Glamorous calamities

David Williams: The Fondue Set, The Set (Up)

The Fondue Set, The Set (Up)

The Fondue Set, The Set (Up)

The art of Sydney-based dance trio The Fondue Set (Jane McKernan, Emma Saunders and Elizabeth Ryan) carefully stages itself as awkward and artless, built through close observations of social behaviour, obsessively embodying the places where personal anxieties transform into group paranoia. The Fondue Set deploy bafflement and embarrassment as key principles of their theatrical dance language which conceals its craft to the point where the Choreographic Centre felt the need to assure audiences in their program note that this was indeed dance. The Set (Up) is literally that—a series of preparations and reconfigurations pointing to a main event that never happens. But the bald facts about the work do small justice to the experience of it: a performance by turns glamorous, calamitous, awkward, hilarious and heartbreaking. Absolute failure has never looked this good.

The audience enters and there they are. The Set. Glammed up. Silver sequined boob tubes. Blonde wigs. Brightly coloured skirts. Overpoweringly loud rock music dominates the space. The dancers are up against the wall, their choreographic grammar that of preparation—shaking, jumping on the spot, leg stretches, rapid dog poses, all in between self-conscious adjustments of clothing and wigs. Jumping around, testing the limits. Seeing how ready they are to begin. The music ends and they stop, looking together at the audience, slightly out of breath. The lights go out.

They re-enter and set up again, with chairs and microphone this time. But the chairs are never in the correct place and the microphone keeps falling over. The lighting is never right. Pose. Tableau. Pause. Pose. Mistake. Grin. Breathe. Confused looks at each other, and increasing anxiety—this should be so simple. Why is nothing working? Elizabeth finally claims the microphone but the music switches on, drowning her out. She and the other dancers continue to explain themselves as the music blasts. They nod and smile, agreeing with each other and expanding on their explanations, but the audience can’t hear a word. The speech ends, the music cuts. Jane dances wildly to fill the sudden, embarrassing silence and succeeds only in making the lights go out.

Emma seems to chase Jane about the stage by constantly moving her microphone stand as she is about to speak. Like so much in the show, it begins playfully and becomes increasingly savage. Jane is finally herded into a corner of the stage, pressed tightly against the wall, left literally unable to speak.

The performance becomes a confusion machine. The grins widen and crack apart. The glitz is always inadequate. Even the walls are a surprise to the dancers as they traverse the stage, continually stumbling and colliding, always bewildered but smiling. Carrying on regardless. The wigs get more and more dishevelled as the frenetic ‘setting up’ continues. Chairs dragged obsessively. Maniacally. More and more chairs are set up, rearranged, fought over. The dancers stamp their shoes and totter about the set up, as if this can somehow make sense of this mess. Time slows and thickens, grinding to a standstill. The lights flash, and are gone.

The Fondue Set, The Set (Up), dancers Jane McKernan, Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan; The Choreographic Centre, Canberra, September 21

RealTime issue #64 Dec-Jan 2004 pg. 35

© David Williams; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2004
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