Is there no rest/There is no rest

Linda Marie Walker: La Tristeza Complice, Les Ballets C de la B and Het Musiek Lod

Les Ballets C de la B and Het Musiek Lod, La Tristeza Complice

Les Ballets C de la B and Het Musiek Lod, La Tristeza Complice

My father played a button-accordion, for ‘old-time’ dances. And he was good. He was a sought-after musician, everyone could dance to his music. My mother was a good dancer. My parents took me to these dances, once a month, and taught me all of them. Occasionally at Christmas my father brings out his accordion. And we all sit around the lounge-room and eat and drink. I think my father should be in this festival. I grew up, in the country, with accordion music and dancing. I also grew up with dark nights outside the Mt McIntyre Hall where the cars were parked, where the fights started.

I always wondered what anguish or despair, caused the punches, the smashed bottles, and the violent speech. I wanted to be in the carpark and the hall at the same time. To see both, as if layered. I think I’ve seen this now. The carpark was dangerous, and the dance-hall wasn’t. A thin wooden wall separated them. In La Tristeza Complice (The Shared Sorrow) no wall separates living and dying, just invisible honour. And this dying is not literal, it’s living death. It’s sorrow. And the sharing of sorrow forms tenderness that is so terrible, so resisted and resented, that it barely exists as that. Still, it does. There’s no denying it, thank god. It’s energy that makes each of the ‘characters’ so full of life that they almost burst. It hurts to watch them play it out. Their bodies take a beating, or, they beat their bodies. It’s brutal, and sensual, to watch. There are awful, funny, scenes, yet one can’t laugh, one forbids oneself (somehow), and here lies the tenuous border.

The pacing of the work is careful. It swings from menacing calm to harsh chaos. Neither are deadly, yet each carries death like a precious weight which lifts now and then, leaving the person in a state of even greater loss, as if death holds cells together, is a friend. And this manifests when the winged break-dancer arrives with his small magic carpet, a silly Hermes with a silly message, a trickster whose one prop is a clue, too literal to be trusted—and someone covers it with broken glass for him to dance on. He’ll dance anywhere, be tortured anywhere. Calm and chaos append each other, one beckons the other. There is no rest, even in sleep. The finely tuned roller-skate segment declares the company’s tough poetics; a sustained poetics that keeps ‘faith’ to the bitter end; faith summoned up by one great indignant sentence: “So, who decided all of that”.

The whole work is composed of tiny, fragile, passing events that infect each other, changing the dynamic and dimension of ‘life’. You see a dozen young beings, together but totally alone, and sure of their aloneness. And this is perhaps Platel’s clearest intention: that despite the goings-on of others nearby, or in real contact, the self insists on its utter difference, its own expression; it cradles its own story like a gift. This is powerfully told when the black girl begins to sing her sorrowful song—“if love’s a sweet passion, why does it torment”—and the transvestite crawls all over her, pulls and bites her, drags her this way and that, covers her face, but cannot stop her song.

La Tristeza Complice, as political performance, respects the self whose screams are reduced to single syllables—no, damn, shit, how, bang—and to brief statements—“I’m Belgian, I’m from Belgium, I’m Belgian”. It’s that simple. The transformed Henry Purcell music (mostly from The Fairy Queen) is played by the ten accordionists from the Conservatoire in Antwerp, the soprano sings, the dancers dance. They all might die, they all might kill. It’s about (if ‘about’ is a fair word) circulating desire (for love and sex). Marguerite Duras wrote of this fierce, sly, worn currency. She also wrote of the gaps within desire and body: “Sometimes they look a hundred years old, as if they’d forgotten how to live, how to play, how to laugh…They weep quietly. They don’t say what it is they’re crying for. Not a word. They say it’s nothing, it’ll pass”. (Summer Rain)

I saw La Tristeza after the opening of the Adelaide Biennial, All this and Heaven too (at the Art Gallery of SA), and before watching the spectacle of Flamma Flamma (at Elder Park). That is, I saw the strong epic black and white texts of Robert MacPherson and the quiet domestic solitude of Anne Ooms’ chairs, lights, and books, and then listened to a Requiem (Nicholas Lens’ Flamma Flamma), and watched the hundreds of children carry their glowing lanterns, and embrace the river-lake, and inbetween witnessed people brutalise and comfort each other. It was like being burned by flames of every intensity, and squeezed to life.

La Tristeza Complice, Les Ballets C de la B and Het Musiek Lod, Playhouse, February 27, Adelaide Festival 1998

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 4

© Linda Marie Walker; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 1998