in the loop – april 27

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Dante's Inferno, Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre

Dante's Inferno, Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre

zen zen zo: dante’s inferno

Zen Zen Zo's engagement with the classics has included intensely physical realisations of Dracula (see RT80) and The Tempest (see RT92). Now it's The Inferno, the first part of The Divine Comedy by mediaeval Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), a wonderful opportunity for the company, in a long line of artists across the centuries, to conjure its own images of Hell.

I asked Stephen Atkins, associate director with Brisbane's Zen Zen Zo, why the company had chosen The Inferno in particular. He explained, “It's been on the backburner for the directors for a number of years and fits the trademark image of the company—the naked form of the human body, images of the grotesque, but always alluding to hope and light in the darkness. That's their performance aesthetic and it really does parallel the content of Dante's poem. The company has tackled classic texts for a long time and they work especially well with physical theatre of a visual and edgy kind. It's a perfect fit. When I came over here from Canada in 2007 to do an internship they asked me to come back and eventually do The Inferno.”

The press release for the show says that The Inferno will be re-imagined in terms of modern Australia. Atkins explains how this transposition is being achieved: “It's done through reading the heart of the poem. It's a secular poem, one of the first ever written in the new language of Italian instead of Latin and was meant for the common man. It's also a political satire, a dark criticism of contemporary Florence. Dante was a philosopher as well as a poet, had many political enemies and a stern point of view, opposing corrupt clergy including the popes. However, a literal transposition that would include the personalities he criticises would have been alienating for a contemporary audience.

“We have taken Dante's concept—the geography of hell, each one of the nine circles punishing more progressively serious sins—and transposed this to our society but with a wry sense of humour, an edgy cabaret sense in the way that Weill and Brecht could make fun as well as poke fun. It's not the poem so much as its shape, although there are condensed sections guiding the viewers through the performance. The audience is going through the same hell as Dante, but 700 years on.”

I ask if the audience will have a guide—Dante has Virgil. “Yes, but updated,” says Atkins. “Dante's text is not very theatrical and a bit like a travelogue, so our guides are tour guides.”

The Divine Comedy is secular is the sense of being written in the vernacular, but it is deeply religious. How, I wonder, will the viscerality of the mode of Zen Zen Zo performance capture more than the punishing torments of Hell. Atkins replies, “Hell is a place of punishment so that performance aesthetic of viscerality and visual impact is very present in our production. But also Hell is a just place where punishments fit the crime. Also, people arrive there from their own choices and a misguided sense of self—they're not sent there by an authority. I think this is what makes it appealing to a secular, humanist audience—it doesn't follow the popular idea of Hell, of the devil on a throne dishing out punishment. According to Dante, Lucifer is the most punished person. If Hell is created by people from their own choices, the light at the end of the tunnel is that we have the keys to our own well being. So we must have the courage to go deeper into dark places in order to come out.”

I ask Atkins to describe something of the performance. He chooses The Circle for Heretics scene: “These are the followers of false wisdom and the corrupters of beauty, meaning of creation. The circle is one of the most severe in upper Hell. Where we have tweaked it is through using images of the distortions of the beauty industry—plastic surgery and the bodies beautiful of models—and what it does to people's self-esteem. These are projected onto the bodies of the dancers. In each of the little vignettes in the work we see the core of the misguided soul and what brought them there. We also see that the soul is unable to get itself out of its state and see beyond. We don't just want to see people being punished—it's about falling into states without examining them.”

I'm curious if, with his large-ish cast, Atkins can also capture some of the epic scope of Dante's Inferno. “The original has images that go from horizon to horizon, with millions of souls,” says Atkins. “But we'll concentrate more on the ideas and the emotional journey through each of these hells. I've tried to incorporate the scale with a couple of large numbers with the entire cast of 19. In the middle of the show, which we have nicknamed “the feeding frenzy”, the whole cast is choreographed by one the company's core members. Dale Hubbard's musical score for the work is as rich and varied as the visual influences from Dante's poem, from swamps to flaming deserts to ice cold wasteland.”

The Inferno will be performed in the heritage-listed Old Museum Building in Bowen Hills, Brisbane offering the audience a distinctive journey through the circles of Hell. Atkins says that circularity is important in the work, “Many of the stations we're setting up are circular.”

