Beguiled, PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

Beguiled, PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

Beguiled, PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

“CHOOSE TO BE LOST. CHOOSE TO BELIEVE,” IS THE 2011 PACT ENSEMBLE’S EXHORTATION IN PREPARATION FOR EXPERIENCING THE ENTRANCING BEGUILED. THE SAME WEEK I ATTENDED SHH’S HOW TO LOSE SIGHT, A MEDITATION ON “BLIND REALITY—LIFE AND LIVING, LOVE AND LOVE-MAKING.” BOTH WERE STEADY, DETAILED, SITE-FOCUSED THEATRE EXPERIENCES FROM SYDNEY’S EMERGING PERFORMANCE MAKERS, CHOOSING TO TACKLE THEIR CENTRAL OBSESSIONS BY WAY OF SENSORY SMORGASBORD AND BOLD THEMATIC EXTRAPOLATION.

beguiled, pact

Under the mentorship of Cat Jones and Julie Vulcan, the PACT Ensemble references magic and illusion to draw us into a series of performative vignettes. In the foyer, we are asked to close our eyes as smooth pebbles are gingerly placed in each of our palms, a ritual to re-calibrate our senses before entering. After a pneumatic introductory dance, the audience is funnelled into three groups.

First, I peek into a blindingly orange boudoir inhabited by an equally orange-beehived woman whose routine of being tucked into her orange-sheeted bed or drinking orange juice and tending to her orange is played out by doppelgangers Emma White and Kate Brown in alternating tableaux. Meanwhile, blood-curdling screams pierce sealed walls from a stairwell. They’re revealed to be those of a twine-wrapped woman (Tanya Thaweeskulcha) who barely contains her breathy hysteria, but recovers sufficiently to herd us into the next installation.

Entering a dimly-lit space populated by keys and speaker cones dangling from ribbons, we are entranced by Madison Chippendale’s determined search for the right key to a door in front of her while pre-recorded whispers express her hidden frustration. Following this, Annabelle McMillian’s playful interaction with a miniature projection of herself on a cardboard diorama is the night’s visual standout.

At the end, the performers reunite the audience by inviting us to lie down and softly gaze at an amorphous video image above, leaving us to slip into a hypnotic daze or light slumber. On reflection, Beguiled’s attempt to engage with the dark arts rarely went beyond a visually-polished techno-vaudevillian showcase, but offered some new voices and idiosyncratic talents, supported by a haunting ambience courtesy of Melissa Hunt’s sound and Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lighting design.

how to lose sight, shh hybrid arts

How To Lose Sight, Shh Hybrid Arts

How To Lose Sight, Shh Hybrid Arts

How To Lose Sight, Shh Hybrid Arts

Over four weeks in a heritage-listed bungalow in Parramatta, Michal Imielski, has led a troupe of sighted-performers through a body of research about blindness accumulated through interviews conducted at Vision Australia. The result is How to Lose Sight, a deeply voyeuristic offering that conflates the idea of blind existence with raw sensuality.

To limit the number of bodies inhabiting tight spaces we are split into four groups by our guide Pollyanna Nowicki. The first is a room filled with an intricate white crocheted web, gently imprisoning us while Odile Leclezio, also in virtuous white, with lifeless eyes but impassioned voice, regales us with anecdotes of her intimate escapades. Meanwhile, her black-suited aides Julia Landrey and Gideon Payton-Griffiths manhandle her through the malleable thread sculpture as she obsessively stuffs white plastic bowls into various sections of the web.

Next, we are subjected to the passionate goings-on between Shauntelle Benjamin and Peter Maple. In silence on the house’s front porch, we watch the work’s gradual commencement with anticipation through the window. As we collectively wish they’d ‘get a room,’ the randy couple swiftly migrates to ours and escalates to near-consummation with a total lack of self-consciousness, evoking a Dogme-esque depiction of sexuality à la The Idiots. Almost on cue, Nowicki provides a most irreverent and innocuous interruption, wielding an iPhone to capture the couple in action and to move the story along.

A pivotal scene takes place in the main living area, where the couple and Barton Williams forensically reconstruct, via a game of charades, an altercation that leads to a chemical blinding. This compelling moment of exposition occurs around a vulvic/eye-like tent, around which the audience are seated and inside which this time more watered-down physical shenanigans are hinted at.

The final room is inhabited by dancer Cloe Fournier who, with eyes tightly shut, flails both manically and methodically amidst chairs in varying states of disrepair. In keeping with the sexually charged energy of the night, she literally climbs the walls (and window ledges) as she voices her desire for amorous attention. After munching on some carrots, she isolates me from the audience and leaves me with souvenirs of flattery and flora, sending me, with a big grin on my face, back out to the audience converged on the front porch.

In the director’s notes, Imielski describes a stint as a close-up magician in a restaurant, during which he converses with a restaurant patron who relates her story of losing sight. As an aspiration to honour the impact of this encounter, Imelski and his team have responded with a work courageous in its imagery and darkly hilarious in its humanity.

PACT, Beguiled, directors Cat Jones, Julie Vulcan, performers/co-devisors Taryn Brine, Kate Brown, Madison Chippendale, Cameron Ellis, Sam Koh, Annabelle McMillan, Lucille Lehr, Tanya Thaweeskulcha, Emma White, Amber Wilcox, sound design and composition Melissa Hunt, lighting design Emma Lockhart Wilson, design Lucy Thornett, PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, Sydney, Nov 23-Dec 10, 2011; www.pact.net.au

Shh Hybrid Arts’ in association with Blacktown Arts Centre, How to Lose Sight, director/composer Michal Imielski, performers/co-devisors Barton Williams, Cloe Fournier, Julia Landrey, Odile Leclezio, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Peter Maple, Pollyanna Nowicki, Shauntelle Benjamin, designer Lucy Wang, movement advisor Cloe Fournier, Riverside Parramatta and heritage house, Nov 30-Dec 10, 2011; www.shh.org.au/

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. web

© Teik-Kim Pok; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

realtime in 2012

Happy New Year from the RealTime Team! 2012 brings exciting developments for RealTime online, as we hope it does for you too. Over the next few months look out for new features including:

• artv: video interviews and mini documentaries with Australia’s most interesting emerging and established artists
• realtime traveller: micro-guides for the arts traveller to the world’s most intriguing cities
• studio: exploring works on the boil with more audiovisual content
• sound capsule: bi-monthly selections of new audio for curious ears
• that art word: RealTime editors’ blog (coming soon)
• more in the loop to keep you in the know
• more giveaways to say thanks

We’ll also be sharing RealTime’s vast back catalogue of over 3,000 articles through archive selections online and through Facebook updates. So if you haven’t already, join our e-dition list and become a fan of our RealTime FB page and don’t miss a trick!

all action in the west

U-Ram Choe, Cakra-2552-a, 2008, metallic material, machinery, electronic devices (CPU board, motor)

U-Ram Choe, Cakra-2552-a, 2008, metallic material, machinery, electronic devices (CPU board, motor)

U-Ram Choe, Cakra-2552-a, 2008, metallic material, machinery, electronic devices (CPU board, motor)

As our interview with Perth International Arts Festival director Jonathan Holloway attests, there are already plenty of reasons to head to Perth in February and here are a few more.

At the John Curtin Gallery, as part of the visual arts program of PIAF, Korean artist U-Ram Choe will exhibit his miraculous kinetic sculptures. Extrapolated from biological organisms combined with science-fiction dreaming, Choe creates exquisite hybrid creatures made from stainless steel, LEDs, tiny motors and acrylic bones, each with their own scientific name and evolutionary histories. With some responding to the viewers’ body heat and movement the artist presents a garden of futuristic flora and fauna. Choe says of the cycle of technology “They are born, they live their lives, some day they break down or get worn out, and then eventually die. And after they die, they get dismantled and some parts get recycled or reborn so to speak.” While this is the first exhibition of Choe’s work in Australia, he has exhibited widely across Asia, as well as internationally. U-Ram Choe, John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University, Feb 3-March 2 2012; www.johncurtingallery.curtin.edu.au; See video Interview with U-Ram Choe by The Creators Project Video

After last year’s taste-test, 2012 sees the first full Fringe World Program, the official Perth fringe festival, run by the irrepressible Marcus Canning and the Artrage team. Over 150 events will take place around the city with venue hubs including Perth’s own Spiegeltent (every city’s gotta have one), The Orchard outdoor garden, The Old Treasury Building (opening its doors for the first time in 15 years and requiring audiences to sign an indemnity waiver) and various venues in the Cultural Precinct. With so much on, it’s hard to pick favourites but the Proximity festival definitely caught our eye.

Proximity, How Sweet is Your Life, THE UNION Of People Against Very Small Injustices, Slow Food Sunday

Proximity, How Sweet is Your Life, THE UNION Of People Against Very Small Injustices, Slow Food Sunday

Proximity, How Sweet is Your Life, THE UNION Of People Against Very Small Injustices, Slow Food Sunday

Curated by James Berlyn and Sarah Rowbottam, with a little bit of ‘provocation’ from PVI’s Kelly McClusky, Proximity claims to be Australia’s first micro festival of one-on-one art. In some impressive programming manipulations it will present 12 performers to 12 audience members in 12 different spaces of the Blue Room, each 12 minutes in duration, 12 times a day for 4 consecutive Sundays. If the maths eludes you, it means only 144 people can see the works, which will comprise intimate experiences drawing on “touch, smell, sound and physical proximity” (media release). Audience experiences might include a private tap dance, a tandem bike ride or a strip poker game. Or you may elect to join THE UNION Of People Against Very Small Injustices, discover how sweet you life is or help prepare a slow food banquet (within the allotted 12 minutes). Proximity may be just the antidote for those overwhelmed by the large-scale spectaculars offered in Perth at the same time. Fringe World, Jan 26-Feb 19, various venues, Perth, http://www.fringeworld.com.au; Proximity, curators James Berlyn, Sarah Rowbottam, provocateur Kelli McCluskey, artists Claudia Alessi, James Berlyn, Janet Carter, Renae Coles, Russya Connor, Jackson Eaton, Jen Jamieson, Nikki Jones, Janette McGinty, Sarah Nelson, Sarah Rowbottam, Hellen Russo; The Blue Room, Perth, Jan 29-Feb 19; http://proximityfestival.com

a world of theatre

Il Pixel Ross, And the Birds Fell from the Sky

Il Pixel Ross, And the Birds Fell from the Sky

Il Pixel Ross, And the Birds Fell from the Sky

The first World Theatre Festival seemed to appear out of the blue in 2011 (see interview and review) but with a second incarnation imminent it’s looking to become a key event on the Australian cultural calendar. The 2012 program promises a generous selection of home grown and international works, both as polished presentations and works in progress. Highlights include the Belarus Free Theatre (much acclaimed at the 2009 Sydney Festival see RT89) billed as “the world’s most political theatre company” whose work is so underground that audiences in their home country can only find out about it through word of mouth and text messages. Their latest show, Discover Love, is based on the true story of Irina Krasovskaya whose husband was kidnapped and murdered for his involvement in the democratic movement.

From the UK, Il Pixel Rosso present And the Birds Fell from the Sky, where each audience member is fitted with video goggles in order to become the main character, Faruk the clown, in a range of interactive and augmented adventures. Australian works on the bill include Team Mess’ This is It (see reviews of the show at Artshouse & PICA); and Bunny by Roarawar Feartata, “a cruel and unusual love story about men” (website), a hit of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Returning after a sell-out run in the Scratch Season last year is Elephant Gun by Brisbane-based companies the Escapists and Breadbeard Collective, using the whole of the Powerhouse as its stage. Also looking impressive is the collaboration between Brisbane-based Topology and Abhinaya Theatre Company from India presenting The Lady from the Sea, based on the Ibsen play. The Scratch season will also continue featuring works in rehearsal and development by groups such as ERTH, Backbone Youth Theatre and Kelly Ryall & Martyn Coutts. The program is completed by a range of talks and masterclasses with some of the visiting companies. World Theatre Festival, Brisbane Powerhouse, Feb 16-26; www.worldtheatrefestival.com

new indigenous celebrations

Darren Siwes, SILVER BOY (2008)

Darren Siwes, SILVER BOY (2008)

Darren Siwes, SILVER BOY (2008)

From February 10 to12 Melbourne will host its first Indigenous Arts Festival. It will include a range of concerts in Federation Square and a selection of shorts and feature films in Blak Nite Cinema such as The Tall Man (see RT102), Toomelah (see RT104) and Here I Am (see RT103). The theatre and dance program will feature Ilbijerri Theatre Company’s, Coranderrk—We will show the Country (to be reviewed in RT107) and a new dance work, Lu’arn, by IDJA Dance Theatre exploring the Boon Wurrung story of the journey of a boy to adulthood as told by Aunty Carolyn Brigg.

Overlapping with the festival will be the National Indigenous Photo-Media Forum at ACMI which will include three-days of talks, presentations and workshops exploring current issues in photomedia from Indigenous perspectives, including photography in the digital age, copyright issues, storytelling and professional development. The keynote speech will be delivered by Marcia Langton; other presenters include leading artists and curators such as r e a, Jenny Fraser, Darren Siwes, Reko Rennie, Beck Cole and Djon Mundine. Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival, various venues; Feb 10-12, www.thatsmelbourne.com.au/Whatson/iaf/Pages/iaf.aspx; National Indigenous Photo-Media Forum, ACMI, Feb 8-10, registrations close Feb 3; www.acmi.net.au/melb-indigenous-arts-fest.aspx

music theatre in the raw

DreamSong

DreamSong

DreamSong

Now in its second manifestation is the Arts Centre Melbourne’s Carnegie 18 program providing creative development for three new music theatre works. Pushing the form beyond expectations last year’s offerings included an operetta about netball and a soft-metal musical (see review in RT102). This year presents The New Black, by Stephen Helper, Leeroy Bilney and members of the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts, with a score by Marcus Cowora, exploring justice identity and ambition through the story of a young Indigenous lawyer. Cautionary Tales for Children by Claudia O’Doherty and Arena Theatre presents a satirical cabaret based on the poems for children by Hilaire Belloc. Finally, DreamSong written by Hugo Chiarella, composed by Robert Tripolino and directed by Michael Gurr, is a satirical romp through the machinations of evangelical corporations, the Global Financial Crisis and the Second Coming. Arts Centre Melbourne presents New Music Theatre Series: Carnegie 18, Fairfax Studio; Feb 1-7; www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

china rocks

AV Okubo

AV Okubo

AV Okubo

While there’s been a recent focus on the increased activity and excitement in visual arts in China through a range of exhibitions, as well as the wonderful White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney, not so much has been heard here yet (literally) of Chinese contemporary music, but Sound Kapital, coming up for one night only at Carriageworks, is going some way towards rectifying this by featuring three of Beijing’s leading artists. Nova Heart is billed as the “Queen of Beijing Rock” and offers sweet pop vocals and atmospheric beats while AV Okubo has a more punk rock feel drawing on retro tropes like kung-fu movies, manga and triad gangsters. Xiao He is said to be “one of the most creative and influential leaders of the Beijing music scene” (press release) involved in music but also theatre and cinema and offers the most experimental approach of the three. He calls his music “free folk” drawing on improvisation, traditional styles and electronics. Accompanying the artists will be projections by Matthew Niederhauser, a photographer who’s been documenting the underground music scene in Beijing and has compiled the book titled Sound Kapital. Nederhauser will also be presenting a free artist talk before the show. Sound Kapital is co-presented by Creative Asia, a new organisation headed by Hannah Skrzynski, a recent Myer Creative Fellowship recipient, “dedicated to building cross cultural artistic collaborations between Australia and Asia” (website). Sound Kapital, AV Okubo, Nova Heart, Xiao He and Matthew Niederhauser, presented by Carriageworks & Creative Asia and part of the 2012 City of Sydney Chinese New Year Festival, Feb 3; http://www.carriageworks.com.au/; http://creativeasia.wordpress.com/

sculpture in the rainforest

Steven Short

Steven Short

Steven Short

Drawing on the successful Sculpture by the Sea model is Sculpture at Scenic World presenting 26 artworks in the Jamison Valley of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, viewable from the Scenic Walkway trail. All the works have been made exclusively for the site which is Australia’s only remaining example of a Jurassic forrest, with artists including Ole Nielson (NSW), Heidi Kenyon (SA), Todd Fuller (NSW) Nigel Harrison (NSW), Dale Miles (NSW), Deirdre Robb (Belfast), Steven Short (NSW), and the winning sculpture will receive a $20,000 prize. There’s also an accompanying series of artists’ talks and lectures including a discussion on Figurative Versus Abstraction (The great joy of inclusiveness) by Terrance Plowright (Blue Mountains) and an art historical introduction to sculpture by the exhibition manager Lizzy Marshall. Sculpture at Scenic World is planned to become an annual event. Sculpture at Scenic World, Blue Mountains, Feb 16-11 March 11, www.scenicworld.com.au/sculpture

opportunities

The 19th International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) taking place in Sydney in June 2013, under the stewardship of Marcus Westbury, has opened the first round of its call for submissions. The festival is themed Electronic Art—Resistance is Futile, exploring how digital technology is now at the heart of our culture with Westbury stating “Digital electronic art is our source of innovation, the new norm… The urban spaces of Sydney will provide the scene for thinking through the consequences of digital life, creative industries, and contemporary electronic art practice” (website). The first round (due Feb 6) is for large-scale projects that may be developed in association with ISEA2013 and dependent on current funding rounds. Subsequent deadlines are April 6 and June 8 for smaller scale projects and papers. For more info see www.isea2013.org/proposals

The City of Sydney has also opened its call for proposal for 2012 Art & About seeking artists, curators and organisations for multidisciplinary projects and installations with a deadline of Tues March 6, 11 am. The Call for Laneway Art & City Spaces is also still open until Feb 28; and their general City Grants Projects will open for application on Feb 13 including Cultural, Heritage, Community and Environmental programs. For more info http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/cityart/news/

Sydney-based ARI Serial Space is calling for proposals for their Time Machine project, taking place July 16-29. They are seeking work that fits into four main streams: Sound & Vision, Performance, Lab and Talk, but in true Serial Space anti-authoritarian style they welcome activities that defy these categories. Leading up to the event they are also offering residencies and commissions. Applications are due Feb 19, 12am; for more info http://serialspace.org/events/112/call-for-proposals-time-machine/

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. web

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

Kate Champion, Never Did Me Any Harm from RealTime on Vimeo.

Keith Gallasch talks with choreographer & director Kate Champion about Force Majeure & Sydney Theatre Company’s latest work Never Did Me Any Harm.

The work premiered at the 2012 Sydney Festival and will also play the 2012 Adelaide Festival.

Interview was conducted Jan 25, 2012 at the Sydney Theatre Company

Produced by realtime:artv
www.realtime.org.au

For more on Kate Champion & Force Majeure plus other leading Australian choreographers see realtimedance

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011

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

The Dragon Pearl

The Dragon Pearl

OZASIA FESTIVAL TIME CAME AND WENT AGAIN IN ADELAIDE, PROVIDING ITS ANNUAL OPPORTUNITY TO BEMOAN THE MARGINALISATION OF ASIAN CINEMA IN AUSTRALIA. BUT WAIT! THIS YEAR PROVIDES SOME ADDITIONAL SPICE WITH THE APPEARANCE OF THE FIRST TWO FEATURES UNDER THE AUSTRALIA-CHINA CO-PRODUCTION TREATY AND THE FORMATION OF THE AUSTRALIA-CHINA SCREEN ALLIANCE AS A MEANS OF PROMOTING FUTURE COLLABORATIONS. THINGS SEEM TO BE SHAKING IN WAYS THAT GO BEYOND THE USUAL LIP SERVICE PAID TO AUSTRALIA’S ASIAN FUTURE WHILE WE’RE ALL AT THE ENDLESS STREAM OF EUROPEAN FILM FESTIVALS THAT FLOOD ART CINEMAS THESE DAYS.

The film program at OzAsia might have been lightly publicised but it still constituted about half of the festival’s sessions. It kicked off with Mario Andreacchio’s China co-production, The Dragon Pearl. Andreacchio is one of those marginalised figures in Australian cinema who is frankly interested in establishing commercial filmmaking. The Dragon Pearl goes straight to the question: how can Australia work with China to make commercial cinema?

Andreacchio’s answer is a children’s film with a cast drawn from internationally known Australasians (Sam Neill), well known mainlanders (Wang Ji) and a Hong Konger (Jordan Chan, who some might remember from the Young and Dangerous films). Add the production facilities of the mammoth Hengdian Studios and CGI from Australian companies such as Rising Sun and you’ve got a Spielbergian adventure that literalises Australian-Chinese co-operation through the figures of two kids who use their complementary talents to restore a lost treasure to a dragon.

On the surface, it is an enjoyable spunky-kids-with-bikes movie, but I wonder if Andreacchio has not also made the boldest piece of Australian political cinema this year. The question of how Australia can manage its relationship with China is clearly of immense importance at present. This film suggests the need for Australians to stop acting like they are still Little Britain and move beyond their lack of sympathy for Asia as a place in which cows are slaughtered inhumanely or refugees are mistreated. The Aussie kid has to get over acting like a big sook because of his parents’ divorce and pay attention to the transformative power of his new Asian context. The young Chinese heroine has undoubted powers and the boy has to find a way to respect that and tailor his talents around it. There is a global aspect to this too, as sinister Americans (or at least, an Australian affecting a Yankee accent) are hovering, intent on stealing the treasure.

All of this is in keeping with Andreacchio’s views on the need to move quickly to set up co-productions in China. With China’s massively expanding cinema (its box office went up 64% last year!) Chinese media production is taking off and Andreacchio warns that we have a small window of opportunity to establish a foothold. For Andreacchio and his Chinese partners, the question of an international cinema that does not include Hollywood is a particularly salient one. China is looking increasingly like the centre of a regional film industry, but whether that regional grouping includes Australia remains a matter of conjecture.

Some of these insights were established during an OzAsia panel discussion that paired Andreacchio with veteran Brian Trenchard-Smith, skyped in from Los Angeles. Trenchard-Smith is another pioneer from the margins of Australian cinema. He directed the 1974 Australia-Hong Kong action co-pro The Man From Hong Kong (which also screened at OzAsia). Trenchard-Smith now looks like a visionary for his early enthusiasm for Hong Kong martial arts and his attempt to build a bridge from Australia to a vibrant commercial cinema. This collaboration was similarly framed within a star system that combined local stars (Wang Yu and George Lazenby) who had enough global recognition to get the project across the line.

The Man From Hong Kong deliriously proposes that a surfeit of mindless violence might just be the currency of co-operation, and that the two film industries might complement each other with the Chinese martial arts specialisation and the Australian fixation on automobile destruction. Andreacchio also explained his film as an attempt at bridging genres in the two countries. He is a maker of family films, but that genre is unknown in China where older people don’t go to movies with their children and the cinema audience is overwhelmingly in the 18 to 25 demographic. Hence, in China The Dragon Pearl foregrounded its small martial arts component and the presence of its Cantopop star in the cast.

The Dragon Pearl represents the massive increase in scale that becomes a possibility opened up by Chinese co-production. Its $18.5 million budget dwarfs most local production, but this enabled it to open on 3,500 screens in China. Back home, the film opened only in Adelaide on a handful of prints. It appears that Australia remains the weak point in Andreacchio’s co-production scheme.

33 Postcards

33 Postcards

Pauline Chan was a line producer on The Dragon Pearl while preparing her own 33 Postcards, which screened this year at the Sydney and Melbourne film festivals. This is a smaller film that resides more comfortably within an Australian tradition of the actor-driven cinema of quality. An astonishingly innocent young Chinese orphan girl comes to Sydney to find her Australian aid sponsor, only to discover that he is a convicted criminal (Guy Pearce) addicted to method acting.

While the film attempts to debunk the paternalistic basis from which it begins, it never really succeeds. There are disquieting similarities to another co-pro, 2008’s Children of the Silk Road where the Chinese function primarily as children who have to be saved by benevolent westerners. But let’s throw another couple of recent titles into the mix: the deeply conservative Mao’s Last Dancer, which proposed that China equals repression and the west equals expression, and Tomorrow When the War Began, which took to the bank the fantasy that the cast of Home & Away are our best hope against an Asian invasion.

I can’t help feeling that Mario Andreacchio has a more realistic attitude in understanding that Australians have no natural position of superiority in our region and that China will increasingly deal with us from a position of strength. Australian filmmakers would be well advised to give this some serious aesthetic thought and work out their own strategies to profit from that strength.

OzAsia on Screen, OzAsia Festival, Piccadilly and Mercury Cinemas, Adelaide, Sept 2-17

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 18

© Mike Walsh; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

EIGHTEEN SINGERS SIT ON THEIR KNEES IN FOUR CIRCLES, HEADS TOUCHING THE GROUND. THE GROUPS ARE COLOUR-CODED BLUE, RED, YELLOW AND GREEN, COMPLETE WITH TOUCHES OF FACE PAINT. AT THE BACK OF THE STAGE A MARIMBA PLAYER DRESSED IN BLACK BEGINS AN ARPEGGIATED CHORD PROGRESSION. A VIBRAPHONE PLAYER JOINS IN WITH A LILTING MELODY. THE SINGERS BEGIN A SIGHING HARMONY, MUFFLED BY THE FLOOR.

As the vocal intrusion grows louder the singers lift their heads, increasing the clarity of the sparkling, close chords. The song fills the room as the choristers break away from their groupings. Words are heard: “Now we are alone when we are together.”

Already the stakes of Gian Slater’s Us & Others are evident. The four groups of mixed voices break with standard groupings, shifting the focus away from gendered tone colour to extended vocal timbres. Instead of singing at us in a line, the singers move about the space producing surround-sound effects. The text warns us not to take the “togetherness” (to use Percy Grainger’s way of putting it) suggested by harmony for granted, but to consider the loneliness in paradise.

By combining voices of different types on the same line, Slater is able to produce a homogeneous, almost synthesised texture. The layering of the parts in lush jazz-inspired chord progressions almost sounds like one person singing over themselves. If Slater’s grouping did not smooth out the timbral profile of the choir then the vocal talent of the singers did, each performer thoroughly owning his or her individual part.

Unencumbered by timbral differentiation, the ear was free to enjoy the singers’ movement around the space in lines and groups. After the blossoming sound world of the opening the choreography was more subdued. Hand gestures would muffle voices or swaying would bring out certain harmonies over others. The concert concluded with a return to facing the floor, this time in one large group with performers each ‘wibbling’ their tongues (making a small ‘o’ with the lips, vocalising and passing the tongue quickly back and forth over the opening). The sonic effects of Slater’s spatialisations were particularly evident in the middle of the front row, though some found that the effect was lost further back.

It was unusual to see Speak Percussion accompanying the Invenio Singers from the back of the stage, though each performer was given the chance to exhibit their prowess in small improvisatory numbers performed by the four colour groups. At one point, four singers sit in a circle cooing “nininini” at different speeds, giving the sense of balls bouncing to a stop or springing to life while Matthias Schack-Arnott plays bowls on a snare drum, tuning the snare to coax a pulsing rattle from the interference of the vessels. At another point an ode to solitude and freedom in the middle of a field is sung to Dan Richardson’s accompaniment of dried beans sizzling and spinning around an upturned ride cymbal. Eugene Ughetti expertly handles a foot pump during a chorus of breaths and Peter Neville rocks a talking drum amid a group scat. At all times there was a feeling of freedom within restraint as each individual navigated the sound palette carefully chosen by Slater to give the sense of micro-cultures surviving within larger social units.

There is a book to be written about the relationship between musical texture (the arrangement of simultaneous voices) and social organisation. With the performers standing side by side and singing through megaphones at the audience, Slater raises the criticism that despite technological synchronicity we are otherwise isolated from each other. From then on the diagnosis is fairly positive: happy little groups improvising before joining together for choreographed moments of harmonic splendour. It was more an exploration of musical ensemble than social togetherness. The question remains: why are musical metaphors for social organisation interesting? What can they tell us that we could not have known otherwise?

Perhaps the connection between music and society is not to be found in their formal similarity, but in their technological links to each other. Slater is not just a conductor-composer but a composer-sound engineer, using real breath and meat to produce tape-era special effects. Or perhaps even effects of the digital age. Is not the layering of semi-improvised voices a product of today’s cheap and accessible recording equipment? The technology that gave rise to Björk’s Medulla and Camille’s Le Fil? If so, then Us & Others, with its focus on the physicality of music-making, is a work of togetherness-making, the establishment of a community of enjoyment that encompasses not only 18 incredibly talented singers and four virtuosic percussionists, but the audience that leaves humming their tunes.

Us & Others, composer, director Gian Slater, performers Invenio Singers, Speak Percussion, Malthouse, Melbourne, Sept 9

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 41

© Matthew Lorenzon; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Fantome Island

Fantome Island

TWO YEARS AFTER ITS DRASTIC REMODELLING, THE 2011 BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL CAPITALISED ON WHAT HAS HISTORICALLY BEEN ONE OF ITS GREATEST STRENGTHS—LOCAL AUDIENCES’ THIRST FOR DOCUMENTARY CINEMA—WITH A WELL-PROMOTED EXTENSION OF THE NON-FICTION PROGRAM. REBRANDED AS BIFFDOCS, THE DOCUMENTARY SMORGASBORD INCLUDED LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL FARE INCLUDING UNFLINCHING EXPOSÉS, CONFRONTING CONFESSIONS AND AFFECTIONATE PORTRAITS, AND OFFERED A NEW COMPETITIVE PRIZE FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY AT THE FESTIVAL’S CONCLUSION.

fantome island

Queensland filmmaker Sean Gilligan’s first feature-length documentary, Fantome Island, interlaces thoughtful interview material with meticulous archival research to bring to light the extraordinary tale of Queensland’s forgotten leper colony. North-east off the coast of Townsville, the Fantome Island leprosarium and its Aboriginal inhabitants were shrouded in secrecy by the state health authorities. The film tracks the journey back to the island by a survivor, Joe Eggmolesse, whose articulate reflections—evidently extracted from hours of interview—are skillfully used to bind and humanise the story.

Gilligan’s achievement is to critically highlight an important new chapter in a now well-known story: the disproportionate suffering of Indigenous people, as much from introduced infectious diseases as from the historical erasure of the particularity of their experience. Fantome Island reverses that tendency with tenderness, insight, and most importantly, richly imaginative detail (a feature shared by another Indigenous-themed doco at the festival, Daniel James Marsden’s 2011, The Clouds Have Stories: The Art of the Torres Strait Islands). While there are incontrovertible links with stolen generation policies, it’s not hard to see in Fantome Island’s central narrative of forcible removal of the unfit by authorities to a remote island prison something of a metaphor for the founding of the nation itself. Fantome Island is the kind of profoundly humane documentary experience that resonates with a rigorous awareness of the social conditions from which it arises.

uma lulik

Uma Lulik

Uma Lulik

Another significant event at BIFF 2011 was the screening of Uma Lulik, the first documentary entirely made in East Timor by an East Timorese filmmaker, Victor De Sousa. It is hard to understate the significance of the Uma Lulik, or Sacred House, in Timor Leste consciousness. As the eternal resting place of family spirits, a place where the living gather to remember and honour their dead, the spirit house occupies a central position in the community. Every 10 years, the community rebuilds the spirit house’s physical structure, in the process maintaining, fortifying and renewing their spiritual connection both to forebears and the land in which all are embedded.

Over the course of Uma Lulik, we follow the remaking of a spirit house, beginning with palm-fringed jungle daybreak, through the fashioning of building materials to erection of the structure. As it documents this communal act of devotion, the film provides us with access to the Timorese sensibility to do with the dead—not as departed but as ever-present, woven through and very much dwelling within the community, resident in the divine structure of the spirit house. This story of the divine—as De Sousa’s poetic text at the opening puts it, “the story they have told me”—is communicated as much through the seemingly prosaic acts of chopping wood or binding eaves as it is through mourning rituals and collective ecstatic song.

the trouble with st mary’s

That mainstay of documentary production, the maverick figure, featured heavily in the BIFFDOCS program, with a number of stories about rebels and trouble-makers benefiting from the feature-length format’s enhanced opportunity for reflection. Local firebrand priest Peter Kennedy, the 72-year-old insubordinate sacked by the Catholic Church in 2009, was the subject of a searching examination by the formidable documentarian Peter Hegedus in The Trouble With St Mary’s. Observing Kennedy and his 1000-strong flock as they come to grips with their exile, Hegedus’ typically intelligent consideration delves into the man and the practices—alteration of ritual processes, allowing women to preach, blessing gay couples and uncompromising commitment to social justice causes—that so infuriated the church orthodoxy. This conscientiously balanced film offers a subtle diagnosis of the role of the progressive South Brisbane suburb of West End as the crucible of the trouble with St Mary’s church.

heroes, legends, rebels

Two films about powerful women stood out: Leila Doolan’s Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey, about legendary Irish political activist Bernadette Devlin, and A Bitter Taste of Freedom, about the assassination of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Acclaimed filmmaker Marina Goldovskaya pieced together the final years of her friend, showing her to be by turns fearful of and defiant towards the corrupt Russian authorities into whose activities she clearly probed too deeply.

A hellraiser of a different kind, country music showman Chad Morgan, was the subject of the film I’m Not Dead Yet. Janine Hosking’s portrait documents how the buck-toothed Morgan has attained legendary cult status as much for his bawdy banter between numbers as his dipsomaniacal exploits, both of which are well-documented throughout. The relaxed Sunday afternoon screening time for this film unfortunately clashed with another tribute to an Australian rebel, the retrospective of Sydney experimental film and surf movies guru Albie Thoms. The screening included Thoms’ the cheerfully libertine 1963 film experiment, It Droppeth as the Gentle Rain, a compact selection from the independent Ubu Films collective he co-founded in 1965, and a rare opportunity to view his 1979 post-counter-culture surf movie, Palm Beach. While ostensibly a narrative feature about Sydney surf miscreants, Palm Beach evinces its maker’s experimental theatre heritage with a complexly layered sound montage and compelling adlibbed performances from a cast of mostly non-professional actors, surfers and a pre-stardom Bryan Brown and Julie McGregor.

biffdocs winner: kim ki-duk’s arirang

The 2011 festival offered both ‘traditional’ festival films and fun alternatives (notably, the recreation of a drive-in cinema complete with sentimental family fare and shlocky B-movies). In what is one of the most literal examples of ‘art cinema’, Lech Majewski’s The Mill and the Cross brought a Bruegel painting to life with scrupulous period detail and tasteful CGI, and festival audiences were treated to an opportunity to see the final work of late, great auteur Raul Ruiz, the lavish epic, Mysteries of Lisbon. However, it was South Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk’s Arirang, winner of the BIFFDOCS prize, which perhaps most summed up the festival experience. Kim retreated to a remote country house with only his nervy cat for company following the harrowing experience of shooting his 2008 film, Dream, during which one of his actresses nearly died.

Arirang documents, mostly in close-up, the director’s many moods and thoughts about life, filmmaking and death, with a soundtrack provided by the director crooning the popular Korean folk song of the title. The intense self-reflexivity of these interviews is strongly reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s films, as are the director’s existential ruminations on filmmaking (“I want to confess myself as a director and a human being,” he says at one point). Along with some astute observations on the politics of contemporary international art cinema (he notes that official recognition at home tends to be catalysed by awards won abroad), Kim’s self-interrogation is shot through with his imagining of a persistent knocking sound at the door. While some critics have read this as mere paranoid fantasy, Arirang’s phantom knock could also symbolise the attuned antennae of both filmmakers and film festivals as they respond to, and make manifest, the cultural energies of the latent and the unexpressed.

Brisbane International Film Festival 2011, Nov 3-13, www.biff.com.au

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 20

© Danni Zuvela; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

With due respect to Jon Dale (whose writing we’ve enjoyed and valued over the years) his RT105 Overground article ‘combinatorial challenges’ (p40) is pretty unfortunate, more a rant than review. Jon caricatures the Overground curatorial process and skews an important discussion to support some inchoate conclusions.

That the broad negativity of ‘combinatorial challenges’ also extends to ignoring 80 of Overground’s more than 100 performers with a line as pithy as “The remaining hours of Overground, sadly, offered little of merit” is to put it mildly, a major bummer for both participants and readers, and ultimately, a sloppy way of blanking what was in fact the vast majority of the event.

Regardless of the personal impression made by specific artists (and there have been plenty of divergent opinions on each act), the characterization of the combinatorial process as “unguided, ‘pick-a-name-out-of-the-hat’” is spurious, meant to sting, rather than provide reasonable critique. The ‘new collaborations’ approach established at Overground 2010 (with clear historical precedent spanning events from Derek Bailey’s ‘Company’ (1976-1994) to Sydney’s NOW now) was generated thoughtfully in iterations, through ongoing discussion between the curators, and with participating artists, who were largely thrilled, or at least curious and challenged by the propositions. Tony Conrad’s duet with Chris Abrahams, described in the article as a “dumb mathematical equation” came about at Conrad’s suggestion (as a long time admirer of Abrahams work) and was described by Abrahams as a “massive honour and challenge.” We reject Jon’s portrayal of the curatorial process at Overground.

The discussion around ‘roamers’ and ‘intervention’ is more complex and highlights real and interesting tensions. ‘Roamers’ were invited to activate ‘unofficial’ spaces within Melbourne Town Hall, outside the bounds of the formal schedule. There were also specific restrictions, principally to avoid direct disruption of the other acts, especially very quiet ensembles. Managing the dynamic between roaming and scheduled artists is obviously difficult, it’s a nuanced situation requiring sensitivity from everyone. The arrangement was navigated brilliantly without regulation by about 20 disparate performers on the day. However, when ‘roamer’ Kusum Normoyle, crossing the “invisible psychic line,” as Jon excitedly put it, unexpectedly blasted harsh noise into the space of a particularly quiet group halfway through a set watched by about 300 people in the main hall, it was pretty obvious there’d be reaction, in this case an attempt to protect the less robust work from being destroyed. The decision to halt Kusum’s performance was made on principal, intuitively, in response to her own ‘switching off’ of another work, intentional or not. It felt justified at the time, and in effect fitting to the kamikaze-like logic of her own interventionist action. There are legitimate questions that come out of this event (we’d be interested to know what Jon is essentially advocating, where his “psychic line” is) but the characterisation of a repressive “official festival culture” bent on silencing the “feverish creativity of the underground” is facetious. It also ignores the fact that the Overground organisers are all active participants in that very underground.

Joel Stern
Overground Co-curator
Email Nov 30, 2011

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 41

© Joel Stern; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Jamie Adam, Gabriella Smart, Elizabeth Layton, Soundstream Collective Inaugural Concert

Jamie Adam, Gabriella Smart, Elizabeth Layton, Soundstream Collective Inaugural Concert

Jamie Adam, Gabriella Smart, Elizabeth Layton, Soundstream Collective Inaugural Concert

“MUSIC IS A SPIRITUAL REFLECTION OF SOCIETY, AND NEW MUSIC ITS NEXUS. THE ENGAGEMENT OF AUDIENCES AND EDUCATION ARE BUT SIMPLE TERMS TO DESCRIBE THE DEVELOPMENT OF A VIBRANT CULTURE OF EXPLORATION, INSPIRATION AND COMMUNICATION THROUGH THE ARTS” (GABRIELLA SMART, 2011 CHURCHILL FELLOWSHIP REPORT).

Gabriella Smart is a pianist, festival director, teacher and entrepreneur and she has a clear philosophy. For over 20 years, she has championed new music, making a unique and significant contribution to the music scene nationally and internationally.

Smart’s oeuvre is the piano. “My discipline as a musician comes from complete devotion to the instrument,” she says. She credits her teacher, Russian-born and trained pianist Eleonora Sivan, with helping her find that devotion and discipline. “Eleonora provided the key to absolute love, not just the physicality of the instrument but the philosophy of classical music. That foundation makes new music exciting. There is a feeling of emancipation through new music.” She feels a constant urge to practice and perform, and not only perform but communicate. “New music is very complex but it is failing society if it is not out there.”

soundstream new music festival

Smart founded the Soundstream New Music Festival in 2008 to elevate the profile of new music in South Australia. She has always emphasised excellence in programming, production and performance and this approach won the 2009 Soundstream Festival a Ruby Award for Best Event in South Australia. (Reviews of the 2009 and 2010 festivals can be found in RT93, p49 and RT99, p50.)

The 2012 Soundstream Festival—it’s now biennial—will be different in scope and intention, emphasising connection with youth and community. Smart says that it will be aimed at music with strong community support. “The theme of the 2012 Festival is Intersection, a celebration of new music through community.”

soundstream collective

The Soundstream Collective was established in 2011 as an ensemble in residence based at the Elder Conservatorium, University of Adelaide, which will provide essential infrastructure and support. As the Soundstream Collective’s artistic director, Smart’s intention is to maintain a dedicated group of musicians able to perform regularly and at the highest level. The collective will collaborate with other musicians, commission new works, research new music and extend Adelaide and Australia’s new music culture. Its ongoing nature will obviate the difficulties of establishing ensembles anew for each Soundstream event.

The Soundstream Collective’s launch concert was at Elder Hall, University of Adelaide, opening with Steve Reich’s Clapping Music (1972) and followed by the premiere of Brisbane-based composer Erik Griswold’s exquisite a leaf falls (2011) for cello (John Addison) and percussion (Vortex Ensemble). Griswold took the title from e. e. cummings’s 1958 poem. The work is delicate and nuanced, as the Vortex percussionists (Ryan Simm, Jamie Adam, Ryan Harrison and Andrew Wiering) respond to the cellist’s motifs, timbres and playing techniques. On the previous evening, Griswold and Vortex had given an open rehearsal of the work in a smaller space that enhanced the subtlety of this intimate, poetic music, with Griswold providing an enlightening discussion of the work’s genesis and performance requirements.

The Collective’s launch included Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Meeting (1982), superbly performed by Stefan Ammer (piano) and Peter Handsworth (clarinet). Smart’s own performance with trumpeter Martin Phillipson of Polish composer Hannah Kulenty’s emotionally charged A Sixth Circle (1995) was excellent, its intensity developing through long-held trumpet notes layered over a driving piano line. Phillipson periodically pointed the trumpet directly into the piano as if seeking a special resonance, and the work climaxes with the thundering piano sounding like a tolling bell.

Adelaide composer John Polglase’s enchanting Shining, Unbreakable (2011) for violin (Elizabeth Layton) and piano (Smart) followed. Measured, balanced and beautifully performed, it was outstanding even amongst the other gems of the evening. In the final work, Smart, Layton, Handsworth and soprano Sidonie Henbest blended nicely in Peter Eötvös’s theatrical Natascha-trio (1996-7), which the Hungarian composer adapted from his opera based on Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Henbest was dynamic in the demanding vocal role.

The Collective’s ensemble playing was of the highest quality and this insightful survey of contemporary music had all the depth of a Soundstream Festival. The Polglase and Griswold works were particularly well-received and the Kulenty work generated great emotional power, something that contemporary music is often felt to lack. Smart’s programming generally offers emotional depth as well as intellectual challenge, and these works should draw audiences and inspire further compositional and performative development. The Collective subsequently performed the complete Kulenty Circle series at the Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane.

great music in great spaces

Straight off the plane from Brisbane, Smart launched another new series, on November 4, Music in Great Spaces, in co-operation with the Australian Institute of Architects. The series combines the musical recital with discussion of the relationship between architecture and sound. The first event was held in two locations—the foyer of the imposing neo-classical Freemasons Hall, built in 1934, and the foyer of the recently opened Innova21 Building at the University of Adelaide. Architect Steve Grieve discussed the Freemasons Hall, Innova21 creator Ross Chalmers outlined his approach to building design, Emma Horwood (harpist-soprano, at Freemasons Hall) and Aleksandr Tsiboulski (guitar, Innova21) performed across renaissance, classical and contemporary repertoire, and Peter Swift of AECOM then analysed both buildings’ sonic characteristics. Horwood opened her bracket singing from the Freemasons foyer balcony and continued as she walked down the gracious staircase to her harp, creating an ethereally resonant effect.

Such an event is accessible to a wide audience, and opens a range of possibilities for musical and cross-disciplinary programming. “One of the outcomes I would like to see for this series is growing public awareness of the role of acoustics in understanding a city, and how acoustics can fundamentally influence spaces,” Smart said in opening the program.

churchill fellowship

Earlier this year, Smart’s Churchill Fellowship involved a six-week trip to the UK, Europe and Canada where she interviewed some 50 people involved in new musical performance and management. “In that time my perception of new music was transformed, from my definition of what new music was to the meaning and scope of audience development and education in the arts, and to the role of artistic direction.” She visited arts organisations and individuals with a history of audience engagement and development to identify strategies that might be employed in Australia.

“What transpired was an intellectual discourse on the meaning and role of new music in contemporary society, the art of listening, the precious need for engagement of and respect for youth, and the inadequacy of blanket assumptions and empty categorisations,” she reported. She especially noted the importance of networking and commissioning, and the role of the musical animateur, “who facilitates reception of new music through education and public discourse, in particular at a grassroots level.”

Smart has been organising musical events under the Soundstream banner for many years, frequently with limited support and on negligible budgets. Her considerable achievements are a testament to her energy, commitment and leadership. The Churchill Fellowship provided an essential opportunity for her to expand her musical thinking and programming horizons and this is already paying off in her planning for future Soundstream events and the establishment of the Soundstream Collective. “Soundstream is about shaping Australian culture through new music. This sounds grand but it’s not, as Soundstream works at a grassroots level. It is especially important to look to the aesthetics of the younger generation.” There is now a five-year plan for Soundstream ranging from programs for school children to composer workshops and a young composer’s award. Gabriella Smart says she will know she’s been successful “when musical contagion develops and when there is light in students’ eyes.”

For the 2012 Soundstream New Music Festival Program go to www.soundstream.org.au/soundstream-festival/2012-10/. Gabriella Smart’s Churchill Fellowship report is at www.churchilltrust.com.au/fellows/detail/3482/gabriella+smart

The Soundstream Collective, Madley Performance Space, University of Adelaide Sept 29, Elder Hall Sept 30; Music in Great Spaces, Emma Horwood, Freemasons Hall, Aleksandr Tsiboulski, Innova21 Building, University of Adelaide, Nov 4 November; http://soundstream.org.au

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 42

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Black Field

Black Field

A NEW WAVE OF FILMMAKERS AT THIS YEAR’S GREEK FILM FESTIVAL TACKLED SUBJECTS THAT WERE OFTEN AT ODDS WITH TRADITIONAL GREEK CULTURE. THEIR WORKS DISPLAYED CHARACTERISTICS OF REMODERNISM, THE MOVEMENT DEVELOPED BY US PAINTER AND FILMMAKER JESSE RICHARDS IN 2000 WHICH ADVOCATES A MORE CONTEMPLATIVE STYLE OF CINEMA, AVOIDING CONVENTIONAL NARRATIVE STRUCTURE.

Three directors at this year’s festival—Vardis Marinakis, Yannis Economides and Athina Rachel Tsangari—allow events to unfold slowly through an accumulation of quiet moments, making a feature of repetition and dwelling in long takes on their characters’ physical environments. This contributes to a sense of frustration and mundanity in films like Economides’ Knifer and Tsangari’s Attenberg and of transcendent beauty in Marinakis’ Black Field. Two films discussed in this article engage with ancient cultures and emerge full of hope, while the others are studies in modern dislocation and emptiness, their depiction of Greek society less than cheering. Whether dark or light, however, it was heartening to see evidence of thought-provoking, sophisticated contemporary Greek film, despite the country’s current financial woes.

black field

Most distinctive in Marinakis’ Black Field is its creation of an immersive atmosphere that is simultaneously ancient and timeless, something perhaps more attainable in Greece with its still pervasive sense of the Byzantine, the medieval. Set in 1654, during Greece’s long period under the Ottoman Empire, it opens in a mountain monastery where a pious young nun, Anthi, leads a life of spartan ritual. One day a wounded rider collapses outside and is taken captive by the nuns; he is a janissary—one of the many Greek men taken as children to become soldiers in the Ottoman army and converted to Islam.

Anthi finds herself becoming attached to the soldier, something further complicated by the fact that she is really a boy, hidden since infancy among the nuns in order to avoid meeting the same fate as the janissary. As her religious obedience begins to be challenged by growing sexual tension, Anthi’s inner conflict unfolds through seamlessly edited lyrical imagery. Rendered in a palette of greys, the monastery through which the black-shrouded figures move has a stony monumentality that mimics its mountainous surroundings. In her bare cell Anthi lies like a sculpture or, in one of the film’s sudden moments of violence, slashes her inner thigh with a jagged piece of glass in mortification of the flesh. Restrained in his own cell, illuminated by a flickering lantern, the injured janissary is depicted in the manner of a Baroque painting of the dead Christ.

In verdant contrast, the forest to which the pair eventually escape is a glowing prelapsarian world—a place of absolute freedom. The whole film is suffused with an almost visionary quality: an otherworldly sense of the sacred, not limited to a Christian interpretation of the word, conveyed through long, contemplative takes, a paucity of dialogue and an emphasis on the elemental. While its homoerotic theme is to a degree subversive in this religious context, it’s undercut by the fact that a female actor (the remarkable Sophia Georgovassili) plays Anthi, thus rendering the prolonged final sex scene less challenging to conservative audiences, though this departure from realism by no means deprives the film of its power.

knifer

Knifer

Knifer

“I see Athens as my personal hell,” says Knifer director and co-writer Yannis Economides in an interview on the film’s website (www.knifer.gr). “The reality we are experiencing has not yet been expressed through a contemporary perspective. We are holding onto readymade mythologies. I want to talk about the society in which I live, the people I know, a society in decadence heading towards a dead end.” The result is Knifer, a drawn-out excursion into the banal seaminess of some lives. The film’s central character, Nikos (Stathis Stamoulakatos), is a fat 30-ish good-for-nothing who agrees to move from northern Greece to Athens in order to watch over his crass uncle’s guard dogs. Economides forces the viewer to participate in his protagonist’s bored isolation, introducing scene after lengthy scene of Nikos indulging in unpleasant personal habits, or sitting alone in a range of bars and cafes surrounded by others’ trivial conversation.

Scenes of mundanity are dwelt upon, while the film’s most violent moment passes by quickly; immediately after a murder occurs, the camera lingers in a single excruciating take on Nikos in his hotel room, munching his expressionless way through an entire packet of potato chips. Sex in Knifer is mechanistic and awkward with an edge of the grotesque, a characteristic shared by Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg, another festival film with emptiness at its heart (albeit with a more appealing protagonist). Stylishly shot in black and white, Knifer drives home its point unambiguously and often searingly, but occasionally risks exhausting its audience’s patience.

the nymphs of hindu kush

The Nymphs of Hindu Kush

The Nymphs of Hindu Kush

In a different category from Black Field and Knifer, Anneta Papathenasiou’s The Nymphs of Hindu Kush is a documentary focusing on the mountain-dwelling Kalasha tribe of north-west Pakistan. This agrarian community of 4,000 people, who some believe are the descendents of Alexander the Great (though there is no concrete evidence) have maintained their ancient customs and polytheistic religion surrounded by a population of 165 million Muslims. The documentary is wide-ranging, giving an overview of Kalasha life through many interviews and rare footage of ceremonial occasions, but Papathanasiou’s real focus is on the Kalasha women, who seem to enjoy a degree of autonomy greater than that afforded their Muslim countrywomen. Even so, they are constrained by traditional expectations that they will devote their lives to toiling long hours in the fields as well as tending to family at home.

