hope and/or despair. The piece is a kind of apotheosis of Tony Yap’s work: the best crafted, the most unified of his visions, with (thank god) the almost trademark suffering taken off the female body (or male body in a skirt) at last. I smell Renato Cuoccolo and IRAA here, as I have in all of Tony’s work: the slow group walk, the contained, strained emotion, the sense of a cruel enormity. But, as with much of Renato’s work, I wonder what we are being called into, the purpose of the event beyond the actors’ portrayals of suffering. St Sebastian’s references are Mishima and the Holocaust via Gorecki. Yet what’s Mishima to him, or he to Mishima, that he should weep for him? The escalating voice reading from Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask is a give-away: a steady crescendo from whisper to bellow that leaves little sense in the words. There is a titter in the audience—a response, I think, of laughing at the artifice. Says my companion, tellingly, “Why do they have to make it sound like Orson Welles?”

Whose suffering is it, and rendered to what end? I do not feel for, with or about the performances onstage. Watching becomes voyeurism, perhaps less so here than in Yap’s earlier works because of the sweeping immediacy forced on us by the inherently internalising power of the tear-jerker second movement of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3. But, as Mishima himself warns, the “intoxication” found in the “conjunction” of spiritual impulse and music can be “sinister”, and the sado-masochism (not to mention homo-eroticism) of this source is, it seems to me, quite dangerously at odds with Gorecki’s dedication to the Gestapo-incarcerated 18-year old (Yap unthinkingly writes “await(ing) her punishment”!). One has to be careful with one’s sources. Mixed metaphors indeed.


2. Sinners: James Welch, Gretel Taylor, Blindness

Blindness seems to me a work of good intentions, tackling a situation of hidden domestic violence. Its source is the “installation” (really a simple exhibition) of photographs of shuttered windows by James Welch. Structurally, this piece suffers from an unvaried rhythm, each channel-switched episode of equal length, dulling the dance’s emotional potential. This feels like student work, albeit with chilling moments, not prodding far enough in movement or concept into the violence and complicit silence it seeks to expose and in some ways understand. Like a newspaper report, it fails to make one recognise one’s own violence in order to help change the givens in the world.


3. Weldschmertz: Sarah Neville, Heliograph

Applause for Heliograph was loudest for the highly accomplished visuals and sound track. The dance—an amorphous body in a torrent of urban environments—moves to one rhythm whatever the source, the face is placid throughout. We may be amoeba, but we are also human: to dance one and not the other denies evolution of substance and ideas, and it could be argued that even free-floating molecules have consciousness and will, which the best Butoh work (which this tries to emulate) understands.


4. Tigers: Lou Duckett, Kate Sulan, Hanna Hoyne, Kitesend

Miss seeing you. See missing you…The kites flown in Kitesend are the people themselves, the holders of the strings, a motley trio each lining different clouds. One is ruggedly nuggetty, one a controlled hysteric, the other an Issey Miyake mistake completely covered in an avalanche of paper folds. Her own eyes papered invisible, she waves from atop her plinth to the others who do not see. The gesture is poignant and powerful in its minimalism. She slowly concertinas to the floor, supine to the others’ erect continuous. An audience member gently pats her in her isolation. The moment is incredibly moving.

Mixed Metaphor Week One, Dancehouse: Heliograph, Sarah Neville, sound Matthew Thomas, light Nick Mollison, image Nick Gaffney, text Becky Jenkin; Blindness, concept and design James Welch, movement Gretel Taylor, co-dancers Renee Whitehouse, Telford Scully; St Sebastian, director Tony Yap, music arrangements Jennifer Thomas, performers Lynne Santos, Ben Rogan, Adam Forbes, Dean Linguey, Monica Tesselaar, Pauline Webb; Quartet, Jennifer Thomas, Jasmine Aly, Siona McLoughnane, Mark Gandrabur; Kitesend, Lou Duckett, Kate Sulan, Hanna Hoyne; Dancehouse, North Carlton, June 25 – 28

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 4

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 1998