Art & the inevitable

Kathryn Kelly: Emma Serjeant, Grace

Emma Serjeant, Grace

Emma Serjeant, Grace

Emma Serjeant’s new work appears heartbreakingly simple, exploring the last five seconds in the life of a woman named Grace. The work feels as much dance theatre as circus with a hypnotic soundscape, swirling, cloudy video projections and the narration of those last seconds as Grace faces the oncoming truck that will inevitably kill her.

As noted in my RealTime interview about Grace, Serjeant is part of a close-knit circus community in Brisbane and has had a long career with much international acclaim. The work emphatically signals a new direction for this talented performer and a new collaboration with UK-based improvisation and ensemble director John Britton (DUENDE), composer Ben Ely (formerly of Brisbane 1990s band Regurgitator) and lighting and video designer Penny Cunningham.

There is, as always, Serjeant’s trademark circus virtuosity in her work with aerial rings, balancing apparatus, a sequence where she stands on wooden planks laid on treacherous looking assorted glass bottles and an impressive contorted, repetitive floor routine. These are the heart of the show alongside an extraordinary sequence where she falls, smashes weightlessly onto the ground only to bounce up again and again while chanting a final sing-song monologue that charts Grace’s thoughts as she faces death. This routine is repeated across the work, building to climactic intensity in the final dramatic sequence where Grace ascends her tight silver aerial ring up to the top of the theatre space to hang askew above us.

Emma Serjeant, Grace

Emma Serjeant, Grace

The childlike candour of Serjeant’s delivery is beguiling. With her charisma marshalled alongside the physically arresting splendour of the floor routine—teetering on the brink of contemporary dance—Grace is a mesmerising exploration of inner psychology through physical form. However, the two monologues about Grace’s childhood and her fear of monogamy suffer from a paucity of physical movement, feeling more like easy naturalism rather than offering genuine insight.

I longed for a heady cocktail of words and movement to experience the full intensity of this portrait of a woman in transition from life to death. A penultimate sequence, that involved taking Polaroid photos of the audience and wrapping us and the stage in police tape, felt like padding rather than the deeper and more difficult work of pushing the boundaries of form evident in more successful scenes.

While individual elements of Grace were admirable, including Cunningham’s ambient video and intimate lighting and Ely’s eclectic soundtrack with its trademark catchy riffs, somehow the work didn’t quite knit together. What was clear was Emma Serjeant’s ambition to make an arresting hybrid: a meld of voice, video, music and physical form that sits somewhere between theatre, contemporary dance and circus with the potential to cement Serjeant’s reputation as a brave and ever evolving artist.

Grace, performer Emma Serjeant, creator-writers John Britton, Emma Serjeant, director John Britton, composer Ben Ely, lighting, video designer Penny Cunningham; Judith Wright Centre, Brisbane, 27-30 July

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

10 August 2016