It’s therefore startling to discover the younger generation of Kalasha women are undergoing a sudden transformation: while still strongly attached to their culture, they nurse ambitions for careers in social work, medicine and teaching. This radical shift is to a significant degree the doing of the Greek Volunteers, a Greek NGO that started working to improve health and education in the region, as well as to preserve Kalasha culture, in 1995. As well as building a new school to replace the previous substandard building, the group provided educational scholarships for Kalasha children otherwise too poor to pursue their studies. Thus Shamim Bibi, a young woman whose engaging presence dominates the documentary, was able to study for a social work PhD in Islamabad that she hopes will enable her to improve health and educational infrastructure in Kalasha.

The documentary abruptly changes tack when Athanasios Lerounis, president of the Greek Volunteers, is kidnapped from Kalasha by the Taliban in 2009. All Greeks working in Kalasha including Papathanasiou and her film crew are forced to leave the area—a Pakistani crew continues filming. With her benefactors gone, Shamim’s future hangs in the balance, as does the welfare of her people. Though the unplanned cliffhanger of Lerounis’s kidnapping is an ugly reminder of contemporary conflict, The Nymphs of Hindu Kush is above all a portrait of a remarkable, little-known culture. It also draws attention to a lesser-known aspect of Greek life—a positive one at that.

Black Field will be showing at the 22nd Melbourne Queer Film Festival, March 15-25, 2012

18th Greek Film Festival, Palace Cinemas, Melbourne Oct 12-30; Sydney Oct 13-30; Adelaide Oct 6-9; Brisbane Oct 27-30

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 21

© Katerina Sakkas; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

James Newitt, My Succession Party, 2011, Elwick Bay, Iteration Again, CAST

James Newitt, My Succession Party, 2011, Elwick Bay, Iteration Again, CAST

James Newitt, My Succession Party, 2011, Elwick Bay, Iteration Again, CAST

ITERATION AGAIN, AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN…A LEVEL OF COMMITMENT FAR BEYOND THE CAPACITY OF MOST WAS REQUIRED TO EXPERIENCE A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF THIS EPIC FOUR-WEEK PROJECT, DIRECTED BY DAVID CROSS. AS THE TITLE SUGGESTS, EACH ARTIST WAS ASKED TO REPEAT AND BUILD UPON THEIR MOSTLY PERFORMATIVE AND PARTICIPATORY ARTWORKS EVERY WEEK.

Seven Tasmanian curators selected both international and local artists to develop a total of 13 discrete projects, the result being a wide range of interpretations of the original premise, isolated schedules and a level of bureaucracy that could explain the variation in artwork quality. For all the hype within the local art scene, many of the projects were underwhelming, and while promoted as public art, few of them in my opinion engaged with the public or in public spaces in a meaningful way.

The most memorable iterations were Best Practice by John Vella, MCR by Marley Dawson and Christopher Hanrahan, My Succession Party by James Newitt and Paul O’Neill’s Our Day Will Come. Vella’s project, curated by Jane Stewart, sees helium balloons promising free original artworks distributed around Hobart. At a Salamanca Markets stall, a single helium balloon—the last one perhaps— is placed under a rock creating a tension between politeness and our desire to collect something for free (even if not the artwork, the novelty of a helium balloon). More balloons are tied to bike racks around the city over the four weeks, but always one at a time so the only sign that people are taking them is the steady build-up of severed black string. The balloons, accompanied by a weekly spruiker outside Arts Tasmania, lure people from the public space into the art institution where Vella’s prolific art practice is on display. I swap my balloon for an artwork cut-out, my two-week-old wilted balloon is nailed to a board in the window, and after the exchange, I’m instructed to pose for a photo with the artist. The display of ego is somewhat countered by the artist’s manipulation of an orchestrated market in which he’s oddly able to sell the same items that are being distributed for free.

 Marley Dawson & Chris Hanrahan, MCR 2, 2011, Berriedale, Iteration Again, CAST

Marley Dawson & Chris Hanrahan, MCR 2, 2011, Berriedale, Iteration Again, CAST

Marley Dawson & Chris Hanrahan, MCR 2, 2011, Berriedale, Iteration Again, CAST

The MCR, or MONA City Raceway, sited at the newly opened museum, is a repeat of a previously installed raceway for Performance Space at Sydney’s CarriageWorks. Dawson and Hanrahan have built a miniature motocross course on the roof of the museum, complete with an enthusiastic commentator, kitsch rotating logo, smoke machine and the waft of grease from the mobile Dagwood Dog stall. It’s fun and decidedly weird. However, there’s a nagging sense of insincerity. We exclaim at the ‘authenticity’ of the fried food smell, yet drink boutique beer from the adjacent stall, the food mostly untouched (“oh, I wouldn’t eat a Dagwood Dog!”). The art audience enjoy watching the largely incompetent artists balanced on tiny bikes, stalling and being rescued by the patient motocross experts, but wouldn’t be seen dead at a genuine motocross event, or even the neighbouring dirtbike track. David Walsh apparently agreed to MCR being based at MONA on the basis that it doesn’t sound like art, and while MCR is under the general project banner of public art, the work makes for a comfortable extension of its host institution.

Nearby, James Newitt has constructed a small island on the Derwent River in Hobart’s northern suburbs, adorned with a decorative palm tree and sturdy tent, where the artist lives for three weeks following the extravagant launch. On a bleak Saturday, we march along the foreshore led by the police band. We have balloons and horns and a group of unfortunate-looking cheerleaders perform a farewell routine. Like Best Practice and MCR, Newitt’s project has a level of humour, yet also like MCR, the send-off feels hollow, displaying a veneer of festivity with the almost exclusively art world audience performing the celebration (in a footy-obsessed state, is it wise to schedule on AFL grand final day?).

Our Day Will Come by artist Paul O’Neill, curated by Fiona Lee, takes bureaucracy another step further. Each week, O’Neill invites additional international artists to help him host the free school, which is paradoxically held in a small trailer inside the Tasmanian School of Art courtyard. While the venue is physically accessible to the public, visitors still have to cross the boundary from public space to art institution in order to participate, and it’s intimidating even for someone who works at the TSA. O’Neill invites ‘students’ to brainstorming sessions, one-on-one consultations (art counselling) and to weekly dinners where presentations are made by anyone on any topic. By the last dinner, the attendees outgrow the space of the presentation room, and while there’s talk by locals of continuing the evenings beyond the project, it’s doubtful that the same inclusiveness will be maintained. The relationship between the ideology of the free school and host institution is also contradictory with the introduction of an official TSA unit on discursive art practice in conjunction with Our Day Will Come.

Other projects are either disappointing (Ruben Santiago’s Long Drop into Water), difficult to access (Maddie Leach’s Let Us Keep it Together) or, in the case of Bethany Fellows’ Hobart Urban Illumination Project, seem more like a juvenile prank than a resolved artwork. As someone who’s had the unfortunate experience of living in one of the notorious Hobart streets that fail to receive direct winter sunlight, I appreciate Fellows’ premise of bringing light to these residents. In its physical manifestation, however, the work involves the artist driving around pre-dawn obnoxiously playing loud pop music and shining flashlights into people’s windows.

David Cross chose Tasmania for Iteration Again because of the co-operation between different institutions, the tight art community and because Tasmanians “look out,” arguing that “we’d struggle to do this anywhere else in Australia.” When I consider the turnout at Newitt’s farewell, the final Our Day Will Come dinner and the participation at the MCR relative to Hobart’s size, I believe the project has engaged many within the art community. However, it seems more like public art for the art world. There were forums, weekly artist talks, discussions at the Iteration Again ‘hub’ and writers assigned to each project for a quick written response. Many of the artworks appear interesting on paper, and the level of orchestrated dialogue, photographic and written documentation will no doubt make a great post-project catalogue and topic for future conferences. To make art for the art community is not a negative thing per se, and I realise public art is not just about the audience, but I assume Cross had greater aspirations for his project.

CAST, Iteration Again, curatorial director David Cross (NZ), curators Fernando Do Campo, Nicole Durling, Sarah Jones, Fiona Lee, Damien Quilliam, Paula Silva, Jane Stewart, artists David Blamey (UK), Lucy Bleach (AUS), Rhona Byrne (IRE), David Clegg (NZ), Marley Dawson (AUS), Bethany J Fellows (AUS), Annie Fletcher (IRE), Christopher Hanrahan (AUS), Toby Huddlestone (UK), Anthony Johnson (AUS), Maddie Leach (NZ), Gareth Long (CAN), James Newitt (AUS), Jem Noble (UK), Paul O’Neill (IRE), Raquel Ormella (AUS), Garrett Phelan (IRE), Sarah Pierce (USA/IRE), Ruben Santiago (ESP), John Vella (AUS), Mick Wilson (IRE), Voice Theatre Lab (AUS); various locations around Tasmania, Sept 18-Oct 15

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 43

© Lucy Hawthorne; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Erica Field,  La Voix Humaine, Motherboard

Erica Field, La Voix Humaine, Motherboard

Erica Field, La Voix Humaine, Motherboard

IN HIS SECOND BRISBANE FESTIVAL 2011 ARTISTIC DIRECTOR NOEL STAUNTON HIT HIS STRIDE WITH FOUR WORLD PREMIERES, FIVE AUSTRALIAN PREMIERES AND 11 INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTIONS, AND FOR THE FIRST TIME UNDER THE RADAR HAS BEEN INCLUDED IN THE FESTIVAL PROGRAM.

If it appeared there was a surfeit of choices on offer in the festival’s Santos City of (laser) Lights, it nevertheless seemed possible to weave a narrative of works that were not in themselves spectacular in scale and yet spoke eloquently on the theme that live performance above all serves as a mirror to remind us that it is the ecstatic, needy, desirous body we share in common with the rest of our species that is the material basis of our capacity for fellow feeling.

This was writ large on a sparse stage by the dancers’ bare bodies in Les Ballets C de la B’s Out of Context—For Pina (see RT105) directed by Alain Patel (see interview). This wondrous and strange piece of dance theatre sought to restore us to “the roots of childhood and prehistory” (dramaturg Hildegard De Vuyst), certainly to a time, as Marx has it, before capitalism turned even our senses into commodities.

Jack Charles v the Crown is the story of a stolen generation child placed into care and denied both his culture and family. Charles’ subsequent career as burglar, jailbird, junkie and pioneer of Aboriginal performance is told by him without self-pity or bitterness. Starting with a replay of Charles as junkie in Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s documentary Bastardy, while Charles works at his pottery wheel downstage, seemed almost a prophylactic (Charles shooting up) against being overwhelmed by his utter charm and seductive, velvety voice as he combines storytelling, personal history, cabaret and courtroom drama to telling effect. Simply staged and fluidly directed by Rachael Maza Long, this show allowed Jack Charles’ devastating honesty, humour and stage mastery of storytelling and song, seamlessly backed in the musical numbers by three consummate stage musicians (who showed great affection and respect for Charles), to create an intimate and standout show about the sorry history of Aboriginal and white relations in Australia. Written with long-time friend and early collaborator John Romeril, Charles’ stories were true and raw, the comedy black and the justice of his appeal to have his criminal record sealed undeniable. But Charles is no victim: at 67 he was the shaman of his own soul and, in the performance space, ensorcelled us too. He roundly deserved the standing ovation he received.

Lucas Stibberd likewise, in Boy Girl Wall, creates that theatre magic where our hearts and imagination are wholly given over. Ultimately it’s lonely boy meets lonely girl but it’s the journey that grips us, the animate and romantic Wall that divides them finally immolating itself as the deus ex machina to get them there. Set in an inner-city suburb near you, this funny, clever, imaginative and breathless narrative barely flags as Thom (boy) and Althea (girl) pursue their separate trajectories through the minefields of (post) modern singles’ lives, evil magpies, intransigent objects, bastardly or at least indifferent bosses, string theory and quantum mechanics. On a nearly bare thrust stage, supported only by musician Sarah Winter, Stibberd’s unbridled inventiveness realises all the myriad characters, human and inanimate, using sock puppets, chalk drawings, an overhead projector and his own unflagging energy and timing to transform the Roundhouse stage into a place where, eschewing irony, finding what makes you truly happy becomes the only way to go.

Rhinoceros in Love, National Theatre of China, OzAsia 2011

Rhinoceros in Love, National Theatre of China, OzAsia 2011

Rhinoceros in Love, National Theatre of China, OzAsia 2011

Rhinoceros in Love from the National Theatre of China seemed to endorse the same sentiment but also, and perhaps unintentionally, reveals the dangers of rampant individualism. It’s hard to tell, not least because the text by Liao Yimei is so poetic (at least it appeared so in the surtitles), while the direction of her husband, Meng Jinghui, blurred dream and reality in a blend of Eastern conventions and Western avant-garde style that gave fresh resonance to the commonplaces of romantic love. The core plot concerns zookeeper Ma Lu’s (Nianhua Zhang) obsessive and unrequited love for neighbour Ming Ming (Xi Qi) who herself is hopelessly in love with a man who does not reciprocate her feelings and treats her badly. Ming Ming in turn treats Ma Lu indifferently and his only outlet for his feelings of rejection is the one-sided and impassioned conversations he has with the rhinoceros in his charge who is similarly solitary. However, as events unfold, Ma Lu can be seen as stalking his beloved, and he eventually kidnaps her, although this may be hallucinatory, occurring amid torrents of rain signifying his overflowing feelings and the full force of his damned-up passion. There is moral ambivalence here, suggesting Ma Lu’s all-consuming love is madness, but also endorsing, especially in Ma Lu’s final stirring address to the audience, that remaining true to oneself and to the authenticity of your heart’s desire is valid. (See Jonathan Bollen’s review of Ozasia)

Ma Lu in his isolation at the end is not so far away from the position of Meursault in Albert Camus’ novel, The Stranger, which was a cause celebre among the post-World War II generation of youth in Europe and America; and of Holden Caulfield, the young protagonist of JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye which captured young people in the 1960s in a way that is comparable to the popular effect that Rhinoceros in Love apparently has had on the millennial generation in China. It also presents a highly satirical, comedic view of the effect of market forces on this generation and their aspirations and desires. This provided opportunities for sharp social vignettes conveyed with pointed humour by the fluid and polished ensemble. It reminded me in form, dedication and its questioning of social change, of the community theatre movement in Australia during the 1980s and was a welcome reminder of what has been lost in spirit through the so-called professionalisation of the arts in this country.

Some shows just push all the right buttons. Program notes tell us that The Dream Menagerie was loosely inspired by the Pyramus and Thisbe play from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the wedding scene feast from Tod Browning’s cult 1930s film Freaks with, according to director Scott Maidment, a tribute to Fellini in there as well and perhaps also the New Testament with the parading donkey (a winner). Fellini is apt, because Maidment has a filmic eye which can create audience-involving spectacles turning soap bubbles or canvas into a vast, undulating ocean. I’ve become a fan of Strut and Fret since the entrancing circus cabaret Cantina premiered at last year’s festival. This year’s production provided Maidment with more scope to play with the image of a lush, surreal, all-embracing human and animal menagerie that conjured our best hopes and at the same time was both visually and sonically ravishing.

But this is a soft and surface dream. The players, drawn from the bouffant tradition, are whitewashed of their darker side. While The Dream Menagerie faithfully delivers a parade of delicious imagery and circus skills, it fails to engage the essence of the bouffant, which the Freaks film itself sums up succinctly in the resonating phrase “if you hurt one of us you hurt us all.” Intrinsic to this, and equally ignored, is the underlying savage rivalry that percolates within the bouffant family. This seemed a sadly lost opportunity to juxtapose and play with deeper emotions. Nevertheless as a lyric paean to the magic and transformative power of the circus, it remained memorably haunting, existing in a unique category all its own.

Anna Robi and  The House of Dogs

Anna Robi and The House of Dogs

Anna Robi and The House of Dogs

Anna Robi & the House of Dogs is not for the prudish. Everyone’s viscerally, and in the mother’s case vulgarly, on heat. If you can’t stand it get out of the kitchen or in this case the Sue Benner theatre. The script is cruel, coarse, sexually blatant and darkly funny and does not flag as both mother and daughter trade blow for blow in what seemed at times a newly minted, female version of the old English classic comedy, Steptoe and Son. Desperate for love, a la Doris Day movies, or at least sex, Stephanie Smith plays Anna, the sexually simmering but naïve young woman who is the carer and companion for her self-pitying, manipulative and wilfully invalid mother, a failed dog breeder, played with magnetic horror by Jeanette Cronin.

Their house is a kennel, literally, the set floor littered with dog shit and newspapers, the dogs appearing as scarily realised puppets that copulate savagely and mechanically, and the centrepiece a bed from where mother in a neck brace and soiled nightie dominates the life of the house. The re-kindling of Mum’s sexuality truly made me blanch. Anna picks up, or papers over, the turds, meanwhile attempting to initiate an actual love life through furtive calls to Roger who seizes them as opportunities for masturbatory phone sex. Emerging Queensland playwright Maxine Mellor takes us by the scruff of the neck and wipes our faces in all this mess and we cringe at the same time as we laugh at this reality without decent boundaries that so unashamedly elicits our own botched lives. Perhaps Anna Robi & the House of Dogs can be blamed for having sucked all the available squalid buffoonery out of the air.

La Voix Humaine by Jean Cocteau was first produced in 1930 and is regarded as a modern masterpiece. It has been much adapted: Francis Poulenc’s opera La Voix Humaine, Gian Carlo Menotti’s ‘opera bouffa,’ The Telephone and Roberto Rossellini’s film version in Italian with Anna Magnani, L’Amore (1948). In this vein, Brisbane independent performance group Motherboard performed their own experimental multimedia version earlier this year. Although it only updated Cocteau’s concern with the effect of technology on people’s ability to communicate with each other in a new, exciting way, producer Dave Sleswick ran into copyright problems and was forced to restore the original script.

It is a solo piece where a woman speaks on the telephone to her ex-lover on the eve of his marriage to another woman. His part in the conversation is inaudible, comprehensible only from her bodily reactions and complicated by the comfortable lies she tells him to keep him engaged on the phone. Erica Field bravely took on a role that has been performed by such divas as Simone Signoret, Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullman. Her performance as a woman falling apart was intelligent and absorbing, painfully conveying the ambivalence and contrariness of desire.

In this, Sleswick’s faithful rendition of the text, it becomes apparent that the woman portrayed is a melodramatic or romantic figure who gives her all in a manner that I would have said is out of sympathy with contemporary attitudes had not Field singing Piaf’s perennial, “Non, je ne regrette rien,” reminded me that the figure is an immortal one, however much it contextualises the work at a particular time. I look forward to Sleswick overcoming his problems and following Motherboard’s project to its zenith next year.

2011 Brisbane Festival: Ilbijerri Theatre Company, Jack Charles v the Crown, writers Jack Charles, John Romeril, director Rachael Maza Long performer Jack Charles, musical director Nigel Mclean, set & costume Emily Barrie, lighting Danny Pettingill, AV design Peter Worland, live musicians Nigel Mclean, Phil Collins Mal Beveridge, Brisbane Powerhouse, Sept 7-10; The Escapists, Boy Girl Wall, performer Lucas Stibberd, writers Matthew Ryan, Lucas Stibberd, sound design Neridah Waters, lighting Keith Clark, set Jonathon Oxlade with Lucas Stibberd, musician Sarah Winter, La Boite Roundhouse, Sept 20-25; National Theatre of China, Rhinoceros in Love, writer Liao Yimei, director Ming Jinghui, Brisbane Powerhouse, Sept 21-24; Strut and Fret Production House, The Dream Menagerie, creative director Scott Maidment, performers Captain Frodo, Imaan Hadchitti, Derek Ives, Derek Scott, Genevieve Thackwell-James, music Trent Arkleysmith, Spielgeltent, King George Square, Sept 6-24; Anna Robi and the House of Dogs, writer Maxine Mellor, director Iain Sinclair, performers Jeanette Cronin, Stephanie Smith, Dean Mason, Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts, Sept 20-24; Motherboard, La Voix Humaine, writer Jean Cocteau, translator Anthony Wood, production Dave Sleswick, performer Erica Field, Performing Arts Space, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane, Sept 13-14

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 4

© Douglas Leonard; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Captured (cannon), Tamiko Thiel, 2011

Captured (cannon), Tamiko Thiel, 2011

ALONG THE STEEP, TWISTING COBBLED LANEWAYS AND MAJOR THOROUGHFARES OF ISTANBUL ALIKE, PLAYFUL KITTENS RUN AMOK WHILE THEIR ELDERS LAZILY RECLINE ACROSS DOORSTEPS OR SPRAWL UNSELFCONSCIOUSLY ON STORE MERCHANDISE. THIS SPECIAL STATUS OF STRAY CATS IN ISTANBUL, LOVED AND FED BY LOCALS AND PASSERSBY, PROTECTED AND PROVIDED WITH VETERINARY CARE BY THE STATE, ILLUSTRATES A JUNCTURE OF THE EASTERN AND WESTERN WORLDS—MUSLIM IDEALS OF TOLERANCE MIXED WITH WESTERN-INFLUENCED URBAN BELIEF IN ANIMAL RIGHTS.

Istanbul is a city of not only multiple overlaying levels of social, religious and financial complexity but also of horizontal strata. The senses can be overwhelmed at street level by the cacophony of the immediate. From below it is almost impossible to tell that there is another layer of activity on the rooftop bars and restaurants. However if you ascend by small elevators, breezy views of concrete high rises, glittering mosaics of domed mosques and Mediterranean ambience stretch out before you. This complexity was reflected in the many subjective experiences of ISEA Istanbul—from the immediately seen to the intriguing and ultimately more interesting invisible layers and levels of the event.

symposium

The Symposium, with its impossible to reconcile multiple parallel presentation sessions, was not well attended despite ISEA2011 having 1,350 local and international participants. Some suggested that the venue at Sabanci Center in Levent, accessed by most delegates via several modes of transport and entered through machine gun guarded security points, did not provide a space for easy discussion. The majority of the discourse, fuelled by Tweets, Flickr sets, armchair Facebook commentary and spirited mailing list attacks and defences, centred not so much on art or philosophy, but on organisational models, structure, finances and issues of cultural difference.

The contemporality of many overlaying and intersecting levels of public and private modes of interaction was neatly surveyed by USA-based curator Christiane Paul in her keynote on the shift to network cultures. Today, what used to be thought of as virtual and immaterial (ie online and mediated environments) are ubiquitous and self-performed platforms promoting distributed identity and collectivity. Paul outlined how Mixed Reality experience in gaming, exemplified by groups such as Blast Theory (UK) and Augmented Reality (AR) interaction, predominantly in advertising, are becoming the norm.

the art

And then there was the art. ISEA being co-located in Istanbul and overlapping with the 12th Istanbul Biennial proved an overwhelming lure for a large number of Australian practitioners, academics and writers. That the ISEA exhibitions were part of the Official Parallel Program of the Biennial and the publication of Conference proceedings and inclusion in a special issue of the Leonardo Electronic Almanac (LEA), contributed to this interest. Italian academic Lanfranco Aceti, the ISEA Artistic Director and Conference Chair, proposed that the synergy with the Biennial would provide fruitful exchanges between media arts and fine arts communities, however the members of Australia’s fine arts communities I encountered at the Biennial events were nowhere to be seen at ISEA.

My most synergistic art experiences came under the banner of Invisible Istanbul—a collaboration between media artist Tamiko Thiel (US) and young Istanbul architectural and urban designers Cem Kozar and Isil Ünal of PATTU. Invisible Istanbul uses Augmented Reality to overlay virtual artworks via GPS positioning onto the physical sites around the Biennial. In other words it was an AR Intervention into the Biennale. Any viewer could see several different, unregulated site-specific artworks by launching content on their smartphones or tablet PCs. This mediated layer of visuality provides an arena for dialogue between artists not previously accessible. As Thiel states “The difference is that with AR technology, participation is the decision of the artist, not the curator.”

Captured (cannon), Tamiko Thiel, 2011

Captured (cannon), Tamiko Thiel, 2011

Situated in Tophane on the former site of the Imperial munitions factory and barracks, Thiel’s Captured Images powerfully overlayed simple objects simultaneously into the contemporary art of the Biennial and its historical space, bringing the relationship between art and politics to the fore. Her Capture (for Hrant) honours assassinated journalist Hrant Dink, an advocate for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and human and minority rights in Turkey. It is one of the very few works in ISEA that actually references any local or political events, with iconic images of a murdered Hrant’s shoe soles, sourced from broadcast images of his death, visually embedded into the articulated metal displays of the Biennale.

In other works Thiel juxtaposes virtual pencils against discarded armament shells; compares cannon ball production with touristic evil eye amulets; and intertwines swirling ephemeral tweets and hash tags against the clean neon texts of the Biennial.

Another AR work Urban Dynamics, created by PATTU, departs from the Tophane compound to explore the nearby neighbourhoods of Karaköy and Galata. The future and the past of the city are seen in planes and layers through a new set of AR eyes, revealing what has shaped the city and its people from the old docks, beer houses and brothels to the world of haute couture and café society.

Geographical, physical and virtual data spaces truly merged at this ISEA: Manifest.AR inhabited the Kasa Gallery repositioning artworks from their Venice Biennial intervention Orada DegIil; Troy Innocent conducted Neomaflux AR art walks in the Beyoglu neighbourhood; and Andrew Burrell demonstrated care for virtual life forms from The Institute For Advanced Augmentiform Development and Release on the streets around Taksim. Many delegates attended ISEA workshops on AR and VR, as clearly recent developments in soft and hardware development offer a seductive and much richer mediated experience via the current generation of personal devices.

The other main art venue, Cumhuriyet Gallery in Taksim Square, adjoining the major pedestrian thoroughfare of Istiklal Caddesi, was a perfectly positioned and beautifully restored building of rambling colonnades and soft curving spaces. Unfortunately it was not a venue that easily housed electronic art or network connections, and was closed on several occasions when riot police occupied the Square to thwart student protesters and teachers striking for higher wages. Over-crowded schedules, signage issues and long distances between venues, meant many never to be repeated experiences slipped silently under most participants’ radar.

Two such were provided by Richard Castelli (France), director of Epidemic (www.epidemic.net/fr) and producer of much of the most interesting electronic media art and theatre globally. In Istanbul Castelli curated the Madde-Isik 2 (Matter-Light 2) exhibition which included world premieres of the kinetic Assistante Sociale by Jean Michel Bruyère and Kurt Hentschläger’s HIVE, installed over the five floors of Borusan Muzik Evi. A forum for select international cultural operators at ISEA titled “Who Understands Media Art?” clearly gave the message to stop seeing ourselves as different. Castelli’s private guided tours in Per-ili Kösk, the head-quar-ters and con-tem-po-rary art mu-seum of Boru-san Hold-ings, elegantly illustrated capital investment in new art practices within corporate culture.

The disparity between resources for ISEA artists and Castelli’s artists could not have been clearer. Many artists at Istanbul, as is often a feature at any ISEA, were frustrated by installation difficulties. Customs hold-ups compromised the Kathy Clelland curated exhibition Signs of Life: Robot Incubator with Mari Velonaki’s new work in progress Diamandini being delayed, while Kirsty Boyle’s Tree Ceremony, involving a robot interacting with a tree, failed to arrive at all. Meanwhile small robot works brought by the artists, like Boyle’s fragments and John Tonkin’s nervous robots, tumbled and turned in the exhibition space as carefree as Istanbul kittens.

foregoing complexity

ISEA veterans know what to expect and how to work within these resourcing parameters, showing easily transportable and installable works. The curatorium of Sean Cubitt, Vince Dziekan and Paul Thomas cheekily presented The World is Everything That is The Case, art works that were actually housed in suitcases—and not to the detriment of the works. Meditation Wall, the Karen Casey installation (in collaboration with Harry Sokol and Tim Cole) of digital patterns influenced by the artist’s brainwaves, received good international press. Much of the success for the events was due to the tireless and cheerful negotiations of Istanbul-based ISEA Program Director Özden Sahin, who provided help to those caught in cultural and bureaucratic issues, smoothing the way for many.

This ongoing aspect of ISEA is a double-edged sword. While always providing an unprecedented opportunity to extend the scope of international electronic artworks which are rarely seen together in any country, the ISEA exhibitions can fall down through lack of continuous organisational infrastructure. Major artworks often rely on individual artists being able to fund their own exhibition, hence more complex works are forgone for the easy install. The host city’s local arts community and general public do not see the best representation of media arts that they could, hence the shows become hermetic, reaching only a small audience.

isea 2013 australia—the challenge

What lessons can Australia learn before we host ISEA 2013 in Sydney? The last time we hosted this event was TISEA in 1993. It was a pivotal point in media arts history, however financially disastrous for all organisations involved. Hopefully, 20 years later, issues of adequate resourcing and support from major funders and institutions have been addressed. Most importantly ISEA needs to be vital and relevant to the local arts community, leaving us with additional resources, rather than depleted. Can we tolerate another forum for internationals who drop in and out of the country swirling only in their own vacuum-packed culture?

Sean Cubitt opened ISEA by discussing how our standardised technological forms of spreadsheets, databases and geographical information systems have irrevocably altered our understanding of, and relationship to, both time and space. Given the predominant use of this technology is in the management of people, commerce and politics, he suggested that we, as artists and creatives, look for both older and new alternatives to the grids from within which to operate. Perhaps the same can be said for our institutional and festival practices. In order to rebuild or reuse forms which can cut across outmoded structures, we must re-visit, re-examine and re-visualise what it is that we value in our artistic communities in Australia and worldwide.

the informal isea

One successful form at ISEA was an on-the-fly daily discussion forum. Curated by Stephen Kovats, the [email protected]_Ziya provided a responsive informal program each evening of specific topics fuelled by fresh mint lemonade, local fruits and wines, in a stylish boutique hotel and gallery venue. By the third evening’s Lounge, Terra Virtualis Augmentio, discussing the entwinement of the virtual in everyday materiality and launching the Australian Journal of Virtual Art, its popularity blew out the venue completely. Coinciding with an impromptu -empyre- mailing list meeting, crowds milled outside closing down the narrow street. The Lounge served its purpose in bringing disparate groups of ISEA attendees together, who dispersed in different groupings to local restaurants and bars to engage in face-to-face dialogue.

It seems that informal, interstitial events—where art, information sharing and debate happen in ambiguous moments and spaces—provide a positive way forward. They are sometimes uncomfortable, a little chaotic, often confused; however their loose structure leaves openings for multiple outcomes, rather than tired and predictable ones. But can there be any formula for success when an event is an evolving and growing entity—one aspect that nails it as others spin out of control?

Will future events be more anarchic and energetic—spaces of rational oblivion or controlled frustration? We may not have to worry as Anita Fontaine and Geoffrey Lillemon’s Rainbow X Apocalypse (Australia), a video installation downstairs in the Nuru Ziya gallery, reminds us of the doomsday prophecy that 2012 is the final year of human existence. By creating an afterlife for avatars in the Metaverse, a videogame-esque heaven in which our souls live on for eternity, Fontaine asks a more broadly relevant question. “Is escape into a digital reality the only way forward for the human conscience?…In the face of this looming dystopia, what do we choose? Absolute death or virtual reality?”

at the crossroads

We really are at crossroads with ISEA and many festivals and institutions around the world of similar vintage. The space for many art practices and debates today has shifted into social spaces and out of the gallery. On the virtual and electronic plane many visible and invisible layers compete to inform, direct and augment audiences in ways that previously have not been viable. The new worlds move in invisible data flows, visceral and intuitive vectors, as we develop and nurture subtle sensing organs, both biological and electronic, to detect and experience where they can take us.

Despite its many issues, and after the memory of boats on the Bosphorus, cocktails, parties and bathhouses fade, ISEA Istanbul had depth and presence. The call to prayer ringing across the city at regular intervals deeply resonated within my body and mind. Having a prayer mat in my hotel room (instead of a bible) was deeply encouraging on a global level. It tells me that we do not lack vision and inclusion in our communities, and that there is an alternative to re-presenting outmoded forms. I look forward to an Australian ISEA that will integrate the gems of tradition with experimental formats, in a sustainable mix that inspires and reinvigorates our local arts sectors.

ISEA2011 Istanbul, Sept 14- 21

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 22

© Melinda Rackham; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Fiona McGregor, Water #3: Expulsion

Fiona McGregor, Water #3: Expulsion

Fiona McGregor, Water #3: Expulsion

AT SURFACE LEVEL, THE WIDESPREAD PREVALENCE OF SLOW TIME IN VIDEO PRACTICES AND DURATION IN PERFORMANCE ART IS UNDERSTANDABLE AS A COUNTERPOINT TO THE AGE OF DISTRACTION IN WHICH WE LIVE. BUT THIS NATURAL FIT ALSO POSES A CHALLENGE FOR ARTISTS WORKING IN THIS VEIN, WHO MUST SEEK WAYS TO GO BEYOND WHAT HAS BECOME A MUCH USED ARTISTIC STRATEGY.

Two compelling durational performance installations presented in Sydney this November—Fiona McGregor’s Water Series and John A Douglas’s Body Fluid II— suggest durational work still has the capacity to challenge and engage audiences, although somewhat paradoxically it now appears most effective when approached in a multi-faceted way.

water series

Stillness, risk and endurance were the common threads running through McGregor’s Water Series, where for three weeks Artspace became home to her accumulative and visceral project comprising video and photographic artifacts of two earlier endurance works as well as three durational performances undertaken live in the gallery. Filling one room was Vertigo (2009), a four-hour and 50-minute film capturing one of McGregor’s initial engagements with water as she spent several agonising hours lying flat on a cliff at North Bondi facing directly out to sea to confront head-on her fear of heights (see RT Studio). Presented at MOP in February as a single linear projection, at Artspace McGregor adopted for Vertigo a multi-screen approach with six projections looping various vantage points including two cast directly onto the ground, recreating her both terrifying and awe inspiring view from the precipice. The effect of this panoramic seascape was to bring the viewer closer to the artist’s experience. Initially affecting as a subtle and slowly unfolding meditation upon the sea as psychic terrain, in this instance the experience of ocean as limit was compressed and forceful, the mental transition of moving beyond fear more immediately palpable.

Where the early works involved a bodily and psychological encounter with landscape (Tidal Walk [2009] saw McGregor walk laps of Bondi Beach for the 11.5 hour duration of a tide cycle) the newest installments were energised by the immediacy and vitality of an audience presence. The motivation was also less internal as McGregor’s more political concern for water scarcity was played out in the live endurance actions of having rainwater dripped continuously onto her salt covered body, the introduction of a saline drip into the body while having blood extracted, tattooing with water and the drinking of large quantities of water to produce urine to activate a small garden fountain. Traces were left in the gallery marking the sites of the actions, creating a ritualistic atmosphere that intensified the resonance of McGregor’s undertaking as the exhibition period progressed.

Fiona McGregor, Water series, installation

Fiona McGregor, Water series, installation

Fiona McGregor, Water series, installation

These were challenging gestures that converged time, body and nature as a medium, transcending their literal messages to provoke more personal and subjective responses. For Descent #1, McGregor had envisaged enduring 24 hours under dripping water although as I arrived the performance had just concluded after five and a half hours as her body succumbed to the first symptoms of hypothermia. Watching the remaining water drip eerily from the latex bulb suspended from the ceiling and onto the hard plywood table where the artist had lain, a ghostly outline of her body imprinted in salt was a stark reminder of human frailty and the enduring power of performance art to jolt us from everyday complacency.

body fluid ii

John A Douglas, Body Fluid II

John A Douglas, Body Fluid II

John A Douglas, Body Fluid II

A few days later at Performance Space’s Clubhouse, John A Douglas’ 10-hour durational performance Body Fluid II took a very personal concern—the artist’s own reliance on life supporting medical treatments—and imaginatively stretched it to epic proportions, netting a broad variety of themes along the way. In a surreal setting melding the chintzy glamour of a lo-fi science fiction film set with the sparse interior of a hospital room, the artist began by lying prostrate on the floor while hooked up to a peritoneal dialysis machine, plastic tube protruding from his rotund Buddha belly. Dressed in a tight, shiny, gold bodysuit that covered eyes, nostrils and mouth, there was a wry humour in its resemblance to both submissive bondage attire and a Hollywood superhero costume gone awry, while an atmospheric soundtrack echoing the pulsing rhythm of a heartbeat with a primal, earthly rumbling completed the transition into this strange mythic-medical space.

John A Douglas, Body Fluid II

John A Douglas, Body Fluid II

John A Douglas, Body Fluid II

Against a backdrop of parched Australian bush, desert and salt lake landscapes projected across three screens, a mat of gold tiles formed the parameters of the performance space within which Douglas languidly unfolded choreographed movements spanning gentle grasps, reaches and mime-like hand actions to laboured walking and full body seizures and collapses. At the corner of the artist’s ‘hospital bed’ stood a gold skull, facing toward the audience as a memento mori. It was a fitting piece of symbolism for this unnerving yet humane meditation upon not only the physical and mental challenges of an ongoing illness but also, more broadly, how the fact of our mortality plays out in the psyche. Employing his body as a vessel to communicate diverse states, from burden, exhaustion, depletion and apathy to wonder, curiosity and renewal, Douglas effectively distilled in memorable images the see-sawing feelings that underwrite our ambivalent attitudes toward life and death.

Douglas’ work often subjectively reinterprets film and in Body Fluid II there was an open-ended dialogue with Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth. An identification with the quest of the ageless humanoid Newton (Bowie) to save his drought stricken planet worked to deepen the associations and, as the artist’s gold alien alter ego chimerically appeared then disappeared from the ancient landscapes on screen, I was reminded that we’re just visitors to this land in both the colonial context and when measured against the immense scale of deep-time. This close attunement to temporality linked both Douglas’ and McGregor’s performance installations but this was neither artist’s true subject. Rather, in these works time, water, energy and endurance must all eventually run out, which provokes an awareness of the finite nature of human existence. At times confronting, these were life affirming actions that resonate in an age of environmental crisis where the ability to care for a fragile world demands a recognition of our interdependent place in natural systems that we can impact on but not control.

Fiona McGregor, Water Series, Artspace, Nov 1-20; John A Douglas, Body Fluid II, Performance Space Clubhouse with Chalk Horse, CarriageWorks, Sydney, Nov 4

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 44

© Ella Mudie; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

ZEE, Kurt Hentschläger

ZEE, Kurt Hentschläger

REWIRE, HELD IN LIVERPOOL IN SEPTEMBER THIS YEAR, WAS THE FOURTH INSTALMENT OF THE MEDIA ARTS HISTORIES CONFERENCES ESTABLISHED BY OLIVER GRAU IN 2005 UNDER THE TITLE RE:FRESH. LIKE RE:PLACE (2007) AND RE:LIVE (2009), THE REWIRE CONFERENCE BROUGHT TOGETHER ARTISTS, ACADEMICS AND CURATORS FROM A WIDE ARRAY OF MEDIA ART BACKGROUNDS TO EXAMINE, DEBATE AND ARGUE ABOUT THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF WHAT MANY STILL (STRANGELY) FEEL ARE MARGINAL ART PRACTICES.

As with most academic conferences these days, parallel sessions ensured that any one participant could only sample a portion of the papers on offer. This means that even attendance at the conference provides only a partial view. I’ll try and explicate that view here.

What one gets from being lucky enough to be present (even partially so) is a sense of the state of play in the field of media art histories. Perhaps having just come, like many others at Rewire, from ISEA in Istanbul I’ll admit to feeling fairly attuned to a feeling of anxiety about what the future of the past of media art might be. In a recent article for this magazine (RT104), I noted that one gets a sense that media art practices have begun to be incorporated into more mainstream contemporary arts practices. This is reflected in the subsumption of the category ‘media art’ in education and funding regimes into broader categories of art that reflect how, for example, artists are working with media technologies today. This is then echoed in a sense of urgency, which I felt exhibited itself at Rewire, in relation to how media art maintains an identity as a specific and historical set of practices and outcomes that need to be preserved.

The whole conference series is itself set up for precisely this purpose. This year’s conference took this one step further by formulating and attempting to endorse an international declaration on the need to establish global, networked structures to preserve the recent past of media art history before it is too late. The declaration points out that, “As a result of rapid changes in technology, many major works made even 10 years ago can no longer be shown or are disappearing without a trace. If this situation is not addressed, we face losing an art form that is a central part of our post-industrial digital culture. To date, systematic global preservation and documentation campaigns do not exist.”

It goes on to list a key set of goals that such a campaign might aim to achieve including; recognising and building upon existing knowledge and resources; providing and fostering channels of communication; enabling the international research community to create/upload/access data to be shared; encouraging peer exchange and addressing the new challenges of Media Art; developing scientific technologies for documentation and preservation of Media Art; providing inspiration and resources for curators, artists, scholars, educators and audiences; supporting the Media Art History network, its conference series, text repositories and scientific publications; and promotion of new ways of understanding media art, science, technology and its histories. The declaration has since been posted online and has been endorsed by a long and distinguished list of signatories (www.mediaarthistory.org).

The necessity of ensuring that media art history is preserved and the challenges that this preservation presents to us was also articulated through our exposure, as conference delegates, to some extraordinary media art works. Rewire was chaired by Mike Stubbs, former senior curator at ACMI in Melbourne and now CEO of FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) based in Liverpool. Consequently, the conference coincided (and collaboratively hosted activities) with this year’s Abandon Normal Devices (AND) event, a regional festival of new cinema and digital culture held in and around Liverpool.

The festival included works such as Kurt Hentschläger’s extraordinary ZEE. Described by Claudia Hart as “the world as viewed by a dying robot clone from the inside of a Turner landscape painting,” ZEE is an installation made from fog, light and sound. Installed in a small, enclosed space, the viewer is immersed in the work for a period of 12 minutes during which time the artist claims to be trying to induce in them a particular kind of sensory overload. After lining up to enter the work and signing a detailed (and slightly scary) medical indemnity form, the viewer is led, along with about eight others, into a room where they are left to experience the work. Upon exiting, many viewers were then approached to articulate the experience to a waiting camera crew. ZEE exemplifies the problems articulated above. How does one ‘preserve’ such a work given that the ‘work’ is a product of audience affect as much as it is a thing in itself? Clearly, Hentschläger is mindful of this as the immediate documentation of the ‘affect effect’ in the form of witness statements testifies.

UK telematics artist Paul Sermon spoke to this very point at Rewire stating that because of the transitory nature of his art he is much more interested in preserving the audience’s response than worrying about the tricky task of making his work last. Finding an adequate way for this to happen, one that also preserves the feeling of experiencing his art, is a real concern for him. For Sermon, the curatorial imperative of making the work reproducible (and hence archivable) is not his first priority.

The conference is itself one mode of preservation of a certain historical trajectory in media art practice. That there was a need to articulate this further in an international declaration which reiterated the need to establish global, networked structures to preserve the recent past of media art history suggests that the conference itself is not sufficient to achieve this aim. I think this is certainly true. The difficulty with conferences in general at present is that there is so much emphasis on academic credentialism—so much so that most Australian academics struggle these days to attend events that are not tied to DEEWR [Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations] outcomes—that a genuine conference where one is encouraged, in the true sense of the word, to compare, consult, deliberate and talk over is a rare event indeed. Parallel sessions with papers grouped under conspicuously vague headings such as Philosophies (of what, one might ask) means that attendees, when not rushing from room to room, are left puzzled as to what connections can be made between say a paper titled “Disintegration, Translation, Temporality” and another titled “Polar roses, code and crochet lace: Media non-specificity in craft-based textile forms.” This is not, I should stress, the fault of either the organisers or the presenters.

I would go so far as to argue that it is endemic of academic conferences in general. For that reason, most of the real conferring happens over a beer at dinner or afternoon tea. In the case of Rewire, joint events with the cinema and digital culture festival Abandon Normal Devices allowed delegates a chance to experience events and activities together that the conference format itself made more not less difficult. Perhaps one part of the project to preserve media art histories needs to focus on just this question. How can the precious times when those whose knowledge and memories of media art come together be most effectively used as a time for genuine discussion, debate and decision-making and how can that be preserved? I can’t claim to have the answer to that question but I certainly think it is one that is worth considering.

Rewire: Fourth International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology, host FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), Sept 28-Oct 1; Abandon Normal Devices (AND) video and arts festival presented in partnership with FACT, Cornerhouse (Manchester) and folly (Lancaster), FACT, Liverpool, UK, Sept 29-Oct 2

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 23

© Lisa Gye; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Vatagin’s Irene Starzhenetskaya and Anatoly Komelin, State Tretyakov Gallery, Russia, photo Andy Freeberg, Guardians series, 2011; Otherwise Projections 2011

Vatagin’s Irene Starzhenetskaya and Anatoly Komelin, State Tretyakov Gallery, Russia, photo Andy Freeberg, Guardians series, 2011; Otherwise Projections 2011

THE BIRTH OF THE SLIDE SHOW FORMAT AS A MEANS TO SHOWCASE PHOTOGRAPHERS’ WORK ORIGINATED IN SYDNEY WITH REPORTAGE IN 1999. FOUNDED BY PHOTOGRAPHERS MICHAEL AMENDOLIA, STEPHEN DUPONT, JACK PICONE AND DAVID DARE PARKER. THIS EVENT WAS A RESPONSE TO THE PAUCITY OF OUTLETS FOR DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY AND PHOTOJOURNALISM AT THAT TIME.

An initial screening took place at the Valhalla Cinema in Glebe. Images were set to a music track, establishing the formula. Other projection events followed, including Cross Projections and Trampoline. Reportage (now run by Jacqui Vicario) celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2010.

In September this year a significant new slide show raised the bar. Otherwise Projections screened at The Red Rattler in Marrickville. It was an exciting event set in a dark nightclub atmosphere. Despite the stated intentions of the producers to expose people unfamiliar with documentary photography and “show them what a great medium it is,” the audience was overflowing with Sydney’s top photographers.

In contrast with previous slide shows, of 12 photographers only four were Australian—Stephen Siewert, Dean Sewell, Billy Maynard and Katrin Koennig. Producers Isabelle Rouvillois (Picture Editor), Chris Gleisner (Project Manager) and Andrew Nicolson (Music Editor) worked together in tight collaboration. Rouvillois’ extensive experience as a picture editor in France and her knowledge of European and international photography made a major imprint on the event. Andrew Nicolson’s encyclopedic music knowledge contributed to a neat match of subject matter, image style and music tracks. Gleisner is a respected photographer and teacher with a history of community projects. Rouvillois and Gleisner together cut their teeth on last year’s Head On Photo Festival slide show.

The international content oriented our attention beyond Australia and emphasised the unique skills of the Australian inclusions while placing them in the context of world photography—a much needed perspective. The true achievement of Otherwise Projections however was to present a global point of view while blending different photographic genres, defying easy analysis. Rouvillois says, “Part of our aim is to showcase works on the edges of photojournalism and fine art conceptual work, the kind of thing you won’t see on a front page or in a gallery.”

Highlights from the show for me included Andy Freeberg’s (USA) Guardians, a humorous essay about the women who work as attendants in the art museums of Russia; Fluffy Clouds by Jurgen Nefzger (Germany) cataloguing nuclear power stations in the natural and social environment throughout Europe with a kitsch visual style; and my personal favourite, Trans/Tender, a series on transgender people in East Timor by Billy Maynard, an Australian newcomer.

 I am Winnie the Pooh, Otherwise Projections

I am Winnie the Pooh, Otherwise Projections

I am Winnie the Pooh, Otherwise Projections

Otherwise Projections was a one-off leaving only the post-show conversations and word of mouth to confirm its success. The producers say they will work towards another event next year. Watch out for this one!

Cross Projections is now in its ninth year. The mission statement declares, “Cross Projections grew out of a desire for experienced documentary photographers to maintain control over the presentation of their work, and to showcase their stories to their peers and the wider community.” Subtitled “A Cinematic Screening of Documentary Photography,” Cross Projections was instigated in 2003 at a time when photographers felt that they were being forced out of galleries because of a change of direction in contemporary art photography. An urgent need was expressed for new outlets to make their work visible.

In Cross Projections photographers work as a collective managing the slide nights and a strong sense of community develops. The producers select participants and curate their sequencing in the production. Over time the slide show form has moved away from the simple use of still photographic images to include moving image, spoken word and new strategies for presentation.

This year’s inclusion of Maya Newell as Editor was significant. As the youngest photographer in the collective she has also been one of the most experimental. Her film background sets her apart and her pieces are innovative and challenging. Now she has applied her skills to the show as a whole.

Cross Projections is embedded in a tradition of social documentary, which includes a commitment to photography’s ability to change and deepen our perceptions of the world. Social concern is laced with emotion and heart, driven by the directorship of Roslyn Sharp and Amanda James, both of whom presented assured series in this year’s show. James’ Out of Order is a collaboration with ‘at risk’ students from Edgeware School who find their voices by creating words and phrases beginning with individual letters from the alphabet: “P is for Perspective. Me and the police have different perspective”; “C is for Closed-Circuit TV. Watch the cameras.’’

Other standout pieces included Anthony Browell’s Wall of Death, about a family of carnival motorbike stunt riders; Australia’s strongest street photographer Marco Bok’s One Night at Mardi Gras; Jon Reid’s Predominantly Orange—an artfully playful survey of traffic cones; and Sasha Woolley’s Beneath the Bridge, about a family living in poverty under a bridge in North Jakarta. It’s hard to separate the photographers this year and I must also mention Lee Grant, Tracey Nearmy, Adam North and Adam Taylor.

A glance at the websites of each of these events reveals an informative and valuable resource. In the Sun Herald (October 16) commentator Charles Waterstreet made the cheeky suggestion that Cross Projections was a kick in the groin to events such as Tropfest. Screen envy? All power to photographers and may they remain highly visible, employing their unique storytelling gifts to chase the tail of filmmakers.

Otherwise Projections, The Red Rattler, Sept 2, www.otherwiseproductions.com.au/; Cross Projections, Tusculum House, Potts Point, Oct 6-8, www.crossprojections.com.au/cp_flash.html

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 45

© Sandy Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Alain Platel

Alain Platel

Alain Platel

FOR SOMEONE WHO IS RECOGNISED AS ONE OF THE GREAT EUROPEAN THEATRE PROVOCATEURS OF THE LAST 20 YEARS, HAILED FOR PRODUCTIONS THAT SHOW EVERYDAY LIFE IN ALL ITS IMPERFECTION AND FRAGILITY, BELGIAN CHOREOGRAPHER ALAIN PLATEL APPEARS SURPRISINGLY MILD-MANNERED AND SERENE IN CONVERSATION. SOFT-SPOKEN YET ARMED WITH THE MISCHIEVOUS SMILE OF A TEENAGER, HE EXUDES THE AIR OF A MAN WHO, AT 55, HAS NEVER STOPPED ASKING QUESTIONS, NOT LEAST ABOUT HIS ROLE IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS.

