Epic tribute to more desperate times

Fiona McGregor: Deborah Pollard, Yowza Yowza Yowza

Jackson Davis, Carly Young, Yowza Yowza Yowza

Jackson Davis, Carly Young, Yowza Yowza Yowza

Jackson Davis, Carly Young, Yowza Yowza Yowza

A man and woman are dancing a slow waltz in vaguely 1930s attire. They are re-enacting the dance marathons of the Great Depression that took place mainly in the US. Following the original rules of these events, the couple will dance for 24 hours with 15 minutes break per hour, during which they eat meals or snacks determined from original menus, and receive medical assistance if required.

I arrive at the end of the fifth hour of Deborah Pollard’s Yowza Yowza Yowza. Carly Young is being massaged by the physiotherapist; partner Jackson Davis is rubbing his feet, sitting on one of the camp beds in the corner. In another corner the time runs across a screen, next to a slideshow of 1930s photographs. The dancefloor is a circle of lightbulbs just two metres in diameter, with small viewing benches either side. There is a trolley with jugs of water. At the other end of the room, the marathon rules scroll. Deborah Pollard, the work’s creator, is at a desk near the door dressed as a nurse, managing the live feed.

The dancers begin again. The glacial pace of their moves, and Ashley Scott’s soundtrack of white noise, are disconcerting to a viewer familiar with the 1935 Horace McCoy novel They Shoot Horses Don’t They which inspired the work [the popular Sydney Pollack directed film appeared in 1969. Eds]. Yowza wastes no time with vintage aesthetics, neither visual nor aural, its intent thereby more exposed. At the same time Pollard’s rigour in research and application of detail is extraordinary. The following day when I return, the performers are holding poses from the slideshow of the marathon dancers in pain, crazed with fatigue.

This assured combination of historical accuracy and oblique contemporary interpretation provided a rich foundation for a variety of questions. When does acted exhaustion become real? When does theatre become life? What can time alone, as yielding yet ineluctable as air, do to us, in life and art? Yowza rendered the seam between the two virtually invisible. I also saw a clever nod to the re-enactment phenomenon sweeping performance art in recent years. With its combination of skill, integrity and unique vision, Yowza trumped Australia’s most popular re-enactment of our times—Kaldor’s 13 Rooms—a mere orgy of pageantry and gloss.

Yowza went full circle to history, provoking empathy with the people who from sheer desperation danced these marathons almost a century ago. The last dancers standing got money. Some even hoped for fame, with jobs as professional dancers. But They Shoot Horses Don’t They doesn’t talk about winners. McCoy was an early proponent of the LA hard-boiled genre, writing about the losers refused by Hollywood, with dire consequences.

This element of competition was absent. It seemed a deliberate omission, the tiny circle enclosing the two dancers a sort of demarcation of the limits of Pollard’s experiment. I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if that circle were to widen.

Created in a gallery at Wollongong University for her PhD, in association with Performance Space, Yowza Yowza Yowza may yet have a more public incarnation. Fingers crossed. It is one of the most sophisticated, profound performance works I have seen in years.

University of Wollongong, Yowza Yowza Yowza, creator Deborah Pollard, produced in association with Performance Space, in collaboration with Ashley Scott, Dara Gill, Carly Young, Jackson Davis, UOW, NSW, 6-7 March

RealTime issue #120 April-May 2014 pg. 40

© Fiona McGregor; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

22 April 2014