Stephen Atkins is the director of Vancouver's Human Theatre and teaches at the Capilano University, but currently spends half his year in Brisbane as Associate Director with Zen Zen Zo: “I'm lucky. And the art scene here is very vibrant, young and very inclusive and accepting of new ideas. I'm having a fantastic time working with the company and we look forward to a very long relationship.” Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre, Dante’s Inferno—Living Hell, Old Museum Building, Bowen Hills, Brisbane, May 8-20, www.zenzenzo.com

melbourne international jazz festival

With a theme of “celebrating the common chord”, the festival embraces a remarkably wide range of jazz forms and experiences curated by Michael Tortoni and Sophie Brous in a huge program with 400 performers, 95 events and 20 free concerts, 16 world premieres and 21 Australian premieres incorporating film, visual art, public art installations, forums and master classes.

Famed participants include Charles Lloyd, Zakir Hussain, Ahmad Jamal, Mulatu Astatke, Avishai Cohen, John Hollenbeck, Theo Bleckmann and John Abercrombie. But for those looking for edgier jazz and cross-overs, a variety of spaces in Melbourne Town Hall will be home to Overground which features European improvisers Peter Brotzmann (a festival coup, from Germany), Han Bennink (Holland), Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, USA) with Seth Misterka (USA), My Disco (Australia), Mick Turner (The Dirty Three, Australia); Kim Salmon (Australia); Kram (Spiderbait, Australia), Cor Fuhler (Holland), Kim Myhr (Norway) and Oren Ambarchi, Evelyn Morris AKA Pikelet, Bum Creek, Anthony Pateras, Paul Grabowsky with Sean Baxter (Australia).

Elsewhere on the program The Australian Art Orchestra and Paul Grabowsky will present a tribute concert: Miles Davis—Prince of Darkness. Paul Capsis will perform Songs of Love and Death with the Alister Spence Trio and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will embrace “the interaction between exploratory improvisation and symphonic music with the Metropolis Series.

At the National Gallery of Victoria, as part of the cross-artform Visions of Sound program, Hybrids & Folklore features The Dead Notes, Hi God People, Joel Stern, Snawklor and Clocked Out Duo working with David Chesworth, in an interactive installation curiously described as “focusing on psycho-folkloric sound-making and improvisation in the natural environment.” The Places In Between features Chris Abrahams of The Necks in an immersive sound and light installation in Federation Square. Melbourne International Jazz Festival, May 1-8, www.melbournejazz.com

lynette wallworth does opera

Among video works for live opera, Bill Viola created enormous images for Peter Sellars' production of Wagner's Tristan & Isolde, and now Australian artist Lynette Wallworth has been commissioned to make works for new opera productions in Europe by major composers. In April, The Netherlands' company De Doelen toured a production of Gyorgy Kurtag's Kafka Fragmente, in which the writers' texts are scored for piano and soprano, with Wallworth's projections as “a third protagonist, a woman making art.” London's Young Vic, in a co-production with the ENO (English National Opera), is currently presenting Hans Werner Henze's Elegy for Young Lovers, directed by Fiona Shaw. For this production Wallworth has created an interactive video installation, responding to the actions of the performers and “inviting the audience to directly engage with the video.” Elegy for Young Lovers, Young Vic, London, April 24-May 8; www.youngvic.org/whats-on/elegy-for-young-lovers

adam geczy performs in gent, belgium

Remember to Forget the Congo is a five-day gallery performance (also webcast) by Australian artist Adam Geczy in Belgium. In a blackened room, he will write in white paint the entirety of Andre Gide's Voyage au Congo, an early 20th century text exposing the iniquity of the Belgian imperial exploitation of the Congo. The consequences live on. Geczy says that although Gide's text has been little remembered it was quite influential when published. The artist describes his action as “simultaneously enact[ing] political and social remembrance of trauma, whilst at the same time being complicit in its repression, since the end result is a white room…a dense palimpsetic residue of words, a skein, that is both beautiful and menacing, acting as both conscience and amnesia.” A performance by Adam Geczy, Croxhapox Gent, May 1-5; presentation May 6-30; www.croxhapox.org; webcast www.ustream.tv/channel/croxhapox

RealTime issue #96 April-May 2010 pg. web

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27 April 2010