In Australia to present his Les Ballets C de la B work, Out of Context—for Pina at Sydney Opera House’s Spring Dance and Brisbane Festival, Platel is pleased to discover that at the former the piece is accompanied by a series of films and talks celebrating the life and work of legendary choreographer Pina Bausch—a fitting context for his work. The idea for Out of Context came to Platel when returning to Belgium after a commemorative service for Bausch in Wuppertal. He wanted to give her a “present.” Platel says: “Ever since I met Pina at the end of the 90s, she no longer was only this famous choreographer but also became an extremely important human being in my life, somebody I was very inspired by.” Citing her work Café Müller (1978) as one of the dance pieces that changed his life, Platel credits Bausch with influencing the way he watches theatre: “I think what she did for me was to intensify my looking at things…to enjoy looking at people.”

It is interesting to note that like Bausch, Platel did not set out to explore an existing performance language but developed a style of his own by pursuing a line of inquiry that originated in asking questions he was personally interested in. Originally, he trained as a remedial educationalist working with children with motor and multiple disabilities. Founding the Ghent-based theatre collective les ballets C de la B in 1984, Platel describes himself as an autodidact director and a reluctant one at that. It took him five years, he admits, before changing jobs and starting to call himself a professional theatre maker: “In the first few years, we didn’t have the ambition to become big stars or tour the world. We were just having fun. Our first performances, you know, we performed only four or five times in front of about 400 people. And that was a lot for us at the time.”

However, Platel’s exuberant productions, with their eclectic casts of professional and non-professional performers from culturally and socially diverse backgrounds, wildly mixing high and lowbrow cultural references, soon captured the imagination of audiences throughout Belgium. The international breakthrough followed in the mid-90s and resulted in extensive, worldwide touring of shows such as La Tristeza Complice (1995) and Iets Op Bach (1998). Platel insists that the driving force behind those large-scale, multi-cast works was his interest in finding out how to communicate politically and philosophically complex themes on stage. This motivation has sometimes been misunderstood, much to Platel’s disappointment: “It makes me sad when I get asked, ‘do you really want to shock people?’ Because I don’t think I have ever had any intention to shock or provoke. To confront audiences with difficult images to look at, yes, but when I show images that are difficult to cope with it’s because I don’t know how to cope with them myself. And I want to share that. I think the theatre is the place where you can do this. Much more than in any other place.”

Out of Context-For Pina, Les Ballets C de la B

Out of Context-For Pina, Les Ballets C de la B

Out of Context-For Pina, Les Ballets C de la B

After several years of international success, Platel found the pressure to live up to the reputation and hype surrounding Les Ballets C de la B increasingly difficult. His announcement in 1999 that he would stop making work sent shockwaves through the European theatre scene. He reflects, “I must say I was surprised that people took it so dramatically seriously.” Laughing, he adds, “I shouldn’t have told anybody. But I was really thinking at the time, can I do something else besides making theatre? Should I continue to do this for the rest of my life? I just couldn’t cope any longer with the pressure that was around me in terms of making each year a new success.’’

In the end, his break from theatre-making only lasted a little more than two years before returning to the fold. For Platel, however, it was a significant period, from which he emerged with new-found clarity. “It helped me redefine my position and reflect on how to continue. I now cope better with the whole ‘business.’ I think I take it a little bit less seriously. The pressure is still there but in another way. I am not taken by it. I don’t feel the need to make new work all the time any more. That is a nice thing to realise.” His time away from the theatre also spawned a new approach to choosing the next project, Platel explains: “Now when I decide to do things, it’s a gut feeling, like I have to do it. I want to make it a life experience, not just something along the lines of ‘let’s do a project together’.”

So, with Les Ballets C de la B celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, how has Platel’s view of the role of theatre in society changed over the years? He concedes, “Maybe there was a moment once where I thought we were going to conquer the world and make a difference but I very quickly realised that this was too big a mission.” He laughs. “I read in the paper one day that only 1% of the Belgian population goes to see theatre. So I think it’s pretty difficult to change the world by making performances.” Fair enough. But still, when talking to Platel one can’t shake the feeling he hasn’t given up on the transformative power of theatre altogether: “I have feedback from many people who have witnessed our performances and you feel that a performance can continue to live in someone’s life for a very long time. That is quite surprising. And sometimes, so people tell me, it has an effect on how they live their lives. That is really something.”

Platel admits to often being touched by audience reactions and drawing inspiration from them: “We showed Out of Context in Taipei this year and we performed in this huge theatre, 1500 seats. On the day of the first performance I was walking around the city and thinking, who on earth in this city would think about coming to the theatre tonight to see a performance by Alain Platel. Who the hell is Alain Platel? There are so many things in this city that one can do in the evening. But then the theatre was completely full, on both nights. And not only that but the people really liked the show and were very expressive about it. I had never been there in my life. And this is something that makes me very emotional.” Considering that Alain Platel is so often associated with shocking audiences, his next remark is not without irony: “Thinking back to how we started out and how I didn’t know anything about making theatre, a story like this is really shocking to me. Absolutely shocking.”

Les Ballets C de la B’s Out of Context—for Pina appeared in Spring Dance 2011, Sydney Opera House where he also spoke and conducted a masterclass. See reviews in RT105 and RT98.

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 26

© Martin del Amo; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Marina Rosenfeld's Teenage Lontano, THNMF 2011

Marina Rosenfeld’s Teenage Lontano, THNMF 2011

Marina Rosenfeld’s Teenage Lontano, THNMF 2011

AS AIDAN O’BRYAN PUTS IT IN THE TITLE OF HIS 2008 DOCUMENTARY THERE IS “SOMETHING IN THE WATER” IN PERTH THAT MAKES IT A FERTILE GROUND FOR MUSICAL EXPERIMENTATION. HE WAS DEALING MORE SPECIFICALLY WITH THE PLETHORA OF INTERESTING ROCK AND INDIE BANDS THAT HAVE EMERGED OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES, BUT THE SAME CAN ALSO BE SAID OF THE EXPERIMENTAL, ELECTRONIC AND CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL SCENES. THIS, AND THE SMALLER POPULATION WHICH ENCOURAGES MORE COMMUNICATION ACROSS SCENES, MEANS THAT THE TOTALLY HUGE NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL IS ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S MOST ENGAGING NEW MUSIC FESTIVALS.

RealTime was invited to be onsite to cover the 10th incarnation of the festival and in this task I was ably assisted by two Perth-based writers and composers, Sam Gillies and Henry Andersen. A selection of their reviews follows this conference report. The full coverage can be found here including video interviews with Marina Rosenfeld, composer in residence and Eugene Ughetti, artistic director of Speak Percussion, company in residence.

thnmf conference: materials & conditions

The Totally Huge New Music Conference was a key part of the festival bringing together many of the visiting artists to discuss their work with reference to the theme of “immanence.” Conference conveners Lindsay Vickery and Tos Mahoney proposed that the “slippery nature of contemporary culture and postmodern phenomena, such as the deconstruction of identity and distrust in metanarrative, arguably squeeze the individual into reliance only upon the present moment” (website). Due to writing commitments I could only attend the Saturday sessions of the conference covered here.

Marina Rosenfeld (foreground), Cannons performed by Decibel, THNMF 2011

Marina Rosenfeld (foreground), Cannons performed by Decibel, THNMF 2011

Marina Rosenfeld (foreground), Cannons performed by Decibel, THNMF 2011

New York artist Marina Rosenfeld presented the keynote address, titled “Plastic Materials and Local Conditions: Diagram of a Practice,” in which she contextualised her work through the sense of the personal as social—the self as an unavoidable condition. Describing her materials as voice, architectures and the self, she explores the shifts between form and substance to create music which she defines as neither neutral nor universal. Rosenfeld exemplified this with her recent piece roygbiv&b commissioned by MoMA in New York—a spectral composition (literally) based on the colours of the rainbow, performed by teenagers singing phrases of contemporary R & B songs, accompanied by a spatialised sound score. The insightful analysis of her own practice and video sample made me even more regretful that I would not be able to see her major works Teenage Lontano and Cannons which were to be presented at the Midlands Railyards later in the festival, however Sam Gillies report offers a fine sense of the event.

New Zealand artist Bruce Russell, member of the band the Dead C and cultural critic, presented a paper titled “’No more driver call me, many thousand die’: improvised noise considered as twenty-first century field hollers and prison songs.” Starting with Alan Lomax and his recordings of early 20th century blues, Russell drew parallels with contemporary noisemaking in its potential for resistance and rebellion or, more accurately, its refusal to engage with a mainstream oppressive hegemony. Citing theorist of the moment, Slavoj Zizek he suggested that in this current technocratic age sound workers are proletariats and the role of noise “the reply to which there is no reply,” though ironically his paper created much by way of engaged response.

Nat Bates, director of Liquid Architecture directly approached the topic of immanence with his paper “Sampling and the ‘sound object’ in contemporary Sonic Art.” A fine example of practice as research he analysed each sound object or unit in Bernard Parmegiani’s musique concrète piece La Création du Monde and developed corresponding sounds from a palette of rock samples. In this way he equated the acousmatic with immanence—a material listening—and the non-acousmatic with transcendence—as causal and signified. In his use of contemporary music samples Bates also touched upon John Osborne’s Plunderphonics and its commentary on the cultural signification of sonic material. He concluded by quoting Mitchell Whitelaw’s concept of transmateriality—sounds constantly moving between states of immanence and transcendence—echoing Marina Rosenfeld’s idea of shifting between neutrality and universality.

Another stimulating conversation was prompted by a paper by Nicholas Russo who explored how contemporary Australian pop music seems caught in a time-machine set to golden era of rock, 1963-74, with comparative examples which suggest some bands, in their homage, are verging very close to plagiarism. Cat Hope explored the line in graphic musical notation and its translation into sound as glissandi, with reference to historical examples and in her own compositions for Decibel (see review).

Near the end of the day Anthony Pateras offered a provocation, suggesting that in this age of cross-disciplinarity and collaboration a composer should seek a sense of aloneness in their creative pursuits. Borrowing Lacan’s dialectic of love and desire—equating love with style and acceptance and desire with technique and no concern for the other—Pateras suggested that contemporary technology that connects us and offers alternative modes of distribution, is actually creating an over reliance on peer approval. He asked: is the superfluity of music, the plethora of stylistic trends and the ability to self-publish and instantly receive responses actually damaging young composers’ ability to think for themselves?

Over three days, the conference explored a vast range of approaches to the idea of immanence including discussions around Black Metal, Dubstep, site specific jazz, audiovisual interfaces and minimalist guitar music. Providing an opportunity for emerging and established artists to present papers there was plenty to reflect on and from varied perspectives. As with the last three THNMF Conferences, the papers will also be published (with Sound Papers Three coming out in time for this event) adding a valuable resource for the study of Australian music.

moments of substance

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l'Etoile

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile

With often two concerts per night there were many highlights. My favourites were individual works which attained Mitchell Whitelaw’s idea of the transmaterial— moments where the here and now was explored and expanded into greater, timeless dreaming—such as Speak Percussion’s delicate and brutal duet with the universe in Gerard Grisey’s Le Noir de l’Etoile (see review). Speak’s performance of Anthony Pateras’ Refractions with its angles, gear changes and fleetness of thought was also totally invigorating. They created more magic with Thomas Meadowcroft’s playful homage to the sounds of domesticity in The Great Knot (review). There was also Decibel’s captivating game play and ensemble improvisation with Cat Hope and Lindsay Vickery’s interactive audiovisual score The Talking Board and their interpretation of Marina Rosenfeld’s White Lines (review). Julian Day’s meditative drone escalation titled An Infinity Room during Club Huge #1 (review) simultaneously bore down on us with sonic weight while elevating us with harmonic manipulation.

What was perhaps was most refreshing about this Totally Huge was its engagement with younger artists, both as creators and audiences. With strong connections to the academy through events such as the conference (co-presented with WAAPA Edith Cowan University) and the Break Out Young Composers’ Night, the involvement of young musicians and singers in Teenage Lontano and associated events such as NoizeMachinn!! (see review), the next generation of composers and musicians are receiving valuable opportunities. This and exposure to the inspirational artists that Totally Huge presented such as Marina Rosenfeld and Speak Percussion is definitely providing further nourishment—that extra something in the water—to the fertile ground for new music that Perth has become.

TURA, Totally Huge New Music Festival, various venues, Sept 15-25; Totally Huge New Music Conference, conveners, Lindsay Vickery, Tos Mahoney, co-ordinator Sonja van Thiel; presented by Tura and the Music Research Group, CREATEC and the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts [WAAPA], Edith Cowan University, Sept 16-18,?Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts; http://www.tura.com.au/totally-huge-music-festival/about

For full coverage go to features

RealTime Associate Editor Gail Priest was a guest of the Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011, with thanks to Tos Mahoney (Artistic Director), Gabrielle Sullivan (General Manager), Alison Weburn (Publicity), Chris de Groot (Young & Emerging Artists Project Coordinator) and Cat Hope (CREATEC).

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 36

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Hedda Gabler, Schaubühne Berlin

Hedda Gabler, Schaubühne Berlin

Hedda Gabler, Schaubühne Berlin

IT IS ENTIRELY APPROPRIATE THAT THE BERLIN SCHAUBÜHNE’S PRODUCTION OF HEDDA GABLER WOULD MAINTAIN A TEMPERATURE OF ABOUT 13°C FROM BEGINNING TO END: IBSEN’S ORIGINAL WAS HARDLY A POT-BOILER TO BEGIN WITH. THIS 2005 PRODUCTION WAS TO BE ONE OF THE PREMIERE EVENTS OF THIS YEAR’S MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: THE FIRST WORK BY THOMAS OSTERMEIER TO BE SHOWN IN MELBOURNE (AFTER HAMLET AT THE 2011 SYDNEY FESTIVAL AND NORA (2002) AT ADELAIDE 2008).

hedda gabler

Instead, it disappointed. Two long, interval-less hours of idle chitchat—not even funny!—of three self-absorbed, coarse men, tied together with strings of manipulation pulled by a beautifully superficial young woman.

The acting is delicate and economical, all sideways glances, accurately angled slouches, moments of casual intimacy (a short shoulder massage) as denominators of underappreciated affection. Ostermeier’s Hedda heralded the move away from the whizbang of the 1990s to the simplicity and almost deliberate homeliness of the 2000s (think Benedict Andrews’ The City for STC in 2009, Sasha Waltz’s Medea in 2010). Like all trendsetters, this production exhibits inelegant single-mindedness: it is not much more than two studious hours of bored bourgeoisie, even if the psychological detailing is very fine.

Modernising Hedda has worked well in some ways: divine inspiration, intellectual mediocrity and pettiness are timeless qualities, and it is enormously satisfying to watch Hedda smash (not burn) an old laptop (not manuscript) with a hammer. However, unable to explain Hedda’s idle, self-defeating cruelty as thwarted life energy turned in on itself due to societal constraints (divorce has been legal for some time, as has a woman’s right to work), the production has to have her a spoiled child, too acclimatised to a life of idle nail-filing to realise herself in any de Beauvoirian sense. All characters go down a notch on the maturity scale as a consequence and what we see is less brutally honest than distantly odious.

journeys of love and more love

Journeys of love and more love, motiroti

Journeys of love and more love, motiroti

Journeys of love and more love, motiroti

But if the slow simmering of Hedda Gabler has a dramaturgical and socio-historical point, why does coldness permeate Journeys of love and more love, an autobiographical account of an Indian-English life from the UK’s motiroti, complete with family snaps and real food? We sit around beautifully laid out tables with 11 strangers at each, as Ali Zaidi, an “Indian by birth, Pakistani by migration and British by chance,” presents his slideshow memoir. Zaidi, an immaculately presented man, walks around without sitting down at any table, never quite getting to spend time with his guests—a stadium MC in a small space rather than a welcoming host. His life story includes all the right ingredients: sibling rivalries, romantic dramas, religious humour, lots of food. But it is so heavily mediated—family photos by animation, Zaidi’s voice via microphone, the feelings and emotional truths delivered with slick British-theatrical humour, the food with a heavy input of nouvelle cuisine—that all rude complexity is smoothed out by the time it finally reaches us.

The absence of contact is so thorough it feels like a fundamental dramaturgical decision: Zaidi makes no direct eye contact with the audience, the food is brought out by a catering battalion. For all the talk of intimacy, there was none in this work, and it felt almost offensive to have Zaidi ask at my table questions about our attitudes to love and hate. Such answers must be earned, even in a participatory performance. Journeys…felt like an event organised by a tourism board to promote multiculturalism. Here we were, white people, sitting at restaurant tables, paying money to be fed trendy transmogrifications of ethnic food and being told that this meant sharing. It was an almost perfect, cynical antithesis of hospitality, intimacy and love.

aftermath

Aftermath, New York Theater Workshop

Aftermath, New York Theater Workshop

Aftermath, New York Theater Workshop

It is easier to conceptualise an artful immersion into another’s way of life than it is to execute it. It requires an emotional intelligence to break beyond the self-imposed demand to give the audience a fun, innocuous picnic in difference. Another festival show, Theatre Work’s Site Unseen (cancelled on the night I was to attend), was lambasted in the media for reducing, in the words of John Bailey in the Sunday Age, the “lived reality of destitution to a fun romp through the back streets of St Kilda.” In contrast, the qahwa and chai we are offered by the performers in Aftermath never materialise, but it is still a deeply engaging encounter with another world, that of Iraqi war refugees.

I find it hard to talk about Aftermath for fear of sounding trite: it is superb verbatim theatre, but its strategies are simple and its genius all in the execution. Like any verbatim work, it stages life stories, here of six Iraqi refugees (interviewed by the playwrights in Jordan) through first-person narratives distilled from interviews; it uses actors of broadly Middle-Eastern provenance; staging interventions are minimal; it shapes its loose material to make all the stories escalate in parallel; and it presents an entirely predictable set of accounts of a content everyday life disrupted by war, civil disorder, violence, uncertainty and flight. Like all verbatim theatre, it is half-real, half-creatively reimagined, and the invisible seams between the two make us more receptive to the finely crafted material. But if Aftermath is gutting rather than just a bit sad, it is because it recreates the interview itself, and the interviewees reveal themselves to be not just victims of war, but genuinely warm, kind and generous people.

Between anecdotes come offers of tea and coffee. Family photos, press clippings and club membership cards are offered for inspection. Every so often, a particularly horrific story ends and an Iraqi waves exhaustedly at the narrator: “Translate that.” ‘We’ are not present on this stage, not as interviewers, sympathetic spectators or interlocutors. The imam, who has lost everything in the war—his family, his home, his passport and documents—looks up and says, “I thank these people for their feelings, but there are mistakes for which apologies are not enough.” But even after outbursts of despair or anger, there are apologies, reassurances of welcome: “Please, you must stay for lunch!”

By being so much a show about these people—not just their life tragedies, but the way they have made home in tragedy, and the way they courageously resist acceptance of hatred and violence as normal—it is precisely not a show about us, our voting choices, our identities as left or right-leaning or the details of our domestic political debates. But these two instances of generosity—the generosity of the interviewees with their stories and the generosity of playwrights in recreating them—amounts to an enormous gesture of sharing.

political mother

Political Mother, Hofesh Shechter

Political Mother, Hofesh Shechter

Political Mother, Hofesh Shechter

Finally, Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother illustrates the relationship between the energy of music and the energy of violence. “Where there is pressure, there is folkdance” appears as writing on the wall towards the end, but by that point the thesis has been exceedingly well established by this rambling dance work. Sufi dancing has turned into a marching band, into a political rally, into a rock concert, prisoners’ stumbling, a discotheque and so on in rotation. Delivered to an explosive score (by Shechter himself) at ear-blasting volume, his customarily visceral choreography (half-erect lopes, punches, jitters) draws a continuum between spiritualism, militarism, rebellion, weekend venting and resignation. At its core, Political Mother demonstrates convincingly that one fuels another, that we are made of what we rebel against and that, wherever there is war there are young people in discotheques—for no frivolous reason. But Shechter’s transition into long form is not yet confident: many of the 70 minutes could have been excised to create a work that repeated itself less and delivered a conclusion.

It is true, as Age reviewer Cameron Woodhead suggested in regards to Site Unseen, that “the homeless need food, shelter and respect” more than theatre, bad or otherwise. One could ask if making art is the right response to violence, anomie, forced migration, and if we are buying moral consolation at the price of a theatre ticket. But there are countless atrocities in this world, and there will continue to be, and most of us will never be able to do much about them. The power of works like Aftermath, even Political Mother, is that they deepen what Melbourne historian Maria Tumarkin calls our emotional imagination. They make us understand, in all their detail, worlds of distant, strange people and in doing that, they are training us in empathy. Be it empathy for a Pakistani waiter, an Israeli backpacker or the Iraqi recipient of our tax money, it is empathy that modifies the emotional training we receive from spectacular war journalism, political speeches on ‘wedge issues,’ and the professional opinionati. If that is not a noble achievement, I do not know what is.

Berlin Schaubühne, Hedda Gabler, director Thomas Ostermeier, set design Jan Pappelbaum, music Malte Beckenbach, dramaturgy Marius von Mayenburg, video Sebastien Dupouey, The Arts Centre, Playhouse,Oct 19-23; motiroti (international), Journeys of love and more love, writer, director Ali Zaidi, video, animation Daniel Saul, Katerina Athanasopoulou, composer, sound Andy Pink, food Kim Berkers, Mark Ramsay, The Arts House, Meat Market, Oct 11-16; New York Theater Workshop, Aftermath, text Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, director Jessica Blank; Malthouse Theatre, Oct 11-14; Political Mother, Hofesh Shechter Company, choreography, music Hofesh Shechter, lighting Lee Curran, costumes Merle Hensel, sound design Tony Birch, The Arts Centre, Playhouse, 12-15 October; 2011 Melbourne International Arts Festival, Oct 10-27

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 4

© Jana Perkovic; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Alfredo Lagos, Israel Galván

Alfredo Lagos, Israel Galván

Alfredo Lagos, Israel Galván

ISRAEL GALVÁN, WHO APPEARED IN SYDNEY’S SPRING DANCE THIS YEAR, IS ONE OF A NEW BREED OF FLAMENCO ARTISTS IN SPAIN WHO ARE ‘RENOVATING’ THE FORM. A PRODUCT OF THE 19TH CENTURY, FLAMENCO IS A DANCE STYLE THAT IS BEING REINTRODUCED TO ITS MODERNITY BY GALVÁN.

The son of flamenco dancers Jose Galván and Eugenia de Los Reyes, Galván created his first work in 1998 and is currently touring a strong repertoire to major festivals. I spoke to him during his time in Sydney which followed my encounter with Galván’s work in France at Montepellier Danse (RT105). There, his 2005 piece Le Edad de Oro (The Golden Age) was an antidote to some dance work that seemed lost in an internally focused discourse, perhaps supporting the charge that contemporary dance is ‘eating itself.’ Translator Gina Marie Shrubsall describes Galván’s manner of talking as haiku-like, suggesting an empathy between his thinking and dancing. As described in RealTime 105 the latter has a refined simplicity of line, form and rhythm that is no less radical in its nature, .

Working with Pedro G Romero who provides dramaturgical support and commentary, Galván’s ‘revolution’ is perhaps best understood not as ‘moving with the times’ but as ‘updating the new aspects’ of the dance form. As Romero puts it, “my idea is that flamenco and the avant-gardes have the same route; they’re equally modern.” The idea that Galván is refocusing on the innovative within a tradition is supported by the way he describes his relationship to the historic avant-garde. “I haven’t worked much with the concepts of the avant-garde and not to the point where I have a nuanced interpretation of these forms. Although, at times, my choreography is influenced by the visual forms of Cubism and Modernism—this can be seen in the line of my dance. I do very much like the idea of being a ‘juggler of forms’.”

References to Walter Benjamin and Gilles Deleuze are peppered through Romero’s texts on Galván’s website, alongside impressive historical detail regarding the form, connections to modern artists working in other forms (Picasso, Lorca, Edgar Varèse, Orson Welles) and also references to some of the icons of modernity: steel, railways and machines. Galván’s art is understandable through this network of people, things and ideas, and his ability to both assimilate and share through choreography is noted by Romero in details like the passing of gestures across piano, voice and dance in Tabula Rasa (2004), and a humility in performance that decentres the star so that other elements can take centrestage; as Romero poetically puts it, “the floor designs itself under the shoe.”

This ability to assimilate and incorporate elements from a broad range of phenomena that sit beneath, or just make it to the surface of, movements and gestures, along with Galván’s ability to share the performance space with other outstanding artists (guitarist Alfredo Lagos, singers Fernando Terremoto and Inés Bacán) and attention-grabbing designs and direction (Pepa Gamboa and Belén Candil), hinges on a stage presence that is a very different from the many other flamenco dancers I have seen who present as ‘stars.’ Asked about this aspect of his performance, Galván describes a productive division between himself and the dancing. “I don’t bring the audience to my terrain, rather ‘I go to’ different personalities. You have to activate your personality during the dance… the steps and the dance will change your personality. It is not something concrete: personality changes and I like to be different things within the dance.”

Ultimately, his influences come either from within flamenco or beyond dance. “I am not directly influenced by particular genres of dance or particular dancers outside of flamenco. I’ve always liked to dance with a sense of freedom, to be influenced by all of the layers of life around us. Sometimes I will take a gesture from an anonymous dancer or draw on the movement of an animal. I’m also influenced by the choreography of the body in film and painting—for example, by Fellini or Rubens. You can see very choreographed intentions in the work of Rubens.” I asked if this could be described as a kind of sampling. He replied, “Because your body is the medium you are not sampling in a concrete way. Your body will change everything and perhaps you can’t even say it is an influence in a conscious way—what you arrive at is more of a ‘feeling’ or ‘air’ of the original sample.”

While cross-artform collaboration can still be seen as novel in contemporary dance, flamenco has always been a form where guitar, song and dance work closely together. This was reinforced in Le Edad de Oro when Galván and brothers Alfredo (guitarist) and David Lagos (singer) swapped roles. I asked Galván why the connection between the three artists seemed so intense in this work. “Musically I like to work in a particular way that is more open to changing the structure of flamenco dance. There is a well-established script that outlines the musical structure of flamenco dance. There is song and guitar made just for dance and then there is flamenco song and guitar which is constructed and performed without dance. I like to change the musical structure and use flamenco music which is not necessarily made for dance. I also search for a more open sonority and a guitar that sounds more classical.”

This playing around with the elements of the form continues right down to the detail of the choreographic language. Romero isolates the proportions, geometry, timing, forms, tonalities and gestures of flamenco as aspects that Galván manipulates, and what is remarkable in performance is the dancer’s ability to combine extreme transitions in several of these in one move. A familiar flamenco shape can be stylised through an attention to angles and perspective, while changing tone from epic to playful, risking balance and referencing a gesture just beyond apprehension. The moments of stillness are welcome amongst all this. “To be quiet in stillness—this is where you recharge the body in preparation for explosive movement and this is characteristic of flamenco.” Considering how far he has come in the last 10 years, we can be sure Israel Galván won’t be staying still long.

Interview translation by Gina Marie Shrubsall

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 27

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Ganesh vs The Third Reich, Back to Back

Ganesh vs The Third Reich, Back to Back

Ganesh vs The Third Reich, Back to Back

DISABILITY IN THEATRE IS TOO OFTEN THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. WHILE AN INCREASING NUMBER OF AUSTRALIAN COMPANIES WORKING WITH ARTISTS WITH DISABILITIES HAVE BEEN PRODUCING RICH AND SOPHISTICATED WORK IN RECENT YEARS, IT DOESN’T SEEM THAT A CORRESPONDING DIALOGUE HAS EMERGED OUTSIDE OF THOSE CIRCLES ACTIVELY INVESTED IN SUCH WORK.

Back to Back Theatre is one of the few organisations to have pushed through those invisible barriers, and as latest production Ganesh vs the Third Reich again indicates, the company doesn’t just produce theatre of disability, but theatre about the theatre of disability.

 

back to back, ganesh vs the third reich

As with previous works such as Small Metal Objects and Food Court, Ganesh… immediately proves itself a complex and provocative engagement with its own audience. A group of actors are rehearsing the titular play, a narrative in which the Hindu god Ganesh voyages to World War II Germany to reclaim the symbol of the swastika from Hitler. It’s a compelling scenario, during which the elephant-headed deity encounters (and bests) the monstrous Dr Mengele, whose pronouncements on physical deformity and eugenics are chilling; an intellectually disabled refugee is on the run from Nazi pursuers; and finally, there’s the leader whose appropriation of the sacred mandala is a brutal theft of cultural identity. All kinds of currents swirl through this fertile play-within-a-play—concepts of power and visibility, voice and silence, nature and transformation. Yet the real energy of the work is located not simply in the narrative itself, but in its enactment and the frame within which it unfolds.

These are actors with perceived disabilities playing actors with perceived disabilities, and it is between these layers of perception that a deeply troubling dynamic arises. David Woods plays the initially benign director shaping the company’s rehearsals, but his real motivations are put on trial as debates arise on the floor over the ethics of representation, the agency of the performers and the necessary inequities of power in a director/actor relationship. It becomes apparent that his desire to work with this company is dependent on a certain selective vision of disability, one which requires a passivity and relinquishing of control to someone socially posited as more authoritative. It’s a question which has been put to Back to Back Theatre itself—what of these productions is created by its performers and what dictated by others? Here the query takes on terrifying urgency, as actors’ failure to comply with their director shifts from hilarious belligerence to emotional vulnerability and, eventually, physical violence. The final sequence is an unforgettable one, in which a man charged with a duty of care commits an act of casual yet devastating betrayal, leaving a performer with a promise that will never be fulfilled.

The implication of the audience in all of this adds a further layer of excruciating tension. At one point an imaginary audience is addressed and questioned on its reasons for attending. How is this act of voyeurism any more than prurient freak porn? Are we, too, demanding a certain kind of theatre of disability for ultimately selfish purposes? And when we leave the theatre, too, what promises have we made with no intention of keeping?

 

balletlab, aviary

 Brooke Stamp, Daniel Jaber, Phillip Adams, Aviary, Balletlab

Brooke Stamp, Daniel Jaber, Phillip Adams, Aviary, Balletlab

Brooke Stamp, Daniel Jaber, Phillip Adams, Aviary, Balletlab

Dynamics of power, authority and observations are also the motors driving Phillip Adams’ latest Balletlab work, Aviary. It begins simply enough (this is an Adams’ piece, of course, so take that sentence advisedly). A group of dancers ‘perform’ a musical composition by Messiaen as birds. Reading from a score scattered across the stage, they interpret the notation as squawks and trills, leaps and poses. It’s curious, playful and even silly, but still recognisably centred in the vocabulary of contemporary ballet; if it gestures beyond itself, it is perhaps to the inherent artificiality of classical dance and the way its modes of display are closer to those of the caged bird.

In Aviary’s second sequence, that cage takes on queered proportions. Adams himself enters the space in pseudo-militaristic attire, an extravagant cape of white feathers sprouting from his shoulders. He leads a band of brownshirts in a sequence of ritualistic routines that bring to mind the charisma of religious and political leaders, the dazzling glare of celebrity and the dictatorial excesses of fashion and nightclub culture. It’s not a critique, per se—Adams seems fascinated by the seductive aspects of such power, even when miming the executions of his followers. While inside the cage, the work suggests, it may not be possible to imagine its outside. More importantly, it may not be desirable.

By the third act these notions are complicated even further. We are now in the wild, the dancers adorned with elaborate feathered headdresses and skirts, with Adams taking on the role of an observer not simply recording his observations but actively influencing his subjects. As birds, the performers engage in courting rituals, competing for attention, preening, strutting, constructing a vast and elaborate nest. Adams isn’t mere birdwatcher; he is equally the anthropologist and his dancers come to signify the exotic tribe encountered by the self-appointed avatar of civilisation. He becomes enamoured of his own power, cavorting amongst the twigs and leaves, loosening his sharp suit and becoming transfixed with his own reflection. It’s in this subtle moment that Aviary provides its sting: how much of our interest in the exotic, the other, the gaudy and beautiful is limited to what it reflects of us? If at times Aviary appears indulgent, excessive, self-involved, it’s for a very measured purpose.

 

chunky move, assembly

 Assembly, Chunky Mov & Victorian Opera

Assembly, Chunky Mov & Victorian Opera

Assembly, Chunky Mov & Victorian Opera

There’s a hint of the ornithologist in Chunky Move’s Assembly, too. Taking as its subject the structure and movement of crowds, it features a sublime sequence evocative of the flight patterns of birds. The ensemble of more than 60 performers moves like a flock wheeling across the sky, following no apparent leader, each acting individually, but somehow possessed of a group logic beyond any one member. This production of patterns which transcend their parts is reminiscent of Connected, choreographer Gideon Obarzanek’s recent collaboration with kinetic sculptor Rueben Margolin; as Obarzanek’s final creation as artistic director of Chunky Move, it’s only fitting that these and other moments touch upon previous works.

There’s the pneumatic phrases of inflation/deflation, the Rorschach mirroring and the nod to popular dance which have appeared in any number of the choreographer’s recent works. Assembly also marks the introduction of new elements too, through collaboration with Victorian Opera. Where pieces such as Glow and Mortal Engine produced a sense of the post-human sublime through the body’s interaction with technology, here it is voice that takes us beyond the confines of the individual figure. Song becomes the counterpoint to the material fact of the performers—just as the patterns of bodies suggest forces bigger than the individual, so too does the mingling and divergence of voice take on a power of its own. It’s a point never forced, but like so much of this astute creation provides much for later contemplation.

 

border project, half-real

David Heinrich, Half-Real, The Border Project

David Heinrich, Half-Real, The Border Project

David Heinrich, Half-Real, The Border Project

The same can’t be said for The Border Project’s ambitious Half-Real. A murder mystery is played out in a digitally projected setting; audiences choose the course of investigation with handheld remote devices. While the quality of the technology is first-rate, the realisation of the work doesn’t live up to its promise. An uninspired narrative isn’t saved by some strong acting and the novelty of the interactive nature of the work remains just that.

If Assembly drew attention to the shape and direction of the crowd, this proved a distraction in Half-Real. The audience’s choices were simply group votes between two or three options and those choices didn’t have terribly interesting consequences. It never felt as if our relationship as a group was under interrogation, leaving the purpose behind the interactivity unclear. In a mediascape of reality TV, SMS voting, trial by media and the turn to a screen-based culture, it would seem as if a broad variety of pointed questions could be raised through the form of this work. What did eventuate was a generally pleasant and diverting hour; hopefully the real potential for something much more expansive was encountered by its makers during production, and will lead to a more satisfying next stage of development.

Melbourne International Arts Festival: Back to Back Theatre/Malthouse Theatre, Ganesh vs the Third Reich, director Bruce Gladwin, performer-devisors Mark Deans, Simon Laherty, Scott Price, Brian Tilley, David Woods, devisors Marcia Ferguson, Bruce Gladwin, Sarah Mainwaring, Kate Sulan, Brian, lighting Andrew Livingston, Bluebottle, design Construction Mark Cuthbertson, costumes Shio Otani, Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Oct 1-9; Balletlab, Aviary, director, choreographer Phillip Adams, dancers Phillip Adams, Luke George, Daniel Jaber, Rennie McDougall, Brooke Stamp, Joanne White, Peter AB Wilson, costumes Toni Maticevski, millinery Richard Nylon, composition David Franzke, Phillip Adams, set design Phillip Adams, nest design Matthew Bird, backdrops Gavin Brown, lighting Benjamin Cisterne, Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, Oct 19-23; Chunky Move/Victorian Opera, Assembly, director, choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, dancers Sara Black, Nathan Dubber, Benjamin Hancock, Alisdair Macindoe, Lily Paskas, Harriet Ritchie, James Shannon, Frankie Snowdon, music director Richard Gill, lighting Nick Schlieper, costumes, Harriet Oxley, set designer Gideon Obarzanek, Chris Mercer, Melbourne Recital Centre, Oct 6-8; The Border Project, Half-Real, director Sam Haren, writer Duncan Graham, performers Amber McMahon, David Heinrich, Alirio Zavarce, video system design Michael Marner, video artist Chris More, set & lighting Geoff Cobham, composer DJ TR!P, controller Designers Matthew & Ray Gardiner, Tower Theatre, CUB Malthouse, Oct 1-15

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 5

© John Bailey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Anna Healey, Sean Marcs, Last Place to Go, 4Tell, youMove Company

Anna Healey, Sean Marcs, Last Place to Go, 4Tell, youMove Company

Anna Healey, Sean Marcs, Last Place to Go, 4Tell, youMove Company

SEVEN BODIES FORM A CIRCLE ON THE FLOOR, CURLED UP, KNEES TO CHESTS, WHITE FLESH VISIBLE IN THE DARK. THEY BEGIN TO WRITHE: CRUNCH THEIR TORSOS TO PUSH HEADS UP TOWARDS THE CEILING. I HEAR THE BEGINNINGS OF AN AMBIENT WORLD MUSIC-SOUNDING TRACK. THE DANCERS ROLL AND SLIDE, PUSH THEMSELVES ACROSS THE TARKETT WITH THEIR ARMS. LEGS WORK HARD BENEATH UPPER BODIES. HEADS LICK AT THE CEILING. THIS DANCE IS FAST, ITS DANCERS AGILE.

Boundaries is the first work in 4Tell, a series of short pieces devised mainly by guest choreographers and performed by Kay Armstrong’s youMove Company. In the lead-up to the performance the company members have been encouraged to share their ideas and reflections with each other by contributing regularly to a blog. Throughout the show they each perform a short solo developed from one of their blog posts.

So, hot on the heels of Boundaries, company member Anna Healey performs a solo that breaks down the process of creating a blog post. Letters punched into a keyboard. Scrolls and clicks. Save draft. Preview. A post about the daily hopes and routines of an aspirational dancer.

Sandwiched between the dance works, the solos present 4Tell as the culmination of a mentoring process. They add an educational dimension to the evening. Most of them display an interest in process and are charged with a sense of self-revelation—this is us meeting the dancers on their own terms.

As the night progresses I begin to notice a consistent tone across the performances. Perhaps it’s because the same eight dancers perform in all of the pieces. I get to know them over the course of the evening, and by the final work, Multiplicity, I find I am looking out for familiar faces. But a certain quality is also recognisable across the group. There is control. There is muscle tone. And there is clear forward-thinking: these dancers always seem prepared for what is coming next.

In the second work, By Looking, a group of three moves in a tight spiral formation downstage. On their feet, the dancers sway in and out from one another, releasing tension and breath so far on the outward swing that I hold my own breath. But no one topples over. Later the dancers work in two pairs. There is body contact, the giving and taking of weight. Initially each exchange feels like a risk, but I soon stop expecting the dancers to fall. They may throw themselves around, but they know how to keep it together.

Angela French, 3rd Time Over

Angela French, 3rd Time Over

Angela French, 3rd Time Over

The only work choreographed by a youMove company member is a solo developed by Angela French with mentorship from Kay Armstrong and Force Majeure’s Kate Champion. French appears on stage in a navy blue dress, hair parted fiercely down the centre. The dress is tailored. A shimmer in the embroidery. There is music: a recorded string orchestra that plays a fast but steady course.

French’s hand floats about as though suspended on a string. Then it soars up over her head. Quickly her other hand flies up and pulls the first one down. The first hand continues with its exploration. I get the feeling that this dancer does not know what is coming next.

She traverses the stage. Halfway across, her legs give way beneath her. Again, it’s like she didn’t know it was coming, as if she actually lost all the strength in her lower body. On the floor she crawls, slaps a hand to the fleshy part of her arm and then to her thigh, pulling herself about. Up she gets, continues to travel—but her legs give way again. My stomach turns. Her hand floats up and she pulls it down; and again, and again. The pulling down starts to feel more like a slap on the wrist—like a self-correction.

I enjoy the rawness in this piece; the lean towards the irrational. Also, the way in which this dancer manages her body. It’s as if the dance happens to her, catches her off guard. And I enjoy the repetition. Sometimes there is such a range of content in choreography that I start to lose track, but this piece presents just a few things, thoroughly. All of this dawns on me gradually, as the evening progresses; as I take in the procession of shapes and ideas making their way across the stage.

youMove Company, 4Tell, curator, artistic director Kay Armstrong, guest mentor Kate Champion, company dancers Jay Bailey, Imogen Cranna, Angela French, Jayne McCann, Lauren McPhail, Melinda Tyquin, Anna Healey, mentee: Tracey Parker, guest dancer Sean Marcs, lighting Guy Harding, http://youmove.blog.com; www.youmovedance.com.au; Riverside Theatres, Parammatta, Sydney, Oct 27-29

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 28

© Cleo Mees; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Kaiji Moriyama, Escape, Leigh Warren + Dancers

Kaiji Moriyama, Escape, Leigh Warren + Dancers

Kaiji Moriyama, Escape, Leigh Warren + Dancers

FOR THE FIFTH OZASIA FESTIVAL, THE ADELAIDE FESTIVAL CENTRE AND LEIGH WARREN AND DANCERS PRESENTED DREAMSCAPE, A DOUBLE BILL STITCHED TOGETHER BY LAMINATIONS OF TIME, PLACE AND CONNECTION. ESCAPE IS A WORLD PREMIERE, CHOREOGRAPHED BY WARREN IN ASSOCIATION WITH JAPANESE DANCER-CHOREOGRAPHER KAIJI MORIYAMA. DREAM TIME IS A REVIVAL OF A WORK BY CZECHOSLOVAKIAN CHOREOGRAPHER, JIRÍ KYLIÁN, FIRST PERFORMED IN 1983 AT THE NEDERLANDS DANS THEATER WITH WARREN IN A LEADING ROLE.

Both Escape and Dream Time are set to music by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. Australian pianist Simon Tedeschi plays on stage with the dancers in Escape. In a program note, Kylián explains how he met Takemitsu at a dance festival on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

In Escape, three dancers—Bec Jones, Kevin Privett and Jesse Martin—are dressed in cargo pants and sleeveless hoodies. Suspended from above, they abseil into the performance. As they plumb the depths, their exertions are anchored in the vertical. As they sink and rise in clusters, their limbs extend and pivot round their torsos. The Australian dancers have descended into darkness, recalling Warren’s visit to the Akiyoshido cave in Japan. Down there Kaiji Moriyama emerges from within. His fine exploratory gestures reach forward, through the ropes and broken wires that designer Mary Moore has stretched and sprung in tangles. At this depth, Moriyama’s dancing adheres closely to the music, alive with sensitivity and intuition. Echoes bounce and relay between Tedeschi’s sound and Moriyama’s action. Their synchronicity is reminiscent of another nature underground, the speleogenesis of the underworld.

Dreamtime, Leigh Warren + Dancers

Dreamtime, Leigh Warren + Dancers

Dreamtime, Leigh Warren + Dancers

By contrast, the choreography of Dream Time extends across the surface. Five dancers—Lisa Griffiths, Bec Jones, Kevin Privett, Adam Synnott and Lizie Vilmanis—strike poses in a barren landscape. They give each other space to dance in pas-de-deux and trios. They yield to the lyricism of locomotion as they reach and sweep across the stage. While the shimmer of the landscape’s horizontal extension is as tensile as Takemitsu’s music, the choreography’s claim to territorial belonging is as tendentious as Martha Graham’s “appetite for space” in Frontier or Appalachian Spring. Warren writes that “it is wonderful to have a chance to share some of my dancing history with the dancers and an audience.” The two works of this double bill are intricately connected through layers of artistic collaboration. The historical transition between the two is recounted by their choreographic distinction: the breadth of territorial expansion in Dream Time is replaced with the depth of interior reflection in Escape.

In Lieu at the Space Theatre saw transient reflections and intangible energies sustain intimate intensities at ground level. The work of Australian-born choreographer and dancer Ade Suharto extends from her dance training at the University of Adelaide to the tari putri style of Javanese dance and beyond, across the choreographies of the Asia-Pacific to Taiwan’s Lin Hwai Min of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and Lemi Ponifasio’s MAU from Aotearoa/New Zealand. In this performance, Suharto works with composer and musician David Kotlowy who leads Gamelan In Situ through a set of contemporary compositions. Like the rhythmic repetitions of the gamelan, Suharto’s choreography develops interest and complexity through measured repetition. As actions are repeated, their memory is transformed. There is a sense of journey through the dances—patterns of arm to head, of foot to knee, are relayed from there and replayed here.

Suharto dances alongside a long-form trapezoidal screen extending diagonally across the space. Mawarini’s shadow puppetry on the screen is breathtaking in its intricacy and innovation. The shadows—like the dancing and the gamelan—are relieved of responsibility for delivering character or plot. But they encapsulate an evolving world of organic forms which flicker, slide and fade. As a production, the emphasis of In Lieu was on the music. The presence of six gamelan musicians on stage gave the performance its energetic core. Some difficulties in balancing the lighting with the shadows were not entirely solved. Visual interest was sometimes flattened when the dancer lacked the energy of light. Or maybe what I wanted were the visual echoes of other dancers to refract the polyrhythms of the music. OzAsia confronts us with economies of scale that constrain the production of Australian performance. Shaolin Warriors, the crowd-pleaser from China at the Festival Theatre, syndicated its spectacle of martial arts across a cast of 22. The geometric patterns of Suharto’s choreography deserve to be extended beyond the solo. I would like to see their rhythms stretch and echo across an entire dance ensemble.

Continent, CAVA, OzAsia 2011

Continent, CAVA, OzAsia 2011

Continent, CAVA, OzAsia 2011

An individual’s desire to transcend the uniformity of the ensemble drives each of the protagonists in two parables of modern life. In Continent from Japanese mime company, Cava (pronounced sah-va), a jobbing writer’s imagination takes flight, as he struggles to rise above the challenges of the ordinary and find a publisher for his work. A working girl, who makes him tea and brings him lunch, at first distracts him from his writing. She then takes to the typewriter and contributes to his story. But the system is corrupt. He competes with other writers for the publisher’s interest and commission, but submits his script on its merits alone, without the requisite bribe. The writer and his girl—both bespectacled like the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink—set out against the odds to overcome conformity with the romance of their animated imagination.

Continent is enacted with lightness and precision by five performers; writer and director Kazuaki Maruyama takes the leading role. He pitches the ensemble’s rhythmic mime against a perfect soundtrack of sentimental film-score music wrought with interruptions and cartoon-ish sound effects. The production is colourful and bright. Maruyama’s dramaturgy bears a modernist nostalgia for the mechanisms of the mid-20th century, The work features a portable set that opens and shuts, mime techniques for animating machines and hand-manipulated puppet-props. There is something light and airy about the execution of the piece. Its romance is enchanting.

Rhinoceros in Love, National Theatre of China, OzAsia 2011

Rhinoceros in Love, National Theatre of China, OzAsia 2011

Rhinoceros in Love, National Theatre of China, OzAsia 2011

By contrast, the romance of Rhinoceros in Love is resolutely existential. This “modern classic” from the new China is now more than a decade old. In its 10th anniversary revival for the National Theatre of China, Meng Jinghui directs Liao Yimei’s play with an ensemble cast of young and energetic actors. The story is not particularly striking. The rhinoceros provides an outlet for a young man’s frustrations with love. His would-be lover does little more than offer her rejection. There are soliloquies and scenes of violence, emotional frustration and release. The set is black, hard-edged and cold: mirrors lend its surface depth, cold water spreads across the floor. The metaphor of love’s frustration is extended into space. The play’s existential romance depicts a young man’s individualistic aspiration for love’s promised self-actualisation. But rather than the tortured couple, it was the ensemble—the actors performing as the couple’s cohort of friends—who communicated the pleasures of the piece. (See Douglas Leonard’s review of Brisbane Festival)

The wet depths of the couple’s raw emotion were less compelling than the frontal sarcasm of the actors’ ensemble. With the slick confidence of Chinese television game-show back-chat, their dorm-room gags, sexed-up tricks and dance routines of bubble-pop hip-hop forged direct connections with the audience. It is difficult to capture just how ‘now’ and ‘of the moment’ this production’s crowd-engaging vision of drama felt. Students at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide roared with pleasure at being captured by the work and its depiction of themselves in its predicament. But ultimately Rhinoceros is ambivalent about love. The couple’s passion is exhausting. Their reward remains elusive. The performance rides upon the power of the ensemble to conjure solidarity from audience response.

Dreamscape: A Double Bill, Leigh Warren and Dancers, Dunstan Playhouse, Sept 2-4; In Lieu, performers Ade Suharto, David Kotlowy, Mawarini, Gamelan In Situ, Space Theatre, Sept 6-7; Continent by Cava, writer, director, performer Kazuaki Maruyama with Takaaki Kuroda, Hiroyuki Fujishiro, Thin Hosomi, Ykiko Tanaka, Space Theatre, Sept 15-17; National Theatre of China, Rhinoceros in Love, writer Liao Yimei, director Meng Jinghui, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, Sept 15-17

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 6

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

Luke George, Madeleine Krenek, Future Perfect

Luke George, Madeleine Krenek, Future Perfect

Luke George, Madeleine Krenek, Future Perfect

“…RHYTHM IS A COMPULSION; IT ENGENDERS AN UNCONQUERABLE DESIRE TO YIELD, TO JOIN IN; NOT ONLY THE STRIDE OF THE FEET BUT ALSO THE SOUL ITSELF GIVES IN TO THE BEAT—PROBABLY ALSO, ONE INFERRED, THE SOULS OF THE GODS!” FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, THE GAY SCIENCE

Rhythm, according to Nietzsche, can summon the gods, mould the future or elicit emotion. Like art, rhythm fabricates. It creates a temporal pulse or logic. It also compels conformity. We want to fall in with the beat. Rhythm thereby seduces. It exerts the power of inclusion.

Future Perfect begins with a beat, found and repeated by all five performers. They dance as one, producing a jiggling, ‘Brownian’ motion, a suspension of particles, shaken not stirred, as they shift weight from one foot to the other. They are light on their feet as they rebound time and again. A world of repetition is created, a feeling captured and savoured.

Future Perfect trades in feelings. It is not about dance as such. Rather, it shimmers with dreamlike ambition, recalling the ancient world of the Titans, larger than life beings who view humanity from a mythical distance. The dancers are gilded in black and gold costumes, each one a variant upon the other. Phantasmagorical yes, but, like all the Greek gods, these creatures are not that different from mortals. Future Perfect vacillates between these two poles, god-like and human. It gestures towards an atmosphere beyond that which exists, yet visibly depends upon the physical labour of its dancers.

