From out of the well

Jonathan Marshall

There are several Melbourne companies whose relatively young membership is committed to that which eludes spoken language and generates novel onstage worlds. Aside from the Gertrude Stein Project, there is the Well Theatre, currently headed by Dario VaCirca (ex-5 Angry Men), Ben Cittadini, Wendy Stevens and Ania Reynolds. The most perversely engaging aspect of their inaugural production, One Night in the Well, is the excess and disparate quality of the performances. No specific company aesthetic has been established, so the show consists of 3 very different short works collared together and punctuated by a meal break.

The first piece is a tango mime, relating a doomed love affair between an artist and an Argentinian gangster’s moll. Tango dance theatre is not in itself novel, but it’s rare in Australia, and director VaCirca and choreographer Stevens have expanded the form by adding highly gestural choreographic asides (based on Auslan signing) and some beautifully produced video projection. However, the modest venue is unsuited to showing this eye candy at its best (the visuals are everyday objects given symbolic potency), and the performers have not fully mastered the quicksilver kicks of tango; though music from the accomplished live quintet helps ensure that this slightly raw curio entrances even in its current state.

The second piece is a kind of neo-Dadaist, Futurist or Fluxus performance game in which 2 endlessly curious, childlike figures play at gesticulating, moving, wriggling, playing a piano, poking and prodding each other. Performers Reynolds and Renato VaCirca have a predominantly musical background (though Renato’s movement has a touch of Butoh’s formlessness) and this short study is a jewel of surprises, gentle melancholy and quietly suspended musical and physical moments.

The third work is the most textually demanding, a bizarre solo performed by a constantly amazed, ripplingly mobile Dario VaCirca, while an equally strange monologue is read out and an abstract, largely electronic soundscape linked in, producing an effect that has much in common with the solos of theatre maker Angus Cerini. Dario’s movement has none of the choreographic forms or even rhythmic structures of what is normally described as dance. Sheer athleticism and an eternally vigilant focus shape the physicality. Similarly, his text has a disarming sense of the everyday that gradually spills over into a surreal, almost LSD-induced road trip in which our hero describes hitchhiking from central Australia over a radioactive River Styx, while a roadside concrete Big Lobster cracks the lid on his vehicle to claw him and force him to acknowledge an expanded sense of self.

It’s crazy, more than a bit silly, but wildly inventive and great fun. Moreover, the incongruity of seeing these works as part of a ‘unified’ program sparks some interesting reflections. Well Theatre has yet to arrive, wherever it’s going, but even this rough, careening manifestation is hugely engaging. Perhaps their biggest concern is whether in weeding out some of the stray elements, the company’s practice will remain so wonderfully surprising and novel.

Well Theatre, One Night in the Well, directors Dario VaCirca, Ben Cittadini, performers Willow Conway, Peat Moss, Ryan Schofield, Nik Garcia, Renato VaCirca, Dario VaCirca, projection Matt Gingold, Auslan signing/translation Mark Sandon, design Entelechy Industries, Carlton Courthouse, Melbourne, Jan 27-Feb 7

RealTime issue #54 April-May 2003 pg. 46

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2003