Art: a forced entertainment

Keith Gallasch

Forced Entertainment

Forced Entertainment

Forced Entertainment

Over the last decade the Adelaide Festival has developed something more than the bold programming which has been its inheritance. It is a thematic acuity which in the hands of artistic directors Barrie Kosky and Robyn Archer yielded events that systematically provoked the intelligence as well as the senses. The performance program for Stephen Page’s 2004 festival has a number of intriguing elements, but what does it add up to?

If contemporary performance is your thing then you can comfortably program yourself for the festival, or not so comfortably if some of these companies live up to their rhetoric. There’s UK premiere performance ensemble, Forced Entertainment, making their long-awaited first visit to Australia. With 22 performers Canada’s Canstage is presenting its award-winning, wordless account of Gogol’s The Overcoat and Diary of a Madman to a Shostakovitch score. Madrid’s La Carniceria Teatro (“the butchery of theatre”) explores the underside of leisure time in the everyday with 3 performers in I Bought a Spade at IKEA to Dig My Own Grave.

The affinity between performance and contemporary dance is strong these days, so you could certainly add to your selections from the dance program—Emio Greco and PC’s Conjunto di Nero, ADT’s Held (see p30) and Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Triple Bill (with Indonesian performer and choreographer Mugiyono Kasido). You could also add contemporary music to the mix with Elena Kats-Chernin’s new opera, Undertow (director/creator Vanhakartano; lyricist Andrea Rienets; State Opera of South Australia/ Finnish National Opera) and the concerts Absolute Zappa (the Absolute Ensemble play Frank Zappa) and Blood on the Floor (Absolute with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra), UK composer Mark-Anthony Turnage’s bracing fusion of classical and jazz forms. The great John Scofield is the guitarist on the recorded version (Mark-Anthony Turnage, British Music Collection, DECCA CD 468 814-2), so it’ll be interesting to see how Absolute’s guitarist measures up.

There’s one other vital ingredient for your programming, something to take you back to the roots of performance in the living tradition of the Dhuwa and Yirritja clans of the Yirrkala peoples in Body Dreaming, directed by Banduk Marika and Djakapurra Munyarrun (ex-Bangarra).

If you want more body in your festival choices, Circus Oz will be in town with The Big, Big Top Show in their tent and The Blue Show at Universal Playground (a welcome reprise of the Red Square format of 1996). New York’s Daredevil Opera Company promises “pyro-rock-stunt-clown” mayhem in another Edinburgh Fringe sell-out success.

Plays usually don’t figure strongly in Adelaide Festivals, but there are some distinctive ones in the 2004 program. Guy Masterson and the Assembly Theatre interpret 12 Angry Men, the stage and film courtroom drama classic, with 12 standup comics—a big hit at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe. Also from the UK comes 100, The Imaginary Body, about 4 people in limbo faced with choosing the one memory they will each live with for eternity. Company B is presenting Gulpilil, with the film actor and dancer David Gulpilil directed by Neil Armfield. The State Theatre Company of South Australia has adapted Robert Dessaix’s novel Night Letters for the stage. Wesley Enoch directs RiverlanD for Windmill Performing Arts with Indigenous performers and children from Kuarna Plains School. Inspired by the art of Ian W Abdullah, RiverlanD is written by Scott Rankin and draws on the spirit of place and the impact of the great River Murray Flood of 1956.

The rest of the program is pretty much straight festival fare and should keep conservative Adelaide Festival-goers happy, something of a return to the mixed bag of yore. However, the festival’s best, combined with the pull of the Adelaide Biennial, the Adelaide Fringe and the inevitable influx of artists for the Performing Arts Market, the Fringe and the Artists and Writers Weeks should make for a strong turnout. Bookings are reputedly already heavy.