In the midst of the dancing, a series of virtual transformations (by Rhian Hinkley) is projected into the space. The film posits a set of images, each morphing into the next. Identities become blurred as one figure gives way to another. These shifts in imagery in turn have an impact on the watching of the work, changing the perceptible qualities of the dancing towards a more imaginary texture. Who these dancers are becomes less important than their collective enunciation, their patterns, implosions and explosions. They are seen as a whole, a human cluster forming, deforming then reforming. The movement-image (film) pushes the imagery of the movement (dancing) towards a sense of metamorphosis. I let go of my focus and watch the shadows, allowing the bodies to become otherwise.

Ultimately, this imaginary freedom is reined in. The work enters a dystopic phase, a fall from grace. Bodies are less harmonious, in conflict with one another. They fall, not by giving in to gravity, more through a sense of tragedy, as if they would be better off floating. The group is more fractured, individualistic, at odds with itself. Have the immortals gone the way of all humankind? Is death the worst life has to offer?

Future Perfect ends rather abruptly (unless I missed something) which is ironic really, given the work’s title. Perhaps I was lurking in the past while Future Perfect finished. In any case, I have the feeling that narrative development is not where this piece is at. Everything points to the creation of an atmosphere. The space is hung with curvilinear curtains that produce irregular reflections. The shimmering costumes, moving images, the planetary reorientations of the group conjoin to create an ambience. At times I was inside that ambience, suspended in its imaginary ether. At other times, the mood thinned and the magic evaporated.

The strength and power of Future Perfect is found at a distance, in the slow transformations of the group, in the ways in which, together, the group becomes bigger, more than human. That distance in turn enables perception to be freer, able to stray into the neighbourhood of the imaginary. If there is more to be told at the level of human aspiration, then perception needs to find a landing place closer to home. Therein lies the tension, between the god-like and the human, between the pathos of distance and the all too proximate earth.

Future Perfect, choreographer, director Jo Lloyd, performers Luke George, Rebecca Jensen, Madeleine Krenek, Shian Law, Lily Paskas, lighting & set designer Jennifer Hector, music Duane Morrison, costumes Doyle Barrow, projection design Rhian Hinkley, Trades Hall, Melbourne, Sept 14-18

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 28

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Sylvie Guillem, Bye, 6000 miles away

Sylvie Guillem, Bye, 6000 miles away

Sylvie Guillem, Bye, 6000 miles away

PACKED HOUSES, ENTHUSIASTS AT WORKSHOPS AND HUNDREDS WATCHING FREE PERFORMANCES IN THE FOYER EACH NIGHT—SINGAPORE 2011 DA:NS FESTIVAL CONTINUES TO CREATE A BUZZ. OVERALL THE DIRECTION WAS TOWARDS FAMILIAR EUROPEAN NAMES AND REGIONAL FAVOURITES WITH NO LOCAL PROFESSIONAL COMPANIES PARTICIPATING THIS YEAR.

Most of the artists have appeared in Singapore before and somewhat incongruously, the procession of Spanish soloists and companies continue to tread a well worn, albeit illustrious path to Da:ns Singapore with artists Israel Galván and Ballet Nacional de Espana featured this year. Several broad themes—east and west convergences, cultural synthesis and the deconstruction of traditional forms—underpinned the performances. This year, Hofesh Shechter’s radical Political Mother—with a timely revitalisation of folk dance traditions, complimentary ear plugs and ear splitting music—provided controversy while Sylvie Guillem’s poetic new show gave it virtuosic class and emotional depth.

sylvie guillem

The most outstanding work was undoubtedly Sylvie Guillem’s 6,000 miles away, a tribute performance to the Fukushima victims featuring works by a triumvirate of great choreographers—William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian and Mats Ek. Guillem is a consummate artist at the height of her career. Her personality, rapport with the audience, transformation in roles and styles as she reinvents herself with each work shows curiosity, courage and risk-taking. Forsythe’s Rearray must be among the most complex and technically demanding works she has recently danced, requiring angles and body mapping that only Guillem could achieve with her liquid flexibility and strength. Complex deconstructions of phrases in this duet were punctuated by a series of blackouts that allowed the dancers to begin anew in a new space. Nicolas Le Riche danced superbly adding intricate balletic beats, small jetés and off centre turns—a perfect foil for Guillem’s extensions, arabesques and articulate language of the ballet that constantly dissolved and reformed. Intricate and intimate, it folded and opened out, viscerally dissecting the space. David Morrow’s abstract composition framed the movement yet gave it space, adding an independent voice.

27’52” took Kylian on a road less travelled to trace a relationship in reverse from lovers to childhood playmates. Dancers Aurélie Cayla and Kenta Kojin reminisced, stripping back the layers of children at play. Semi-naked, innocent and joyful before the complications of adult love, they sketched the journey through suspended lifts and protective interactions as she curled foetally in towards him. Ek’s Bye was whimsical and a dramatically exposing solo for Guillem expressing a vulnerable woman facing change. Her extraordinary performance (not to mention the headstands in the yellow skirt) must make her a veritable shoo-in for the next Woody Allen film. Although Ek apparently demonstrated all the steps, it was essentially the image-based concept that drew out the character. Guillem interpreted the images with soulful artistry and a mix of lightness, humour, provocation and some pathos as we recognised the inescapable humanity of aging and change.

pichet klunchun

Black and White, Pichet Klunchun

Black and White, Pichet Klunchun

Black and White, Pichet Klunchun

Choreographers working with tradition (including Galván) had a platform titled Shift in the Esplanade Theatre Studio’s black box. Pichet Klunchun’s Black and White was a festival commission and an absorbing experiment in abstract, non-narrative based dance inspired by the traditional masked dance, Thai Khon. A projected battle scene from the Ramayana in black and white greeted the audience while Chinese guqin musician Wu Na strummed out the dulcet moods of this instrument and four male dancers emerged wearing contemporary versions of traditional Thai Khon costumes—black and white with silver embellishments and masks. Their movement was angular, precise and measured as they set out geometric battle lines inspired by the projected scene. Later choreographer/performer Pichet Klunchun joined the group along with the only female performer Kornkarn Rungsawang in a white lace body suit—her foot-long silver fingernails being the only part of her costume echoing the traditional garb of Thai female dancers. These two appeared to be the guardians of tradition.

After an introductory section whereby the parameters of Khon were established, the first four male dancers stripped to flesh coloured briefs. Fluidly sliding out of their statuesque Khon positions, they deconstruct the form by exploring the possibilities of their bodies and the space. They interacted in mock battles, created pyramids and shapes that referred to their training as Thai Khon dancers and the thematic balance of the Ramayana epic which seeks equilibrium and the victory of good over evil. Masculine and innovative within the context of eastern dance forms where the story usually predominates and dancers rarely assert their individuality in performance, Klunchen creatively pushed the boundaries of his tradition. Nevertheless, at this point, Black and White is like a draft where the dynamics of the choreography have yet to be explored.

jecko siompo

Jecko Siompo and company, We Came from the East

Jecko Siompo and company, We Came from the East

Jecko Siompo and company, We Came from the East

Playful, fun and constantly engaging, West Papuan choreographer Jecko Siompo makes appealing work that has an instant connection with the audience. Through his innovative mix of animalistic gestures and larger body movements that combine contemporary and street dance, he takes us on a journey through the origins of hip hop in his latest work, We Came From the East. His grandmother told him it all started in West Papua and why not? Many of the traditional dance steps from the region are mimetic, inspired by observing animals as they move suddenly, can freeze instantly and move body parts in isolation—just like popping and locking from hip hop. Jecko has named his unique dance language “animal pop.” The animalistic movements include paw-like hands, crawls close to the ground, articulate “talking” feet and lithe, swift movements with the body taut and ready to spring. These were performed with great energy and enthusiasm by the dancers with room for improvisations. However, as the dance wore on it ran out of ideas and became predictable with a disappointing clichéd ending.

next generation

Next Generation was a showcase for the local dance institutions of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and LaSalle—they represented the east and west of ideologies with NAFA showing an Asian line-up of choreographers and LaSalle predominantly American and western influences. At NAFA, Korean Sun Ock-Lee’s Zen Dance: Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form II was a meditative work combining eastern dance forms and philosophies and Peter Chin’s Syncretitude (Jamaica/Canada) used the rhythms and gestures of the east combined effectively with western movement.

Yet the highlight was Dia Dao Cu Chi by the only student choreographer, Amanda Tay. It transported us to the Cu Chi Tunnels under Ho Chi Minh City where thousands lived during the war. Apart from a cheesy beginning with tourists wandering around snapping the site, it incorporated powerful dance theatre imagery. At LaSalle In the Middle of it, at the Same time (USA) by Loretta Livingston was a beautifully crafted work about spirituality that the dancers could relate to. Liz Lea rocked the east-west synergy in White Light, challenging the dancers with fast vocabulary from her toolbox of contemporary and Bharatanatyam moves to upbeat music. Local choreographer and ex-Cloud Gate dancer Albert Tiong just let them dance: his duo Vary 2, with Khairul Shahrin Johry and Muhammed Sufri Bin Juwahir, was thrilling as the two men powered on relentlessly in a physically tight piece about weight, momentum and balance. Watch out for these talented dancers as they make their mark on the international stage.

The festival seems to be primarily a commercial venture where big names and known quantities prevail over risk and uncertainty. Da:ns 2011 was enjoyable rather than reflective or challenging; after five years of undoubted success some new vitality is needed and it is time the curators expanded their vision to include dance from other countries, including Australia.

Singapore 2011 Da:ns Festival , Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, Oct 7-16

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 8

© Stephanie Burridge; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Kriszta Doczy, courtesy Artfilms

Kriszta Doczy, courtesy Artfilms

KRISZTA DOCZY IS THE FOUNDER OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS MEDIA WHICH PROVIDES, UNDER THE ARTFILMS BANNER, A SUBSTANTIAL CATALOGUE (4,000 FILMS) OF INTERNATIONAL ART ON DVD—DANCE, DESIGN, VISUAL ART, MUSIC, NEW MEDIA, THEATRE AND INDEPENDENT AND AVANT GARDE FILM—WITH A GROWING AND SIGNIFICANT AUSTRALIAN COMPONENT. THESE DVDS ARE INVALUABLE FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS OFFERING A SENSE OF ARTWORKS AND PERFORMANCES UNLIKELY TO BE EXPERIENCED FIRST-HAND, OR RARE EXPERIMENTAL FILMS TRANSFERRED EXPERTLY FROM 16MM.

Doczy’s most recent project has been the realisation of Australian Avant Garde, handsomely packed DVD sets of Sydney Underground Movies: Ubu Films, 1965-70 and The Experimental Films of Garry Shead (most made in the 60s and early 70s). You’ll be able to read more about this important act of cultural archiving in RealTime 107.

After years of email contact, Virginia Baxter and I finally met Melbourne-based Kriszta Doczy at the RealTime office in Sydney. Her enthusiasm is infectious, imbued with cheerful determination to bring more innovative Australian art into the international fold of her catalogue, encouraging individuals and companies to make their archival material available, producing and helping them shape the DVDs. We were curious about Doczy’s background and how she came to create Contemporary Arts Media.

At 17, in Communist Hungary, she wanted to be an actor and so joined a mime and dance company: “This was 1969. Everybody was fascinated with Marcel Marceau and the Lecoq style. We trained in contemporary mime but also acrobatics, dance, ballet, you name it, and acting. At the same time Grotowski was in Poland and we took our work to the same festivals. Our company, Domino, disappeared from the face of the Earth—we were banned by the Communist government, we were unemployed, we went underground. But we also toured a lot in Europe. Fifteen years of performing in experimental theatre! We played in cellars and basements, in parks. Then we started to do well so we were on television a lot. The government couldn’t prohibit us after a while. They just tolerated us. But we didn’t get any money. We were ‘starving artists’ but we worked, we had a school and it was buzzing.”

Feeling exhausted and disillusioned by the relentless pressures of theatre-making, Doczy, with her three-year-old first child left art behind her: “At 30 years of age I didn’t have a profession. I didn’t have an education except for high school. I was a single mother in a country where there was no support. So I got jobs in marketing because I spoke English and German. I met my second husband, a blues musician and mathematician, and we left Hungary. By then I was fed up with the entire system. I was 40-years-old when we left. I was pregnant and we spent a year in a refugee camp in Austria, which I could write an entire novel about…We very happily came to Australia. We were accepted on humanitarian grounds. We paid for our tickets and started from zero point absolutely.”

Doczy and family went to live in Perth and then Fremantle. The one thing she laments is never being able to secure a full-time job: “I wanted any sort of job, a normal job. My children were growing up and it was crucial. I wasn’t even thinking about theatre. That was so far away anyway. Conscious Living was a new age magazine, and they employed me in the 1990s using a numerology reading! And I had to sell advertisements. I redesigned the entire magazine. I was fascinated by computers, which came out at the time. We bought a computer and I started to work on it. Ever since I’ve done graphic design. I’m now designing lots of the materials and covers for Artfilms. It’s an endless playground.”

But Doczy was lured back into theatre, running workshops under the aegis of Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and then being offered residencies at Edith Cowan, Murdoch and Curtin Universities. “As bad as it sounds, I had to teach a lot of (traditional) mime. There was nobody teaching things like ‘the invisible wall’ and ‘walking against the wind’.” She decided to take her teaching skills to other cities, to universities in Melbourne, a private class in Sydney, “teaching experimental concepts of movement theatre.” She enjoyed the travel but continued to work in Perth “with performers like George Shevtsov and Stefan Karlsson. I put together a kind of theatre group (Shadow Industries) which did Mrozek’s Tango and an adaptation of Peter Carey’s story “Do You Love Me”—that was probably the best show I did.”

Next came a stint in New York where Doczy’s by then partner “was the Chair at City University of New York which employed me as an adjunct assistant professor teaching experimental theatre. That was a highlight. I was teaching and directing an adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial, a huge production. Big theatre. Big show. Big audience. Beautiful review. 10/10. We were invited to Korea as well: all 13 students, 20 people altogether. At that time I was at the peak of everything. I had a concept about what I wanted to teach—connect (to the body), control and communicate. I started to apply for full-time jobs in America and I was shortlisted a couple of times. And I almost got a job. Almost. But at the end I didn’t. Meanwhile, my children were in Australia and I had limited time. I came back and that was the time I looked into the mirror and I said ‘no more.’ I need a salary.”

So in 2000, Doczy made “three little films on how to teach mime, mask and mask making. My uncle and aunt did some of the work with me. I thought let’s see if I can develop this into a salary. I printed a brochure, secured new films on Commedia and some other teaching films within theatre studies and I sent it out. I had this little distribution company. In about half a year I had an annual salary.”

I wondered how Doczy sourced the films for her very global catalogue. She tells me, “I connected with the artists I knew. I found an international master in Commedia who was starving and I convinced him to make a film. This is my best-selling film ever. Then I met Peter Oyston (founding Dean of Drama at VCA) who became a good friend who helped with the Stanislavski stuff. Because I was teaching drama and also because I was teaching at the academy, I knew what I needed, what I had to show students so they knew what I was talking about—Grotowski, Kantor. With Kantor I found an institute that had the films and I started to correspond with them. At that stage I did nothing about the curriculum in Australia because every state has a different one. So I just thought I’d represent an international curriculum. So that was my approach. Who do I think important to teach? Getting the European material, nobody was doing it at the time. As soon as I started to put out these catalogues, there was a big response—“Oh god, how did you get this?” So that was very welcoming from the beginning. People loved the idea that they could get this material. Nowadays we do a lot of Australian work and I’m just so happy with that.”

Doczy finds most artists she deals with are “very open and very generous. I have their trust and we are so fussy about rights and agreements and all of that. Most have become friends during these years. Sometimes I’m sitting in my pyjamas in Melbourne talking to New York because we’ve set up an appointment with someone like (dance documentarian) Elliot Caplan and he’s in a New York café and he wants to switch on Skype! Obviously the internet is a big thing for us.”

Ironically, as Doczy was building Contemporary Arts Media, she found she still wanted to teach and approached the Head of Music Theatre at WAAPA in 2000. “I’d been teaching for one-and-a-half-years in New York with freelancing actors on the Lower East Side and at the university, [I said] I would really like to teach one unit one evening.” This teaching evolved from 20 students once a week to an entire class of first year acting students and in 2005 she was, at last, offered a full semester teaching job. “I had to say, I can’t. Ten years back I would have died for this job but now I’m running a company. It’s a beautiful company. I can’t wish for more than that. Too late!”

Nowadays, Doczy is based in Melbourne where Simon Rashleigh is Director of Marketing for Contemporary Arts Media, Doczy is Director of Acquisition and Product Development, while Josh Wickham does customer service and graphic designer Effie Shuie works from Taiwan. Doczy says, “We have Eszter in Budapest helping out with product development. And we have Alix Jackson as Production Manager and Editor doing lots of remastering. We have a web developer, filmmakers and others working for us. I’m working for a UK sister company that I’m establishing in London. It’s registered as Artfilms UK. It’s just started. We have a fairly good UK market.”

We return to the subject of the internet: “Our company is developing along with the internet,” says Doczy. “Five years ago there was no way that it would have been possible—multilevel price shopping trolleys for instance. If you go online from the UK, you see every price in pounds. We’re enabling certain discounts for certain countries. If you log in from Ethiopia, you immediately receive 70% discount. It’s a very sophisticated system. Protecting rights for instance: there are films that are available everywhere to us except Germany, France and Japan. Now we’re into an educational streaming system. Universities buy an educational subscription per module, like the Experimental Theatre module or Australian Cinema—different modules for x amount of films and everybody from that campus, the academics or the students, can access them.”

As with much else about the evolution of Contemporary Arts Media, the development of the company’s internet capacity grew from the ground up: “I wouldn’t have been able to establish this company at the time in 2000 if I hadn’t had a teenage son who learned the computer from me as he sat in my lap from age three. Then he was the IT, the website designer, database manager. He set up everything, the network and the system when he was 12 years old. He’s now outgrown us. He’s in London and working as a multimedia designer. My older son, with whom I ran away from theatre when he was three, received a PhD from the London School of Economics and is occasionally an advisor on business matters.”

I’m curious about the markets for Doczy’s catalogue; which is the biggest? “Half is Australia and the other half is between US and UK, mostly US. When we look at who is watching our website, 90% is from the US. The other interesting thing is that although we never really cared about private sales because that is like selling bread and butter—we couldn’t actually exist on it—an increasing number of individuals are buying from us with sales doubling each year. On YouTube we have a channel with one and a half million people watching the film clips. It’s a big playground but as you know from your own experience, it’s a lot of work.”

Kriszta Doczy reflects on her experience of Australia and the creation of Contemporary Media Arts: “My heart is totally Australian but these refugees who are coming from Africa and elsewhere are having a very hard time. We got a lot of help from the government when we came—a lot of help. Big baskets of food. A caseworker. My husband went immediately to a postgraduate course because he was a mathematician. Later I went to university and finished a psychology degree when I was 50-years-old. Australia is a wonderful country but there’s a certain limit. I didn’t get a job. But then I created a job and created work for lots of people—and I got lots of support for that.”

Contemporary Arts Media – Australia; www.artfilms.com.au; Artfilms Limited – United Kingdom, www.artfilms.co.uk

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 29

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Autopoiesis 2010, mirror, surveillance camera, laser projector, proximity sensor and computer, image courtesy and © the artist,

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Autopoiesis 2010, mirror, surveillance camera, laser projector, proximity sensor and computer, image courtesy and © the artist,

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Autopoiesis 2010, mirror, surveillance camera, laser projector, proximity sensor and computer, image courtesy and © the artist,

Mexican-Canadian electronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (www.lozano-hemmer.com) illuminates our reality in many fascinating ways, testing our sense perceptions and offering interactivity in large-scale public works and intimate installations (see interviews with and articles about the artist in RT89, RT97, RT99). Lozano-Hemmer is featured artist at Sydney’s MCA Dec 16-Feb 12 in a free exhibition, titled Recorders, of 12 recent works including two made for Sydney. The artist is asking visitors to leave traces of themselves—voice, heartbeat, belongings, questions—hence the show’s title.

Autopoiesis (2010), one of the works in Recorders, involves a mirror, surveillance camera (running face-recognition algorithms), laser projector, proximity sensor and computer. So take a look at yourself and muse over self-creation and the participatory nature of art—it’s that contemplative time of the year. All at RealTime wish you a Merry Self-reflective Xmas and, in these doggedly oppositional times, a Happily Nuanced 2012.

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 2

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Mavin Khoo, Devi in Absolution

Mavin Khoo, Devi in Absolution

Mavin Khoo, Devi in Absolution

THERE IS A BUZZ IN THE FOYER OF THE RIVERSIDE THEATRE WHEN I ARRIVE TO SEE MAVIN KHOO’S DEVI IN ABSOLUTION. THE ROOM IS FULL OF PEOPLE WEARING TRADITIONAL INDIAN CLOTHING, BRIGHT PRINTS, PERFUME. IT IS DAY TWO OF THE SECOND PARRAMASALA FESTIVAL OF SOUTH ASIAN ARTS AND MAVIN KHOO IS GIVING A ONE-OFF PERFORMANCE. I GET THE SENSE THAT PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THEY’RE HERE FOR.

devi in absolution

Devi in Absolution is personal. It opens with an introduction by the artist himself—a voice speaking pensively over closed curtains about the ideas behind his choreography. What are the different dimensions of the goddess Devi’s character? What ‘subtexts’ can he pull from the religious literature about her? And how might he dance them?

Curtain up and Khoo stomps in, the bells on his ankles jangling in time with the music. Bare-chested with a white skirt down to his knees, the palms and soles of hands and feet are painted red. Beneath a white marquee five musicians play. Sitars and percussion instruments back the lead vocalist, OS Arun, who coasts on single notes for long periods before launching into improvisations full of melodic loops and whirls.

I am immediately taken by the expressiveness in Khoo’s face and fingers. Hands fly to the face and then away, head bobbing to and fro from the top of the neck, eyes darting around playfully. Without a word he sets up problems and solves them, poses questions and answers them. It is as if he is having a conversation in sign language, communicating so rapidly that when I stop paying attention for a moment I lose track of what is being said.

There are aspects of Khoo’s movement that I assume are typical of his classical Bharata Natyam training: for example the straightening of fingers to a point that seems beyond straight, so that they arch over backwards. But Khoo’s movement is also laced with other techniques. He often turns his way across the stage, whipping round with the delicious intentionality of a dancer who knows how to spot. Later, when the dance escalates into a series of energised leaps I’m almost sure I can see a pas de chat, lifted straight from ballet.

Khoo’s work is a saga in two acts that spans a large number of shapes and stories. In its speed and variety it differs from the next show I see at the festival—Sharira by the Chandralekha Group.

Sharira, Chandralekha Group

Sharira, Chandralekha Group

Sharira, Chandralekha Group

sharira

The same excitement stirs in the foyer for this performance. Talk is mainly about the notoriety of the now deceased choreographer Chandralekha’s work. She caused a stir with the sexual charge of her performances, which were feminist in undertone and brought the Bharata Natyam practice out from its devotional context into a more sensual, bodily place.

Sharira is slow, gliding. Bodies are displayed luxuriously. The two dancers wear comfortable clothes and move through a series of postures. These hint at the martial arts influences in Chandralekha’s work, with many being quite intimate. I can see why there was uproar when the work was first performed. The duet opens with a woman lying on her stomach. She undulates on the floor, legs turned out, her back and buttocks rolling up and gently down again. She looks boldly into the audience. The shapes she makes are interesting on a two-dimensional level. I blur my vision now and again to get a better sense of her body as a graphic.

A man enters like a thunderclap.He runs in, batons a straight leg up to his forehead and slaps the leg loudly to create a cracking sound. For a while he performs up on two feet behind the woman, who ripples like a stingray on the floor with her legs and arms splayed. Later he is down on the floor with her. The focus between them is intense. As the piece progresses they climb into each other, exchange weight, swing each other around. They make knots with their limbs and pull into each other to tighten them.

The vocalists dance too in their setup on the far left of the stage. They perform loosely, with feeling, swaying in their seats and making gestures with their hands to access what they’re singing. The slow pace of this piece means I have ample time to take it in. I find myself relaxing into a viewing mode that does not look for narrative or climax.

the other journey

The Other Journey, CuriousWorks

The Other Journey, CuriousWorks

The Other Journey, CuriousWorks

The last performance I attend is The Other Journey. It invites a distinctly different viewing mode to both Sharira and Devi in Absolution. The facilitators of the evening have called it an “arts adventure,” a theatre event in which you are free to direct your own experience.

A small group of us (no more than 10 or 15) arrive at the bank of the Lennox River for a 7.30pm start. There are campfires burning, a boat moored nearby and straw mats laid out with pillows, blankets and incense burners. On the pylons beneath a nearby bridge I can see brightly coloured video projection. Positioned as I am at the end of a long, hot day, I am overcome by a sense of relief. There is nothing I would rather do at this point than take a boat ride or lie down next to a campfire. This environment promises rest.

We get to choose between a cinnamon stick and a dried chili. Chili takes you to the boat first, cinnamon to the mats and pillows. Chili for me. Before I board the boat a woman sets me up with a pair of headphones and an mp3 player. She is attentive and patient, takes the time to show me where the volume control is. I am surprised by her kindness. On the boat we are quiet. The headphones are isolating. At times we observe each other. At other times we close our eyes to listen to the stories.

Backed by an ambient music track, a voice describes traditional Hindu houses, which usually have a special room where you can take a quiet moment if you wish. The phrase is repeated: “take a quiet moment if you wish.” A different voice talks about moving to Australia, hearing thunder over dinner and thinking it was landmines. Again, a repeat in the audio drives the image home. There are reflections on diaspora and war, thoughts on air shelling and how that’s the worst way to kill a person—much worse than shooting them front-on. These recordings are about the plight of Tamil people during the Sri Lankan civil war and what it has been like for them to travel to and resettle in Australia. I cannot identify a conclusive message in the collection of stories—they are just that, a loose collection.

Disembarking the boat, we are led to the mats. Again, the woman bends down to help me hook up my headphones. She treats me so nicely—“let me sort you out.” As I pull the blanket over me I think about the audio content, about refugee policy and about being “treated nicely.” Maybe there’s something in it—some thinking behind the way we’re being treated tonight.

It is hard to be cerebral in this environment, hard to maintain distance. I feel immersed in it, and invited to relax after a week of performances that have challenged me to sit up straight and keep my eyes wide open—mainly because they have opened up a vast history of dance, aesthetics and politics about which I had little prior knowledge.

Parramasala, Australian Festival of South Asian Arts: Devi in Absolution, dancer Mavin Khoo (Malaysia), lead vocalist OS Arun (India), Riverside Theatre, Nov 1; The Chandralekha Group (India), Sharira, dancer Tishani Doshi, dancer/martial artist Shaji John, lighting designer Sadanand Menon, Riverside Theatre, Nov 2, 3; CuriousWorks, The Other Journey (Australia/Sri Lanka), created by Shakthi Sivanathan, Aimee Falzon, Parramatta River, Parramatta, Sydney, Oct 31-Nov 5; Parramasala, Oct 30-Nov 6, http://parramasala.com

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 10

© Cleo Mees; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Peer Gynt, 2010, Four Larks Theatre

Peer Gynt, 2010, Four Larks Theatre

Peer Gynt, 2010, Four Larks Theatre

THE FIRST TIME YOU WITNESS A PRODUCTION BY FOUR LARKS THEATRE IS A LITTLE LIKE STUMBLING UPON A BRIGADOON-LIKE VILLAGE; ONE THAT HAS SOMEHOW EXISTED IN ISOLATION FROM THE MAINSTREAM YET HAS DEVELOPED A COMPLETE SET OF TRADITIONS, RITUALS AND AESTHETICS ON ITS OWN.

This ‘lost tribe’ atmosphere is a blessing and a curse—free from the anxiety of influence, the company has created works truly distinct from its peers, which can also suffer from infuriating flaws that could easily be remedied through broader collaboration. That’s why Four Larks’ recently announced residency at Malthouse Theatre is such an exciting prospect. In the past they’ve made striking theatre on the proverbial smell of an oily rag—with the input and resources Malthouse can provide, we may see the cross-fertilisation required for the next stage of this company’s growth.

The trio at the company’s core are Mat Diafos Sweeney, Jesse Rasmussen and Sebastian Peters-Lazaro. They met in California—Sweeney and Peters-Lazaro still hold US passports, while Rasmussen had travelled from Melbourne to study theatre at Berkeley. “We hung out in the Bay Area a little bit after school,” says Sweeney. “I met Jesse and started making some music together, then we fell in love and she sort of whisked me back to Melbourne. Then Bas came over a few months later to do our first show. We really started our theatre project in Melbourne.”

Each of the three takes on specific roles in the creation of their work. Sweeney and Rasmussen collaborate as writers and directors. Sweeney focuses on “the structural, dramaturgical and visual concepts” as well as “sequencing and scoring out the performance.” Rasmussen “is primarily responsible for the language itself, including lyrics both sung and spoken, and also works intimately with the actors on their individual trajectories.” Peters-Lazaro takes charge of all design components and “generating and realising moments of choreography.”

But in the early stages of each work’s development—the “dreaming period,” as Rasmussen puts it—these roles bleed into one another. “We develop all of the elements at the same time,” says Sweeney. “It’s not like we’ve ever had a script where we could show someone what it looks like just on paper. It’s about a visual concept in relation to a musical idea and really specific performers and location. None of the elements stand on their own, so they’re all being developed together.”

This extended period of preparation allows them to arrive at the rehearsal room as a united front, says Rasmussen. If asked, any one of the three could answer a question relating to a piece’s score, its costume concepts, the meaning of a line of text or the intention behind a moment of choreography. It helps that the trio live together and can hash out artistic arguments over the kitchen table rather than the heads of their performers.

This Cerberus-like creative partnership holds its own challenges for newcomers, says Peters-Lazaro: “at the start of a process it is confusing, especially for people who haven’t worked with us before, that there are three people who’re all shaping the work. But then by the end, just because of the scale we work in, we need all six of our arms.”

The scale of a Four Larks work is often its most astonishing aspect. Most feature dozens of actors and musicians; the design itself is consistently on a level of complexity unmatched by some of the country’s best-funded companies. In recent years the trio have begun describing their productions as “junkyard opera,” and the term is entirely apt. These are fully-fledged operas growing from the detritus of contemporary culture.

There’s another term that seems to encapsulate something of what Four Larks are about: folk. Not in the sense of the twee or naïve, though there may be some of that at times too. Rather, in a more thorough sense, the company’s various interests all seem driven by an obsession with communal narratives—folk music, folk tales, the very community they build by inviting so many artists to collaborate on each work. So far most of the company’s works have been adaptations of familiar stories (Orpheus, Peer Gynt, the myth of Undine) but, rather than attempting to locate the definitive version of each, it has been the overlapping of differing accounts that have fed the creative process.

Ben Pfeiffer, Luke Jacka, Undine, Four Larks Theatre

Ben Pfeiffer, Luke Jacka, Undine, Four Larks Theatre

Ben Pfeiffer, Luke Jacka, Undine, Four Larks Theatre

“The myths that reoccur,” says Peters-Lazaro. “In Undine, the idea that there’s some human creature-ish thing that comes from the water is something that comes up in multiple cultures throughout the world, so it’s interesting for us to look at something like that and explore why that is important. Even if it’s just by starting at a base with which everyone is familiar, we can talk about it in a more in-depth way without having to explain everything.” “We’re interested in talking about the why rather than the what or how,” says Sweeney. “We’re not necessarily interested in creating our own narrative, but in examining others and pulling them apart.”

This reappropriation is also what marks out every aspect of Four Larks’ design. Each set is meticulously constructed from discarded objects: “aesthetically, visually, it’s tied into the same conceptual element,” says Peters-Lazaro. “It’s using objects that have a history. It’s always an act of reappropriation. We’re interested in pretending and playing but no faking. The experience of the performance should be that everyone is hyper-aware that they’re playing at something.”

“It’s sort of an obsession with old things that have a resonance,” says Sweeney. “The set is not being built to look like something, it’s being built from things that are something being used for something else. Which is the same thing we’re trying to achieve with the performers as well, that they’re playing at something.”

In the Tower of the Malthouse next year the company will be tackling its latest object of folklore: The Plague Dances will address the many historical outbreaks of hysterical dancing which have struck communities from the medieval era onwards. “It’s not an adaptation but it’s definitely in the camp of material we’ve worked with before,” says Sweeney. “It’s an event that then gets immediately mythologised and co-opted by different groups, whether it’s the church or politically. It’s potentially a piece about this act of performance.” The residency will offer the company “a place to work in all the areas we’re excited to work, aesthetically and musically and conceptually, working with objects and building this elaborate, fake medieval kingdom.” With what Rasmussen calls their “little plague village up in the Tower” it seems as if the lost tribe is setting up camp in the heart of the capital.

Four Larks Theatre, The Plague Dances, writer Marcel Dorney, Tower Theatre, Malthouse, April 14-29, 2012. For the Malthouse 2012 Season go to www.malthousetheatre.com.au.

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 30

© John Bailey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Isabelle Huppert, A Streetcar

Isabelle Huppert, A Streetcar

Isabelle Huppert, A Streetcar

PAUL GRABOWSKY’S 2012 ADELAIDE FESTIVAL PROGRAM, LIKE MOST INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVALS THESE DAYS, HAS WIDE RANGING APPEAL, BUT AT ITS CORE IS A CLUSTER OF EXCITINGLY PROVOCATIVE WORKS BOUND TO TEST AND EXHILARATE AUDIENCES. I SPOKE WITH GRABOWSKY ABOUT JUST HOW HE CAME TO CHOOSE THE WORKS THAT WOULD CERTAINLY DRAW ME TO THIS FESTIVAL, STARTING WITH THE FIRST PRODUCTION TO BE SEEN IN AUSTRALIA BY KRZYSZTOF WARLIKOWSKI, A DIRECTOR WHOSE WORK HAS EMPHATICALLY DIVIDED EUROPEAN CRITICS AND AUDIENCES.

Warlikowski’s Streetcar, featuring leading French actress Isabelle Huppert as Blanche Dubois, is a version of Tennessee Williams’ play, but it is not A Streetcar Named Desire. It is rather a 21st century response to a 20th century classic. Why did you select A Streetcar for your festival?

A combination of things. I’m a great admirer of Krzysztof Warlikowski. In Paris a couple of years ago I saw a production of Angels in America that he did with his Polish company, which I think was TR Warszawa at the time. He has an incredible theatrical vision which we haven’t seen in Australia, an unusual dramaturgical and directional style. And when I heard he was collaborating with [Canadian theatre-maker] Wajdi Mouawad on this production that was going to star Isabelle Huppert, I thought that seems like a very strong team. It’s a production that’s been very controversial in Paris. The French and some international critics haven’t liked it but, you know, I suspect that’s got more to do with the fact that Warlikowski doesn’t shy away from fundamentally altering things. It’s a Streetcar the likes of which English-speaking audiences would not have seen before—not just because it’s in French but because of the way he does it. He doesn’t necessarily remain in any slavish way true to the text. It takes its point of departure from Tennessee Williams’ play and to a large degree is created out of it but I wouldn’t say for a moment that this is a rendition of that play.

Isabelle Huppert is an actress who takes enormous risks.

Reason alone to see A Streetcar. Her performance is a tour de force. It really is all about her and I think Warlikowski has created a real star vehicle for Huppert. That’s why I chose it. The Adelaide Festival shouldn’t shy away from controversy and this man is a very important contemporary theatre maker.

Les Ballets C de la B’s Gardenia is truly a work about transformation, co-created with a theatre director and drawing on a drag community. It has a real cultural specificity about it. Is that what grabbed you?

It’s very moving. I saw it in Avignon. I talked to Frank Van Laecke, the director, and to artistic director Alain Platel (see interview). They gave me a bit of background on the piece and how they worked with these men (and woman in the case of Vanessa Van Durme). Frank talked about how at the very first rehearsal he’d asked these people to bring with them an object from their lives that meant a lot to them. It was almost like a therapeutic process they went through to break through to the level of performance that I think this show really demonstrates. As you would know from drag shows, it’s often very much an amateur kind of theatrical experience and whilst it might have its amusing elements you’ve got to accept that it is what it is—people having fun and, at the same time, making a statement.

Gardenia, Les Ballets C de La B

Gardenia, Les Ballets C de La B

Gardenia, Les Ballets C de La B

There’s sometimes an element of pathos to drag.

I think Les Ballets C de la B has inverted that kind of paradigm. It’s about discovering the beauty within. So where a lot of drag does sort of end up marooned on the reef of pathos and rarely moves beyond it, this definitely breaks through that and in the end I think we are really exhilarated from the journey that these people have made, not in the Priscilla pop way. The thing about Priscilla is that those guys aren’t actually drag queens—they’re actors pretending. These guys in Gardenia are the real thing.

The music is just gorgeous. Most of all it’s an interesting work, but is it dance? Well I’ll leave that to people to make up their own minds. There is certainly some dance in it. The young Russian in it is amazing—he’s an incredible dancer but he doesn’t even move much. We’re not aware of just how wonderful he is until about a third of the way through the show. So, Gardenia is really a piece of social observation and I think that’s always been an element of Alain Platel’s work as in La Tristeza Complice (RT24, p4) which was the first piece of his I saw—at the Adelaide Festival in 2000. That put a whole lot of people from different social and racial backgrounds onstage together, suggesting that the stage is a level playing field. I feel that over the years Platel has really distilled that social vision and that this work, about a very specific group of people, is at the same time very much of a piece with the general tenor of C de la B’s work.

The Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó’s production, Hard to be a God, is another work in which reality and theatre appear to merge. In the interviews I’ve read he’s emphatic that the show is very real (real people, real trucks) but ultimately the artifice of theatre is still there. No one is hurt, the blood is fake but there’s a lot to be said about human trafficking and the very nature of theatre.

That’s right. The performers are actors. We mustn’t assume for a moment they’re the actual people but I’d have to say that in their willingness to really unpack the brutality of that world, these performers are doing us a great service. While we’re aware that human trafficking is a very bad thing, probably very few people probably are aware of just how bad it is, that it is insanely cruel and the people behind it are psychopaths. Their level of inhumanity is appalling. Have we learned nothing from the lessons of the 20th century or prior about the depths to which we can descend? And here’s a group of actors who are able to cope with that on stage. I’d say this is a piece of Brechtian theatre actually because while there’s this dreadful story going on it is framed by another story—an angel is sent by god to observe these people but with instructions not to get involved. And again, music is used to break up the unremitting sadness and intensity. So all of a sudden after what appears to have been the rape and murder of girl X, she’s onstage singing third harmony in a rendition of some Western pop song. Music is used in a very ironic way. There is this absolutely ironic thread that runs through the piece.

I think of the way the word ‘irony’ is used in a book like The Great War and Modern Memory (2000) by Paul Fussell. He talks about the effect of the First World War on the imagination and how, really, the only word or one of the words to describe the experience of that war is irony because it’s so counter to everything that we would expect. This is a very subversive piece of theatre.

Hard to be a God

Hard to be a God

Hard to be a God

And the venue is the old Clipsal factory in Bowden.

Another layer of irony. The play’s set in a pantechnicon, enacted on the back of a truck. That’s, of course, where all this trade takes place, on trucks. And the other thing about Hard to be a God is that it’s also about the relationship between a criminal gang and the politics of the extreme right. So here’s something else which, again, some Australian audiences may not be totally aware of—the very nasty re-emergence of the far right happening right now.

Another work it’s good to see in the program is the Bernstein Mass, which has to be one of the great hybrid works. It’s got everything. Are you staging this as a concert or a music theatre work?

He wrote it as music theatre and that’s the way we’ll be presenting it. I don’t think it would stand up that well as a concert work actually. Bernstein is so theatrical. He describes his Mass as music theatre; he says it’s a piece for dancers, singers and musicians. Its musical span goes from work that really does lean towards his more serious symphonic composition on the one hand to things like Candide or West Side Story on the other: you’ve got to create a context in which all of that makes sense.

We’ve brought together the two major advocates for the work in terms of recent recordings. The American gospel singer Jubilant Sykes performed it with conductor Marin Alsop with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra [Naxos CD] and the other big recording done recently was by Kristjan Järvi with the Absolute Ensemble [Chandos CD]. Sykes and Järvi have never done it together before and I think it’s quite wonderful that we’ve managed to get these two people both of whom have really championed this piece.

It is amazingly accessible and very beautiful. Some of it sounds so Broadway and other passages, like the meditation for cello, sounds like it comes from the Jewish musical tradition, but the whole coheres.

It’s selling very well. We were surprised. It’s an ecumenical work by a Jewish composer, albeit a very liberal Jewish one, based around the text of a Tridentine Mass of all things—not just a Catholic Mass but the conservative Catholic Mass. Then it’s interspersed with songs by Stephen Schwartz. This is very much a work about faith but it really is also asking what faith is. It’s being directed by Andy Packer from Slingsby, a wonderful local theatre company who do incredibly beautiful work, generally for young people. He’s been assistant director on various productions for South Australian Opera and I think he’ll do a wonderful job.

It’s good also to see The Caretaker in the program—a reminder how powerful Pinter’s work can be.

It’s the epitome of the well-made play, Keith.

Yes, but when it was first produced critics weren’t sure at all whether it was a well-made play or not. There’s no classic exposition, there are no obvious back-stories. The audience really has to work and I think that’s one of the great reasons for reviving it, to show just what supremely clever writing it is about power play, brotherly love and dependence. The form is quite amazing.

You’re right. When I called it a well-made play, I guess I was referring to the way it’s staged. It’s a very fine example of very fine English actors dealing with a classic English text directed by an inveterate English director.

You also have Sydney Theatre Company’s Indigenous work Bloodland (see p32) and a new work from Sydney’s Force Majeure, Never Did Me Any Harm.

Never Did Me Any Harm will be unveiled at the Sydney Festival. We co-commissioned it with the Sydney and Melbourne Festivals. It’s inspired by The Slap—I’m reluctant to say “based on” as there’s so much about Christos Tsiolkas’ novel around at the moment. Kate Champion is a really important maker of dance theatre. We also co-commissioned Bloodland. As you know, I’m very interested in and have a fair bit to do with Indigenous work. I think it’s essential for Australian festivals to invest in it. We need it. Our culture needs it and what good is a festival if it’s not getting on board?

In the works you’ve asked me about, there is a kind of through-line that’s about where art stands in relation to various contemporary issues. Art needs to be seen at these times as attacking causes full frontally in a way that the audience can really get. If art is too obscurantist, then it’s going to put up some kind of smokescreen between it and the audience. While sure, there’s art that depends to a certain extent on obscure language and its delivery system, I think the work I’ve chosen for this festival is very contemporary, it’s very dangerous work to some degree. But there should be no doubt from an audience point of view about what they’re seeing. And then they’re in a position to make a considered judgement about it. People need to feel like they haven’t been left outside the discussion.

Adelaide Festival, March 2-18, www.adelaidefestival.com.au

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 12-13

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Cate Blanchett, Gross und Klein (Big and Small), Sydney Theatre Company

Cate Blanchett, Gross und Klein (Big and Small), Sydney Theatre Company

Cate Blanchett, Gross und Klein (Big and Small), Sydney Theatre Company

TWO SIGNIFICANT WORKS FROM SYDNEY THEATRE COMPANY, BLOODLAND, A COLLABORATIVE PERFORMANCE CREATED BY AUSTRALIAN INDIGENOUS ARTISTS, AND BOTHO STRAUSS’ 1978 PLAY GROSS UND KLEIN (BIG AND SMALL) CONFIRMED THE COMPANY’S COMMITMENT TO ADVENTUROUS THEATRE-MAKING. BOTH WORKS CAST THE AUDIENCE IN THE ROLE OF OUTSIDER WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY DEALING WITH THE OUTSIDER’S PLIGHT.

Neither work provides easy access—Bloodland is delivered largely in the Yolgnu tongue of Eastern Arnhem Land (without subtitles) in a discursive often movement-based narrative, while Gross und Klein elliptically tracks the emotional state of a woman whose life is falling apart in increasingly surreal episodes. Yet both works, once entered, reward us with insight into the outsider’s pain.

gross und klein (big and small)

In the opening scene of Gross und Klein, Cate Blanchett delivers the first volley of a tour de force performance, establishing Lotte as the outsider she is, the expansive dimensions of her personality and the potential for the trouble that will come—she is amiably garrulous (we are her confidantes), curious (she listens to two men talking “like total philosophers,” taken by their “throbbing” voices), betrayed (deserted by husband Paul), alone (with a tour group in Morocco who have turned on each other) and visionary (in an outburst about the fate of the Earth that takes her by surprise and anticipates later delirium).

With great vocal and physical ease, Blanchett sustains a remarkable sense of spontaneity and increasing unpredictability so that when Lotte trips into surreal scenarios, dances crazily or argues with God, we can go with her. We accept Lotte’s desire to learn languages, to think, to help, even though we know that the loss of love will repeatedly thwart any ambitions and that, perhaps, we are witnessing a descent into madness—although the world she encounters is possibly madder. Blanchett’s lucid delivery is underpinned by Botho Strauss’ austere writing, fortunately rendered not too idiomatically into English by Martin Crimp who refers to “the blue sky thing,” “nanotechnology” and their like to give the play a more contemporary feel. Crimp retains the play’s sense of foreignness, apt for Lotte’s condition and Strauss’ critique of a disintegrating society where this woman cannot secure a foothold. Blanchett captures perfectly Lotte’s desire to reach out—to an old friend and to perfect strangers (she talks through a window, advising a woman on how to dress; she takes a drunken Turkish man for a walk to sober him up; she visits her brother’s neurotic family; she takes on an office job)—but also to regress (returning to her and Paul’s apartment; attempting hopeless reconciliation; calling their old telephone number from a phone box in the middle of nowhere—an otherwise eerily naked stage).

What makes this production of Gross und Klein particularly disturbing is how painfully funny it is, giving the play’s consistent strangeness a through-line without ever straining to be comic, underlining the sheer happenstance of Lotte’s journey and allowing her to assume the mantle of a divine-ish fool. Having declared of humanity, “we’re not falling, we’re flying apart,” Lotte discards her dress to reveal a glittering showgirl outfit and confronts God: “Don’t come any closer! … I’m not your cup…I can’t take you on as well!” Bleeding and writhing on the floor, she wonders if he (God or Paul?) “wants to make me small.” We know Lotte is bigger than that. And the remaining scenes (a riotously hilarious office job with Blanchett reminding me of the physical bravery of Gena Rowlands in John Cassavettes’ film Love Streams (1984); an encounter with a chess-playing loner at a bus stop that might have become an unlikely relationship; and an apparently purposeless visit to a doctor’s waiting room) all suggest a return to some kind of stability if not normality alongside Lotte’s own asessment: “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Benedict Andrews (who took over the production from French director Luc Bondy) has directed contemporary German plays here and in Berlin and is the perfect match for Botho Strauss (he has also directed three plays by Martin Crimp for STC). He has elicited consistently strong performances from his cast and worked inventively with Johannes Schultz’s set—a simply framed rectangle within which rooms can unfold or float apart or a strange apartment block glide into view, a highway appear with the laying down of white lines—a world if not “flying apart,” certainly aptly unstable. Gross und Klein is a must see—a great play, equally demanding and rewarding, and an immaculate production with an astonishing central performance that demands we step back and take a look at our lives through a new frame—to see just how sane or not are we and the society that tolerates us.

bloodland

Bloodland, Sydney Theatre Company

Bloodland, Sydney Theatre Company

Bloodland, Sydney Theatre Company

Bloodland posits its non-indigenous audience as outsiders, witness to Indigenous language, ceremony and social tensions largely foreign to us. We have to work hard to find our way into the performance—much of the dialogue is delivered in Yolgnu, the language of the peoples of East Arnhem Land, especially in the early scenes where we’re heavily reliant on non-verbal cues. Later, Aboriginal English and a greater orientation to movement make meaning more transparent. But that initial sense of being an outsider is important, not that it ever leaves us—we are, as usual in the theatre, pretend voyeurs, but here moreso than usual. However, we are not the only outsiders—the clan society we observe has its own.

Cherish (Ursula Yovich), an eccentric loner who collects or most likely steals mobile phones she doesn’t use, mutters ritualistically over her cache the names of their owners. Billy (Kelton Pell) is city-educated, but denied involvement in ceremonies by clan elder Djurrpun (Banula Marika). Nonetheless Billy’s betrothal to young Gapu (Noeline Marika) stands, but it drives the boy who loves her, Runu (Hunter Page Lochard), into tragic isolation. Individual plights are amplified by tension between clans, by arguments between the women—as they make bread—over the obligations of sharing and exacerbated by the gap between learning ceremony and the appeal of hip hop and MP3 players for the teenagers. Added to which is collective despair over control of Indigenous land rights and language by a distant white government. Billy’s making and distribution of the hallucinogenic kava is another complication—its effects realised as a slow-motion tottering as opposed to the vitality and grace of the boys performing a kangaroo dance.

The set for Bloodland amplifies this prevailing sense of darkness and disconnection: a damaged wire fence spans the stage, cage-like, behind which, dimly discerned at first, is nature—evoked abstractly as grasses and spindly trees amidst which members of a clan stand and ominously watch or a dog (David Page) growls ferociously or a clan elder sings while carefully butchering a kangaroo. Near centre-stage, a power pole, sparking dangerously at its peak, leans perilously over land scarred by mining and a people caught between past and present. By the end, we have come to see both the Indigenous individual and their society as outsiders.

Bloodland is a significant if flawed creation, its theatre-cum-dance hybridity feeling at times unresolved, our sense of the key characters too impressionistic, its multiplicity of important issues spread thin in a short work. The crudely satirical scene of a teacher, Miss White, executing her students for declaring themselves Yolgnu ruptured a sense of Bloodland’s tonal consistency. Otherwise, the oscillation between easy-going naturalism and movement based ceremony worked well, although the protracted funeral at the end, for all its sense of ritual and powerful grieving, seemed disproportionate to what had gone before. But, I write as an outsider, witnessing Indigenous Australians made outsiders in their own land, enacting their plight in their own language and powerfully performing it.

Gross und Klein is programmed for the London 2012 Festival; Bloodland is in the programs of the 2012 Adelaide and Perth Festivals. You can see footage of Bloodland at www.sbs.com.au/news/video/2166576735/Bloodland

Gross und Klein (Big and Small), writer Botho Strauss, English text by Martin Crimp, director Benedict Andrews, performers Cate Blanchett, Lynette Curran, Anita Hegh, Belinda McClory, Josh McConville, Robert Menzies, Katrina Milosevoic, Yalin Ozucelik, Richard Piper, Richard Pyros, Sophie Ross, Chris Ryan, Christopher Stollery, Martin Vaughan, set designer Johannes Schultz, costumes Alice Babidge, lighting Nick Schlieper, composer, sound designer Max Lyandvert, Sydney Theatre, Nov 19-Dec 23; Sydney Theatre Company & Adelaide Festival: Bloodland, concept, direction Stephen Page, story Kathy Balangayngu Marika, Wayne Blair, writer Wayne Blair, performers Elaine Crombie, Rarriwuy Hick, Rimi Johnson page, Kathy Balangayngu Marika, Noelene Marika, Banula Marika, David Page, Hunter Page Lochard, Kelton Pell, Tessa Rose, Meyne Wyatt, Ursula Yovich, set Peter England, costumes Jennifer Irwin, lighting Damien Cooper, composer Steve Francis; Wharf 1, STC, Oct 7-Nov 13

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 32

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Radical Son, I Am Eora

Radical Son, I Am Eora

Radical Son, I Am Eora

ONE OF THE 2012 SYDNEY FESTIVAL’S CENTREPIECES IS BLACK CAPITAL, FIVE EVENTS AND PERFORMANCES HOUSED AT CARRIAGEWORKS ON THE EDGE OF REDFERN, HOME TO AND MEETING PLACE FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLE FOR MANY DECADES AND A SITE OF PAIN AND SOCIAL TENSION BUT ALSO OF INNOVATION.

Black Capital includes 181 Regent St, Addressing Black Theatre, an exhibition and symposium curated by Rhoda Roberts. Forty years ago the National Black Theatre was established in Regent Street in Redfern launching the careers of Indigenous actors (including Bob Maza, Lillian Crombie, Justine Saunders) and writers (Robert Merritt, Kevin Gilbert, Jack Davis) in an atmosphere of cultural reflection and activism. Visual artist Brook Andrew’s Travelling Colony will fill the CarriageWorks foyer with hand-painted caravans in which you can experience the sounds, images and stories of Redfern. The Barefoot Divas, six singers and songwriters from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea will bare their stage lives and their relationships with their respective cultures in Walk a Mile in My Shoes. Black Capital Day will open the event with ceremony, performance (including excerpts from Erth’s I Bunyip), music and food.

At the centre of Black Capital is I Am Eora (I am of this place), a large-scale work with some 30 artists bringing together performance, film, literature and music under the direction of Wesley Enoch, artistic director of the Queensland Theatre Company. Three key figures in I Am Eora and in the history of Aboriginal Sydney are the warrior Pemulwuy, the resilient nurturer Barangaroo and the reconciler Bennelong. I asked Wesley Enoch about the I Am Eora collaborators’ motivation for the work.

So Wesley, are you Warrior, Nurturer or Reconciler?

Ha! That’s interesting. We sat around a table—me, Anita Heiss and Michael McDaniel doing a creative development months ago—and we all started to say, “Oh no, you are Barangaroo, you are Pemulwuy…” And it’s interesting that none of us wanted to claim Bennelong. He seems in the Aboriginal sense to be the ‘sell-out.’ But ultimately he’s the one we all think we are. We like to think of each other as warriors but we actually think of ourselves as the sell-outs, people who didn’t stand up enough.

I’m sure you’ll all be standing up with I Am Eora. How have you worked on this? Did you start with a script or did it come out of collaboration and improvisation…?

The beginning point was a discussion with (Sydney Festival Director) Lindy Hume—this is like four odd years ago—about the seminal stories, the important stories of Aboriginal Sydney. We were looking at a whole range of moments in time and what I landed on were the archetypes, if you like, that are based on the Warrior, the Nurturer, the Interpreter. These repeat themselves throughout each cycle of development in terms of the history of Aboriginal Sydney or Aboriginal Australia—to take the metaphor further. I’m sure there are more but these three figures became the touchstones for those archetypes. These historical figures—Bennelong, Pemulwuy and Barangaroo—started a way of understanding how we are today. So, all that thinking happened sitting around with a number of Indigenous thinkers and artists to tease out the idea behind the story, coming to the point where we said it’s not about telling the story in an historically accurate way. It’s more about trying to capture this feeling, the spirit of these archetypes and playing them out.

So you’re not bound by a narrative?

No. There are narratives but the idea of trying to make them totally accessible to an audience isn’t the issue. Koori Radio has emphasised how music is a real strength, especially in NSW, in terms of bringing things forward. We were talking about what Black Arm Band’s been able to achieve by singing songs. We said, well, we want to do more than that. So we’re looking at creating a supportive environment in which songs are sung and we tell a loose narrative about each of these figures.

In terms of the Warrior, Radical Son (David Lehar) already had a song about Pemulwuy that talks about the Warrior Spirit. So we’ve used some moments in Pemulwuy’s life as inspiration. He was considered in some respects almost super-human, surviving near fatal attacks twice before being killed with seven shots. So there was a sense that he would rise from the ashes and appear somewhere he shouldn’t have, just when everyone thought he was dead. One of us said, “Imagine if a kid went to a dress-up party as Pemulwuy instead of a super-hero. What would that look like?” One of the images of the show is just that. This Aboriginal kid turns up in a Superman outfit and is undressed and ochred up as a way of saying, “you are the connection to this man.”

Wesley Enoch

Wesley Enoch

Wesley Enoch

This is juxtaposed with the contemporary song?

All the music is contemporary although one of the things we’re looking at is a translation of “Botany Bay.” What does it mean if Bennelong sings “Botany Bay” in Darug? It’s a fun thing to do but also to show the living culture of it. With the music, we’ve looked to a number of key artists: Radical Son, The Stiff Gins and Wilma Reading. Wilma’s a fascinating Torres Strait Islander woman who does 1960s jazz, popular music and has toured Europe and lived in America for years.

How did you arrive at the casting?

A little by chance; a little by design. The casting evolved. We asked, “Well, who embodies these three archetypes—what songs, what actions would embody these three spirits?” I should say no one is actually playing any of these historic figures. The spirit of Barangaroo is played by five people in one section because we’re wanting different styles and different connections. But the spirit of Bennelong is being played by one man, Jack Charles, who has a connection through the Wiradjuri people [of central NSW]. For us, he’s not actually playing Bennelong—he’s playing an interpreter.

There’ve been incredible cultural gymnastics around negotiations about cultural ownership, about the position of the Darug and the other clans around Sydney Harbour and beyond—and a lot of stories often refer to primary sources written by non-indigenous people. We were trying to go for stories that were also shared or stories that have come through oral traditions, and different ways of looking at story.

Did you find these Indigenous stories easily or did you have to seek people out?

It’s a challenge. People come forward and tell us bits and pieces and so in some respects the whole show is a provocation to think in this particular way—even the title, I Am Eora, comes from a number of different sources. It’s almost a Reconciliation provocation too: how do the people who live in this land call themselves the people of this land? In some of our discussions we’ve quoted Germaine Greer’s Quarterly Essay, “White Fella Jump Up,” where she’s basically provoking people to think if you’re living on Aboriginal land, how do you call yourself “of” that land? And so I Am Eora is as much about saying how can people in the audience walk out after the show thinking, I need to feel like I am from here, I need to be of this land. I don’t know if they’ll get that. But that’s where it comes from at least.

A lot of people think of Sydney as a place where Aboriginal connections to the past are tenuous, where most of the clans were wiped out. But this will hopefully generate a strong sense of presence.

There’s lots of ownership. Just in the last few days I’ve had more Darug elders come and say, look we need to talk about this. I’ve got stories. In one of the creative developments we had a dancer in and he said, well in fact Bennelong is my great, great, great—I’ve forgotten how many greats there were—uncle. We draw a line down through connection to him. And you think wow! It makes sense. Of course there are still people living in the land who draw connections down 200 years or more to these people. It is fascinating.

The questioning of the dominant idea that Aboriginal people in Sydney didn’t exist or they were all wiped out is wonderful to challenge because these are historic figures; Pemulwuy, Barangaroo and Bennelong were real people. One of the contemporary manifestations of Barangaroo we think is Mum Shirl. We’re even talking about seeing [the politician] Linda Burney as being one of the modern manifestations of a strong female figure and nurturer in the Aboriginal community.

Finally, what about your own connection with Sydney through I Am Eora? You lived here when you were directing for the Sydney Theatre Company.

The support for and investment in me and my career and in me doing what I want to do, all that has been pretty incredible. We do have to pay our dues. The other thing is I’ve always had a very complex relationship with Sydney, emotionally complex. I’ve always felt a bit disconnected from and a bit hurt by Sydney. But I Am Eora is an incredibly patient way of Sydney saying okay let’s tell you some stories, make you feel welcome and part of it. The conversations are not easy. There have been some very heated discussions around the material. To be learning all the time is really important. Eleven years ago I moved to Sydney and now I’m actually thinking, this is maybe the project I should have started with as opposed to going to the Sydney Theatre Company and doing what I did [LAUGHS].

I’ve seen you on YouTube talking about I Am Eora.

That YouTube thing! The Associate Producer strategy—the crowd-sourcing idea—has been incredible, raising $240,000. The people of Sydney are really investing in I Am Eora—one big donor and then lots of mum and dad investors saying, yes, we’ll give a couple of thousand dollars for this story to happen.

Sydney Festival & CarriageWorks, Black Capital: I Am Eora, director Wesley Enoch, co-writer Anita Heiss, CarriageWorks, Sydney, Jan 8-14, 2012, www.sydneyfestival.org.au

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 14, 16

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

PS122, New York

PS122, New York

DURING THE SPRING IN NEW YORK I WORKED IN THE PROGRAMMING OFFICE AT PERFORMANCE SPACE 122 (PS122). IT WAS A SIGNIFICANT AND HISTORICAL TIME FOR THE DOWNTOWN PERFORMANCE INSTITUTION AS IT WAS CELEBRATING ITS 30-YEAR HISTORY AND PREPARING TO CLOSE ITS CURRENT HOME FOR RENOVATIONS TO GO OFF SITE FOR THREE YEARS, FOLLOWING A MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE GRANT FROM THE CITY OF NEW YORK.

PS122’s venue was once an old primary school in Manhattan’s East village. In the late 70s a community of artists started to inhabit the building and through the next three decades it quickly developed into the hub of the avant-garde downtown arts scene.

To say goodbye to the old building PS122’s artistic director, the Australian Vallejo Gantner, presented The RetroFutureSpective Festival, a two-week farewell party to celebrate the building’s considerable history, the community that shaped it and to introduce the radical shift into a new future for the performance art institution.

The RetroFutureSpective Festival was an exhaustive two week event. It included an All Day Dance Class—informal workshops with influential choreographers—followed by a night-time screening of the Alan Parker movie Fame which was shot on location at PS122 in the 80s. ECHO: 30 Years of PS122 was a three-channel video installation of archival footage by Charles Dennis; Avant-Garde-Arama Wrecking Ball, a two-night showcase of queer performance; while the culmination of the festival was The Old School 122 Benefit, a four-night mini-festival within the festival. The luminaries of the downtown performance scene from past and present were invited to perform back to back in this four-night marathon of short works—artists such as Penny Arcade, John Zorn, The Wooster Group, Eric Bogosian, Sonic Youth front man Thurston Moore, The Elevator Repair Service, all coming to pay their respects to the space that helped form their early careers.

The building was wrapped in nostalgia; the downstairs theatre was converted into a lounge hosted by Lori E Seid, a respected production manager. In one of our encounters she told me she was “the Dyke” in Penny Arcade’s seminal work, Bitch, Dyke, Fag Hag, Whore, which premiered at PS122 in 1990 (and toured to Australia). During the festival, artists such as Amanda Palmer popped in to sing some pre-show tunes at Lori’s Lounge.

A highlight of the festival was Charles Dennis’ ECHO. The artist edited 30 years of PS122 archival footage into a one hour 20-minute, three-channel video installation. Sitting through over an hour of performance footage from three decades of live works might sound like a serious chore for some, particularly when live works rarely translate well into film. However, Dennis’ ECHO is a remarkable installation that transforms the potential of the performance archive, creating a stand-alone work that was mesmerising to experience. This was partly due to the overwhelming collection of artists represented, but mostly to Dennis’ virtuosic editing and composition with each of the large screens simultaneously showing different footage. On one screen, an excerpt of experimental musician John Zorn improvising on violin becomes a soundscape for Spalding Gray’s monologue on the centre screen, while on the third, choreographer Sarah Michelson’s dancers appear to be moving to the erratic soundscapes created by Zorn and Gray. In another moment, retro footage of The Blue Man Group emerges, while images of Gray dissolve into the raps and melodic raves of Reggie Watts. ECHO holds these artists and their histories in the same time and space, in a wonderful evocation of the vision underpinning Gantner’s festival.

The art collective Praxis (Delia and Brainard Carey) presented a work from their conceptual museum MONA, The Museum of Non-visible Art. Praxis states that the museum “reminds us that we live in two worlds: the physical world of sight and the non-visible world of thought composed entirely of ideas; the Non-Visible Museum redefines the concept of what is real.” Each work sold from the museum has this disclaimer, “You are not buying a visible piece of art; you are buying the title and description card for the imagined artwork.”

At MONA artists are invited to collaborate and create conceptual works that exist in the imagination alone. Most famously NYC’s uber-man James Franco’s MONA contribution was recently purchased for $10,000 on the funding platform Kickstarter. For this festival, Praxis created a ghost tour, presented in a disused back room. Five audience members at a time would be guided through the imagined museum while Praxis described the imagined and real ghosts of PS122—such as Ethyl Eichelberger, Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, Spalding Gray and Charles Ludlum. Audience members could also purchase the works or ‘ghosts.’ The concept of MONA at this point is still developing: during the Ghost Tours Praxis struggled to bring their concept into the realm of live performance, falling short of engaging the audience in their imagined histories. However Praxis are only at the beginning of developing the infinite concept of MONA and I look forward to the future construction of their Museum of Non-visible Art.

Pullman WA, Young Jean Lee Company

Pullman WA, Young Jean Lee Company

Pullman WA, Young Jean Lee Company

Young Jean Lee Theatre Company is a stand out presence on the NYC performance scene. The artistic director of the company, Korean-born Young Jean Lee, was recently named by American Theatre magazine as one of the 25 artists who will shape American theatre over the next 25 years. As part of Retro, Lee presented an excerpt from her work Pullman, WA that premiered at PS122 in 2005. The title of the work refers to the town where Lee grew up, but instead of watching a linear presentation of personal anecdotes we experience a non-linear series of provocations about the confusions of day-to-day living. On a bare stage a man stands facing the audience, the house lights are up. He tells us that “he knows how to live” and proceeds with a subversive and provocative monologue that challenges our sense of self. The starkness and explicitly truthful nature of the text and presentation was completely original to me, and Pullman, WA provided me with one of those rare moments in the theatre where I felt somehow changed.

The final night became a four-hour epic, the house packed beyond capacity. The Wooster Group provided the last official work on the program, presenting the infamous Hula performed by a near naked Kate Valk. But the real finale was reserved for Phillip Glass who played a rendition of his work Closing.

The PS122 building is a space that many artists call home (I could not help but reflect on the old Performance Space venue on Cleveland Street in Sydney).The RetroFutureSpective Festival was overwhelming, heavily weighted with 20th century nostalgia that focused on honoring the incredible community and works that developed throughout the heyday of the formation of New York City’s avant garde.

As PS122 vacates, Gantner will be maintaining a balancing act over the next three to five years creating a program that exists across sites and venues throughout the city, with a vision of creating an engaged online social environment for PS122. The new development parallels the urban and social transformation of Manhattan, with the renovations being a positive and necessary step for the much loved but well-worn performance establishment. The next three years will be a challenge, an opportunity for Gantner and his strong team to create the future history of performance across New York City.

PS122, The RetroFutureSpective Festival, New York, June 11-25

See an excerpt of Charles Dennis 79 minute video work revisiting 30 years of archival performance footage from PS122
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daQAcuaOIFI

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 34

© Karen Therese; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Steve Sheehan, A Little Horseplay

Steve Sheehan, A Little Horseplay

Steve Sheehan, A Little Horseplay

WHAT IS A FESTIVAL? WHAT IS AN IDEA? WHAT IS POPULAR? ADELAIDE’S INAUGURAL FESTIVAL OF UNPOPULAR CULTURE, A KIND OF DO-IT-YOURSELF ADJUNCT TO THE ADELAIDE FESTIVAL OF IDEAS, EASILY TRIGGERS SUCH QUESTIONS.

The festival is intended as a showcase of discussion, art, film and performance which has no home in the mainstream cultural milieu. This is, of course, a problematic remit at a time when the mainstream is not easily defined and when the culturally subversive is always being aggressively co-opted by outside interests. It is perhaps just as well then that the festival persistently offsets its own brief through self-deprecation and knowing indifference.

Like its tagline “We Shall See,” everything about the Festival of Unpopular Culture, down to its indecorous acronym, is coolly sardonic, squarely aimed at 20-somethings and arch ironists. The printed program itself is instructive, full of hand-drawn images and text and unfinished, jokey guest biographies. The foreword by the festival’s Creative Director Stan Mahoney simply reads: “Send help.” Whether these represent an authentic challenge to the discourses of ‘mainstream’ cultural festivals or are just self-indulgent in-jokes is difficult to say. This is, after all, a festival in its infancy—though infinitely closer in spirit to adolescence: shambolic, oppositional, coyly idealistic.

j-square and friends: unsilence the silenced

Described as a “cross-lingual writing lab,” Unsilence the Silenced saw J-Square—a loose collective of Adelaide-based new migrant and ‘outsider’ artists—take over the best part of a floor of the Adelaide College of the Arts building, the designated hub of the Festival of Unpopular Culture. It is a show that may once have been described as a happening, perhaps now, in less vivid times, as a performance event. In one part of the open, grey-walled space, projected text appears on a large screen as it is being typed while in another an artist splatters a vast canvas with paint, twigs having replaced brushes, a red clown nose seeming to mollify the painter’s vanity—another self-effacing ruse in a festival filled with them.

The soundtrack—a throbbing, mostly discordant fusion of electric bass and guitar and hip-hop-ish vocalisations—initially jarred but the enduring effect was hypnotic rather than braying. The text perhaps interested me the least, its too-literal engagement with the nature of ideas (“Without ideas, all acts are blind. Ideas and actions are twins. Without one the other is gone”) at odds with the stimulating slipperiness of meaning present elsewhere. It also served ultimately to underline a kind of niggling feeling with which I left Unsilence the Silenced, a sense that the strangeness of the event was everywhere compromised by the intrusion of the familiar, the text framed by the instantly recognisable schemes of Microsoft Word, the event itself ending disconcertingly abruptly as the building’s security staff appeared, the audience ushered out amidst uncertain courtesies from J-Square members. It was a peculiarly numbing climax to what had been an evening rich with expression and potential; perfectly unpopular.

milk theatre collective: alice + peter grow up

Alice (Ashton Malcolm) and Peter (Sebastian Freeman) are already onstage when the small audience files into the Format Collective’s claustrophobic basement theatre. The actors themselves look like an audience of two: seated, blank-faced, expectant. They are, however, swiftly corralled into action by a commanding female voiceover whose task, it seems, is to propel these indolent young people into adulthood. They are expected to dress like grownups (Alice chooses black business clothes, Peter cycling shorts and a loud shirt), go on dinner dates together, make office small talk and discuss important issues without excessive inebriation. Needless to say, the apathetic Alice and the gormless but congenial Peter do not find these enforced routes to adult success and respectability easy and it all ends in hopeless abandonment amidst a pillow fight which is partly flirtatious but mostly childlike. I wanted to give myself over to this moment, to delight in Alice and Peter’s apparent rejection of the adult world and all its suffocating social constructs but there was something a bit tentative about this conclusion and, indeed, about the show more broadly which left me unable to fully engage with it. I couldn’t quite work out who or what were the intended objects of its satire: disciplinarian instructional guides, the perceived narcissism of generations X and Y, the foibles of inner-city yuppies? Like its protagonists, Alice + Peter Grow Up is immature but full of promise: Nescha Jelk’s direction is already adroit but further dramaturgy by playwright Sarah Dunn is required if this work in progress is to come of age.

steve sheehan: a little horseplay

A Little Horseplay is also a work in progress, having enjoyed a second stage of creative development following an initial showing at the 2011 Adelaide Fringe Festival. Written, directed and mostly performed by Steve Sheehan, A Little Horseplay is a playful exploration of the ridiculous, an attempt to mine internal rather than external sources of comedy. It is a show which bears little superficial correlation to any recognisable world of the real, inhabiting instead a kind of psychic, Dadaist space in which the comedy is not derived from gags but rather dreamlike juxtapositions of the sublime and the banal: classical music and bad jokes, opera and fly-swatting, a real miniature horse and a joke shop horse-head mask. An array of elaborate and bizarre props—including a suspended cage which transforms into a dress and a kamikaze bird which provides an unexpected denouement to one of Norma Knight’s strange and lovely arias—enhances the show’s air of endless possibility.

If A Little Horseplay bears any relationship to more conventional comic forms, then it is to the charged, teasing spaces that separate jokes from their punch lines. It is a show almost wholly devoid of such lines; those which do arise are disconnected, neutralising rather than climactic; melancholic rather than mirthful. This is minimalist or, as Sheehan puts it, “ambient” comedy and it works to unsettle our relationship with what is funny, to reframe the avant-garde as farce without sacrificing its essential alienness.

The Festival of Unpopular Culture, creative director Stan Mahoney; Unsilence the Silenced, FUC Hub, Adelaide College of the Arts, Oct 13; Alice + Peter Grow Up: Format Zine Shop, Oct 8-15; A Little Horseplay, Adelaide College of the Arts, Oct 15-16

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 16

© Ben Brooker; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Katia Molino, Mohammed Ahmad, I’m Your Man, Roslyn Oades, Belvoir

Katia Molino, Mohammed Ahmad, I’m Your Man, Roslyn Oades, Belvoir

Katia Molino, Mohammed Ahmad, I’m Your Man, Roslyn Oades, Belvoir

The major theatre companies have launched their programs for 2012. Year by year these become more and more fascinating indicators of the expanding parameters of theatricality in mainstage programs (dance, contemporary performance, puppetry, opera, physical theatre, Indigenous performance) and the collaborative interplay between companies, not merely cost sharing but exploratory, nor a closed circuit as large companies take on board the likes of Hayloft, version 1.0, My Darling Patricia, Urban Theatre Projects, Circa, Ilbijerri, Four Larks Theatre, The Black Lung Theatre, Post and others. While plays are still central to theatre company programs they have become part of the broader ambit of performance involving an expanded range of authorship. The following overview of 2012 programs will give you some idea of the extended range of performance and the interconnectedness that has come with a new generation of artistic directors.

belvoir

With the Sydney Festival Belvoir premieres Urban Theatre Projects’ Buried City, written by Raimondo Cortese. It’s about immigration, development and who controls the future and made in consultation with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and their Retired Members Association, African Women Australia Inc and Gadigal Information Service Aboriginal Corporation. Also for the festival, Belvoir with CarriageWorks presents a version of Seneca’s Thyestes (a deposed king who unknowingly eats his sons) originally commissioned from Melbourne’s The Hayloft Project by Malthouse Theatre and directed by Belvoir’s Simon Stone. Another festival work is I’m Your Man, created and directed by Roslyn Oades (Stories of Love and Hate) which recreates verbatim the journey of an ambitious young Bankstown boxer on his way to a world title fight.

Also in the 2012 program there’s a version of Euripides’ Medea told, a la Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, from the point of view of the minor characters. Director Anne-Louise Sarks is the artistic director of Hayloft; co-writer is Kate Mulvany. Belvoir, version 1.0 and Ilbijerri Theatre Company unite for Beautiful One Day, created by Paul Dwyer, Eamon Flack, Rachael Maza and David Williams. This “theatrical documentary” focuses on troubled Palm Island, exploring similar territory to Chloe Hooper’s book and Tony Krawitz’s documentary, both titled The Tall Man, but with a very different approach. Leah Purcell will direct Don’t Take Your Love to Town, created with Belvoir’s Eamon Flack and based on the late Ruby Langford Ginibi’s book of the same name.

Simon Stone with actress Emily Barclay tackles a true rarity, Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude; actor Matthew Whittet’s play Old Man, about fathers and sons and Newtown, is premiered; Colin Friels and Genevieve Lemon star in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, directed by Stone. Belvoir’s Artistic Director Ralph Myers makes his directorial debut with Noel Coward’s Private Lives—that most sleek of 20th century comedies—with Eloise Mignon and Toby Schmitz in the lead roles. As John Lahr wrote in Coward the Playwright (1982): “Minimal as an art deco curve, Private Lives’ form matched its content; a plotless play for purposeless people”—and no less enjoyable for it.

With three actors and three dancers, choreographer and director Lucy Guerin has been commissioned by Belvoir to create Conversation Piece with Alison Bell, Megan Holloway, Alisdair Macindoe, Rennie McDougall, Harriet Ritchie and Matthew Whittet: “A group of actors and dancers meet on stage and begin the show with a short conversation about…Well, we don’t know yet. Each night it will be a different conversation” and this will “form the basis” of the performance. Actress Rita Kalnejais has written Babyteeth to be directed by Eamon Flack; another actor turned writer, Steve Rodgers, will have his play, Food, about a pair of feuding sisters, directed by Force Majeure’s Kate Champion. Benedict Andrews will direct his own play, Every Breath, about a threatened family who hire a security guard they are each attracted to (a hint of Pasolini’s Teorama?).

sydney theatre company

For the Sydney and Adelaide Festivals, STC presents Force Majeure’s dance theatre creation Never Did Me Any Harm, directed by Kate Champion, inspired by, although not based on, Christos Tsolkias’ The Slap and featuring a strong cast of actors and dancers that includes Heather Mitchell, Marta Dusseldorp, Kristina Chan and Kirstie McCracken.

Griffin’s Sam Strong will direct Hugo Weaving and Pamela Rabe in Christopher Hampton’s fine version of Choderlos de Laclos’ 1782 novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a complex tale of sexual intrigue. Co-artistic director Andrew Upton will direct Dylan Thomas’ intensely poetic, nostalgic and bittersweet Under Milk Wood with a cast that includes Jack Thompson and Sandy Gore. Upton and Belvoir’s Simon Stone have boldly adapted Ingmar Bergman’s journey into despair, Face to Face, for the stage with Stone directing the always impressive Kerry Fox, Wendy Hughes and John Gaden.

The Splinter, by Hilary Bell and directed by Sarah Goodes is described as “an emotional thriller.” An abducted child is returned to her parents (Erik Thomson and Helen Thomson), but is she theirs? The intriguing thing about The Splinter is that the child will be represented by a puppet. Alice Osborne is the puppetry and movement director. Bell is apparently “inspired by the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw, the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Snow Queen and real life stories of abducted children.”

Melbourne’s Daniel Schlusser will direct Thomas Bernhard’s The Histrionic featuring Bille Brown (see Malthouse below) and Peter Evans will take on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion with Kym Gyngell and Andrea Demetriades.

Perth’s Black Swan and STC will stage novelist-turned-playwright Tim Winton’s second play, Signs of Life: a lone woman on a farm, “contemplating her solitude”, is visited by strangers—an Aboriginal man and woman. Kate Cherry directs. Also in the 2012 STC program is Jonathan Biggins’ Australia Day, a timely satire given the increasing cultural complexity of our nation.

malthouse

Belvoir’s impressive adaptation by Simon Stone and Chris Ryan of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck (RT102) kicks off Malthouse’s 2012 program. In a co-production with Sydney Theatre Company, Daniel Schlusser will direct Tom Wright’s translation of Thomas Bernhard’s The Histrionic (Der Theatermacher), described as a “rampage of satire on art, celebrity and the cult of personality” featuring Bille Brown as the egotist under scrutiny. Artistic director Marion Potts will take on Lorca’s Blood Wedding with music by Tim Rogers. With Perth Theatre Company, Malthouse will present On the Misconception of Oedipus, forensic theatre devised by Zoe Atkinson, Matthew Lutton (also directing) and Tom Wright that imagines the back story of the tragedy of Oedipus.

Resident company, Four LarksTheatre (see article), will create The Plague Dances, about massive, manic outbreaks of dancing across the centuries. From Brisbane, via the world, comes the physical theatre company Circa with their stripped back, highly intelligent circus. It’s good to see Indigenous choreographer Vicki Van Hout’s Briwyant in the program; as I wrote in RT103: “Vicki Van Hout’s choreography is some of the most idiosyncratic and inventive choreography seen in Australian dance for a long time and her team of dextrous dancers execute it with high precision, unbelievable energy, humour and attitude.”

Malthouse’s Opera XS features Chamber Made Opera partnering Rawcus in an improvisation based on the music of Henry Purcell; Short Black Opera Company’s Redfern; and Victoria Opera’s Victoria Shorts. Paul Capsis performs his autobiographical Angela’s Kitchen (see Griffin Theatre Company below); Jane Montgomery Griffiths, directed by Marion Potts performs the late Dorothy Porter’s verse novel Wild Surmise; Matthew Lutton directs Declan Greene’s apocalyptic take on LA culture; and Rosemary Myers directs Julianne O’Brien’s contemporary update of Pinocchio “as witty, gothic, rocking music theatre,” in a co-production with Windmill and the State Theatre Company of South Australia.

griffin theatre company

For the Sydney Festival, Griffin begins its year with Gordon Graham’s 1991 deeply disturbing classic about family, masculinity and murder, The Boys (later adapted by Stephen Sewell for Rowan Woods’ 1998 film), celebrating the play’s successful premiere at The Stables Theatre 21 years ago. Griffin’s artistic director Sam Strong will direct The Boys which will also play in the 2012 Merrigong Theatre season in Wollongong. The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself is adapted by Bojana Novakovic, from a century-old confessional work from a 19-year-old that scandalised American readers and sold copiously: “I should like a new man to come. A perfect villain to come and fascinate me. And I should ask him quite humbly to lead me to my ruin.” Novakovic and director Tanya Goldberg (Ride On Theatre) will stage MacLane’s provocative writing as a “monologue for two” with music by Tim Rogers. The production is presented in association with Malthouse Theatre, Merrigong Theatre Company and Performing Lines.

Paul Capsis’ Angela’s Kitchen, directed by Julian Meyrick and with Hilary Bell as associate writer, is singer Capsis’ autobiographical celebration of his mother, taking him back to Malta which she left in 1948 with five children to live in Sydney’s Surry Hills. This return season of a hit for Griffin in 2010 is a prelude to a tour to Canberra, Albury, Wollongong, Parramatta, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Playwright Rick Viede enjoyed success at Griffin with his first play, Whore, which won the 2008 Griffin Award and the 2010 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award. His new play, a co-production with Brisbane’s La Boite, is A Hoax, “a vicious satire on the politics of identity, modern celebrity and the peddling of abuse culture.” Ian Meadows’ Between Two Waves is one of a small number of plays that addresses environmental issues, focused here on prediction and responsibility: how can we live and procreate when it’s likely that coming generations will suffer from our neglect. Between Two Waves is the first play to be produced out of the Griffin Studio.

queensland theatre company

Wesley Enoch’s first season as artistic director of the QTC includes Belvoir’s acclaimed Neil Armfield production of The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll; Jennifer Flowers directing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; Brisbane playwright Matthew Ryan’s Kelly, an account of Ned in his cell visited by brother Dan who is unexpectedly still alive; and the Sydney Theatre Company’s Bloodland (see article).

Enoch is directing four productions: Joanna Murray-Smith’s Bombshells, starring Christen O’Leary; Dario Fo’s Elizabeth, Almost by Chance a Woman, with Carol Burns; Sydney writer Alana Valentine’s Head Full of Love (Darwin Festival commission 2010) about the encounter between a Sydney runaway (Collette Mann) and an Alice Springs local, Napuljari (Roxanne McDonald), in the context of the Annual Alice Springs Beanie Festival; and David Williamson’s Managing Carmen about a cross-dressing footballer at the peak of his career who risks being outed.

zoe coombes marr wins award

Congratulations to writer-performer Zoe Coombs Marr (one of the talented trio comprising Post) who has won the 2011 Philip Parsons Young Playwrights’ Award for her one-woman show, And That Was the Summer That Changed My Life which premiered at Next Wave Festival in 2010. The Award is given annually to a NSW-based writer under the age of 35 for an outstanding work which has been performed. The award comes in the form of a writer’s commission supported by Belvoir to develop a new work.

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 35

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Willem Dafoe, The Hunter

Willem Dafoe, The Hunter

JULIA LEIGH’S DEBUT NOVEL RELATED A WRENCHING PARABLE UNFOLDING IN SIMPLE, CRYSTALLINE PROSE. IT NETTED HER A GENEROUS BASKET OF AWARDS WHILE EARNING HER FANS IN FRANK MOORHOUSE AND DON DELILLO, NOTABLES WHO WERE SUBSEQUENTLY JOINED IN THEIR PRAISE BY TONI MORRISON AND JM COETZEE ON THE RELEASE OF HER EERIE SECOND EFFORT, DISQUIET.

Indeed, Coetzee’s thoughts on the latter—“[it is] so infused with the practices of film that, while each scene is fully and even vividly realised in words, it also translates quite naturally into film”—are equally applicable to The Hunter, Leigh’s coolly impersonal third-person voice in the novel mimicking the all-seeing eye of the camera, the story developing through smoothly contained cinematic chunks.

Although Leigh has since moved into filmmaking in her own right (see Sleeping Beauty, see review), the author has remained outside the adaptation process of her first novel, the film instead being steered by director Daniel Nettheim, whose television work on shows such as Love Is A Four Letter Word and All Saints seems to have prepared him well for the challenges of feature direction. Shooting from Alice Addison’s screenplay (whose credentials include several episodes of My Place, based on Nadia Wheatley’s award-winning book, as well as the Cate Shortland-directed 2006 police procedural The Silence), Nettheim has produced a smoothly mesmerising film that absorbs us without ever quite becoming gripping.

An American mercenary, operating under the name Martin David (Willem Dafoe), is given an assignment by a shadowy biotech company, Red Leaf: travel to Tasmania and find the last Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, kill it, then harvest its blood, skin and reproductive organs to be used for undisclosed research. Operating under the cover of “researching [Tasmanian] devils for the university,” Martin settles into the ramshackle house of Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor), bereft after the disappearance of her husband, and her two children, the beguilingly foul-mouthed Sass (Morgana Davis) and silently watchful Bike (Finn Woodlock), using it as his launchpad into the bush. With Lucy in a self-medicated stupor, Martin is forced to negotiate with the children whose assistance seems dependent on his promise to search for their father, though his interest in them sharpens as he realises that the unspeaking boy may have sighted the elusive Thylacine.

Nettheim has heightened the bitter tensions between conservationists and forestry workers, a stand-off that also formed a backdrop to the novel: in a loggers’ pub a sticker has been amended to read “Save Our Native Jobs,” Martin finds his car with its windows smashed and “go home greenie scum” smeared across the bonnet in faeces after his initial excursion into the wilderness, while the filmmakers apparently used activists’ 2010 blockade of the Upper Florentine as a ready-made set. Martin is steered between the faultlines of Tasmanian society by Jack Mindy (Sam Neill), a rough-spun local who turns standoffish as Martin’s potential as rival for Lucy’s affections becomes apparent.

Although Nettheim has suggested that his treatment of the political forces at work within the state doesn’t take sides, the occasional shot of bark being stripped from a tree trunk like a body being flayed cannot help but have a strong political resonance. Indeed, neither can the 360 degree panoramic helicopter shots of Dafoe trudging through the spectacular landscape of the central Tasmanian plateau. While such footage allows the land to speak for itself, it also emphasises the character’s isolation within it, highlighting the tension that lies at the story’s core: between those who see the world and the creatures that inhabit it as a resource to be utilised for the material ‘progress’ of humanity and those who view it as holding an inherent value and right to exist in itself.

It’s in the way this struggle plays out in the character of Martin that most differentiates the film from its source material. Brilliantly cast as the bland, craggy everyman, Dafoe seems to completely inhabit the role, predatory eyes hinting at a coldly utilitarian intelligence. Martin moves through a staggeringly beautiful landscape with profound disinterest, his mind completely focused on his task, constructing snares and traps for the creature with meticulous patience. Each action unfolds with an unerringly ruthless logic: in one scene the hunter guts a wallaby only to throw the body away once a particular organ has been conserved as bait. The possibility of love with Lucy is similarly sacrificed, Martin maintaining the fiction that the children’s father is simply ‘missing’ for as long as it suits the needs of his mission.

This notwithstanding, the demands that commercial cinema have placed on the plot seem to have fundamentally altered the emphasis of the narrative. Unlike the novel, in which Leigh allows her character’s callous and implacable nature to remain ascendant through to a sublimely bleak conclusion, Nettheim and Addison subtly transform the narrative from a story of the consequences of exerting dominance over nature to that of a man becoming aware of his ethical responsibility towards the natural world. While other alterations to the narrative—such as injecting additional tension by heightening the animosity with the loggers and the hidden presence of Red Leaf—result in strong cinema, this larger change sits uneasily with the material, a fact compounded both by the deeply ambiguous resolution that the filmmakers have given their version of the narrative, but also by the cloyingly saccharine coda that manages to undercut all that has gone before.

Anna Krien concluded her superb 2010 overview of the Tasmanian forestry debate, Into The Woods, musing on Edward O Wilson’s vision of the “Age of Loneliness” that will surely follow the Holocene Extinction Event through which we are currently living: “a planet inhabited by us and not much else…no apocalypse, no doom, no gates of hell, no wrath of god or mass hysteria, only sadness. I wonder if perhaps the Age of Loneliness has already begun, its effects far more complicated than we realise.” A similar melancholy pervades The Hunter, settling in the hollows of Dafoe’s ravaged face, the stillness of the trees. Narrative niggles notwithstanding, Nettheim's film is an important contribution to Australian cinema.

The Hunter, director Daniel Nettheim, novel Julia Leigh, screenplay Alice Addison, producer Vincent Sheehan, director of photography Robert Humphreys, editor Roland Galois

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 17

© Oliver Downes; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Philip Samartzis and Gabriel Nodea, field recording near Warmun

Philip Samartzis and Gabriel Nodea, field recording near Warmun

Philip Samartzis and Gabriel Nodea, field recording near Warmun

AFTER THE EPIC SCALE OF WARMUN’S DISASTROUS FLOODING EARLIER THIS YEAR, PHILIP SAMARTZIS’ SITE-DETERMINED SOUND WORK, DESERT, OFFERED AN OPTIMISTIC ACCOUNT OF A COMMUNITY RE-BUILDING. SAMARTZIS AND HIS ASSISTANT MADELYNNE CORNISH’S SUPERB FIELD RECORDINGS RETAINED AN IMMEDIACY THAT DERIVED FROM THE RAPID SEQUENCE OF THEIR SOURCING, MIXING AND PRESENTATION WHILE ON LOCATION IN THE EAST KIMBERLY.

Despite the richness of metal and diesel in the work’s composition, reflecting the extensive reconstruction that is underway, it was more suggestive of the gentler comforts afforded by the particularities of daily life. Weightier and more ephemeral elements were juxtaposed in a piece that arose out of human apprehension of the recent calamities rather than from any cosmological vantage point. The work’s relatively even tempo, warm tone and its indexical rather than metaphorical relationship to its context adeptly drew attention to the sonic pleasures of unremarkable things.

Samartzis’ residency was part of Tura New Music’s ongoing Remote Artist in Residence Program and was hosted by the renowned Warmun Art Centre. The five-week residency concluded with an evening outdoor presentation attended by not only the senior Gija painters who advised Samartzis and Cornish but also roadhouse staff, police officers, fellow arts workers from Kununurra and local families. The presentation of the work was followed by a barbecue and a ceremonial dance (joomba) led by elder Patrick Mung Mung in a sung and spoken commentary.

Unlike its presentation in Perth as a work for eight spatialised loudspeakers, the work was not presented in Warmun in an immersive way. Rather it was conveyed through a single speaker and accompanied by Cornish’s photographs taken during the residency at the request of Art Coordinator Maggie Fletcher who was concerned about providing support for the reception of the work. Samartzis did not hesitate to follow her advice and so this first version was mixed with the images in mind while ensuring that image and sound were not synchronised. At the performance, the audience was attentive and there were many moments of animated recognition with even the dogs responding to the canine sounds in the work. In subsequent days, the painters continued to check with Samartzis and Cornish that they had not forgotten to capture particular sounds before their departure.

Samartzis has undertaken residencies all over the world. Like most Australian artists, he has sought to prove himself in institutions, generally located in the Northern Hemisphere, that have an international reputation for their artform before travelling as a more mature artist to destinations such as Antarctica where the production and presentation of art is less prescribed. Despite his experience, however, Samartzis confessed to some anxiety about going to Warmun. He questioned the timing of the residency knowing that his presence would place demands on a traumatised community. Community members have spent most of the year in an evacuation camp in Kununurra and are now back in construction camp lodgings in Warmun awaiting the completion of housing.

Samartzis also felt the weight of the artistic traditions of the region, of which painting has the highest profile. Warmun is home to artists such as Mung Mung, Mabel Juli and Lena Nyadbi who command the attention of curators and collectors across Australia and beyond. Although Samartzis and Cornish connected with the Warmun school and general community as ‘art professionals,’ a feature of this residency was that they enjoyed a relationship with artists of a stature greater than their own.

As these factors were shaping his thinking about the project, Samartzis and Tos Mahoney, Tura’s Artistic Director, conceptualised the residency as creating alternative spaces for the discipline of sound. By framing the residency in this manner, Samartzis imagined himself working alongside artists who are primarily painters while also envisaging that the artists could potentially make sound works in the future. This transactional approach was underpinned by the intention from the outset of the residency that Samartzis’ work would enter the Warmun Art Centre Collection once its extensively damaged paintings have undergone conservation and been restored to the community.

Samartzis also generated his work during a time when there has been a revival of interest in carving and other three-dimensional processes at the Centre. During my visit to Warmun, artists told me of this development and their recent success at the Darwin Art Fair. Accordingly, it is appropriate to consider how Philip Samartzis’ presence might have played a part in the re-emergence of the Centre after the floods or even contributed to these artists’ approaches to innovation. Once Samartzis’ work was presented, the senior artists perceived it as not only confirmatory of their community but of shared artistic concerns. They identified with the representation of their country in the work but also with the sense of place inherent to Philip Samartzis’ methodology. Together with Samartzis and Cornish, they quietly acknowledged the sustaining nature of the artistic processes associated with both rendering sound and expressing Ngarranggarni (Dreaming) images and stories and how from the Warmun perspective they have always intersected.

See also Gail Priest’s review of Samartzis’ surround sound concert in Perth presented as part of Tura’s Totally Huge New Music Festival

Philip Samartzis’ residency was assisted by Tos Mahoney, Artistic Director,Tura New Music, Gabriel Nodea, Warmun Art Centre Chair and Centre Staff, Gary and Maggie Fletcher, Rosie Holmes and Alana Hunt.

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 40

© Jasmin Stephens; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

AUSTRALIA’S INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNISED SHORT FILM FESTIVAL, FLICKERFEST, COMMENCES JANUARY 6, SCREENING 100 WORKS—”THE MOST INNOVATIVE, PROVOCATIVE AND ENTERTAINING SHORT FILMS” SELECTED FROM A RECORD 2,173 ENTRIES.

The 2012 festival features international and Australian short films, short documentaries and Greenflicks—films focused on environmental issues. A new addition is Flickerup, “a competition open to student filmmakers from primary to high school age, or filmmakers under 18 years of age from across Australia.”

Competition is a strong component of the festival, not least because the Flickerfest Award for Best Film and the Yoram Gross Award for Best Animation are Academy Award Accredited. Four films from the 2011 program went on to be nominated for Oscars, including The Lost Thing (directors Andrew Ruhemann, Shaun Taun, Australia), which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and the God of Love (Luke Matheny, US) which won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

The 2012 Flickerfest international program includes French director Thomas Cailey’s 25-minute comedy Paris Shanghai which attracted audience awards in France and Pjotr Sapegin’s 13-minute animation The Last Norwegian Troll (Norway) about the challenge of having to preserve something you don’t like (Best Narrative Short, Ottawa Festival, Best Animated Short, Fantastic Festival, Las Vegas).

Australian films include writer-director Zak Hilditch and producer Liz Kearney’s apocalyptic drama, Transmission, focused on a stressed father and daughter relationship in the Western Australian desert; Rodd Rathjen’s comedy The Stranger (which had its first screenings in the 2011 Revelation and Melbourne International Film Festivals); Robert Stephenson’s animation Paris Lakes, described in the Annecy International Animation Festival’s Politically Incorrect program as “A promotion for a new suburb packed with the latest amenities and faux European tastes to satisfy the Australian appetite for easy living”; Nash Edgerton’s Bear, which screened at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, co-written by Edgerton and David Michod (Animal Kingdom) and including Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah) in the cast; and University of Newcastle Lecturer in Communications Jane Shadbolt’s animation, The Cartographer, a film about the limits of mapping which has already won two of the inaugural Australian Production Design Guild Awards.

Flickerfest’s Short Film Showcases include Short Bites of Horror, World of Wacky Animation and From the Oscars—with the Oscars Shorts & Animation Governor, Jon Bloom, showing the best of the Academy Award winning shorts. Post-festival the best from the 2012 Flickerfest will tour to an astonishing 34 cities and regional centres, from Byron Bay to Broome. RT

Flickerfest, 21st Australian International Short Film Festival, Bondi Pavillion, Sydney, Jan 6-15, touring nationally Jan-May, flickerfest.com.au

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 20

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

Marzieh Vafamehr, My Tehran for Sale

Marzieh Vafamehr, My Tehran for Sale

FOR ALL THE AUSTRALIAN PRESS COVERAGE OF THE 90 LASHES AND YEAR IN JAIL HANDED TO IRANIAN ACTRESS MARZIEH VAFAMEHR IN OCTOBER, SURPRISINGLY LITTLE ATTENTION HAS BEEN PAID TO THE FILM THAT CAUSED ALL THE TROUBLE, THE AUSTRALIAN-IRANIAN CO-PRODUCTION MY TEHRAN FOR SALE.

Nor has there been much reflection on the fact that the film failed to get a local release, despite playing at numerous festivals around the globe and winning the 2009 IF Independent Spirit Award. Although local distributors have remained indifferent, My Tehran for Sale is one of the most complex, engrossing works made in Australia for some time. It not only provides a quietly dramatic insight into what it’s like to live under the constraints of a theocratic regime—it also holds up a mirror to our own inhumanity in the face of those escaping repression in Iran and other countries.

The film’s Iranian director Granaz Moussavi comes from a Tehran family with deep roots in the Iranian film world and she continued to pursue her own passion for cinema after moving to Australia in 1997. Filmed entirely on the streets of Tehran with Australian financing (including support from the Adelaide Film Festival, see RT102), My Tehran for Sale is an attempt to reclaim a city and an artistic tradition that has been systematically smothered by Iran’s theocracy—a love letter to a capital, shot through with mourning, melancholy and loss.

a subterranean world

My Tehran for Sale opens with two illicit gatherings—one out of the past, one stridently modern. The camera slowly pans from a gas lamp across the faces of children and teenagers sitting in a circle around a middle-aged man playing songs in a traditional style. Suddenly we cut to the frenetic bass-heavy beats of a rave, the children of Iran’s revolution dancing to a forbidden tune. Marzieh—played by the actress of the same name—is outside the dance party with her new boyfriend when the police descend. First they break up the acoustic sing-along, accusing the youths of being illegal Afghan immigrants, then they burst into the rave in the adjacent building, denouncing the brazen display of “immoral” behavior and arresting all those present. Marzieh hides as her friends are taken away in a bus, a position we shall see is symptomatic of a life lived in the shadows. In a scene unhappily presaging the actress’ own sentencing, the ravers are later flogged.

The focus of My Tehran for Sale is not the cruelties of the Iranian regime, however, but the vitality of life and artistic expression throbbing beneath Tehran’s surface. When she’s not attending raves or underground concerts, Marzieh is a member of an underground theatre troupe, rehearsing performances behind closed doors and dreaming of one day reaching an audience. At private parties her friends smoke and recite poetry, all the while conscious of the stranglehold the authorities have over their city’s public life.

The emotional core of the film revolves around Marzieh’s budding relationship with Saman (played by the director’s husband Amir Chegini), an Iranian-born Australian who has returned to his homeland looking for business opportunities and perhaps someone to save. Although Saman potentially offers a way out of Iran, Marzieh is torn between her love for her culture and a desire to escape the crushing weight that hangs over her existence.

At a party, Marzieh asks a stoned Saman what Australia is like. “Can you perform there and does it get recognised?” she asks plaintively, the naivety of her question painfully obvious to an Australian audience. Saman paints an idyllic picture of a nation bathed in light and replete with material wealth, but lacking depth. “Australia is like paradise. A paradise made of coloured paper,” he says dreamily. Describing his arrival in Australia at age 14, he recalls, “You get on a plane, you cross seas, oceans. You arrive in a big city full of light. Just like a fairytale. But after a couple of weeks, the effect is gone. And you start to wonder, who are these people, what is this place?” The monologue deftly evokes the conflicted emotions of the forced emigré caught between memories of a lost homeland and the reality of life in an alien culture.

As it turns out, Marzieh’s entry into Australia is considerably less smooth than Saman’s. Throughout the film the actress’ subterranean life in Tehran is intercut with snippets of interviews between her and an unsympathetic immigration official in an Australian detention centre. Apart from dramatic tension—how did Marzieh end up in this place?—the cross-cutting creates disturbing parallels and repetitions between the two settings.

Repression here is not something that can be comfortably ascribed to the ‘other,’ as we watch from the West, confident of our own freedoms. My Tehran for Sale subtly affirms that arbitrary state power also ruins lives right here in Australia, through policies supported by many and enforced by our own public servants. It’s this skillful movement between time zones and places that makes Moussavi’s film such a rich, evocative portrayal of individual lives caught in the constricting binds of others’ fear and ignorance—whether it’s the religiously-inspired intolerance of the Iranian government or the suffocating bureaucratic stonewalling of Australia’s refugee processing system.

a community under a cloud

Marzieh Vafamehr, Asha Mehrab, My Tehran for Sale

Marzieh Vafamehr, Asha Mehrab, My Tehran for Sale

Life depressingly imitated art in July this year, when actress Marzieh Vafamehr was arrested in Iran for her role in My Tehran for Sale. In early October she was sentenced to 90 lashes and a year in jail. The charges related to scenes in which she appears without hijab, although previously this had been permitted in Iranian cinema when a woman’s head was shaved, as Vafamehr’s is in the film. In fact director Granaz Moussavi stated in an ABC interview on October 11, “I didn’t do anything wrong in the film according to the rules and regulations of filmmaking in Iran.” In any case, the film was never intended for the Iranian market. Pirate DVD copies gradually seeped into the country, however, and it also became available on various websites. By mid-2011 it seems the Iranian authorities felt compelled to respond.

Vafamehr’s sentence provoked widespread international criticism and was appealed by her lawyers. On October 28 it was reported that the actress’ punishment had been reduced to three months imprisonment, with no corporal punishment. As Vafamehr had already been detained for four months, she was immediately released.