So what does the 2004 festival add up to? There’s a welcome commitment to contemporary art practices, including some bold choices, especially Forced Entertainment. The Indigenous arts strand is the festival’s great strength, with Gulpilil, RiverlanD, Body Dreaming, Bangarra’s Triple Bill, Peter Sculthorpe’s Requiem (with the Pitjanjatjara Choir and William Barton on didjeridu) and Talk’n Up Country, a collection of exhibitions, talks, screenings and events centred around Tandanya Cultural Institute and including a Sacred Symposium at Elder Hall, February 29, featuring leading Aboriginal artists and thinkers. In total it’s a modest representation of what Indigenous art adds up to in this country, but it does make it an integral part of the festival, certainly a more restrained vision than Peter Sellars’, but a significant one.

Forced Entertainment

Forced Entertainment has been a collaborative, cross-artform ensemble since 1984 in theatre, performance, digital media, video and installation, creating work that “asks questions and fuels dreams…Our long-term commitment is not to specific formal strategies, but simply to challenging and provocative art…” (www.forced.co.uk).

What Forced Entertainment has to say about their work reveals parallels with their Australian peers in contemporary performance. They share an ongoing concern with the possibilities of performance, often by abandoning the usual rules and forms of theatre. They address their audience directly and insist on “being with the audience in real time.” They have gone beyond acting—”we made versions of ourselves.”

In his talk, “A six thousand one hundred and twenty seven word manifesto on liveness in three parts with three interludes” at the Live Culture forum (Tate Modern, London 2003, www.tate.org.uk/audiovideo/ live_culture_conference.htm), artistic director Tim Etchells details the company’s vision and its dialogue with its audience. Our capacity to generate versions of the self is, for Etchells, what enables us to survive as we encounter the various sets of rules, games and structures that comprise our reality. Not surprisingly he sees this as operating on the border between reality and fiction.

Forced Entertainment is offering 2 works for Adelaide festival audiences, First Night and And on the Thousandth Night…, each demonstrating the company’s preoccupations. First Night is very much about performance (of all kinds), while the epic And on the Thousandth Night… is about story-telling, another aspect of performance and, as in its inspiration One Thousand and One Nights, on occasion a matter of survival—the lie that saves or a culture preserved in its stories.

First Night (2001) was commissioned by the Rotterdamse Schouwburg (Rotterdam), the SpielArt Festival (Munich) and Festival Theaterformen (Hanover). The company describes it as “a kind of disastrous vaudeville” with a sparkling lineup of 8 performers opening “with a grand welcome, but soon disintegrat[ing] into dark predictions of the future, psychotic escapology acts, unexpected dances and unhinged show-biz anecdotes.” True to the company’s mission First Night “concerns itself with the nature of the theatrical event itself, exploring what happens when it all goes wrong and when audience expectations are challenged or toyed with.” Historically, Adelaide audiences have been more tolerant of such challenges than their Melbourne and Sydney counterparts (where the respective festivals have been less provocatively programmed), but Forced Entertainment could provide a new level of testing given First Night’s reputation as the company’s most confronting work.

And on the Thousandth Night… (originally for Festival Ayloul, Beirut 2002) is a 6-hour durational performance. The audience can come and go as they wish during this epic of interrupted storytelling which “explores the live relationship between a story and its public, a story and its teller…A story is told, made up live, dragged from memory by a line of 8 performers dressed as Kings and Queens, wearing cheap red cloaks and cardboard crowns. It is a long, mutating and endlessly self-cancelling story. It is a story which somehow, in its many dips and turns, seems to include many—if not all—of the stories in the world. Moving from the extraordinary to the banal, it mixes everything from film plots, religious stories, children’s stories, traditional tales, jokes and modern myths, to scary stories, love stories and sex stories” (www.forced.co.uk).

For those of us waiting many years for Forced Entertainment to visit Australia, this is a rare opportunity, one made doubly valuable by having 2 of the company’s recent major works on the festival program—grounds enough to be in Adelaide in March.

Cathy Naden, a founding member of Forced Entertainment, will speak at Performance Space, Sydney, March 6, 3pm. Free. Members of the company will speak in the Adelaide Festival’s Knowledge Ground program.

See RT 58, p 14 or go to www.realtimearts.net for a preview of the Adelaide Biennial visual arts exhibition.

2004 Adelaide Festival of Arts, Feb 27-March 14, www.adelaidefestival.com.au

RealTime issue #59 Feb-March 2004 pg. 14

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2004