Jafar Panahi, This Is Not a Film

Jafar Panahi, This Is Not a Film

Unfortunately Vafamehr’s case is part of a wider campaign to intimidate film and media workers. In September six Iranian documentary makers were arrested for supplying material to the BBC. Two have since been released, while the fate of the other four remains unknown. In October, the acclaimed director Jafar Panahi (best known in Australia for The Circle, 2000) lost his appeal against a sentence of six years in prison and a ban on all filmmaking, international travel and contact with the press for 20 years. Panahi was initially arrested in July 2009 for his vocal support of protesters killed following Iran’s disputed presidential election. Soon released, he was rearrested in February 2010. His colleague, director Mohammad Rasoulof, was arrested at the same time and also sentenced to six years in prison, recently reduced to one. Jafar Panahi’s documentary This Is Not a Film, smuggled out of Iran on a USB stick after being shot by the director on a mobile phone while under house arrest, is currently screening in most capitals around Australia.

This litany of arrests shows that while Marzieh Vafamehr has thankfully been released, a very dark cloud continues to hang over Iran’s celebrated filmmaking community. Even Abbas Kiarostami, widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of contemporary times, feels he can no longer work in his home country. His most recent film was made in Italy, and his next production is planned for Japan. On German radio he recently stated Iranian filmmakers face a “very, very bad situation.” In the case of director Granaz Moussavi, Iran’s loss has been Australia’s gain. Let’s hope local indifference doesn’t stifle a voice that the Iranian authorities have attempted to cow through more coercive means.

My Tehran for Sale is available on DVD from Vendetta Film; www.vendettafilms.co.nz

My Tehran for Sale, writer, director Granaz Moussavi, producers Julie Ryan and Kate Croser, actors Marzieh Vafamehr, Amir Chegini, Asha Mehrabi, Cyan Films, Australia-Iran, 2009

Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film will be reviewed in RT107

This article first appeared in the online e-dition Nov 22

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. web

© Dan Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Courtesy of Hopscotch Films we have 3 double passes to give away:*

we need to talk about kevin

directed by Lynne Ramsay
Tilda Swinton, Jasper Newell, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Tilda Swinton, Jasper Newell, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Based on Lionel Shriver’s book, We Need To Talk about Kevin is a chilling and captivating exploration of parenthood, guilt and nature vs nurture. Tilda Swinton plays Eva, the mother of the sociopathic teenager Kevin, reliving his upbringing in an attempt to ascertain the reasons for his devastating actions. We Need To Talk About Kevin was awarded best film at the 2011 London Film Festival.

To be in the running for one of the double passes please send an email with the movie title as the subject to onlinegiveaways@realtimearts.net.

Please include name, address and contact number
Please apply before 2pm Nov 23

See www.hopscotchfilms.com.au/ for more Hopscotch releases

*Unfortunately the movies are not currently playing in the Northern Territory

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

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

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

Bio

I grew up in the Blue Mountains, but ran away to Sydney as soon as possible. With a view to becoming a rock star I ran away to London, but quickly realised it was full of rain and misery, so I came back. After 15 years and a stint in the public service I ran away to China for four years. Now living in Melbourne and regularly eyeing travel agent specials.

China opened my eyes, broadened my mind, blackened my lungs, taught me the true meaning of friendship and at times made me sadder than I’ve ever been. I’ve always been fascinated by difference and intrigued by anyone, anything or anywhere that’s unlike me. The People’s Republic satisfies amply on all counts, which probably explains why I’m still in an obsessive love-hate relationship with the place.

Exposé

I’ve tried everything from dishwashing to couriering to bureaucratic middle management, but the one thing that I’ve always done is writing. My poetry is awful and my short stories mediocre, but I seem to have a knack for journalism—particularly film journalism and criticism. It’s also easier to get paid if you call yourself a journalist rather than an artist, a tip I got from Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Writing about film is a way to combine my love of words and images. Criticism for me is about shining a light on a work, illuminating its complexities and helping others see something they might not have considered. I’ve done my job if the reader comes away knowing something new, or looking at the world from a different angle. For a true wordsmith, you are what you write, so always be true to yourself and your subject.

Although I’ve written for many publications, including The Age, Meanjin, The New Matilda and The Diplomat, RealTime has published more of my work than any other magazine, and I’ve consistently enjoyed writing for RealTime more than any other title. Unlike much mainstream press, RealTime is always open to new works, new ideas and new voices. In a life spent wandering, writing for RealTime is like coming home. The other publications are just pleasant sojourns.

Recent articles for RealTime

RT105 Ghostly Tales from Our Northern Neighbours—the Fourth Portrait & Eternity, Melbourne Film Festival

RT105 A Nation Slips Under the Waves—Tom Zubrycki’s The Hungry Tide

RT104 Beyond the TV Frame—Antenna International Documentary Festival

RT103 You Can’t Build on an Emptiness—IFChina Original Studio

Other writing

See my website (www.danedwards.net) for a full list of my publications, or my blog on Chinese film, Screening China: http://screeningchina.blogspot.com

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Dan Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Alan Lamb, WIRED Open Day 2011

Alan Lamb, WIRED Open Day 2011

Alan Lamb, WIRED Open Day 2011

SINCE ITS INCEPTION IN 2007, THE WIRED LAB HAS QUICKLY ESTABLISHED A REPUTATION AS ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING SITES OF ACTIVITY IN AUSTRALIAN SOUND ART, THROUGH ITS ONGOING COMMITMENT TO RESEARCH THAT BRINGS TOGETHER ART AND SCIENCE IN THE RURAL SETTING OF MUTTAMA IN SOUTH WEST NSW.

The eponymous Wires are large-scale Aeolian instruments developed by West Australian artist/scientist/physician Alan Lamb, who has been exploring their potential since the 1970s, initially with found telegraph wires. At the WIRED Lab, a purpose-built collection of The Wires exists as a permanent installation on a large area of farmland. The residents of this land, artist/curator Sarah Last and artist/scientist David Burraston have been working closely with Lamb on the documentation and further development of his work, as well as opening up The Wires to exploration and collaboration with local and international artists and researchers, through regular workshops and residencies.

WIRED Open day is a biennial event that showcases both The Wires and work made with them. This year, due to inclement weather, the event was forced to relocate from the farm to nearby Muttama Hall. While it was disappointing that the audience didn’t get to experience The Wires, the community hall (established in 1925 and looking like it hadn’t changed much since) turned out to be a very suitable location for an event that was in many ways a celebration of community.

Some in the audience had in fact already experienced The Wires, including a large gathering of emerging sound artists from around Australia who had converged on the WIRED Lab for a residency over the previous week. The weather had thwarted their plans to develop a work for this event, but the performances they experienced would turn out to be a fitting masterclass.

The local community also showed great interest and the hall was soon full of a diverse range of people, including children, as well as many long-distance travelers like myself, who were bused in from the nearby town of Cootamundra. Prior to the performances we were treated to the country hospitality of a big spread provided as a fundraiser for the Cootamundra Creative Arts and Cultural Centre . While we ate and drank beer, we wandered outside the hall, where two tents containing sound installations had been set up.

The first tent contained a work by Chris Watson, the renowned UK field recordist and former member of Cabaret Voltaire. His installation was a time compression of the environmental sounds around the WIRED lab, which he had recorded over a period of 24 hours during a residency in 2009. Wet, windy atmospheres and a range of birdcalls were eventually joined by the singing of The Wires steadily increasing in intensity. More than just a beautiful soundscape, with Watson’s trademark crystal clear fidelity, this is also an excellent example of acoustic ecology, documenting the sounds of an endangered habitat. Watson was to have attended the Open Day, but was instead called to Burma to record the sound for what may be one of David Attenborough’s last documentaries.

Garry Bradbury and David Burraston, Dormative Fields, WIRED Open Day 2011

Garry Bradbury and David Burraston, Dormative Fields, WIRED Open Day 2011

Garry Bradbury and David Burraston, Dormative Fields, WIRED Open Day 2011

At the other tent I was met with the striking scene of people lying on deckchairs listening on headphones. This was Garry Bradbury and David Burraston’s Dormative Fields, a work made for relaxing or even sleeping to. Each chair came with a different piece of music with The Wires as source material. These works were notable for their subtle and sophisticated use of repetition and dub-like studio mixing techniques, while remaining sensitive to the organic nature of the sounds. One chair was not like the others, instead it contained a lively and amusing discussion about tartans—a lovely surprise and presumably a playful reference to Lamb’s Scottish heritage.

Back inside the hall proceedings began with a warm welcome to country from Peter Beath, who gave us illuminating insights into his family’s relationship with the area. Event organiser Sarah Last then introduced the program and Lamb’s work by playing “Last Anzac” a piece from Lamb’s 1998 CD Night Passages in order to “get our ears in.” This was classic Wire music. Throbbing bass filled the hall, eventually giving way to a constantly shifting palette of metallic drones and static tones, like frozen sirens. While superficially sounding like dark ambient or industrial music, it is really just a (framed and edited) document of the sound world of The Wires.

Unlike most stringed instruments, The Wires are so long that they vibrate at a fundamental frequency well below human hearing, and therefore have closely spaced harmonics that are multiples of that very low frequency. What we hear then is the often chaotic interplay of its higher harmonics, activated and modulated by environmental phenomena and/or by human intervention. The resulting timbres and harmonies are endlessly fascinating and compelling, and remarkably dramatic—Lamb’s recordings are featured on a number of film soundtracks. “Last Anzac” is a recording of Wire music at its finest.

David Haines & Joyce Hinterding, WIRED Open Day 2011

David Haines & Joyce Hinterding, WIRED Open Day 2011

David Haines & Joyce Hinterding, WIRED Open Day 2011

Next up was a work by David Haines and Joyce Hinterding. Well-known for their collaborative media art practice and their individual sound art practices, this was a rare duo sound performance. They each had a large hoop antenna (made from bicycle wheels) which captured the electromagnetic fields around their laptops. This source material was then fed back into the computers for processing and layering with other sounds. Whistling harmonics similar to throat singing anchored the piece as the artists waved their antennae around their equipment to find hisses, hums and crackles. Haines was particularly animated, moving around the stage to explore the other artists’ equipment, at one point even putting his antenna around Hinterding’s neck! The visual impression was of surreal rhythmic gymnastics in slow motion, but the sound was hypnotic. It wasn’t Wire music—having spent time with The Wires, the artists had found them, ironically, too electromagnetically sensitive for their purposes—but the performance had the same profound effect of opening doors to previously unheard realms.

Alan Lamb, David Burraston, WIRED Open Day 2011

Alan Lamb, David Burraston, WIRED Open Day 2011

Alan Lamb, David Burraston, WIRED Open Day 2011

Above our heads, across the middle of the hall stretched a wire, anchored to the floor at its centre by a vertical wire. We moved our seats to form a circle as Lamb prepared for the next performance by tuning his instrument. He then began to play it with his Great Bow, which looks more like an archery bow than part of any stringed instrument. With it he teased out harmonics that resonated throughout the space. What might have been a literally monotonous performance was given great visual interest by Lamb’s lanky frame swaying like a tree in the wind as he played, while the sun set and the hall turned dark. Lamb’s intimate relationship with the instrument was clear as he communed with it in an almost ritualistic dance.

After an intermission Last introduced her “partner in life and art” David Burraston (aka Dave Noyze) and his array of equipment, which included two variations of another of Lamb’s inventions, a feedback generator called the Infinite Music Machine. Alongside these were a cellular automata sequencer (the subject of Burraston’s doctoral research) and sundry other electronic devices. Beginning with the air of a mad scientist giving a demonstration of his findings with little regard for aesthetics, the performance became more musically satisfying as it progressed and deeper, more complementary tones merged with the beautiful sound of rain falling on The Wires.

Delmae & William Barton, WIRED Open Day 2011

Delmae & William Barton, WIRED Open Day 2011

Delmae & William Barton, WIRED Open Day 2011

For the final performance of the night, Burraston was joined by Lamb, as well as William and Delmae Barton who had been recent WIRED Lab residents. William is a master didgeridoo player and his mother Delmae an esteemed singer. As Last introduced them we learned that although Delmae had serendipitously developed her own style with the didgeridoo (generally an instrument played by men), she later learned from elders it was similar to the way some women had traditionally played it in the past.

The piece began with Lamb and Burraston at one end of the stage, mixing cavernous recordings of The Wires, sounding like a symphony stretched out beyond recognition. This lasted for several minutes before William Barton punctuated it with a series of assured yet delicate interventions from his slide didgeridoo. The reverberant swell of The Wires re-emerged, joined by birdcalls and eventually transforming into gongs and cymbals. As these receded and the didgeridoo came into its own there was an overlapping period that sounded almost Tibetan. But then Delmae began singing into her didgeridoo, a high, keening cry that was unlike anything I’d heard before. It only lasted for a minute, but by the end of it we were all in tears, knowing that we had just experienced something very special. Delmae dedicated her performance to the people of Muttama and to “all people of the world.” As we walked outside under the bright stars we felt simultaneously awed and yet closer together.

The Wires can be understood as an instrument to help us tune in to the environment, to sound, and to each other. Alan Lamb deserves credit for his important work, but it is Sarah Last’s curatorial vision that is particularly deserving of praise for its powerful combination of inclusiveness and rigour. She tells me that “as much as I am curating/creating potentialities for the development of discrete projects, I am also attempting to create an experience of landscape and community. I want the experience of these projects to be powerfully subtle, seemingly organic and much like the way culture naturally evolves.” The work of Sarah Last and the WIRED Lab offers experiences through which we may better appreciate and engage with the most important questions of existence.

WIRED Open Day, October 29 2011, Muttama NSW, http://wiredlab.org

Shannon O’Neill is an artist, academic and curator. He runs the website Alias Frequencies http://aliasfrequencies.org and is also assisting the WIRED Lab with it’s website.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Shannon O’Neill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

portrait Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, photo Ana Cristina Enrique; installation shot People on People, Rafael Lozano Hemmer 2010, Recorders Manchester Galllery UK, photo Peter Mallet

portrait Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, photo Ana Cristina Enrique; installation shot People on People, Rafael Lozano Hemmer 2010, Recorders Manchester Galllery UK, photo Peter Mallet

“antimonuments for alien agency”

This is what Mexican-born, Canadian-based artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer calls his interactive installations. Hemmer has visited Australia several times over the last few years, appearing at the 2009 Adelaide Film Festival as keynote speaker (see RT89) and also as the guest artist of Federation Square’s 2010 Light in Winter Festival presenting his major work Solar Equation (see the interview in RT97 and review of the work in RT99). He returns to Australia in December to present the MCA’s Lloyd Rees Memorial lecture: Antimonuments and Subsculptures, just prior to the opening of his major exhibition, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Recorders, in one of the new galleries of the MCA. In this lecture he will discuss some of his more recent projects: Voz Alta, a memorial for the Tlatelolco student Massacre in Mexico City in 1968; Levels of Nothingness, a performance for the Guggenheim Museum NYC; and Vectorial Elevation, for Vancouver Winter Olympics. “Inspired by phantasmagoria, carnival and animatronics” (press release), the exhibition will feature 12 works including two made especially for Sydney, all of which encourage high levels of audience interaction to create their magic. 2011 Lloyd Rees Memorial lecture: Antimonuments and Subsculptures, Dec 5, 6.30-8pm, The Studio, Sydney Opera House, bookings www.sydneyoperahouse.com; Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Recorders, Dec 16-Feb 12, Museum of Contemporary Art; http://www.mca.com.au/

up close and personal

In a celebration of the confessional comes The Horse’s Mouth, a festival of autobiographical performance. Over three programs, some of Sydney’s more intriguing performance and theatre makers will be baring their souls and sharing their sordid histories. Program A: Bolted, features Zoe Coombs Marr sharing stories of a failed road trip (see reviews of Coombs Marr’s recent solo And That Was The Summer That Changed My Life; POST’s Who’s the Best and Everything I Know About the Global Financial Crisis in One Hour); Tim Spencer in conversation with a male sex worker; and Phil Spencer (director of the event) exploring his relationship with his Nana, rock ‘n’ roll wrestling and cake. Program B: In Hell for Leather Jono Burns explores a sense of home through his escapades in New York, while Zoe Norton Lodge reveals the idiosyncrasies of her family through a study of household neglect and a love of possums. The final program, One Trick Pony is an evening of short works by Nick Coyle, Scarlet McGlynn, Betty Grumble and Alex Vaughan. And on Sunday’s there’s also a Story Club where perhaps everyone can share! Bambina Borracha Productions in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers Theatre Company: The Horse’s Mouth, artistic director Phil Spencer? producer Vanessa Hughes, Nov 24-Dec 17, Tues-Sun 8pm, The Old Fitzroy Theatre, www.horsething.com

collectors items

DELUXE dLux Edition#1

DELUXE dLux Edition#1

dLux media arts has just launched DELUXE: dLux Edition #1 designed as an introduction to video art for collectors and featuring works by Dani Marti, Daniel Mudie Cuningham, Angelica Mesiti, John A Douglas, SODA_JERK, Kate Murphy, Elvis Richardson, John Tonkin, Denis Beaubois, Hayden Fowler, Sue Healey and Julie Rrap. There will only be 100 produced, each “in a funky aluminium travel case,” and it’s priced at $295 with the proceeds going to make up the funding short-fall that dLux has just suffered. Undeterred, dLux is also currently presenting The Garden of Forking Paths, an exhibition of game art curated by Neil Jenkins at the Tin Sheds Gallery. Featuring games designed by artists spanning 30 years such as Puppet Motel by Laurie Anderson (USA) with Hsin-Chien Huang (Taiwan) 1995; Frame Game by Michael Nyman (UK) 2003 and CuteXDoomII by Anita Fontaine (Aus) & Mike Pelletier (Canada) 2008, visitors can actually play the games, some of which need almost ancient seeming technology to run. The exhibition was first presented during the 2009 Electrofringe in Newcastle (reviewed here) and has already toured to Burnie and Port Macquarie, and will be presented at Bathurst Regional Gallery in 2012. DELUXE: dLux Editions #1, $295; The Garden of Forking Paths, curator Neil Jenkins, The Tin Sheds Gallery, Nov 4-26 ; http://www.dlux.org.au/

A new DVD publication, Short Play, is inaugurated with Volume 00:01 Play. Curated by Rachel Feery it features short works that explore the idea of play in film, performance, installation, new media and animation with works by Brown Council, Hit&Miss, Rachel Feery + Lisa Stewart, Timothy P Kerr, Jane Korman, Alanna Lorenzon, Riki-Metisse Marlow, Ms&Mr, Hannah Raisin, Safari Team, Sam Smith, Lachlan Tetlow-Stuart, Michael Vale and Jemima Wyman. The video works are also contextualised by six essays. With 500 produced the DVD costs $20 plus postage and can be bought online or found in a range of galleries. Short Play Publications, Volume 00:01 Play; http://shortplaypublications.com.au/

ears around melbourne

Giant Theremin, Robin Fox

Giant Theremin, Robin Fox

Giant Theremin, Robin Fox

The Theremin has a kind of cult status in the electronic music world not just because of its otherworldly sci-fi sounds—it is perhaps the earliest manifestation of an interactive installation. Russian scientist Leon Theremin created an instrument that can be played by anyone simply by gesture— waving hands gracefully through air. Even today, amidst all our contemporary interactive devices it still seems a little bit magical. So imagine the potential of an upscaled Theremin, designed as a public artwork. The City of Melbourne has approached Robin Fox to create this wonder and it has just been unveiled in Signal Forecourt, Northbank. (Fox is perhaps best known for his astounding interactive audio visuals created with Frieder Weiss for Chunky Move’s Mortal Engine, see reviews in RT88 and Dance Massive 2009 coverage.) Standing seven metres tall, the instrument responds to the movements of people around it, and is able to produce not only original Theremin sounds but also to manipulate sound files and trigger midi-instruments. Fox says “it is designed to make people move and to make people listen, not only to their own sound but to the sound of others engaging with the instrument” (artist’s statement). The Giant Theremin will be integrated into a range activities over summer, including performances by music producer Dexter and a dance work by Stephanie Lake on Nov 26, and will be available for play until February. City of Melbourne, Robin Fox’s Giant Theremin; http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au

Cara-Ann Simpson, Geo Sound Helmets, 2011

Cara-Ann Simpson, Geo Sound Helmets, 2011

Cara-Ann Simpson, Geo Sound Helmets, 2011

Over at Kings ARI, Cara Anne Simpson will bring the world to you with her Geo Sound Helmets. Using field recordings sourced from Melbourne, Singapore, Hong Kong, London, Toronto, Istanbul, Dunedin and her family farm in south-east Queensland, Simpson has created sound environments which play through head-encasing helmets and are controlled by the wearer’s breathing. The delicate sensors systems and headwear have been created in collaboration with James Laird (biomedical engineer and hacker), Ben Landau (industrial designer) and Eva Cheng (electrical and computer research engineer) and allow the listener a highly personalized journey through new aural geographies. (See Studio for Simpson’s previous work Noise Cancellation). Geo Sound Helmets Cara Anne Simpson , Kings ARI, Nov 25-Dec 17; http://www.kingsartistrun.com.au/kingsartistrun/upcoming/

The Out Hear Festival will also offer immersive sound experiences, but of a more acoustic nature. Dale Gorfinkel (see recent coverage in RT104, and earbash) has been artist in residence at the Footscray Art Centre and has also curated a weekend of deep listening events including installations, kinetic sound sculptures and instruments, performances and sound walks. Joining him will be guest artists Joyce Hinterding , Ernie Althoff, Rikki-Metisse Marlow, Ross Manning, Matt Chaumont and Anthony Magen. Out Hear Festival, curator Dale Gorfinkel, performance evening Nov 25, 8pm; Big West Festival weekend installations Nov 26 & Nov 27 11am-4pm; Footscray Arts Centre; http://outhear.com/; http://footscrayarts.com/

beijing bound

Shen Shaomin, I sleep on top of myself, detail of production image and installation shots, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Shen Shaomin, I sleep on top of myself, detail of production image and installation shots, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Shen Shaomin, I sleep on top of myself, detail of production image and installation shots, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Shen Shaomin, the artist who brought us Bonsai, the eerily life-like silica replicas of communist leaders in the 2010 Sydney Biennale, has returned to Australia to present his first solo exhibition in 10 years, The Day After Tomorrow at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. The exhibition will feature his most recent work which presents disturbingly hairless animal replicas in mounds of salt “dramatising the impact of human evolution and culture, and the damage inflicted upon the natural world and amongst its own species, in the pursuit of human freedom and progress” (website). As well as the gallery’s recent success in securing multi-year funding status as a Key Organisation, 4a has also announced a new opportunity for 2012 in which an Australian artist will be in residence at Shaomin’s studio complex in Beijing. Director Aaron Seeto states, “Shen Shaomin has been thinking very deeply about the type and quality of support that can be offered to Australian artists, and he has very generously offered his own studio as this cultural bridge” (press release). Shen Shaomin, The Day After Tomorrow, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Nov 15-Dec 10. Application details for the 2012 Beijing residency will be announced in December; http://www.4a.com.au/coming-soon-shen-shaomin-the-day-after-tomorrow/

future food

Given the current obsession with curious cuisine, it’s no surprise that some artists are incorporating the culinary into their practice. Australian-born US based Natalie Jeremijenko is a leading artist working with science and environmental issues and over the next two weeks she will be combining ecological thinking with haut-cuisine as she presents her Cross(x)Species Adventure Club in Sydney, Melbourne and Avoca (regional Victoria). Jeremijenko and chef Mihir Desai have been presenting the “eco-inspired ‘supper club’” around galleries in New York, creating dining experiences that illustrate “how choices in how and what we consume can have direct effects on ecological systems and the species that exist within them” (press release), with the proceeds helping support her Environmental Health Clinic (xClinic) at New York University. Cross(x)Species Adventure Club will be presented for one night only, Dec 1, at the Melbourne Museum, where guests will experience “edible cocktails that each stylishly and humorously explore our gastronomic, economic and material interdependency on other creatures” (press release). There will also be an exclusive Cross(x)Species degustation dinner at ArcOne Gallery on Nov 30. Prior to the Melbourne leg of the tour Jeremijenko has also appeared in Sydney for the National Institute of Experimental Art’s Curating Cities: Sydney-Copenhagen conference at Customs House. Aspects of her Farmacy project, with suggestions as to how to become an urban farmer or uFarmer, will be on display as part of the accompanying exhibition. Carbon Arts presents Natalie Jeremijenko’s Cross(x)Species Adventure Club; see website for full program details; http://www.carbonarts.org/events; NIEA’s Curating Cities: Sydney-Copenhagen, Nov 17- Dec 18, Customs House, Circular Quay; http://curatingcities.org/exhibitions/curating-cities-sydney-copenhagen/

fotofreo fringe proposals

Western Australia’s biannual photographic festival is coming up in March-April 2012 and planning is well underway. As well as major commissions by Martin Parr exploring Broome, Port Hedland, Fremantle and Albany and Bo Wong capturing the essence of Fremantle Market, there will also be a focus on photography from India and a group exhibition from New Zealand. The fringe festival is currently calling for submissions with a deadline of Nov 30. http://www.fotofreo.com/programme/fringe-exhibitions

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

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

A Serbian Film (before banning)

A Serbian Film (before banning)

WHILE NOTORIOUS FOR ITS EMPHASIS ON SIMULATED SEXUAL VIOLENCE, SRDJAN SPASOJEVIC’S 2010 A SERBIAN FILM USES SHOCK AND REVULSION AS AN ALLEGORY FOR THE VIOLENCE OF THE STATE. FOLLOWING THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET BLOC SOME FORMER EASTERN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES, INCLUDING SERBIA, SAW OUTBREAKS OF VIOLENCE AND CIVIL WAR ALONGSIDE ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS CONFLICT AND VARIOUS FORMS OF STATE OPPRESSION. THE FILM’S NARRATIVE DEPICTS SEXUAL VIOLENCE, BUT THE TITLE, WHICH IS REMOVED FROM ANY FAMILIAR HORROR OR PORNOGRAPHIC LEXICON, IS INDICATIVE OF A WIDER SENSE OF POLITICS.

In a statement on the film’s website Spasojevic states: “The initial idea was to make a film which would incorporate our desire to make an honest and unflinching depiction of the political and emotional turmoil that governed our lives in Serbia during the last two decades of wars and transition, but also to merge that ambition with the wish to make a philosophical, confrontational genre film which would transcend those agendas into a piece of cinema that we had always wanted to make. We didn’t want to make a hermetic picture that would deal exclusively with our local tragedies, but to tell a story with global overtones, because Serbia is merely a reflection of the ways of today’s New World in general, as it tries to imitate it and fails miserably” (http://aserbianfilm.co.uk/statement.html).

This is not to diminish those films that have no politics or that embrace the spectacle of violence simply for its own sake—these too have a place in cinema. The point is merely to indicate an apparently more considered engagement with extreme material within A Serbian Film than some have allowed.

Following an international release (including the UK and USA) in August 2011, an edited version of A Serbian Film was released domestically under an R18+ classification. However South Australia’s Attorney General John Rau banned the film on the recommendation of the state’s classification board. For Rau the film was beyond description and, by implication, discussion: “Some of the scenes in the DVD are so depraved that I am not prepared to even describe them in any detail. Suffice to say that some of the most disturbing scenes involve children, including an infant” (http://www.adelaidenow.com.au). The politician pursued a similar line on ABC Radio’s PM, where he stated he was “revolted as any decent thinking person would be” (http://www.abc.net.au). Such rationale is dangerously simplistic: it implies that if somebody wanted to watch the work then his or her interest should be considered suspect.

A Serbian Film

A Serbian Film

These events did not go unnoticed and the Federal Minister for Justice Brendan O’Conner applied for a Classification Board Review. Melinda Tankard Reist, a ‘pro-life feminist’ representing Collective Shout—“a grassroots campaigning movement against the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in media, advertising and popular culture” (http://collectiveshout.org)—also made a submission calling for a review. Once again the film was assessed, but now it was deemed unsuitable and refused classification (RC). Collective Shout proudly announced this as a “Win!”

Existing as a separate legal entity from the Classification Board “the Classification Review Board is an independent statutory body whose members are chosen from a range of backgrounds to broadly represent the Australian community” (http://www.ag.gov.au). At the time of writing the board consists of four women, three of whom have law degrees while the fourth is a psychologist. Three members of the Review Board banned A Serbian Film.

While they acknowledged the reading of the film as allegorical their report states that this is primarily manifest in the publicity, with the narrative making the connection between the abuses on screen and wider events only once (Classification Review Board report, Review 19 September 2011, “Reasons for the decision”). This suggests a failure to understand the nature of allegory; moreover it fails to appreciate that the film’s title alone should draw attention to its wider intent. Contemporary audiences do not stumble across a film devoid of context and most viewers would be familiar with the discourses that surround the work.

Without drawing aesthetic comparisons it should be apparent that, like Pasolini’s Salo—that other bugbear for Australian censors—the depravities and psychological abuses of power find their metaphorical manifestation in sexuality and sexual violence. Primarily because the chaos, confusion and breakdown/construction of psychological inhibition associated with sex makes it the perfect arena for allegories of social and ethical fragmentation.

The Review Board is designed to reflect community standards. However, exactly which community is never stated; Australia is a multicultural society and as such has a plurality of communities, each with their own standards. It appears that no member of the board is based in either Melbourne or Sydney, arguably the country’s most cosmopolitan cities, so their understanding of community standards may differ from, for example, an interested urban viewer who attends screenings at film festivals.

A Serbian Film

A Serbian Film

There is something unnerving about the contemporary discourses on film being dictated by politicians, conservative religious commentators, special interest groups and unelected bureaucrats. A work like A Serbian Film is designed to be grueling and unpleasant—nobody who has seen it has described it as ‘fun’—its horror belongs to contemporary fears of violence, of being both controlled yet out of control. It is not a film designed for simple pleasures but for confronting an audience. This may not be everyone’s idea of the role of cinema, but that is not the point. It is essential to remember that, as Philip Pullman stated, “no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended” (http://boingboing.net).

It could be argued that I am attempting to justify the offensive, but I am not interested in justification; ultimately that is a process of interpretation that should be up to each viewer of the film. However, the ability for audiences in Australia to make this judgement has been denied them.

Some may argue that A Serbian Film simply goes too far, is too offensive and is disgusting, but then, are the human rights abuses that it mirrors not offensive and disgusting? Artists can hardly be expected to make films that do not engage with this. Denying people the chance to listen to these artists’ voices will not make the violence go away, but it will inure local audiences to censorship’s sterile oppression.

breaking news

Just before going to print, another horror film Human Centipede 2 (to be reviewed in RT107) has been banned. In addition Collective Shout (one of the groups lobbying for the banning of A Serbian Film) is submitting recommendations to the National Classification Scheme Review Discussion Paper undertaken by the Australian Law Reform Commission (www.alrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/pdfs/cia_2477_collective_shout.pdf) calling for even tighter regulations. Changes include the unification of classification bodies into a single regulator; the removal of content types replacing with “platform neutral definitions of ‘media content’ and ‘media content provider’;” and the removal of the “exempt status” for content shown at film festivals, art galleries and other cultural institutions, which would have strong ramifcations across the arts sector. RT

A Serbian Film, director/writer Srdjan Spasojevic, writer Aleksandar Radivojevic, Contra Films, distributed by Accent Films

This article first appeared in the online e-dition Nov 22

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. web

© Jack Sargeant; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Alice Mary Cooper, Clown Lights Stage

Alice Mary Cooper, Clown Lights Stage

Alice Mary Cooper, Clown Lights Stage

LAST YEAR’S SYDNEY FRINGE FESTIVAL BOASTED SOME 200 SHOWS, PERFORMED IN THREE SUBURBS OVER TWO WEEKS, LEADING KEITH GALLASCH TO MUSE THAT IT “MAY WELL HAVE GAINED SUFFICIENT TRACTION TO GUARANTEE ITSELF A FUTURE” (SEE RT100 http://www.realtimearts.net/article/100/10122). AND INDEED IT HAS. THIS YEAR THE FESTIVAL GAINED ANOTHER 50 SHOWS, THREE SUBURBS AND AN ADDITIONAL WEEK.

With so many performances to choose from, I decided to navigate the festival via a venue—the PACT Centre for Emerging Artists in Erskineville—where I attended eight shows. Unfortunately I can’t cover them all here, so I’m focusing on the five solo works which dominated the program.

clown lights stage

Alice Mary Cooper arrives on the blackened stage wearing a white singlet and underpants and carrying a red handbag. “The good news,” she announces, “is that Alice is going to be okay; the other good news is that I am here to help.” Thus, with an air of slightly forced cheer, the clown starts to rifle through the contents of the absent Alice’s bag and then to perform her show. It’s hungry work, of course, and so she opens a jar of hazelnut spread only to misunderstand the instructions and smear the brown stuff all over her body. These markings remain as she discusses all things French, from Romanticism to French Onion dip, before delivering a rousing rendition of “Non, Je ne regrette rien” but with lyrics to include “baguette” and “croissant.” Elsewhere, she eats a teabag, has some misadventures with a tampon, and enacts most of the Greek tragedies. Balanced between the banal and the surreal, and performed with a very deft touch, Clown Lights Stage is truly delightful.

Nathan Harrison, The art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise

Nathan Harrison, The art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise

Nathan Harrison, The art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise

the art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise

While you couldn’t call it clown, Nathan Harrison’s show also features a naïve protagonist negotiating an absurd world. Based on Georges Perec’s slim volume, which was published in French in 1969 and in English this year (!), The Art and Craft leads us through a series of increasingly unlikely scenarios as the protagonist advises on how to go about asking for that raise. Ten minutes into the performance and we have only just knocked on the boss’s door; it takes the remaining 40 minutes to canvass what sort of lunch to eat beforehand, how and when to sit down, what sort of small talk to make, when to fake comprehension and when to admit ignorance etc. The language is looping, repetitive and frustrating but there is clarity of purpose to both the writing and the performance. Together they come to resemble a flow chart in material form—an impossible attempt to account for every conceivable combination of events that could emerge and more besides. Harrison states that this is part of a larger project investigating performance structured by mathematical and scientific models, but it also reminded me of some of his work with Applespiel, specifically Executive Stress/Corporate Retreat (RT103). Like that performance, this one seems to speak to current workplace relations, where even government agencies spout corporate rhetoric, everyone is on rolling contracts and the unions negotiate deals where wages barely keep pace with inflation even as employers warn of an imminent skills shortage. For this reason alone, Harrison’s comic timing is impeccable.

gobbledygook

Bodysnatchers’ show lacks the conceptual clarity of Cooper and Harrison’s, but has some interesting moments nonetheless. Perhaps the most intriguing occurs when the protagonist (Aileen Huynh) has a phone conversation with her friend on the other end. When the conversation is over, it emerges that she has recorded it on her iPhone; she now replays the interaction but, this time, we hear the other part. This is where form and concept meet, but for the most part the phone serves merely as a prop and the performance risks becoming little more than an advertisement for its manufacturer. This lack of self-reflexivity, coupled with the redundant citation of philosopher Giorgio Agamben in the program notes, would seem to indicate that the artists haven’t fully resolved just what it is they want to say about phones, beyond the fact that they are part of the fabric of our lives.

dust

Thinking about the minerals that make our phones, and the possibility of reaching “peak minerals” in the same way that we have reached “peak oil,” provides an interesting background for Emeline Forster’s dance work. Taking its inspiration from the last man to leave a Queensland town before an open cut coal mine virtually swallowed it whole, Dust investigates the deadly pas de deux Australia now finds itself in with miners. Sections of slow rotating movement alternate with video footage of mines, towns and various products made with minerals. In the best sections, the two interact with Forster going behind the screens and playing with the combination of shadows and projections, so that she seems to stalk herself—an apt image indeed.

Meiwah Williams, Las Dos Fridas,

Meiwah Williams, Las Dos Fridas,

Meiwah Williams, Las Dos Fridas,

las dos fridas

Meiwah Williams’ Two Fridas is also full of compelling images (co-designed with Rachel Brown), starting with a white skirt suspended mid-stage, onto which is projected an image of a blue sky, white clouds and another white skirt. The effect is, appropriately enough, surreal. In another scene, Williams paints a piece of wax paper with water, slowly revealing one of Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits. The most magical moments are also the most acrobatic—Williams shimmying up the pink silks and tumbling down or when she executes a series of back flips in a full black skirt. While I initially wondered “why Frida, why now?,” the irresistible image of a dancing Kahlo wins me over.

3QUARED = 9 Fantastic Fabrications, Sydney [email protected]; Clown Lights Stage, writer, designer, performer Alice Mary Cooper, dramaturg, mentor Michael Piggot, music Michael Meem; The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise, based on text by Georges Perec, devisor, performer Nathan Harrison, creative consultants Applespiel; Bodysnatchers, Goobledygook, director Mark Rogers, performer Ailenn Huynh, lighting Joseph Parro, sound design, composition Liam Halliwell, Jordan Thomson, dramaturg Sanja Simic; Dust, creator, performer Emiline Forster, video Emiline Forster, music Terry Hart, lighting Geoff Adams; Las Dos Fridas, performer, director Meiwah Williams, music Ben Walsh, visuals Rachel Brown and Meiwah Williams, vocals Maja Petrovna; PACT, Sydney, Sept 8-Oct 2

This article first appeared in the online e-dition Nov 8

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 33

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Christine Collins, I may have to see YOU again, Charlie

Christine Collins, I may have to see YOU again, Charlie

Christine Collins, I may have to see YOU again, Charlie

INSTALLATION ART CONTINUES TO EVOLVE AS AN IMMERSIVE, CONFRONTING ARENA IN WHICH VIEWERS’ SENSE OF THE WORLD IS CHALLENGED AND THEIR PREDISPOSITIONS EXPOSED. THIS GROUP EXHIBITION AT AEAF COMPRISES TWO CONTRASTING ENVIRONMENTS INVOLVING HYBRID ARTFORMS, BUT THERE IS A COMMON DEVICE—THE VIEWER AS ACTOR RESPONDING TO ARCHITECTURAL SPACE AND COMPLETING THE ARTWORK.

In I may have to see YOU again, Charlie, Christine Collins has created a room within the gallery like a tiny cinema, but there is only a blank, black wall where the projected imagery would be. This is a work of sound art that uses fragments of Hollywood film soundtracks stripped of their visual elements, thus referencing rather than presenting cinema. The voice throughout is that of Charlton Heston, a career Hollywood actor who appeared in some epic films that defined a genre and shaped a culture.

Collins is interested in separating out elements of film for scrutiny, as she has done previously in work for the CACSA Contemporary 2010: The New New exhibition. Decontextualising these intense and disturbing lines both trivialises and immortalises them. Collins’ work celebrates the halcyon days of Hollywood cinema, and simultaneously questions Hollywood as an artform in itself. This work manifests as homage to Heston, but functions as incomplete conversation and is an exploration of language and its effects. Sitting as if to watch, we try to visualise the scenes, but we’re provoked to think verbally.

Many of the 18 characters Heston plays in these excerpts are historical figures—Moses, John the Baptist, Marc Antony, Michelangelo and so on. Collins’ catalogue essay is like a poem in which she paraphrases fragments of text as if they are statements made directly to her, colliding them to conflate the action. For example, “He [Heston] tells me he is a Florentine, a soldier, a shepherd, a Jew, a scientist, a narcissist, a civilian and sick of me,” and “He asks me if I have hot water, a reason, a gun and a report.” The quotations begin with I or you, establishing open-ended interpersonal exchanges. Collins’ positioning of herself as the respondent in these exchanges asks us how we would feel in the glare of Charlton Heston’s sometimes saintly, sometimes threatening masculinity.

Ray Harris, Let me Go

Ray Harris, Let me Go

Ray Harris, Let me Go

Outside this little cinema, Ray Harris’ installation Hold me Close and Let me Go consists of two videos projected on the gallery’s walls and a row of five large wooden crates, or small rooms, each a unique environment into which viewers are invited.

Harris is the actor in both videos: in one, she embraces a life-size human figure hewn roughly from ice; in the other, she cuddles another life-size figure, of soft, sticky pastry dough. Gradually she becomes covered in dough, unable to free herself, like a fly caught in a web. Both videos suggest failed relationships and the failure of the woman to comprehend her delusion.

Ray Harris, I've been here before series

Ray Harris, I’ve been here before series

Ray Harris, I’ve been here before series

In the I’ve been here before series, the five rooms represent a cycle of life. They are: a bed with teddy bears, curtained in pink to mimic the vagina and suggest the womb; a garden of plastic flowers and intense artificial perfume, possibly a Garden of Eden; a darkened interior with a dimly illuminated hole in the floor that could be a passage to the underworld; a room whose interior is entirely of mirrors, including a mirror ball; and lastly a room of plastic bags of water and tubing suggesting drip-fed life, as if we’re inside a dying body. The physical body is central to this work, and each room locates the viewer in claustrophobic, contextualising space to offer an oblique window onto the self.

In her artist’s statement, Harris writes, “Like the small scratch on a sapling’s bark that grows to a big cut, these are the narcissistic wounds and scars, the yearnings and fantasies, the denials and re-creations and the inextricable knots that keep us tied to the ones we never had.” In exploring narcissism Harris uses herself as the exemplar in the videos and the viewer as exemplar or avatar in the five rooms. In the room of flowers, you see yourself on CCTV and in the mirror room you have a panoptical, infinitely multiplying view of yourself. I found myself watching dispassionately as if witnessing narcissism rather than experiencing it. But this is not a failure of the work, which succeeds in triggering understanding. It’s the intellectualisation of narcissism, a bleak commentary on what we see as significant in our lives and how delusional we can be. The title Hold me Close and Let me Go suggests contradictory desires, and the work is a darkly humorous exploration of sexual dynamics.

Harris’ work frequently involves videos in which she acts out a symbolic ritual or play flavoured with the theme of the abject figure in the world. Her 2010 video Glittervomit shows her in close-up regurgitating a mouthful of glitter at the camera, as if sickened by the superficiality being pushed down her throat. She weeps in Cry Me a Ravine (2010) and she is the deceased in a funeral parlour in I Wish I was Dead (2010). Critical self-examination as distinct from narcissism is a strategy essential to our functioning in the world.

Christine Collins, I may have to see YOU again, Charlie; Ray Harris, Hold me Close and Let me Go, Australian Experimental Art Foundation, AEAF, September 30 – October 29 2011; http://aeaf.org.au/

Collins recorded an interview for the CACSA Contemporary 2010: The New New exhibition which can be seen here

This article first appeared in e-dition Nov 8

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. web

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Bobby Singh, Miranda Wheen, Game On

Bobby Singh, Miranda Wheen, Game On

Bobby Singh, Miranda Wheen, Game On

CROSS-CULTURAL COLLABORATIONS CAN YIELD A VARIETY OF OUTCOMES, DETERMINED BY INTENTION (LET’S AIM FOR SYNTHESIS OR JUXTAPOSITION) OR CHANCE (LET’S SEE WHAT HAPPENS). THE TITLE OF CHOREOGRAPHER ANNALOUISE PAUL’S GAME ON SUGGESTS, AS IN SPORT, A CHALLENGE WITH AN UNPREDICTABLE RESULT. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN “A 3,000 YEAR OLD CLASSICAL INDIAN MUSIC TRADITION MEETS A WESTERN CONTEMPORARY DANCE FORM, 100 YEARS YOUNG?”, ASKS PAUL IN HER PROGRAM NOTE.

The spatial structure of Game On, with tabla virtuoso Bobby Singh surrounded by his instruments on a low platform to one side of The Studio floor and dancer Miranda Wheen on the other, suggests a face-off, one that in the event unfolds in individual displays and then escalating episodes of interplay and good-humoured provocation and gentle mockery. The result is not a hybrid (of the kind you might expect from, say, Akram Khan and his various collaborators) but a conversation between two forms that very much retain their own shape and integrity while driving each other to new rhythmic extremes and subtleties.

Bobby Singh, Miranda Wheen, Game On

Bobby Singh, Miranda Wheen, Game On

Bobby Singh, Miranda Wheen, Game On

The work’s dramaturgical structure suggests improvisation with its casual pauses, smattering of chat and the artists’ turn-taking at triggering episodes, or when it’s clear, for example, that Wheen has been fully extended and is happy to rest as Singh shapes material for the next encounter or plays a solo she does not respond to. At the outset the improvisational gestures and tone feel somewhat forced, as if prepared instead of spontaneous, making the early part of Game On feel too tentative for too long.

What is never in doubt is the spirit and expertise of the performers. As an audience member commented, it was wonderful to hear Singh uncharacteristically playing without other musicians, allowing us to fully focus on the timbral range and surprising harmonics he can draw from his variously sized tabla. Wheen met Annalouise Paul’s considerable choreographic challenge and Singh’s rhythmic demands with total fleet-footed commitment, working much of the stage space with fully extended limbs, floor spins and rolls, long leaps and ripples that flowed through her body. The response to rhythmic change was never literal, neither artist simply speeding up because the other was moving or playing faster, instead producing a marked visual or sonic counterpoint.

In the passage that most fully engaged me, Wheen danced very close to Singh with movements that lowered her centre of gravity, legs bending deep, knees out, arms extended, hands articulated as if to suggest an Asian influence in a moment of suggestive if doubtless impressionistic cultural synthesis given that Wheen was not literally imitating Indian dance. Game On proved to be an intriguing experience if an uncertain one about precisely where Indian music and western dance might actually meet. Nonetheless Annalouise Paul’s Theatre of Rhythm and Dance offers the promise of further worthwhile and much needed cross-cultural explorations drawing on the skills and passions of talented artists.

Theatre of Rhythm and Dance, Game On, choreography, concept Annalouise Paul, choreographic collaborator, dancer Miranda Wheen, classical Indian tabla Bobby Singh, musical dramaturgy Peter Kennard, lighting Stephen Hawker, costume Jai Saunders, producer Sam Hawker, Arts Radar; The Studio, Sydney Opera House, Aug 13-15, www.annalouisepaul.com.au

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Gianni Plazzi, Sul concetto di volto nel figlio di Dio (On the Concept of the Face of God), Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio

Gianni Plazzi, Sul concetto di volto nel figlio di Dio (On the Concept of the Face of God), Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio

Gianni Plazzi, Sul concetto di volto nel figlio di Dio (On the Concept of the Face of God), Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio

fundamentals of free speech

Following recent attempts by fundamentalist elements of the Hindu community to censor the presentation of Back to Back’s Ganesh Versus the Third Reich in the Melbourne International Arts Festival, comes an attempt by far-right fundamentalist Catholics to shut down Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio’s Sul concetto di volto nel figlio di Dio (On the Concept of the Face of God), directed by Romeo Castellucci at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris. As reported in CultureBot, the performance centres on a man caring for his dying father with a visceral depiction of bodily incontinence. At one point the son cleans up the shit-smeared floor in front of a projection of Christ by Renaissance painter Antonello de Messina. After losing a legal battle for an injunction on the grounds of anti-religious discrimination, the group calling itself the Alliance Against Racism and for the Respect of French and Christian Identity (thought to be connected to the Civitas Institute responsible for an April attack on Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ), has protested at the theatre, throwing stink bombs, engine oil and eggs onto queuing audiences and interrupting performances.

The theatre has issued a statement condemning the protests, stating “these behaviours are clear manifestations of fanaticism, that enemy of enlightenment and freedom against which, in glorious times, France has so successfully fought” (cited in Jeremy. M. Barker, Culturebot Far-Right Activists Try to Shut Down Theater Production in Paris, Oct 27). It has also issued a manifesto “Le Théâtre contre le Fanatisme” (“Theatre against fanaticism,” in French only), signed by notable French and international artists. A spokesperson for the French Catholic Church has also condemned the protests but calls for “free speech that respects the sacred.” The irony is that the work of Romeo Castellucci arguably creates theatre that is deeply religious and sacred, rethinking and recreating these concepts for contemporary contexts. Castellucci told Le Monde, the play is “in no way blasphemous or Christianophobe…but these activists can’t know that because they haven’t seen it.” (His statement, in French can be found here). It’s another example in a disturbing trend of knee jerk fundamentalist protest in which the work is not approached in context and in which interpretive, contextual and analytic thinking are overruled by dogma. (Key sources CultureBot; RFI; The Guardian)

good, clean fun

Multimedia performance group PIPS:Lab started ten years ago, growing out of the underground party scene in Amsterdam. According to their manifesto “a PIPS:lab project must always include multiple art forms, the audience must be involved using interactive techniques, fiction and reality are mashed up, the footage is always recorded live, high tec (sic) is made low brow, all elements of a show or installation (like wires, cables and screens) are visible on stage” (website). In November they will be bringing their high-energy theatre of the absurd to Australia, presenting The Washing Powder Conspiracy at Serial Space in Sydney and also at the Awesome International Arts Festival in Perth.

PIPS:Lab have extensively toured Europe with works such a Wortal Combat 3, an interactive game show where the audience assists the heroes to win the love of Lara Croft (chosen from the viewers each night) and including a larger-than-life version of the computer game Pong. They have also created the Lumisol concept in which participants, live on video paint with light to create an installation or a performance with leading graffiti artists. The Washing Powder Conspiracy focuses on live video editing and music made from non-conventional instruments like irons, washing machines and laundry baskets and “casually flirts with themes like democracy, capitalism, commercials and war” (website). Australian artist Fred Rodrigues, creator of the SMS Interactive Music System (S.I.M.S) (reviewed here) and the Heavy Metal Work Orchestra in which power tools improvise with musicians has been working with PIPS:Lab for the last year. PIPS:Lab, The Washing Powder Conspiracy, Serial Space, Sydney, Nov 11-12, free workshops Nov 13-14, http://serialspace.org; Awesome Arts, PICA Perth, Nov 21-27 http://www.awesomearts.com/festival; http://www.pipslab.org

moving moments

Shiver, Danielle Micich

Shiver, Danielle Micich

Shiver, Danielle Micich

Performing Lines WA was established in 2008 as an offshoot of the Sydney-based organisation to undertake the Managing and Producing Services (MAPS) for Western Australia. It produces for five core artists/companies: Chrissie Parrott Performance Company, Sally Richardson, pvi Collective, Sue Peacock and Marrugeku. In addition it takes on key projects from independent artists and will soon be presenting Danielle Micich’s Shiver (to be reviewed in RT107). Micich was previously a director of STEPS Youth Dance Company and has already had a busy year creating a work for Buzz Dance Theatre, choreographing for a new contemporary opera, Into the Shimmer Heat, in which the lead role is danced, not sung, and participating in Force Majeure’s Cultivate Lab. Renowned for her emotive approach to dance, Micich in Shiver “explores the gamut of human emotion experienced by four people faced with loss” (press release) using the dancers’ own stories as starting material. The cast includes Gerard Van Dyke from Melbourne’s KAGE Physical Theatre, with sound by Kingsley Reeve. Worth a look is the detailed blog that follows the development of the project. Performing Lines WA, Shiver, director Danielle Micich, performers Jacqui Claus, Lewis Kilpatrick, Leanne Mason, Gerard Van Dyck, sound Kingsley Reeve, lighting Joseph Mercurio; The Dolphin Theatre, University of WA, Crawley, Perth; Nov 17-19; http://www.performinglineswa.org.au/view/Shiver/

In South Australia, Restless Dance Theatre is presenting Debut 3—the dancers direct, in which three company dancers choreograph their own works. Working with the theme “the butterfly effect” the choreographers, Andrew Pandos, Jianna Georgiou and Lorcan Hopper, will be mentored by guest artists to develop their works. This is the third incarnation of Debut, with previous editions proving very popular, so booking is recommended. Restless Dance Theatre, Debut 3¬—the dancers direct, The Restless Studio, 234a Sturt St, Adelaide, Nov 11-12; http://restlessdance.org

reconciling voices

Greg Fryer, Uncle Jack Charles (seated) and Melodie Reynolds, Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country, Ilbijerri/The Minutes of Evidence Project/La Mama

Greg Fryer, Uncle Jack Charles (seated) and Melodie Reynolds, Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country, Ilbijerri/The Minutes of Evidence Project/La Mama

Greg Fryer, Uncle Jack Charles (seated) and Melodie Reynolds, Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country, Ilbijerri/The Minutes of Evidence Project/La Mama

In Sydney at Performance Space we have the long awaited Posts in the Paddock by My Darling Patricia and Moogahlin Performing Arts (previewed in RT105 ). In Melbourne, Ilbijerri Theatre Company, The Minutes of Evidence Project and La Mama will present Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country. Based on the actual minutes of evidence from the Coranderrk Enquiry in 1881, the show gives voice to both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who took on the Board for the Protection of Aborigines in order to determine the future of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station. Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country “unites the power of oral history and the authority of the written word to forge a personal connection with the voices of the past” (press release) and includes testimony from key figures such as William Barak (see RT review of the recent NGV Barak commissions). Based on a concept by Giordano Nanni, with texts adapted by Nanni and Andrea James, Coranderrk is directed by Isaac Drandic with dramaturgy by Rachael Maza Long and features an impressive cast including Jack Charles (see reviews of Bastardy; Jack Charles V The Crown; and performance group Nightshift, Syd Brisbane, Jim Daly, Peter Finlay, Greg Fryer, Liz Jones, Tom Long, Melodie Reynolds and Glen Shea. The project is the work of extensive research thanks to a number of supporting partners such as the Australian Research Council, The Koorie Heritage Trust, The University of Melbourne,The State LIbrary of Victoria, The Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc, and various state government agencies covering arts, health, education and regional arts. Ilbijerri Theatre Company, The Minutes of Evidence Project and La Mama, Courthouse Theatre, Nov 16-27; http://lamama.com.au/now-showing/spring-programme/coranderrk-we-will-show-the-country/

pretty women

Flash Women, Juliette Knox in her Uluru dress, 2010, designer Yaneira Velasquez

Flash Women, Juliette Knox in her Uluru dress, 2010, designer Yaneira Velasquez

Flash Women, Juliette Knox in her Uluru dress, 2010, designer Yaneira Velasquez

The State Library of Queensland has just opened Flash Women, an exhibition celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander style through photos and items of clothing worn by leading Indigenous women. Artist Walbira Murray writes, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women possess immense grace and beauty, although it’s often not celebrated in mainstream Australia. We are beautiful because we have the ability to rise above severe adversity and triumph over challenge” (website). The exhibition features items from a diverse range of women including jewellery and a cameo brooch from elder Aunty Ruth Hegarty, entrepreneur Juliette Knox’s Uluru dress and Raelene Baker’s Miss OPAL 1970 dress, sash, gloves and purse. While Flash Women is a celebration of fashion, it also serves to tell the lesser known stories of some of Australia’s inspirational women. Through Facebook, people can also send in photos of their own flash ladies to become part of the display. Flash Women, kuril dhagun Indigenous Knowledge Centre, level 1, State Library of Queensland; Nov 1 – Feb 24, 2012; http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/whats-on/events/flash

on the move

The Australia Council is undertaking an extensive consultation process in order to develop a framework for national touring. Consultants Rick Heath and Harley Stumm will be heading around the country over the next few months to gather feedback from artists and companies. The initiative aims to both map the current touring landscape and develop access to pathways and information, and also look to the future of touring in Australia. Consultation dates: Victoria, Nov 9, 10, Tasmania Nov 11, Darwin Nov 22, Adelaide Nov 24, 25; Cairns Dec 2; Brisbane Dec 5, 6; Sydney Dec 7, 8; Perth Dec 12; APAM workshop Adelaide Feb 27; Long Paddock Albury Wadonga April 3, 4. Register your interest to receive updates & further information with Katie Harford, Program Officer Market Development, email k.harford@australiacouncil.gov.au; or phone 02 9215 9041.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

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

Clayton Thomas, the NOW now Festival

Clayton Thomas, the NOW now Festival

Clayton Thomas, the NOW now Festival

The spontaneous moments of the NOW now festival have been well documented in the print and virtual pages of RealTime. Reading through the almost annual reviews of this unique music festival (missing only the 2002 and 2004 manifestations), there is a tangible sense of growth and development in the event which reflects the evolution of the experimental music community itself, not just in Sydney but with national resonances.

As noted by Shannon O’Neill in his review of the 2006 festival the phrase ‘the now now’ is from renowned UK guitarist Derek Bailey, a personal hero of festival founders Clayton Thomas and Clare Cooper. In an interview at the end of 2002 Thomas talks of the festival’s development from the fortnightly series (awkwardly titled If you like improvised music we like you) into a large scale event. He also talks of the partnership with Melbourne’s regular improv event Make It Up Club to present a range of national and regional tours. It was clear from the start that these two young artists were passionate and ambitious about integrating “non-idiomatic improvisation,” to quote O’Neill, into the musical landscape of Australia.

Natasha Anderson & Amanda Stewart

Natasha Anderson & Amanda Stewart

Natasha Anderson & Amanda Stewart

Two factors have been key to the event’s longevity: inclusiveness—an emphasis on developing a community—and flexibility. This has meant that the festival has been able to undergo changes and keep re-inventing itself. After outgrowing the artist-run galleries of Space 3 and Lan Franchi’s in Redfern, the curators took a very bold step in 2005, especially considering the lack of funding, by presenting the festival in the realtivelly mainstream rock venue of @Newtown. This leap of faith paid off as the accessibility of the venue dispelled any notion of clique-iness, attracting a much wider audience with over 300 people attending each night of this and the following festival. In an opinion piece in 2005 Caleb Kelly discussed this development and the shifting musical territory stating, “What provided the most excitement for the future of the scene was the willingness of this audience to try something new—four nights of Australian experimental music with no ‘big names,’ simply the promotion and celebration of Australian improvised musics. The Now now has taken over from What is Music? as the focus of the experimental music year in Sydney, from the point of view of both musicians and audience.”

Zeit Kunst  6

Zeit Kunst 6

Zeit Kunst 6

Another shift occurred in 2008 when Thomas and Cooper relocated to Berlin, handing over the event to the community they had nurtured. A small collective of artists have successfully run the festival and the regular series (renamed The NOW now series) ever since. Feeling like the event might have reached its peak in the city, the collective opted for a tree-change, moving it to Wentworth Falls for 2008, 2009 and 2010. While this altered the scale of the event, it opened it out to other presentation modes, with a more site-specific focus including concerts in caves, sound walks and an annual curiosity from Jon Rose such as his interactive kite flying and musical netball concert. It also continued to attract the dedicated city audience along with the local community with Shannon O’Neill commenting of the 2008 event: “Alongside the familiar faces were hippies, parents with children and the elderly. The local community was curious and keen.”

The festival returned to the city in 2011 making use of the new batch of artist-run spaces and 2012 looks to continue this model. The NOW now is perhaps most impressive because, amongst all the format, venue and co-ordinator changes, what has remained constant is the passion for improvised music defined in its broadest sense. Experiencing the NOW now for the first time in 2003 I wrote: “Improvising is a valiant and foolish attempt to capture each moment, feel each slice of time as it passes over and through you. To do it right you have to surrender completely to the whims and vengeance of the temporal.” The festival is still around and successful because, it has responded like a kind of organism, in a similar way.

Jim Denley, the NOW now 2003

Jim Denley, the NOW now 2003

Jim Denley, the NOW now 2003

Of course it’s not easy and Clayton Thomas summarises this in his 2002 interview: “I think improvised music and improvising in general—the freedom to bring to your ideas and expression and 100% of your energy to something—is really important. People are looking for that challenge: music as a model for life. It’s liberated and difficult and disciplined.” The NOW Now has definitely provided an inspiring model of freedom and rigor for the last 10 years, and we look forward to its future mutations.

The 2012 NOW now festival program will be launched Dec 14, 2011 at the Red Rattler. See www.thenownow.net for the schedule of regular events.

Gail Priest

2013
a spectrum of spontaneity
kate carr: now now festival 2013
RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. web

2012
borders down, camaraderie on
romy caen: 2012 now now festival
RealTime issue #108 April-May 2012 pg. 37

2011

delicacies, brutalities & inbetween
tony osborne: the now now festival 2011
RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. 38

part 2: sydney scenes & sounds
gail priest: the now now; sound series
RealTime issue #104 Aug-Sept 2011 pg. 48

2010

vigorous exercise & a well-balanced diet
gail priest: the now now festival 2010
RealTime issue #96 April-May 2010 pg. 39

2009

the improvising animal
gail priest: the now now festiva
RealTime issue #89 Feb-March 2009 pg. 39l

riding the impro wave
gail priest: fred rodrigues, S.I.M.S, the now now series
RealTime issue #94 Dec-Jan 2009 pg. 48

2008

relocation and reinvention
shannon o’neill takes to the hills for now now
RealTime issue #84 April-May 2008 pg. 41

2007

subtle assaults
tony osborne at the now now festival
RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. 42

2006

Impro: ethical, musical and now
Shannon O’Neill at the NOW now
RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg. 30

2005

What NOW for experimental music?
caleb.k
RealTime issue #66 April-May 2005 pg. 48

the NOW now: present and accounted for
Gail Priest
RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 42

2003

The NOW now: time slices
Gail Priest
RealTime issue #53 Feb-March 2003 pg. 45

2002

MAKE IT NOW: the impro revolution
RealTime talks to Clayton Thomas
RealTime issue #52 Dec-Jan 2002 pg. 39

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Hoa X, Guy, Simon, Lucky, IPAN

Hoa X, Guy, Simon, Lucky, IPAN

Hoa X, Guy, Simon, Lucky, IPAN

OVER THE PAST DECADE, NUMEROUS PERFORMANCES HAVE BEEN MADE BY, WITH AND ABOUT REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS (SEE OUR ARCHIVE HIGHLIGHT). A CURRENT ESTIMATE PUTS THE AUSTRALIAN TOTAL AT APPROXIMATELY 40 PRODUCTIONS AND RISING. MOST RECENTLY, I SAW THE INTERNATIONAL PERFORMING ARTS NETWORK’S LUCKY, PART OF THE NEW THEATRE’S THE SPARE ROOM INITIATIVE FOR INDEPENDENT ARTISTS AND COMPANIES.

The character of the title, Lucky, never actually appears: he apparently set sail some time ago and has not been heard from since. Instead, the play, by Dutch author Ferenc Alexander Zavaros, focuses on his two brothers Dannybird (Hoa X) and Abduma (Guy Simon) whom we meet just as they too decide to flee. These opening scenes, ably directed by Sama Ky Balson, alternate between action and commentary, so that one actor says “I have to leave” and the other adds: “I tell my mother.” This device soon disappears, however, as the brothers board the raft with a third man, Mister John (Drew Wilson), who is their guide and people smuggler. Together the three men cross an unnamed sea towards an unnamed country, with little more than a container of water, a radio and some rope. We never find out if they arrive.

 Hoa X, Lucky, IPAN

Hoa X, Lucky, IPAN

Hoa X, Lucky, IPAN

During this journey, the brothers reminisce about their mother whom they have left behind, and their brother who has left them. In language that sounds like a libretto they wonder where Lucky is, what he is doing and why he hasn’t written. Eventually it becomes clear that the other “birdboy,” as Mister John calls him, has probably perished at sea raising the possibility that one of the brothers may in fact be a ghost. Indeed sometimes their speech is strangely haunting while at other times it is repetitive; occasionally both—“my little brother forgets all that he has forgotten.” The people smuggler speaks in an elliptical, nonsensical English. Initially the device works to suggest the language gap, in a manner similar to a masterful scene in Brian Friel’s 1980 play Translations, but eventually it starts to grate.

 Hoa X, Guy Simon, Lucky, IPAN

Hoa X, Guy Simon, Lucky, IPAN

Hoa X, Guy Simon, Lucky, IPAN

In fact the best parts of the production happen when speech falls away completely and movement (co-directed by Kirk Page) comes to the fore. Two of the performers (Simon and Wilson) do some beautiful rope work, hanging from the ceiling and bouncing off the vertical wooden frames that surround the white raft resembling a ship’s rig (designed by Sama Ky Balson). In one scene, there is a strikingly choreographed struggle and in another the performers seem to be spinning in the sea. Unfortunately this scene is hampered by low ceilings preventing them from attaining any real height or speed. Nor does the music help: while it is ambitious and the melodies pleasant, the vocals are too loud and the lyrics too literal: “I’m following the water/ Internally displaced people/ Generalised violence.” Similarly literal are shadows made by a fourth performer and singer (Conrad Le Bron): the characters see a bird and his hands flap behind the cream-coloured sails that hang upstage. In such moments the performance becomes less than the sum of its parts, with the music, text and movement working against, rather than with, each other.

While Lucky includes some poignant moments, it is also slow and often sentimental. A lack of specificity, rather than implying universality, reads as a vague and generalised attempt to tell “the” story of “the” refugee when no such thing exists—refugees, as a group, are as diverse and contradictory as any other. I try to encounter each performance on its own terms, but I can’t help comparing Lucky to Khoa Do’s Mother Fish—a magical, universal and yet deeply personal representation also of a boat journey. Both the theatrical and cinematic versions of Mother Fish were masterful. Alongside them and others in the genre, Lucky seems an apprentice work with a way to go before it can refresh the form.

International Performing Arts Network, Lucky, writer Ferenc Alexander Zavaros, director, set designer Sama Ky Balson, collaborative moment director Kirk Page, lighting Ross Graham, costumes Azure Chapman, musical director Karina Bes, sound designer, composer Joseph Nezeti, performers Guy Simon, Hoa X, Drew Wilson, Conrad Le Bron, New Theatre, Newtown, Oct 6-22; http://newtheatre.org.au

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Melancholia, Lars von Trier

Melancholia, Lars von Trier

cinema exotica from home and abroad

For its 20th manifestation, the Brisbane International Film Festival is offering a range of exciting cinema experiences including Australian and world premieres. In terms of big draw cards there’s David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, exploring the relationship between Freud, Jung and patient and pupil Sabina Spielrein. Provocateur Lars von Trier’s Melancholia starring Kirsten Dunst, which supposedly left the audience gasping in Cannes, will also be screening. Direct from Venice and Toronto Film Festivals comes an adaptation of John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In, 2008) with Gary Oldman as George Smiley and described by one reviewer as “at its best as a study in minimalist aesthetics and cool, sombre, low-tech interiors.” The festival will conclude with Pedro Almodóvar’s much acclaimed, The Skin I Live In, about an obsessive plastic surgeon (Antonio Bandera) who imprisons the object of his experiments (Elena Anaya).

There’s also a strong horror and sci-fi flavour to this year’s festival. Starting on November 12 and finishing in the wee hours of the 13th is the Horror Marathon including Guilty of Romance (see RT’s review from SUFF) and Mannborg by Canadian Z-grade director Steven John Kostanski, about a half-man, half-cyborg who fights Nazi vampires. From Argentina comes Nicolás Goldbart’s Phase 7 described as “slacker comedy meets bio-apocalypse” (website). Also from Argentina is Penumbra, directed by “horror cinema’s answer to the Coen Brothers” Adrián and Ramiro García Bogliano.

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same,  Madeleine Olnek

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, Madeleine Olnek

The Drive-In program includes the impossible to resist Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same directed by Madeleine Olnek as well as Trailerpalooza, a whirlwind tour of sci-fi and horror trailers from the last 50-years presented by Mark Hartley playing in a double-bill with 50 Best Kills (which needs no descriptor). Australian films include the premiere of Crawl, a feature debut by Paul and Benjamin China which channels “the tension of Hitchcock and the measured violence of the Coen Borthers’ No Country for Old Men” (website); and Kriv Stender’s Red Dog, where you are encouraged in fact to BYOD—finally the canine verdict on this runaway success!

Outback Fight Club, Paul Scott

Outback Fight Club, Paul Scott

Also featured are a range of Queensland films and documentaries including two by Hungarian-born, Brisbane-based Peter Hegedus, My America and The Trouble with St Mary’s; Janine Hosking’s portrait of Chad Morgan (The Sheik of Scrubby Creek), I’m Not Dead Yet; Paul Scott’s Outback Fight Club, documenting the final days of the only touring boxing tent left in the world; Daniel Marsden’s journey into the art of the Torres Strait Islands, So The Clouds Have Stories; and Tony Krawitz’ The Tall Man, a reconstruction of the events surrounding the death of Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island (see RT review of Adelaide Film Festival). Brisbane International Film Festival, various venues, Brisbane, Nov 3-13; www.biff.com.au/

arts fertiliser

Emerging artists and arts workers in South Australia looking for tips on how to sustain a life in the arts should check out How Does Your Arts Career Grow?, a free panel discussion organised by the Adelaide Festival Centre and Carclew Youth Arts. The forum will bring together leaders in arts and culture in South Australia with young and emerging artist to share thoughts and advice on how to develop and manage a career and how young people can shape the future of the arts. Key industry professionals involved are Christie Anthoney (Creative Director, Adelaide College of the Arts) who will facilitate the panel, Annette Tripodi (Operations and Program Manager, WOMADelaide), Brigid Noone (independent artist/curator), Edwin Kemp Attrill (Artistic Director, University of Adelaide Theatre Guild) and Ianto Ware (Project Manager, Renew Adelaide). Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre; Oct 31, free; www.adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au/greenroom/how-does-your-arts-career-grow-2/

In Brisbane, Backbone Youth Arts is hosting the Future Voices Forum with a focus on “local needs and international trends” (website). Taking place in two parts the first will concentrate on Australia and the ‘Asian Century’ with panelists including Andrew Ross (Artistic Director, Brisbane Powerhouse), Cathy Hunt (Co-Founding Director, Positive Solutions) and Thom Browning (Artistic Development Coordinator, Imaginary Theatre). The second session will be an Open Spaces Dialogue led by Jim Lawson (Executive Director, Young People and the Arts Australia) taking off from provocations raised at the National Youth Theatre Summit at St Martin’s in September [http://www.stmartinsyouth.com.au/national-youth-theatre-summit/]. The Future Voices Forum is part of the 2high festival, a one-day invasion of the Brisbane Powerhouse by young and emerging performance makers and visual artists. 2high Festival, presented by Backbone Youth Arts, Oct 29, Brisbane Powerhouse; www.backbone.org.au/2high-festival/; Future Voices Forum, Visy Theatre, Oct 29, 10am www.backbone.org.au/artist/2953/

evolving fictions

Adam Cruickshank, The Half Asleep Pilgrim, work space

Adam Cruickshank, The Half Asleep Pilgrim, work space

Adam Cruickshank, The Half Asleep Pilgrim, work space

Over three weeks, multi-disciplinary artist Adam Cruickshank will reside in West Space writing and designing The Half Asleep Pilgrim. A collage of written and visual material will be drawn from conversations with visitors and from the vast range of books that will also adorn the Back Space, borrowed from libraries and collections of the artists’ friends. At the end of three weeks the book will be finished, determined by the activity of that day rather than a pre-determined narrative. Cruickshank’s residency is one of 14 projects presented by West Space across 2011-2012 under the title Today Your Love which seeks to find ways artists might inhabit their new venue (twice the size of the old gallery) with a focus on process and experimentation over outcomes. Projects yet to come include Then & Now—the office of fixed deferrals (Back in 5) by the ever-intriguing Patrick Pound featuring an archive of photos, before and after shots, postcards of floral clocks showing each hour and other photographic ephemera which form an “index not only of time’s relentless melt, but of chance connections in the shuffle of things” (artist statement). Starting in development in 2011 for presentation in March 2012 will be a networked performance, Stay Home Sakoku: The Hikikomori Project, by Eugenia Lim, Dan West, Yumi Umiumare and David Wolf. Adam Cruickshank, The Half Asleep Pilgrim, West Space, part of Today Your Love; Oct 17-Nov 5; http://westspace.org.au

creative non-fictions

Tashmadada, the organisation which recently brought ex-La Fura Dels Baus performer Younes Bashir (see Underbelly Arts review) to Australia, is run by director-producer Deborah Leiser-Moore. She’s teaming up with US quarterly publication Creative Non-Fiction to create an Australian issue. They’re calling for essays across all forms with the only stipulations being that the stories be true and the articles unpublished. Two prizes are on offer, with the best essay (regardless of country of origin) winning AUS$6500 and an extra prize for the Best Essay by an Australian Writer winning AUS$2500. The edition will be launched as part of the 2012 Melbourne Writers’ Festival. Deadline Jan 31, 2012; each essay requires a $20 reading fee. See Tashmadada for more info: http://www.tashmadada.com; www.creativenonfiction.org

at the end of the journey

Homelands

Homelands

Homelands

Belgian director Hans Van den Broek (Compagnie SOIT) has returned for the third and final instalment of his collaboration with some of Sydney’s most interesting dancers and performance makers. In Settlement (2007) the group left civilisation to inhabit Track 8 in Performance Space/Carriageworks exploring ideas around utopia, communality and individuality creating a truly invigorating piece of dance-based performance. Nomads (2009), also in Track 8 focused on Diasporas, the group wandering away from one home in search of another. The final instalment, developed during an off-site Performance Space residency will be delivered as a video screening at FraserStudios and depicts the characters “held, floating like driftwood in time. They have found a fictional escape into life, hiding in a fantasy of fragmented theatre” (press release). Featuring Kathy Cogill, Nikki Heywood, Manu Louw, Clara Louw, Tony Osborne, Kirk Page, Anuschka von Oppen, Nalina Wait and Van den Broek with video by James Brown and Sam James. Homeland, video showing, October 27, 5pm, FraserStudios, 10-14 Kensington Street, Chippendale

Also nearing its end is the run of FraserStudios. Since 2008 Sam Chester and James Wynter and their team from Queen Street have done an amazing job managing these artists studios and rehearsal spaces in Chippendale, temporarily made available by the Fraser Property development group. The venture has had an immeasurable impact on the vibrancy of contemporary culture in Sydney (read about the studios in RT91). Running for longer than originally anticipated, it is now time to close the doors, but there will be one last open day on October 30 where you can see the artists at work, along with talks, demonstrations of digital fabrication technology by Assemblage Studio next door, and a barbeque. While it’s the end of an era, the impact of the initiative is tangible, not only as the Queen Street team have now taken on Heffron Hall in Surry Hills, but also as the range of commercial and government spaces now open to cultural activity is on the increase (see below). FraserStudios Open Day, October 30, 1-5pm, 10-14 Kensington Street, Chippendale; www.queenstreetstudio.com/fraserstudios.html

Breaking News: From 9 January-30 June 2012, Queen Street Studio and Frasers Property will offer NSW-based Visual Artists a “bonus round” of six-month open studio residencies. For more details go to www.queenstreetstudio.com/vis-arts-residency.html. Deadline Nov 18, 2011. Details of Performing Arts residencies will be announced shortly.

pop-up oxford street

Rocks Pop-Up Projects, Perran Costi's Personal Space: a living artwork, interactive exhibition, artists’ studio, bric-a-brac shop, teahouse and native garden

Rocks Pop-Up Projects, Perran Costi’s Personal Space: a living artwork, interactive exhibition, artists’ studio, bric-a-brac shop, teahouse and native garden

Rocks Pop-Up Projects, Perran Costi’s Personal Space: a living artwork, interactive exhibition, artists’ studio, bric-a-brac shop, teahouse and native garden

The range of ‘Renew’ ventures started by Marcus Westbury, kicking off in Newcastle and virally spreading to include Townsville, Adelaide and Geelong, has now been amalgamated under the Renew Australia moniker overseen by the Australian Centre for Social Innovation. In Sydney there’s Pop-Up-Parramatta and in the last six months The Rocks Pop-Up project has seen four heritage buildings turned over to artists studios and creative spaces for six months. (See image, Costi’s collaborative work Case Study was reviewed at Underbelly Arts.)

Now the City of Sydney is calling for tenders from artists, creatives and collectives interested in the short-term inhabitation of two retail shops and 14 office suites on Oxford Street—a unique opportunity to infiltrate the heart of the city! Deadline Nov 9, 11am, advertisements EOI 0811 and EOI 0911 can be viewed at http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/Business/TendersEOIQuotes/CurrentListing.asp

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

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

Avantwhatever 002-005

Avantwhatever 002-005

avantwhatever 002-005
www.avantwhatever.com

Avantwhatever is the organisation established by Ben Byrne to promote and publish his own works and those of his peers through concerts and also limited edition CDs. Matt Chaumont’s Linea started the collection in 2010 (reviewed here) with offerings by Arek Gulbenkoglu and Dale Gorfinkel, Alex White, Ivan Lysiak and Byrne himself coming out in reasonably rapid succession. While each of these artists has a distinctive approach, there is a shared sense of austerity—a serious, focussed and unadorned investigation into the essence of their materials—giving Avantwhatever a ‘house style,’ also reflected in the almost identical covers made from basic brown recycled paper.

002 gulbenkoglu gorfinkel, vibraphone/snare

Vibraphone/Snare, a single track running for just over 21-minutes, is an improvisational pursuit of vibration. Gorfinkel on prepared vibraphone and Gulbenkoglu on snare, are united in their love of small motors that they apply to their instruments (Gorfinkel also utilising the inbuilt motor of the vibraphone) and it is often impossible to tell who is generating which sound. The hum of insect-like motors underpins nearly everything, however the detail is in the changing pitches of the drives and the range of rattles, flaps and rumbles elicited from various applications. The materials dictate the structure, as new tones and hums, semi-regular rhythms and unforseen eruptions guide the players into the next moment. The recording (Rosalind Hall) is also unfussy, with a central focus, and not so much sense of the room in which it is performed. Small details play out on the edges of the stereo field, but never distract from the core of sounds in the middle. There’s no adornment here, only actions and sonic consequences blurring to create a kind of ascetic music.

003 ben byrne, disposition

Byrne’s contribution on laptop, mixer and electronics is the shortest of the selection running at 18-minutes. There is a clear sense of structure, both within the pieces themselves and the composition as a whole, divided across five distinct sections. “Part I” introduces Byrne’s sounds, dense with digital bleeps, spurts, glitches and fricatives always kept on the edge of chaos. “Part II” introduces a brief and elusive calm in the form of high, pinging, tinnitus-like tones. This is rudely swept away by “Part III”—the longest track and offered as a centrepiece of abrupt eructations, all angles and sudden shifts, with big fat squelchy sounds coarsely ground. “Part IV” maintains tension, and while never approaching figuration, seems darker and more urgent, with insistent longer tones and a clearer feeling of phrasing. Finally “Part V” seems to combine approaches from all the previous sections, somehow offering a simultaneous sense of fragmentation and sustain. While it’s a short set, the focus on structure makes Disposition satisfyingly intense.

004 alex white, genuine instability

The loudest and nastiest sounding of the collection, White’s CD Genuine Instability, made using Reaktor software, offers the most emotionally engaging listening experience perhaps because it’s the first of the series to use figurative track names. The title track, “Genuine Instability,” offers just that with signals pushed until they disintegrate; wide, dirty tones stretching and breaking across the stereo field; coarse granules disappearing into split second silences. “Customer Service Experience” is full of insistent, insect buzzes and heavy electromagnetic sounding hum. Phrasing is strong as sections shift in and out of focus, agilely scanning through the frequency spectrum and petering out to high impotent pings. “Event Loop” also delivers on its promise with a densely textured phrase that loops for over 15-minutes, but which invites an almost psychotic attention to detail as you start to hear minuscule shifts in the static. Best at volume, White’s work becomes visceral, curiously embodied despite its utterly digital origins.

005 ivan lysiak, southwest line

For this release, Ivan Lysiak works purely with feedback generated from guitar, amps and pedals. Each of the three tracks, named after train stations on Sydney’s south- west rail line, runs to just over 10-minutes with each exploring a different feedback pursuit. “Leumeah” works with a mid-range pure tone that develops octave harmonics devolving in to lower hums. Silence is allowed as signals falter and break, only to be built up again. Most surprising is a kind of trumpet-like repeated note that finally devolves into a flat nasal whine. “Ingleburn” works with a higher tone, over- and under-tones hovering on edges that eventually invade and morph into low flutters. The final track “Macarthur” surprises again with faster transitions between notes and a growing, crackly electrical interference that Lysiak shreds into ever-smaller units. South West Line is sparse, yet never static, with a constant sense of sound waves in motion, evolution and entropy.

Avantwhatever recordings are quintessentially and unapologetically difficult listening. Having heard all these artists play live, there is definitely something more satisfying in experiencing their works live and in the moment, no matter how much or how little gestural performativity is needed to make them. A large sound system and the collective listening experience better allows for the level of concentration required to really appreciate the impact of these sounds. However it’s important that these practices are documented, and Avantwhatever is creating a vital collection of some of the most interesting and challenging music currently being made.

Gail Priest

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Katarzyna Sitarz, 2011 Tanja Liedtke Fellow

Katarzyna Sitarz, 2011 Tanja Liedtke Fellow

Katarzyna Sitarz, 2011 Tanja Liedtke Fellow

I SPOKE WITH KATARZYNA SITARZ, THE 2011 TANJA LIEDTKE FELLOW, AFTER SHE HAD SPENT TIME ON CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT WITH HER AUSTRALIAN COLLABORATORS IN MELBOURNE AND WORKING IN SYDNEY WITH CHOREOGRAPHER LUCY GUERIN, DIRECTOR SIMON STONE AND ACTORS AND DANCERS ON GUERIN’S COMMISSIONED WORK FOR THE 2012 BELVOIR SEASON. AFTER OUR MEETING SHE WAS ABOUT TO SPEND SEVERAL MONTHS EXPLORING AUSTRALIA. I ASKED HER ABOUT HER BACKGROUND, HER TRAINING, THE EUROPEAN ARTISTS SHE’S WORKED WITH AND WHAT ATTRACTED HER TO AUSTRALIA AFTER WORKING WIDELY IN EUROPE.

Where are you from originally?

From Poland—the northwest. I lived in a town called Szczecin, which is close to the German border, very close to Berlin. After finishing high school, I left to go to university to study Russian Philology, a mixture of linguistics and culture. I spent a year there and then I left for Holland to study dance and choreography.

That’s an interesting shift from Russian Philology.

It’s a bit far away, but at the same time not so far. I’d been dancing since I was really young but it was always just for fun. Basically it was my mum’s solution to make me exhausted at the end of the day because I was this restless, hyper kid. It was never really like a ballet school with a focus on being professional but about having a good time, developing in different ways but more for pleasure. I continued that from age three or four so I’ve been always dancing and always doing different things at the same time—I played a lot of sport; I played piano for eight or 10 years.

I never thought about dancing professionally because at that time the borders were still closed, it wasn’t really an option. Also, I was never in a ballet school so that path was closed for me. Then in 2005 when we entered the European Union, suddenly the borders were open and it was easy to travel. No visas, no green cards, all those crazy immigration procedures. Suddenly there were opportunities to go abroad where I knew there were schools where you could get a higher education in dance, choreography and performing arts. I had worked in the opera in my hometown and later I was dancing part-time in theatre. I realised hey I’m really enjoying it and thought, okay, if I want to do something about it, I have to do it now when I’m 18-19. That was my choice to move to Holland.

The school (Rotterdam Dance Academy which is now called Codarts) was considered at the time one of the best in Europe and I had some friends there so I knew that the school was pretty technical. This was a challenge because I wasn’t really sure I would be accepted. At the same time, I thought what I need is technical support and a professional approach. The Dance Academy is connected with the Music School. The dance school at that time had a dance performing department, choreography department and teaching department. In my second year I made a choice to study choreography. So I was kind of doing the whole program.

Did you keep dancing or did your focus shift to choreography?

Both, which meant that I spent in the school from the early morning till very late—like living there! I love to work for people and with people, to collaborate just to learn how they deal with things. At the same time I love creating myself and I like to have time where I can say, okay that’s my little project and I want to do what I want, to develop, to see what’s possible.

The academy, from a choreographic point of view, was very much based in movement, so our work was “movement-based” which wasn’t necessarily always our interest. But we all had very different projects. We had to create different pieces and in Media Technologies we were creating our own little dance movies. We collaborated with dramaturgs and with set designers and composers. It was a big openness. What I’m saying is there was a focus on working with concepts but not in a highly conceptual way.

What kind of things interested you conceptually?

A concept gives me a certain frame, a frame of mind and a certain interest—a theme that I’m interested in. For example, if I’m creating physicality on stage or even researching physicality, there is a certain approach. So I can establish some kind of physicality, which will be each time different. I’m really interested in movement research—which kind of body do I need as a performer, which kind of physicality, what are the qualities, where do they come from and why. Questioning. I try not to get stuck in one particular comfortable movement or quality that my body naturally has or some people that I work with naturally have—pushing the borders. I’m very interested in basically being uncomfortable. I find it now as I’m in a transition moment where I’m not really established but neither am I just starting out. I’m in this zone where there are lots of options and I’m a little like a sponge absorbing and seeing how does it feel.

You graduated in 2009. So you’re absorbing lots of things but are you also finding you’re developing a conceptual rigour that’s your own, or a stylistic vocabulary, or is this part of the reason you’re here? Can you see something emerging that is “you”?

Yes definitely. Even in absorbing things, there is a certain process of selection I’m making consciously or unconsciously just because I’m interested in some things. But in a way I know I have quite a particular way of moving or approaching things. At this moment I’m also trying to challenge that. So I think I’m escaping being labelled or labelling myself. Each time I get into this zone, I go “not yet.” I don’t know why that is, if I’m scared or…

What about influences? You’ve worked with some interesting people Rosas Ensemble, Rui Horta, La Fura dels Baus. Have these offered you a variety of experience or inspiration?

I’m trying to work with as different people as possible. That way I can get into many different places within myself also. The latest work I did with Rui Horta; I moved to Portugal for that. So apart from the artistic journey and our collaboration it was also my personal journey into that culture and discovering people and a certain mentality and country. Rui Horta is a fantastic artist and person so to work with him was just a great pleasure. He’s very open in his vision and his approach.

He is very appreciative of people and of the effort they make. He’s working on the potential of people. At the beginning I was surprised he was very positive and he just loved what we were doing and he was shaping it, but never from a very negative place. I found this a very beautiful way of working. I’d like to cultivate that kind of approach in my own collaborations.

What different kinds of demands do they place on you as a dancer?

I’m adapting. This is what I like about being a freelance dancer/choreographer/performer, at least at this stage not being with a particular company or choreographer. I empty myself each time I work with somebody new. Of course, I carry history and my background and I cannot escape myself but it’s like each time I would work with someone I try to empty the cup in order to have a place, time and space for things to come, to arrive, to fill in. This is kind of like a process. It’s not always comfortable or always something that I know exactly. It’s always this being lost and not knowing. But I find it a beautiful approach.

In the range of work you’ve done, how much of it is based on steps, or tight knit choreography? Or is it a much more expansive experience?

I’m not really good at remembering steps. Of course, there is choreography that must be learned and this is my job. I enjoy improvisational structures. With Rui Horta, there were huge theatrical aspects. I kept speaking on stage from the very beginning to the end, either to myself or louder to the audience. That work was very theatrical, very physical. Some works are based more on improvisations and constant composition while performing. Some are more musical—with Rosas Ensemble it was collaboration with musicians. We were even not so much dancers as performers. Different projects demand different approaches.

What drew you to come to Australia?

This is actually a very interesting story. Obviously, I applied for Tanja Liedtke scholarship. But just before applying, somehow, everywhere I went—I’m travelling a lot in Europe; I don’t really have a stable place—I would bump into Australians. And I would get along really well with them. I found some qualities of being and approaching life and co-existing, very special—unique. Some qualities maybe I didn’t have. So I started to question what is this land Australia that produces such a people? That was before I applied. Aside from this the scholarship program was amazing and really appealing.

What have you been doing here?

The application consisted of my CV, my motivation, why I find it interesting for my future development, what I can offer, what I can share. It’s a lot about collaboration and sharing. The Tanja Liedtke scholarship has two parts. One is running your own creative development, which can be anything—it’s a really open field. The second part is working on a creative development with a local choreographer, which in my case was Lucy Guerin. So I had to write my own concept, which was very much based around collaboration to develop a short work—a blind date.

Working with other dancers or other artists in general?

Other artists. My concept for that project is something new and it started from before coming Australia. It’s basically a concept of home. I was questioning it from different angles: what is home; what does it mean; is it a place; is it a mental state? I found actually coming here to Australia really interesting for the project because I would really be away from my zone, my field, my home, all the way to the other side of the globe, standing upside down! The other part of the concept would be collaborating with people I didn’t know—other artists, not necessarily dancers. Actually I didn’t work with dancers. I made a choice of working with a visual/media artist, a dramaturg/actor/writer and a composer. This team also came together step by step. I was open for whatever was available. So it was a ‘blind date’ organised by Shane Carroll from the Tanja Liedtke Foundation who was taking care of everything.

Did you get much time to work with these people?

With Zoe Scoglio the visual/media artist, we had three weeks together. With all of them, we kept emailing before I came. So I shared with them the concept, not necessarily what I wanted to do—I didn’t know what we were going to be doing because I try to keep it open…it’s a collaboration, not me imposing a work on somebody. We started from sitting and talking and getting to know one another. With Matt Cornell whom I met last year in Vienna, we’d spoken before but we had one week together in the studio in the last week. Meantime Josh Tyler is based here in Sydney. He’s an actor/writer and dramaturg. We were emailing a lot and he was also writing some text because I was working with text and some approaches to it…he was in the studio with us for two days. So I had different ways of working with these people.

Do you feel that’s come to a satisfying stage of development?

It was more an experiment to see how we could merge together. We had a presentation at the end of three weeks, which was a compilation of different ideas we were trying out. All the time now that I look at it, it was more about generating ideas, not necessarily developing them further. Because the subject is so philosophical and broad, we could go anywhere—there were still some places we didn’t go.

Can you give me an example of something that came out of it?

Joshua Tyler, Katarzyna Sitarz, Zoe Scoglio, Home creative team

Joshua Tyler, Katarzyna Sitarz, Zoe Scoglio, Home creative team

Joshua Tyler, Katarzyna Sitarz, Zoe Scoglio, Home creative team

We narrowed down everything and divided our work into three major parts, one being Home as a Body. We had two different things between Zoe and me: me being actually physically a ‘home’ for projection. We were projecting little versions of me dancing and using the surface of my body as a landscape. Then we went in a different direction into Intimacy and Absence of the Body. Again we were working with projections on my body. Zoe would be finding different objects or using her own body, her own hands and presence being projected on me. We went into Navigations—directions, searching for home, partly because we were talking a lot about nomadic cultures. Then we were working with walkie-talkies on an idea of Here, Near and Far but still having one point of reference. One walkie-talkie section involved setting one device in a place where we ‘stored’ people—part of the room. We made an architectural plan of a house just using simple white tape. We made a house and we guided people into a little room or a big room, spaces with very abstract borders because home can contain very abstract ideas and agreements between people. I welcomed people and then I left. I continued the journey outside. Mark preferred to create a really interesting soundscape so we were playing this through the walkie-talkie to create different spaces and different journeys.

We also made a short movie about being in a house but being homeless. We decided a slug is a snail with a housing problem. It was more about that mental and emotional state when you are in a place but you’re not really there. So you’re kind of lost. And then we set the physicality where I would just be constantly shaking and being out of any kind of control.

Is this something you might work on in the future or do you see it simply as something that you’re glad you’ve done?

Oh, I definitely see a future for it. There is so much potential. We did so many really interesting things that I feel that I need to digest it because it was quite an intense process—three weeks of brainstorming and making and finding a common aesthetic language. I would love to carry on with it, especially as it’s a subject that’s very present in my life.

What about your experience with Lucy Guerin?

That was a really interesting process. She was working with three dancers and three actors. And I was an ‘extra’ doing whatever I could share or do. I was really very much part of it while the research was going on, trying out different options and tasks and possibilities. Once Lucy started to shape the work a bit more, I stepped out in order to observe it. I was really glad I could participate in the process from the very beginning. So it’s not that I was joining something already underway. And the other thing was that because of the collaboration Lucy is making with Belvoir and the actors, she wasn’t in her comfort zone, in her field where she’s super under control. I could relate to this just because of my own experience. It was interesting to observe how she was dealing with things, approaching the work, because it was also research; how she’s shaping it, timing it, which kinds of tasks she’s setting. Another beautiful thing is just the way she works with people. Just as I was saying about Rui Horta, Lucy Guerin is such an amazing, beautiful woman who appreciates people and their effort and the qualities they have. It was a pleasure to be with all of them. The group was really great.

And all up it’s been a good experience for you?

It was a great experience. I’m not saying it was the easiest one because I had to find myself here, in the Australian mentality, the Australian approach towards things, finding ways to communicate with people, to have a common understanding which wasn’t always an easy thing just because we could look at one thing from very different perspectives. We would be speaking about something and after a few hours there would be a sudden ‘Okay! this is what you mean!’ It sometimes takes time and energy and leads to some frustrations, but…What I enjoyed a lot was coming here and being a little bit like a blank paper. I don’t know the people; I don’t know who’s who. I’m not engaged in any political whatever or social structures. It was a pleasure to see work, to like it or not, with this kind of approach. For a long time I haven’t had this. I felt like a little bit like this innocent child.

It’s good that Dance Massive was on and there was so much for you to see.

That was really great. What I would like to add is how grateful I am for the opportunity and to all the people I met on my path and who supported the project. Shane Carroll was just an angel looking after everything—even making sure I looked in the right direction crossing the road! I found people very open and very supportive. The Arts House team were great for my collaboration. Whatever I asked, there was never a ‘no.’ Almost everything was possible. There was always trying, always options. I’m not used to working like that. Very often I work in surroundings that would be like “no, this is not possible” or “go and deal with it yourself.” So this is something ‘wow’ for me. Big support and very friendly community and very open people.

For information about the Tanja Liedtke Foundation and Fellowship go to http://www.tanja-liedtke-foundation.org.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Chris Williams' Il Pleut, Fresh Meat, 2011

Chris Williams’ Il Pleut, Fresh Meat, 2011

Chris Williams’ Il Pleut, Fresh Meat, 2011

THERE WAS A PALPABLE BUZZ OF EXCITEMENT AS ORGANISERS GLUED THEMSELVES TO MOBILE PHONES, ENSEMBLES REHEARSED LATE INTO THE NIGHT AND COMPOSERS FROM AROUND AUSTRALIA BOARDED BUDGET FLIGHTS IN THE LEAD UP TO FRESH MEAT 2011. PRESENTED BY MELBOURNE RECITAL CENTRE IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE NEW MUSIC NETWORK, THE EVENT SHOWCASED THE STRIKING DIVERSITY OF STYLES CURRENTLY BEING DEVELOPED BY EMERGING COMPOSERS. SIGNALLING A REFLECTIVE MUSIC SCENE, COMPOSERS COULD BE HEARD BALANCING TECHNICAL EXPERIMENTATION, METAPHYSICAL ANALOGY AND PROGRAMMATIC DEPICTION TO STARTLING AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING EFFECT.

the finite, the infinite & the infinitesimal

Melody Eötvös’ string quartet and Annie Hui-Hsinn Hsieh’s quartet for clarinet, violin, viola and piano were united by a Bartokian minor-mode lyricism and a rather sad metaphysics. In Olber’s Dance in the Dark based on Olber’s paradox—that the universe could not be infinite as then the night sky would be bright with an infinity of stars—Eötvös’ strident chords of increasing density gradually confirmed the universe’s finitude. A deflating proposition, until the increasing wonder of the chords’ harmonic invention leads one to contemplate the possibilities that are opened up by restriction, in this case the universe of tonal constellations.

Hui-Hsinn Hsieh’s Towards the Beginning

Hui-Hsinn Hsieh’s Towards the Beginning

Hui-Hsinn Hsieh’s Towards the Beginning conjures a Taoist, cyclic universe. However, the interest of this piece is not in the ABA form that arises from its subtext, but in the composer’s use of timbre. Multiphonics—combining a fundamental tone and a higher, harmonic tone—on the clarinet and strings produce an ethereal atmosphere from which a fragmented, modal dirge emerges. The coalescing snatches of melody are shattered by a chord from the piano, leaving the original shimmering surface in its wake.

Chris Williams’ percussion piece Il Pleut (based on Apollinaire’s poem) builds textures from infinitesimal points of sound. Through a sort of instrumental granular synthesis, washes of attacks build into blocks of sound that shift as the percussionists explore different instrumentation. As an examination of “the tension between the musical finite and infinite,” the piece was most interesting at the threshold between a sound and its parts, when staggered attacks were on train to coalesce or break apart.

sound encounters

Three works on the program looked at the way different instruments altered the same musical material. This idea is very, very old. At least until the advent of electroacoustic music the main way to discuss timbre was with reference to instrumentation. As such, musical ideas have always been subject to instrumental comment, even—I would argue—when instrumentation was not indicated in scores, at which times convention would have dictated the distribution of instrumental resources. It is therefore up to performers or a program to keep such naked exploration interesting.

Timothy Tate’s Departures focuses on sonic analogues between the clarinet, viola and piano. Viola pizzicati are interpreted as clarinet tongue slaps and plucked piano strings while glissandi become runs and arpeggios. With rapid question and answer phrases, the composition reminded me of a slapstick Loony Toons score, though this comic air was not to be found in the performance.

Alex Pozniak’s From the Formless, on the other hand, was hilarious. Favouring superimposition over juxtaposition, From the Formless has a crowded and chaotic texture. Simon Charles, Peter Dumsday and Jonathan Heilbron played up the comical energy of this pandemonium as the instruments, or rather the instrumentalists, simultaneously tried to make the scratchiest, burbliest, quackiest noises possible.

Such compositional devices do not always have to be humorous. Luke Paulding’s quartet for flute, clarinet, double bass and percussion combined juxtaposition and superimposition of timbres in graceful sound poetry. Titled In Her sparkling flesh in saecular ecstasy, the point of the work was not to find sonic analogues, but neighbouring sounds that lead the ear along the curves of a sonic sculpture: to be precise, the sonic sculpture that Paulding draws from Richard Wilbur’s poem “A Baroque Wall Fountain in the Villa Sciarra.” The largely impressionist sonic palette flows and splashes like Wilbur’s fountain: cymbal crashes and an arcing ejaculation from the clarinet release the cascade that rushes through rattling skewers and strikes of the double bass bow on the strings (“flatteries of spray”), shimmering woodwinds (“a clambering mesh of water-lights”) and a truly incontinent “ragged, loose collapse of water” played by all. The work concludes much as it begins, with the somehow obscene burbling of a clarinet mouthpiece in a glass of water.

percussive programming

Amy Bastow's Never OdD or Even, Fresh Meat, 2011

Amy Bastow’s Never OdD or Even, Fresh Meat, 2011

Amy Bastow’s Never OdD or Even, Fresh Meat, 2011

Amy Bastow’s Never OdD or Even is a musical take on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Having suffered from OCD and Tourette’s Syndrome as a child I did feel a little uncomfortable when the ensemble entered the salon twitching and counting their steps. “Is this funny?” I asked myself. I suppose so, even if I couldn’t shake a certain sadness that stole over me during the performance. OCD is a living nightmare. The compulsion itself is less like a desire to be fulfilled than a pursuer in those dreams where you can’t run properly. Bastow brilliantly captures the persistent, exhausting nature of OCD. Right when it seems the driving rhythms, mockingly major-mode additive phrases and frenzied tempi have ceased they are back, louder and faster than ever. I particularly like Bastow’s wearied lyrical passages that express something of the beleaguered exhaustion proper to a day of obsessive counting, retraced steps and compulsive twitching. With a similar demonic force, Anthony Moles took the idea of small machines within larger machines to produce a driving solo piano piece, just as manically as mechanically performed by Peter Dumsday.

Invigorating works that would otherwise lie dormant in computer files, the performers’ commitment deserves special mention. In particular, clarinettist Karen Heath seemed to hold many of the performances together with the gestures and physical intensity proper to performing in small ensembles. The power of the performer was evident not only in the above works, but in the inspired execution of Joseph Twist’s jazzy Le Tombeau de Monk, Mark Wolf’s grotesque Hamarøy Troll, Mark Oliviero’s electro-acoustic memoir Tanox, and Nicole Murphy’s composition for ballet Eve.

Melbourne Recital Centre & New Music Network, Fresh Meat, 2011, composers Amy Bastow, Alex Pozniak, Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, Luke Paulding, Timothy Tate, Melody Eötvös, Chris Williams, Nicole Murphy, Anthony Moles, Mark Wolf, Mark Olivero and Joseph Twist; Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, Aug 25

For more on young composers see review of Breaking Out at Totally Huge New Music 2011

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Matthew Lorenzon; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Rebecca Jensen, Document

Rebecca Jensen, Document

Rebecca Jensen, Document

JACQUES DERRIDA FAMOUSLY CRITICISED THE IDEA THAT WRITING MERELY RECORDS THE SPOKEN WORD. WRITING, HE ARGUED, IS A FORCE UNTO ITSELF. IT DOES NOT PLAY SECOND FIDDLE TO ANOTHER MEDIUM SUCH AS SPEECH. WHAT CAN WE SAY ABOUT DANCE THEN? WHAT KIND OF TRACE DOES THE WORK OF DANCE LEAVE AND UPON WHAT KIND OF SURFACE?

While the body is the central medium of dance, there have over the years been many other modes of recording dance, including writing, painting, photography, film and video. And yet, US theorist Peggy Phelan argues that performance is ephemeral, that it cannot be saved, recorded or documented. These two tendencies, the preservation of the trace and the disappearance of performance are both negotiated in Sandra Parker’s latest work, Document, which investigates the capture of the trace.

In this instance, document is a verb—to document—an activity that aims to create rather than simply capture. Parker’s Document is a process, the pursuit of a question. The performance outcome of her three-month spell at Dancehouse as Housemate either presumes that performance is more than ephemeral (contra Phelan) or includes the audience within its question and leaves the answer open. I like to think it is the latter.

In any case, a performance occurs. Some would say this is proof that Phelan is right: old work can only generate new work, breeding a difference in kind, another animal. And yet, time isn’t quite so linear. The room is set up like a rehearsal space. Three women flank the space (Gwen Holmberg-Gilchrist, Rose Connors Dance, Sandra Parker). They manage the space, its lighting states and, more ambiguously (Parker on laptop), its conditions of emergence.

The experience (but not the story) begins with the usual studio sweep. Dancer Rebecca Jensen sketches a few vague moves then departs. The moment stills. Jensen re-enters the space. She evokes a cultivated elegance, shoulders slightly drawn in towards the back. The flip side is a sternum that speaks out, a demeanour that whispers of ballet gone by. A series of movement assays, stop-start, the dancer is sorting something out; for herself, for us, but also for Parker.

A lined page is projected onto a whiteboard. Instructions appear. The writing performs itself, quite beautiful. Jensen dances, her actions coupled to these instructions. We read her dancing as we read the image of the words. There is something distal in this dancing, as if it all began from the outside and is slowly permeating the core. The spine is secondary, the limbs primary.

Upon reflection, and in light of the process, I am not surprised. Rebecca Jensen is a young dancer who has not worked with Parker before. In the creation of Document, Parker drew in several dancers with extensive experience of her work: Carlee Mellow, Jo Lloyd, Deanne Butterworth and Annabelle Balharry. All came in to share body memories. Jensen’s task was to pick up these memories, mediated through language, and adapt them to her own body. Little wonder then that this external source seeps in from the edges. By the end of Document, this is less apparent, Jensen’s corporeal sense of authorship is more internally derived and less peripheral. She maintains concentration throughout.

The movements performed are a form of condensation or translation. They are excerpts, tops and tails perhaps, or temporal markers of particular moments. We see a dancer quite absorbed in these actions. Visually, the whiteboard pursues its own graphic logic, though it’s clear that these marks represent choreographic authority. Jensen repeats an action down a numbered list of suggested qualities and instructions such as ‘indecision’ and ‘turn away.’ Next, the board shows a rectangle with crosses and lines. Jensen performs truncated actions, at differing heights. Small falls bridge the gaps.

Time zones ultimately converge. The time code on the board brings the performance into the moment and to a close. What is this time code? Is it the time of performance, 40 odd minutes of work and image? Or does it include times past? Document draws in the corporeal past to create something new out of the old. It is a device, a mechanism of innovation. But it aims for more than that. The very reference to something other within this new iteration suggests a certain ambiguity around what it is that we are watching. The intensity of the three women on the sidelines, the variety of graphic logics, the palpable challenges facing Jensen, suggest a complexity beyond the skin of the present moment.

If time is more than a perspective taken, then it may well be possible to open it up to further exploration, to loop back and forth. Document plays between modes of appearance, graphic and kinaesthetic. As performance, it’s very cool jazz. The room is a laboratory but the outcome is aesthetic. This has bearing upon its evaluation, whether the work is an exploration, an artwork or a form of time travel. In any case, the result is a provocation to think, a perception of time beyond the linear.

Document, choreographer, director Sandra Parker, dancer Rebecca Jensen, projection design Rhian Hinkley, lighting Jenny Hector, sound: Steve Heather, James Wilkinson; Dancehouse, Melbourne, July 27-31

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 16

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Tom Christophersen, Machine Atlas

Tom Christophersen, Machine Atlas

Tom Christophersen, Machine Atlas

THE TITLE OF SHOPFRONT’S LATEST PRODUCTION, MACHINE ATLAS, SUGGESTS SEVERAL POSSIBILITIES. FIRST, IT CONJURES AN ATLAS OF TECHNOLOGY, AN IMPOSSIBLE COMPENDIUM OF ALL THE MACHINES EVER MADE. SECOND, IT MAKES ME THINK OF AN ATLAS FOR A MACHINE—A VAST MAP OF ITS MYSTERIOUS INTERIOR—AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE BORING MANUALTHAT USUALLY ACCOMPANIES A PURCHASE. THEN OF COURSE, I WONDER WHETHER THE ATLAS ITSELF COULD NOW BE PUBLISHED AS A MACHINE. UNTIL I REALISE THAT IT ALREADY HAS BEEN, IN THE FORM OF GPS DEVICES. MACHINE ATLAS SETS MY IMAGINATION FIRING BEFORE I EVEN LEAVE THE HOUSE.

The evening begins on a Kogarah footpath in Sydney’s south in front of six screens roughly two metres high. Through a combination of projection and backlighting, a series of silhouettes emerges. The shapes suggest that machine-human hybrids are hiding on the other side: there are some recognisably human profiles and limbs, but also some suspiciously odd-looking additions and protrusions. This is followed by a magnificent monologue from one of the young performers about the long and complex history of humans and their machines.

The screens are moved to the side and we are invited to enter a mall where a “mysterious night market of mechanisms” awaits us. To the left, a man is distilling a “truth serum”—a complicated process that involves a member of the audience, several cups full of coloured fluids (red for love, green for envy, yellow for innocence) as well as some shredded paper and a sieve. Eventually a tiny vial of truth serum emerges to much applause. Further along we enter the Reanimator, constructed from black sheets and glow-in-the-dark stickers and with the casual and wayward look of a living-room fort. Winding our way through we soon meet a young man, who asks us who we would like to reanimate. We’re feeling scientific so we say Francis Bacon. He types the name onto an old typewriter and produces an old computer mouse, which he claims belonged to Bacon.

When we exit the Reanimator, we come across the Machinist Photobooth (really a small stage with a performer operating a digital camera). This is a great hit with the younger audience members: resplendent against a backdrop of rainbow stripes and fairy lights, they are photographed for posterity. Next to the photo booth there is a large screen with black and white animations made by and about school students. Nearby you can interact with Robosoft Windows, which places an individual performer in a clear box and the audience in control. When the spectator selects a tool such as the pencil, eraser or roller the performer enacts each of those actions.

While I can’t bring myself to interact with Robosoft Windows (too close to home for someone who spends her days on a word processor), I can’t resist entering the Biomechanics Booth. Here I am asked my age, birth gender, current gender, how long it takes me to power up in the morning and down in the evening, and when I had my last upgrade and service. The performer, looking a little like a manga cartoon figure with her blue wig, then asks me to close my eyes while she inserts a new chip into my wrist (bandaged on) before sending me on my way.

Every so often this mechanical carnival is interrupted by a siren or whistle, signalling another more theatrical interlude. Early on we are invited onto the street to see a boy dancing in and on a car. Later we stop to watch the human-machine hybrids perform a weird waltz in the middle of the crowd, while we step awkwardly out of the way. If it reads like chaos, it sometimes is—but it’s also exciting and there is a constant sense of anticipation.

As with technology itself—will it liberate or enslave us?—the dramaturgy of Machine Atlas is not always clear. It opens strongly but then seems to grind to a halt as we stand about waiting to access individual installations. Other times it lurches into action and we have to move fast in order not to miss it. One of my viewing companions comments that he’d like to see a human emerge at the end and put all the machines away, perhaps evidence of the almost irresistible desire to reassert human agency. But maybe this ambiguity is okay and more importantly, maybe it is a more accurate reflection of our relationship with machines. This prompts one last thought about the work’s title—what if we are not mapping but rather being mapped by our machines? What on earth would an atlas of humanity look like and where, for that matter, would actors fit in?

Shopfront Contemporary Arts & Performance, Machine Atlas, director Caitlin Newton-Broad, outreach director Sarah Emery, performed by members of Ensemble 2011, movement, Victoria Hunt, sound Michael Moebus (Meem), lighting Stephen Hawker, video Sasha Cohen, design Robin Whitmore, costume design Katja Handt; Kogarah, Sydney, Aug 26-28

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 32

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

It Sounds Silly, Chunky Move

It Sounds Silly, Chunky Move

It Sounds Silly, Chunky Move

ADAM WHEELER’S IT SOUNDS SILLY IS THE FOURTH PRODUCTION IN THE NEXT MOVE, A SERIES OF DANCE PERFORMANCES BY YOUNG CHOREOGRAPHERS, COMMISSIONED AND PRODUCED BY CHUNKY MOVE. AFTER BYRON PERRY AND ANTHONY HAMILTON’S I LIKE THIS (RT89), MICHELLE HEAVEN’S DISAGREEABLE OBJECT (RT103), AND STEPHANIE LAKE’S MIX TAPE (RT99), HERE IS ANOTHER SHORT, DRAMATURGICALLY MODEST WORK.

Next Move productions have so far all been different sorts of ‘dance in a box’ products, armed with extraordinary clarity of vision and purpose, as such being useful as mini dance primers. Positioning It Sounds Silly outdoors, on an important pedestrian nexus point adjacent to Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station, not exceedingly past the peak hour, was therefore a constructive intervention. At its primary level, it made It Sounds Silly work as a particularly astute piece of public art, one that presented a resplendent image of Australian youth back to its people. For every dozen spectators rugged up in the ad-hoc auditorium, there clearly to support a son or daughter performing, at least two office workers or urban joggers stopped in their tracks or looked momentarily over their shoulders, entranced. Robin Fox’s large-scale video installation, Benjamin Cisterne’s equally elaborate lighting and the tangible charm of the 28 young dancers constituted a spectacle that combined simplicity, beauty and innocence as well as sense of community and purpose—as if the city had acquired a very well behaved, underage, open-air disco.

Using as its starting point the dancers’ childhoods, It Sounds Silly builds as a series of images of the strange things the performers believed when they were young. It quickly progresses from humorous (“when I was little, I ate a lot of cheese, because I thought it would make my voice more squeaky”) to linger on the frightening. At one memorable point, the dancers line up from the oldest to the youngest, each introducing themselves and one of their fears. The fear line-up changed between performances, reflecting the dancers’ momentary preoccupations, but a clear pattern was nonetheless established: quick descent from fully formed relationship and identity anxieties of the 20-somethings to more inchoate fears of the younger kids—falling, social embarrassment, monsters under the bed, right down to marrying a woman named Helen if one’s surname is Pellin.

The degree of metaphor varies, from mime-like literalisation, via swaying monsters built of clusters of dancers, to complex compositions teetering on formlessness, in which phantasmagorias of childhood are represented as half-image, half-mood. The latter are the most successful: in their labyrinthine, repetitive, playgroundish, unsurveyable synchronicity, they managed to simultaneously evoke the work of two Flemish masters: Brueghel’s ethnographic figuration and Bosch’s conceptual fantasies. Close up, these semi-trained dancers perform with physical elasticity, imprecision and undeniable freshness—they are predominantly interesting as bodies with strong, unschooled presence. However, from further away, it is possible to appreciate the large-scale intelligence of the stage imagery, and the performance reveals that, just like Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, it is much more than a mere jumble of intriguing detail. Wheeler’s choreography, respectful of the disorientation in time and space native to a child’s worldview, adopts composition rules that are thus properly pre-Copernican.

A certain kind of framing is crucial to the enjoyment of this work. While It Sounds Silly is hardly groundbreaking, it is coherently conceived, intelligently plotted and courageously executed. As a work based on the physical and mental qualities of its young performers, it is rigorously truthful to its material.

Chunky Move, Next Move & SIGNAL: It Sounds Silly, director, choreographer Adam Wheeler, multimedia designer Robin Fox, lighting Benjamin Cisterne, sound Alisdair Macindoe, costumes Benjamin Hancock, SIGNAL, Flinders Walk, Melbourne, August 19-20

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 16

© Jana Perkovic; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

I Feel Awful, Black Lung and Whaling Firm a

I Feel Awful, Black Lung and Whaling Firm a

I Feel Awful, Black Lung and Whaling Firm a

THE SETTING IS THE PRODUCTION OFFICE OF THE BLACK LUNG THEATRE AND WHALING FIRM COMPLETE WITH POT PLANTS. THE COMPANY NAME ALREADY CONNOTED A CORPORATE SPOOF IN CONGENIAL TERRY GILLIAM STYLE.

But what to make of a show where a portrait of Zionist military icon David Ben-Gurion crashes to the ground, Theodor Adorno’s famous statement that after Auschwitz there will be no more poetry (no more comedy?) is enunciated by the character Aaron who opportunistically proclaims his Jewish heritage in the context of appropriating someone else’s script—“It’s all about me”—followed by the outrageous remark that the office was run like a concentration camp, only with more (or was it less?) discipline. What to make of this confusion of signs (and the obvious lacuna of Palestine)? I didn’t take it, as some others did, as a comment on anti-Semitism. Semitic/anti-Semitic? Stop/Go?

Part surreal review or a series of brilliantly crafted, satirical skits on film, television and theatre in the Swiftian sense of being often grotesque and graphically disturbing (Thomas Wright covered in blood as the aftermath to a ritual bacchanal of hysterical male rage), it was also reminiscent of pre-digital pastimes in more innocent, stoned days, where by switching channels on the TV set we sampled our own reconstructions of the public narrative.

On a naturalistic, ‘real life,’ level of presentation, it was like a more offensive version of The Office which belongs to the vein of 21st century comedy that gets much of its mileage from making the audience cringe. In this case, the all-male, apparently misogynist ensemble of The Black Lung exploit and sexually harass the tribe of young Brisbane performers (beautifully integrated into the mature ensemble) whom they are supposed to be mentoring as work experience students. The degree of subtly portrayed power plays and the complete ignorance of having crossed boundaries on the part of the perpetrators was appropriately squirmacious. But these young people were wised up. There was the facsimile of a palace revolution, but I was moved by the young woman who declared, “I don’t know what to do now” (an echo of the Russian revolutionary Lenin’s pamphlet “What is to be Done?”).

A narrative conceit of the demise of Michael Gow, the former artistic director who commissioned the work I Feel Awful for the Queensland Theatre Company, seemed part affectionate tribute, part celebratory slaying of the father. His memorial portrait also suffers a similar fate to that of fallen idol Ben-Gurion as theatre flats crash to the ground signalling the ultimate collapse of the societal (and theatrical) structures we are all implicated in preserving. The fractured lesbian fairytales provided by comical (mis)readings from Gow’s works caused some ire, but again I read it as this company’s anarchic concern to explode implicit binarisms wherever they exist in the minds of the audience.

There seems to be a salutary awareness on the part of this company that they are fatally involved in an industry of distraction. They appeared to be resisting the homogenisation that implies a classless, genderless world that is the result of media technologies that dematerialise, de-individualise, de-centre the subject and to have re-invoked the notion that, as the French Situationist Guy Debord put it in the Society of the Spectacle, “everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.” But as a theatre of revolt to wake us from liberal dreams, it seemed compromised by its own situation as part of the Brisbane Festival.

Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm and Queensland Theatre Company: I Feel Awful, writer, director, designer Thomas M Wright, performers Liam Barton, Gareth Davies, Aaron Orzech, Vaczadenjo Wharton-Thomas, Thomas M Wright, Courtney Ammenhauser, Finn Gilfedder, Will Horan, Tiarnee Kim, Mary Neary, Essie O’Shaughnessy, Charlie Schache, Nathan Sibthorpe, Stephanie Tandy, design consultant Simone Romaniuk, lighting Govin Ruben; QTC Billie Brown Studio, Brisbane, Aug 22–Sept 10

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 32

© Douglas Leonard; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Side to One, Lisa Griffiths, Craig Bary

Side to One, Lisa Griffiths, Craig Bary

Side to One, Lisa Griffiths, Craig Bary

THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS HAS SEEN THE EMERGENCE OF A NEW BREED OF AUSTRALIAN CHOREOGRAPHERS, ALL OF WHOM HAVE HAD OR ARE CONTINUING TO HAVE DISTINGUISHED CAREERS AS DANCERS, WORKING WITH SOME OF THE COUNTRY’S LEADING CONTEMPORARY DANCE COMPANIES AND CHOREOGRAPHERS.

Like Tanja Liedtke and Shaun Parker before them, it is now Anton, Daniel Jaber, Alisdair Macindoe, Larissa McGowan and Gabrielle Nankivell (see page 36) who are finding their own artistic voices—often creating works for tertiary students first but eventually presenting pieces with dancers of their own choosing.

Recently it was Craig Bary’s and Lisa Griffiths’ turn to make their choreographic debut together. Their duet Side To One premiered to critical and popular acclaim at Adelaide’s Space Theatre in July followed by an equally successful season at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta. Created in close collaboration with Adam Synnott in the role of sound and interactive designer, the piece is a highly polished dance media creation, exploring the idea of ‘soul mates’ and the interplay of human connection.

In conversation with Bary and Griffiths, it is easy to see why the soul mate concept would have appealed to them. Having been friends and colleagues for many years, they share the kind of familiarity that allows them to finish each other’s sentences without noticing. It is no surprise then to hear that ever since they first worked together at Tasdance in 2002, choreographers remarked upon their strong compatibility as dancing partners. Numerous duets were created for them as a result.

In 2006, Bary and Griffiths decided to take matters into their own hands and undertook a research residency at Critical Path, being mentored by choreographer Sue Healey with whom they have an ongoing working relationship. The idea of making a work together couldn’t have been further from their minds then. “We actually never thought we’d get to that stage,” laughs Griffiths. “The first residency was just about Craig and I exploring our partnering skills and researching how our life friendship translates through into our partnering in dance and how we feel there is a very strong link in that trust.” Bary agrees: “We had been dancing together for so long that we managed to develop an instinctual way of communicating with each other, where you can just know what the other person is physically feeling or even emotionally feeling sometimes. So we went in, exploring how we could use that in making movement.”

Their original point of departure was to investigate how they could move as one, how to make themselves one person. And it was during that initial research, notes Griffiths, that they bought an oversized jumper from an op shop, meant “as an additional layer of skin”, which ended up featuring prominently in the final work. The idea to confine their stage area to a white box with a Perspex top that could be lit from underneath also originated during that initial research phase.

Buoyed by both their findings and the fun they had experimenting together outside their usual work environment, Bary and Griffiths continued to seek out a series of research and development opportunities over the next few years, often in the form of funded residencies. As the confidence in their own methodology grew, they became increasingly attracted to the idea of concentrating their energies on creating a piece together. “Lisa and I found we are both quite good at editing ourselves,” says Bary. “We will make a lot of material and we will try a lot of different things but we will also be able to go – no, that doesn’t work. No, that’s not necessary.” Griffiths adds: “We’ve also been a good outside eye for each other, which is probably a thing that our generation does now. We don’t have that rehearsal director there all the time. We watch and learn from each other and we’re constantly giving feedback to each other. And that all becomes part of the process.”

After several years of continued support, their endeavour came to a temporary halt at the beginning of 2009 when their application to the Australia Council for the final development of the work was unsuccessful. Bary and Griffiths admit to experiencing the rejection as a major setback. In retrospect, however, they have come to view the forced hiatus in their process as an important and much-needed period of reflection. “This work has always just had its natural development,” Griffiths suggests. “The time wasn’t then to push it, the time was to let it settle.” Bary couldn’t agree more: “A few years ago we didn’t realise the power of perhaps what this work can be. And now we can feel that. If we look at what we made in 2008, a lot of that is gone now and we have moved into a whole new realm.”

The thematic and stylistic shift Bary is referring to came about in 2010 when he and Griffiths resumed work on Side To One during an Ausdance NSW space residency. “We knew at that stage that we were making a work,” says Griffiths. “And a work needs that ebb and flow, the highs and the lows. So we felt we needed darker tones for the piece. We started to ask: What happens when opposites clash? What happens when fear, resentment and suspicion enter a relationship?” Bary was especially interested in the subtleties of conflict. “It’s not necessarily about having a punch-up,” he laughs. “It doesn’t have to be violent. It’s more about differences—the difference between us.” To avoid the cliché of expressing conflict through dance, Giffiths adds, they experimented with using their voices and introduced spoken text into the work in form of a conversation the sound of which is digitally distorted by Bary.

Another significant shift that occurred around that time was the strengthening of Adam Synnott’s role as the key collaborator on the project. He had joined the process as sound and interactive designer in 2008 and gradually became an integral part of the production, playing sound and operating the interactive projections live on stage. Bary says it was vital to establish Synnot as a counterpart to his and Griffiths’ actions. Griffith nods: “We felt it was important that is doesn’t just become about Craig and Lisa on stage, doing their thing. It needed to be about the experience of an integrated live performance.”

Finishing Side To One earlier this year and subsequently presenting it in both Adelaide and Sydney has meant that the artistic experiment Bary and Griffiths embarked on together all those years ago has come to an end. For the time being that is. They are now in the process of looking into further opportunities to present the piece. For now though, Bary and Griffiths are clearly excited about what they have achieved so far. “What’s still the hardest though,” Bary quips, “is that as choreographers we can’t blame the dancers for doing a bad show and as dancers we can’t blame the choreographers for giving us crappy material to do.”

When asked about future collaborations, it is Griffiths who says she has an idea for a new work. Currently in the preparation stage, the piece has the working title Chance and will feature four dancers. Griffiths is adamant that she will be in charge: “I’d like to be on the outside this time,” she grins, adding after a pause, with an even bigger grin: “But I definitely want Craig to be a dancer in it.”

Side to One, dancer-choreographers Craig Bary, Lisa Griffiths, sound, interactive design Adam Synnott, lighting Ben Flett; Adelaide Festival Centre, July 27-30; Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, Sydney, Aug 10-13

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 18

© Martin del Amo; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

This Is It, Team MESS

This Is It, Team MESS

This Is It, Team MESS

THE STAGE IS SIMPLY BUT STYLISHLY SET FOR A PRESS CONFERENCE. BEHIND THE LONG BLACK TABLE WITH DESK MICROPHONES AND GLASSES OF WATER IS A RED AND WHITE WALL POSTER WITH A BOTOX-INJECTED FONT REPEATING LOUDLY “THIS IS IT.”

Entering the PICA performance space, the audience have been given a press kit for a fictitious film of the same name as the show, but not much time to read it. When the lights go down we are shown five short cinematic trailers, each one laden with suspense, desire and danger: a woman’s fingernails plunge into eroticised back flesh; a man discovers a buried suitcase while walking in a grim Australian forest; and a cloaked, menacing figure is silhouetted by tongues of fire.

Shot in distinctive art house style but also with unashamed cliché, these suggestive glimpses prepare us for the press conference to follow, the format on which the rest of the performance is based.

The charismatic media presenter for the PICA performance season is special guest Mark Naglazas, a journalist from the West Australian newspaper, acting for all the world as if the audience are also members of the press who will soon be in possession of the roving microphone. Promoted thus to industry colleagues, we all applaud when Naglazas introduces the faux celebrities onto the stage. As they gesture regally to the paparazzi, we take in the elegant Natalie Kate Randall, who plays Caroline the smouldering vamp and victim; a slightly goofy Malcom Whittaker, the naive hero Jim, Caroline’s devoted lover; and Frank Mainoo, an Olympic silver-medalist boxer turned actor who is the villainous kidnapper in the film. Just as the five trailers were an excessive introduction the actors also deliberately take their time waving, smiling and loving their audience loving them. When Naglazas kicks off the questions we hear vague and seemingly articulate accounts of working with a risky, mad director (Dara Gill, also the director of the performance), coping with the demands of largely improvised shoots (writer credits actually go to Simi Knezivic) and dealing with the on and off-stage sexual tension between cast members. The performers have a strong and relaxed rapport, even if their stage presence is not always amped or magnetic.

The show intensifies when a complicit audience starts to fire the questions, introducing themselves as official representatives from real or fake radio stations, newspapers or magazines. It is an intimate crowd, and some are known local performers (not plants) who take on the mantle of the press club expert with relish and comic sensibility. This foray into multiple authorship and improvisation adds a frisson and live-ness to what has now become a choose-your-own-adventure story. Open to any twist or turn that questions and answers may take, the film’s narrative and its behind-the-scenes antics build in horror, humour and sordidness. On this particular evening, the implied gratuitous violence and sexual antics involving Caroline are especially disturbing, mirroring the same morbid fascination that television has for dead or compromised women. We cannot know if the same stories emerge in other performances or if this trajectory is as provisional as everything else in This Is It.

This is a cheeky show that delights in playing with art and artifice. Rather than competing with the film genre, it confidently exploits that genre’s codes and celebrity culture to make participatory theatre. Renewing itself and its possibilities with every run, audiences are invited to speculate, enter into dialogue with and, potentially, reflect on what puts the pop in our popular entertainment. In Baudrillard’s terms, this is a work that perpetuates “the simulation of something which never really existed,” giving the title its sharp irony.

For some, this performance will have interrogated the vacuousness of our increasingly marketing-driven and fame-obsessed existence, and our mythologising of artists. For others, it will have been as unmemorable as the gossip and scandal in yesterday’s trash magazine. Those who loved the fun, confusion and masquerading of it all may even have hung around after the show to collect signatures on the dedicated autograph page at the back of the film’s deluxe brochure. With its foundation of illusion and spectacle, This Is It can flicker in and out of all these readings and more.

This performance is the work of Team MESS, an energetic and interdisciplinary collective of emerging artists (mostly graduates from Wollongong University) who are worth keeping an eye on. Enabled by the development and presentation programs of PICA and Performance Space, they have spun a playful ruse entangling truth and fiction with art and identity.

This Is It, created and performed by Team MESS, Dara Gill, Sime Knezevic, Frank Mainoo, Natalie Randall, Malcolm Whittaker; PICA, Perth, July 13-16

See also Jana Perkovic’s review of Team MESS at Artshouse.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 33

© Julie Robson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

{$slideshow}I HAVE MY NOSE IN THE PROGRAM WHEN I HEAR THE FIRST THUD. BOXES ON THE FLOOR, A CLOUD OF PINK CONFETTI. LIZZIE THOMSON STANDS IN THE CENTRE OF THE ROOM, BACKED BY A HAPHAZARDLY ARRANGED WALL OF CARDBOARD BOXES. SHE PICKS ONE UP, THRUSTS IT UPWARDS—ANOTHER SHOWER OF CONFETTI—DROPS IT ON THE FLOOR AND WORKS HER WAY OUT OF A PAIR OF BLACK LEGGINGS TO REVEAL A SEQUINNED HOT PINK JUMPSUIT.

The houselights go down and music fades up. I can’t tell what the song is, exactly, but it’s retro and upbeat, like it might be from a musical. Thomson is lit from above and she begins to move. The movement is exploratory, diffuse; nimble, broken up. Occasionally I see a hint of style: a flourish, a suddenly recognisable gesture that stands out from the rest. But the moments dissipate quickly.

In the program notes, Thomson writes that her aim with PANTO was to open up her practice to “anything and everything.” After nine years of working towards what she calls a “minimalist” practice in the lineage of the Judson Dance Theater and more recently Rosalind Crisp that aimed to strip dance down to its bare essentials and challenge normative understandings of technique and meaning, Thomson wants to see what happens when tradition, genre and imagery are allowed to enter the dance space again.

I see this idea in her movement first: in those fleeting moments of style that feel like light experimentation; like a loose trying-on and throwing-off of ideas. Then, as the piece progresses, I notice it on a structural level: new elements are introduced to the stage, laid on top of one another and intermittently withdrawn from view again.

The sound of dancing tap shoes builds in intensity and flits from one side of the room to the other, becoming almost deafening before fading to make way for a new soundscape: a deep rumble mixed with the echoes of men’s voices and jangling bells.

Three figures appear in gold top hats and black tails with little moustaches pencilled in above their upper lips. Tap-dance costumes? They perform Tai Chi, movements with gravitas that will continue as though on a loop for the remainder of the piece.

There is video projection. It appears on a roll of brown butcher’s paper stretched across a square frame and it absorbs my attention. The image is composed of pastels and whites and looks like found footage from decades ago. The effect of Thomson’s bright pink costuming under the soft lines in the projection is interesting. I want only to watch her dancing in front of the screen. When I do eventually look back at the Tai Chi performers, it’s because I think I should. I find myself confronted with the choice between controlling my attention and letting it go. The things on stage vie for my eyes and ears. There is even a choir.

The beauty of this loose combination of bodies, visuals and sounds is that while many of them make reference to cultural tropes, none is defined, or judged, on that basis. Thomson does not comment on the elements she engages in her performance, she simply presents them. Her pink costume isn’t ‘naff.’ Sure, the costume is over-the-top and reminds me of my jazz eisteddfod days. And it does make her look comical at times—particularly in the final dance sequence, during which she drapes herself in thick wads of the pink fabric, dances feverishly to large music, runs to the back of the stage and hurls herself through a wall of cardboard boxes. But Thomson doesn’t seem interested in poking fun at anything. I have the sense that her invitation to the elements—to costume, to semantics—is genuine.

The seriousness is apparent in her movement, too. When she makes demanding shapes with her body she commits fully to them. In her commitment there is fight, and in the fight there is a reveal; a slippage in which humanity is very present. The candidness is exciting. I am again reminded of the program notes in which Lizzie Thomson writes that the one rule she set herself during the development of PANTO was to avoid parody. In this she succeeds, not only suspending self-judgment as she dances but suspending judgment of every performance element that she introduces to the stage.

PANTO, creator, dancer Lizzie Thomson, dancers Ryuchi Fujimura, Venettia Miller, Jasmin Sarao, Nalina Wait, chorus Alan Davies, Sharon Lennon, Anne Claydon, Helen Lanyon, Sandra Baird, Jenni Scott, Gordon, Elizabeth Williams, George Hiscocks, Cheryl Georgopoulos, Lynn Bowden, Nicki James, Josephene Anderson, sound Bengere de Tarle, Dominic Kirkwood, music director Annette Tesoriero, lighting design Mark Dyson, costume assistance Denisse Vera; Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, July 29, 30

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 20

© Cleo Mees; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

 The Seagull, Belvoir

The Seagull, Belvoir

The Seagull, Belvoir

PERHAPS IT’S THE MOOD I’M IN BUT THE PRODUCTIONS I’VE SEEN OVER THE LAST FEW MONTHS, ALTHOUGH HAVING THEIR SHARE OF EVERYDAY UNHAPPINESS, ALSO SUGGESTED VARYING DEGREES OF MELANCHOLY—A CONDITION THESE DAYS REGARDED AS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN SADNESS AND DEPRESSION AND CAPABLE OF DEEPENING INTO THE LATTER. COINCIDENTALLY, IN THE FINAL PARAGRAPH OF HER REVIEW OF THE 2011 EUROKAZ FESTIVAL, JANA PERKOVIC IS CRITICAL OF WHAT SHE SEES AS A CURRENT WESTERN PROCLIVITY FOR MELANCHOLY PERFORMANCE ALONGSIDE APOCALYPTIC CONCERNS.

belvoir: the seagull

The plays of Anton Chekhov are melancholy writ large: sad, wise reflections on constrained lives, dreams unrealised, love lost and empathy thwarted by deeply engrained defense mechanisms. Benedict Andrews’ version (from a literal translation by Karen Vickery) of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull gently transposes the play’s setting from a late 19th century Russian country estate to a fibro holiday shack on an Australian rural property in our own 21st century. Somewhat pared back and brush-stroked with touches of Australian English and a smattering of contemporary references, production and text are faithful to the spirit and much of the significant detail of the original play. For an Andrews’ production this is an unusually but aptly relaxed affair, taking the requisite time to establish mood, the informal comings and goings, incidental encounters and the emotional flash points so common to family holidays.

Designer Ralph Myers’ L-shaped cream painted shack is an immaculately neat imitation of the real thing, with an open space before it where much of the play unfolds. Although appropriately furnished inside, the house outside is not aged—not touched up with rust or rot or fringed with weeds or shaded by trees. The playing space is equally stark. But as part abstract and calculatedly liminal as this design is, Damien Cooper’s lighting makes the most of its blankness to glare or haze in intense summer light and glow warmly at night. The outdoorness is emphatic. Of course, it’s where Konstantin’s experimental play is staged—with Nina reciting from inside a glass box (perhaps Andrews is mildly parodying his own productions of Eldorado and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Belvoir’s The Wild Duck). The box, framed by the words REAL LIFE spelled out in neon, subsequently becomes a handy metaphorical device, but as an instance of 21st century avant-gardism the transposition from the 19th isn’t easily made.

In this space a strong cast realises The Seagull with an easy sense of ensemble. Judy Davis as the ageing actress Irina is elegantly volatile (no wonder she takes exception to her son Konstantin’s play; not only is it “pseudo avant-garde”, it embraces mortality) and wickedly comic at moments; David Wenham’s deadpan Trigorin is scarily manipulative; Bille Brown’s cheerily mellow Dorn, the doctor, has sympathy for Konstantin but not enough insight to save him; John Gaden’s frail Sorin, the owner of the property, is a self-contained comedy of regret and Emily Barclay’s Masha is a blunt, joint-smoking Goth. As Konstantin, Dylan Young faces the play’s largest challenge, one he almost meets—to convey sufficient emotion and complexity in the course of the play to warrant our belief in his suicidal destiny, not least when it’s Nina who gets, as it were, the last word centrestage, desperately struggling to express her fate: “One day, a man comes along, sees her, and having nothing better to do, destroys her. An idea. For a story. No, that’s not it. What was I saying?” Maeve Dermody vibrates with Nina’s continuing passion for Trigorin but knows she must leave, regretting lost innocence, reciting the very words she had spoken in Konstantin’s play, about a world dying, and then rushing away. The last vestige of Konstantin’s fantasy of a life with Nina evaporates, his belief in himself as a writer already shattered. The melancholic aura of incomplete lives (even the successful Trigorin describes writing as obsessive-compulsive), of life-sustaining delusions and semi-conscious cruelties is ruptured by suicide—a step too far, into either pathos or tragedy.

version 1.0: the table of knowledge

You wouldn’t expect anything melancholic of version 1.0’s The Table of Knowledge. It’s a scathing, straight from the horse’s mouth account of astonishing corruption within the Wollongong City Council and the local business community (for details see the interview with David Williams). It’s riotously funny in its judicious selection of verbatim material, in its deployment of a mock injunction to shut down the show and having blocks of the audience play out the dodgy council property development approval process. But as the second act progresses the mood shifts into darker emotional territory when the woman at the centre of the scandal, Beth Morgan, realises at the inquiry that she has been betrayed by her partner in crime—this at the very time she has found the whole sexual and financial adventure beyond her capacity to manage. Her isolation is profound. But as with the whole production, conventional acting is not version 1.0’s tool. Here Kim Vercoe as Morgan brings just enough emotional intensity to the role to suggest not tragedy but a degree of pathos, drawing from us empathy for someone caught in their own machinations. Equally, version 1.0 are careful not to make the sexual favours, so focused on by the mass media, the centre of their investigation.

Characterisation is otherwise broadly brush-stroked, largely played straight to the audience and with the performers adopting multiple roles against screens that constantly, even relentlessly reveal the unfolding visions of developers’ dreams—architectural fantasies of an anonymous high rise regional city. Late in the second act as the scheming collapses, the waves that break on Wollongong’s shores turn suggestively pink as if bloody. The Table of Knowledge is richly inventive, a feast of appalling information, revelations about criminal cunning and stupidity in equal parts (two men pretending to be ICAC investigators blackmailed the “table of knowledge” conspirators). If it wasn’t so funny it would be depressing, but by the time we watched on as Beth Morgan and her former lover Frank Vellar stood alone and apart and one time Council General Manager Rod Oxley lectured us about the impediments of regulation to innovation, we knew we would leave the theatre feeling more sad than angry—a degree more helpless, a little more worldly.

Version 1.0 made great comic play on the uniqueness of this story of corruption to Wollongong while presenting a litany of the many other councils that have likewise fallen across the country. This is a production that should be seen widely as councils play an increasing role in our lives—from fleecing us to building our arts centres. The fact that Wollongong’s citizens turned out in droves to see The Table of Knowledge, extending the season, speaks both of the work’s relevance and the power of an idiosyncratic theatricality, largely new to this audience, that they wholeheartedly embraced.

Africa, My Darling Patricia

Africa, My Darling Patricia

Africa, My Darling Patricia

stc next stage: africa

In My Darling Patricia’s Africa, three children—two sisters and a neglected boy from the neighbourhood—immerse themselves in an African fantasy world, identifying themselves with particular animals and even setting out for the airport to make the journey to a land “where chips grow on trees” and “animals talk.” As in the events in Germany that inspired this work, the children are returned to their home by the authorities. But My Darling Patricia takes the story further, into the dark territory of parental neglect and sexual abuse.

The power of Africa comes from its vivid and detailed realisation of the children’s fantasy world, made especially potent by its use, principally, of puppetry in the Bunraku tradition, intricately generating expression (including the mouthing of words) and movement—not least with characterful ways of walking and dancing.

The children’s room is a cleverly designed tiered set with spaces between each level for the puppeteers to move freely. The topmost level reveals only the legs of adults (actors, not puppets) in their world apart, dancing, drinking, fighting—it’s comic at first, threatening later. Eventually the adults enter the children’s room: a devious male bearing gifts and a less than fully caring mother who transforms into a snarling lion when the man transgresses. In the end, the mother must move her family, leaving the boy behind. For a moment it appears that he will be able to sustain the children’s Africa on his own—long leaves of grass sprout from the floor, but then sink and disappear, the collective fantasy lost. It’s a deeply sad final moment in a now otherwise bare room—the sheer volume and density of toys and enacted fantasies gone forever. The puppeteering, design, music (making fine use of toy piano and accordion), props and projections are seamlessly integrated in a production that is endlessly inventive and emotionally demanding, if often very funny. The ending resonates with a line uttered by one of the children after the police have brought them home: “People like us don’t go to Africa.”

Sonny Dallas Law, Bjorn Stewart, Colin Kinchella, Bully Beef Stew, PACT

Sonny Dallas Law, Bjorn Stewart, Colin Kinchella, Bully Beef Stew, PACT

Sonny Dallas Law, Bjorn Stewart, Colin Kinchella, Bully Beef Stew, PACT

pact: bully beef stew

At the commencement of Bully Beef Stew, a performance commissioned by PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, the three Indigenous male performers announce that this will “not be a variety show” while everything they do suggests it well might be. It’s certainly funny. However as it progresses, Bully Beef Stew becomes an engaging and moving meditation on reconciliation—between fathers, who have passed away, and sons. Director Andrea James and performers Sonny Dallas Law, Colin Kinchela and Bjorn Stewart embrace a variety of simple means from solo testaments and song and dance to the inventive deployment of a toy train set (the adult becomes child again on a tiny chair), packing tape, a boxing glove, sound design (a speeding car roars like a jet engine) and projections. What emerges from this playfulness is melancholic: these young men miss their fathers, wondering what they’ve inherited from them, what might need to be forgiven, and what it means to be an Indigenous man: “can I be beautiful”…”am I spiritual?” They are not sentimental, some of the lines are tough: “You’ll never be my equal, just my father.” The world they have inherited and might duplicate is suffused with alcohol, abuse, neglect and deaths in custody. As one of them asks about his father, “Is he me?” But ultimately Bully Beef Stew is about acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation, the mood sombre and physically shared with the audience as the performers gently reach out to touch our hands. This production reveals the considerable promise of the performers and the potential of the work.

Stefan Gregory, Robyn Nevin, Kris McQuade, Neighourhood Watch, Belvoir

Stefan Gregory, Robyn Nevin, Kris McQuade, Neighourhood Watch, Belvoir

Stefan Gregory, Robyn Nevin, Kris McQuade, Neighourhood Watch, Belvoir

belvoir: neighbourhood watch

Lally Katz’s Neighbourhood Watch is a whimsical fable with melancholic and even darker undercurrents; with a subdued melodramatic structure; and characters living on if almost over the edge of neurosis. The setting is Australian suburbia, the design two vast, overlapping grey walls cradling a performance space that becomes the everyday only by dint of costumes, occasional props and the opening ritual of the weekly placement of rubbish bins on imaginary footpaths where isolated neighbours are otherwise unlikely to meet. It’s a liminal space where past and present, reality and fantasy can likewise overlap at a word or the turn of a revolve.

Ana (Robyn Nevin), one of two central characters is a Hungarian immigrant—child of an uncaring father who dies young; near teenage victim of a serial killer; a nurse during World War II; prisoner in post-war detention camps for 14 years across Europe; and the literally imprisoned wife of an Italian in Australia. On the upside, she travels into Russia on behalf of a legless soldier she met in hospital and her marriage, in Australia, to a Serbian has been a happy one—until his death from cancer, from which Ana herself is also dying. This challenging life is revealed piece by piece across the duration of the play, building a complex character, exquisitely realised by Robyn Nevin, who oscillates between paranoia and brusque friendliness, often comically phrased in her broken English. She now lives alone with Bella, an aggressive Alsatian and constantly rejects the friendly approaches of an elderly Serbian woman, Milova (Kris McQuade), whom she regards as a spy, and treats her doctor appallingly as a murderer who seduced her husband: “You deliver first the news of my husband’s death and now of Ana’s. You kill us both.” Despite her paranoid disposition she chats amiably with a neighbour, Christina (Heather Mitchell), another cancer survivor, the local pharmacist and especially Catherine (Megan Holloway), a would-be actress in her mid 20s lamenting the loss of a lover, Martin (Ian Meadows).

The play’s momentum is predicated on the developing relationship between the older and the younger woman. Ana’s belief in her own sixth sense, her own “ultrasound,” is what she would like to instil in Catherine—a capacity to be distrustful of the world, while at the same time encouraging her, very conventionally, to find a relationship, or open up about the one she might have. She makes little headway. Ana, however, gives much to Catherine, a willing fantasist who slips easily into Ana’s role as the Hungarian woman’s past is played out—the revolve turns and the characters walk back in time, even to comic effect as Ana magically has Catherine and those she encounters speak in her odd English. But it can’t be said that Ana reciprocally draws Catherine out; this is a problem. Late in the play Ana learns that Martin is dead, a suicide, a ghost; in the meantime we’ve witnessed Catherine’s encounters with a returned Martin as real; she is more of a fantasist than we thought. Catherine’s closed life is echoed by that of her housemate, Ken, a diabetic in his 30s and would be filmmaker whose friends are online game-players. These two thinly support each other emotionally, although that falls part, each knowing the other can’t face reality.

While Ana is an idiosyncratic force to be reckoned with, Catherine is a simpler figure whom I wished had more character (despite Megan Holloway’s best efforts), brittleness perhaps, flights of fancy about her acting career, moments of giving way just a little to Ana’s probings. In the end Ana, Milova and Catherine come together; it’s a redemptive moment of a kind for Ana, conceding to see the film Mamma Mia with the two women and to have coffee at Milova’s home. In that very moment she collapses and presumably soon dies. Catherine and Ken are re-united, Ken has found a producer for his film, Catherine might have a role in it and they share the house with Ana’s dog. It’s an all too easeful crowd-pleasing ending, difficult to equate with the intensifying melancholy and the revelations of the play’s progress. But Katz and Nevin nonetheless create a powerful, complex stage force in their realisation of Ana.

Linda Cropper, Russell Kiefel, No More Shall We Part, Griffin

Linda Cropper, Russell Kiefel, No More Shall We Part, Griffin

Linda Cropper, Russell Kiefel, No More Shall We Part, Griffin

griffin: and no more shall we part

A potential suicide in Tom Holloway’s And No More Shall We Part comes in the form of euthanasia, as a middle-aged wife, Pam, decides to end her life rather than endure the agonies that will come with her dying months. In her final hours as she waits in bed for the drugs to take effect, she and her husband converse with inevitable awkwardness, intimacy and moments of recollection. Scenes from previous weeks are interpolated into this grim night-watch, revealing Pam’s determination to die at a time of her own choosing rather than surrender to her husband’s accusations of selfishness or his fanciful suggestion of a trip to Switzerland for legal euthanasia—or, he hopes, advice there to abandon it. Don is progressively revealed to be something of a fantasist, not fully comprehending his wife’s need, clinging to a togetherness that cannot last. The play offers a gruelling experience not least in its disturbing, indeterminate conclusion.

Russell Kiefel as Don and Linda Cropper as Pam deliver subtle, sympathetic performances, passionate in the flashbacks, tentative and tender in the present, although Pam does not spare Tom her criticisms of his character. The sombre mood is occasionally if blackly alleviated, for example Don wondering if he goes to the toilet he’ll miss the moment of Pam’s dying. Amidst all the moral complexities, the overriding mood is one of sadness, not simply with regard to an impending death but because it’s the significant differences as much as the similarities between these two fairly ordinary people make them the couple they are. And sadder, Pam reveals herself to be something other than ordinary in her clarity of purpose and preparation without ever rejecting Don’s love. Sadder still is the alarming ending when Pam’s determination is defeated, but for how long? The mood however is somewhat undercut by the playwright’s insistent use of short lines of dialogue that overplay the tentativeness of the situation, adding too heavy an air of artifice. Holloway’s idiosyncratic stage language is usually much more effective; here it is in constant danger of locking into fixed rhythms. The set design is also somewhat awkward, alternating between bedroom and, behind it, dining room, making me wonder about the logic of the play’s flashback structure. But the calibre of the performances and the topicality of a demanding subject made for sustained if melancholy reflection long afterwards.

performance space: the harry harlow project

The Harry Harlow Project, a show from Melbourne written and performed by James Saunders and directed by Brian Lipson is a considerable challenge to one’s sense of empathy. The American psychologist (1905-1981) set up an experiment placing baby rhesus monkeys with surrogate ‘mothers,’ one a piece of terry cloth to show that the need for touch was critical and, the other, a wire structure that provided food—even then if the cloth was available it was preferred. But Harlow went further, torturing baby chimpanzees in his “pit of despair” for up to 24 months, driving them into psychosis by isolating them, depriving them of real maternal affection. Radically, he was out to prove that ‘love’ should be in the lexicon of mainstream psychology and that touch and nurture were crucial to the emotional and cognitive development of children. It’s almost impossible to believe that this was not a cultural given in the first half of the 20th century, but it wasn’t—intimacy was seen as spoiling the independent growth of the child.

The Harry Harlow Project reveals a man in decline, presumably at the end of his career, in a pit of despair of his own. The play creates a purgatory for Harlow, punishing him for his sins—his indifference to animals, his multiple marriages, his unscientific language (a forced mating device he named a “rape rack,” the wire mother an “iron maiden”). He feels nothing, loves nothing, he disconnects his phone, the shadow of a cage falling across his bed. Earlier, he lectures us, appears on TV, embraces a huge toy monkey and then crushes it. He inhabits a large white room. On the walls are dimly projected images of his monkey victims, but he declares, “I have no cloth…I am not a monkey.” His focus has been on what he can learn about human children via monkey behaviour, a desire “to save 100 million mistreated children, not monkeys.” While Harlow apparently changed attitudes to child raising and is much lauded for it, the means were appalling. That other scientists enacted similar torments on children makes Harlow no less a villain. Ironically his experiments are regarded as a trigger for the evolution of the animal liberation movement.

If you didn’t know who Harlow was then finding your way into The Harry Harlow Project could have been difficult: it’s a work that commences rather surreally, requiring considerable attentiveness as Saunders’ American-accented rendering of Harlow’s tirades and panics frequently hit the one note. But by the end the picture is clearer if complex. Are we supposed to pity this man in his living hell?—it’s a hard call. You leave the theatre curious, as if having watched a quite unfamiliar animal for the first time, but above all saddened at the inflicting of suffering on one species to reduce the pain of another.

Belvoir: The Seagull, writer Anton Chekhov, a version by director Benedict Andrews, performers Emily Barclay, Bille Brown, Gareth Davies, Judy Davis, Maeve Dermody, Mel Dyer, John Gaden, Anita Hegh, Terry Serio, Thomas Unger, David Wenham, Dylan Young, designer Ralph Myers, costumes Dale Ferguson, lighting Damien Cooper, composer, sound designer Stefan Gregory, Belvoir Upstairs, June 8-17; version 1.0 & Merrigong Theatre, The Table of Knowledge, devisor performers Arky Michael, Jane Phegan, Yana Taylor, Kim Vercoe, David Williams, deviser Alan Flower, video design, deviser Sean Bacon, sound design Gail Priest, lighting Frank Mainoo; Illawara Performing Arts Centre, Aug 30-Sept 20; Sydney Theatre Company, Next Stage: My Darling Patricia, Africa, concept Sam Routledge, director, writer Halcyon Macleod, performers Anthony Ahern, Michelle Robin Anderson, Clare Britton, Jodie Le Visconte, design Clare Britton, Bridget Dolan, composer, sound designer Declan Kelly, puppets Bryony Anderson, lighting Lucy Birkinshaw, STC, Wharf 2, Sept 1-17; Bully Beef Stew, co-creator director Andrea James, co-creators, performers Sonny Dallas Law, Colin Kinchela, Bjorn Stewart, choreographer Kirk Page, media artist Jacqui Mills, sound design Melissa Hunt, lighting Clytie Smith; PACT Theatre, June 29-July 9; Griffin Theatre Company: And No More Shall We Part, writer Tom Holloway, director Sam Strong, performers Linda Cropper, Russell Kiefel, designer Victoria Lamb, lighting Verity Hampson, sound design, composer Kelly Ryall, Griffin, Aug 4-Sept 3; Belvoir, Neighbourhood Watch, writer Lally Katz, director Simon Stone, performers Charlie Garber, Stefan Gregory, Megan Holloway, Kris McQuade, Ian Meadows, Heather Mitchell, Robyn Nevin, design Dale Ferguson, lighting Damien Cooper, composer, sound designer Stafan Gregory; Belvoir Upstairs, July 23-Aug 28; Performance Space & Mobile States: The Harry Harlow Project, writer-performer James Saunders, direction, design Brian Lipson, video artist Martyn Coutts; CarriageWorks, Sydney, Sept 7-10

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 34-35

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

STRUT, Fuse

STRUT, Fuse

STRUT, Fuse

FUSE IGNITED IN STRAINED TENSION AS THE WOMAN (RHIANNON NEWTON) GEOMETRICALLY WHIPPED A FEW UTENSILS ACROSS AN OVERLY LONG, TAUTLY CLOTHED TABLE BEFORE RETURNING REPEATEDLY TO SIT AND WAIT. RESONANCES OF BECKETT AND HITCHCOCK PERMEATED A FUSION OF ORDINARINESS AND INCIPIENT VIOLENCE, THE SETTING PROMISING A KNOTTED EMOTIONAL TRAJECTORY ABOUT TO BE SERVED. HER TENSE STROKES CUT ACROSS THE ARRIVAL OF THE SUITOR (JONATHAN BUCKELS) OUT OF THE SHADOWS WITH SUITCASE AND CHAIR. EXPECTATIONS SHIFTED IN BECKETT’S DIRECTION: MAYBE AN ABSURDIST TALE HAD SLIPPED ONTO THE MENU?

Neither course was delivered that evening. Instead, as if entangled in invisible loops of tripwire, two individuals tackled objects with the might of their separate anxieties and desires, swivelling and swirling in a paired but never intimate journey. Absurdity flickered in emotional futility and glared over the materiality of objects. Instead of the awaited feast, he brings to the table a bag and a goldfish bowl (as well as the second chair) that revolved and collided throughout the piece along with plates, engagement ring, shelves and peanuts. The alternating anxiety and composure of table arrangement in the opening scene, potentially a significant dramatic trigger, was annulled when the second chair entered not to be placed at, but on the table, rearranging (as his presence must) the cloth and any simple expectation of exchange.

Fragmentary scenes succeeded one another like a compendium of random tests: the feast gave way to a peanut popping contest, in which she tops his skill set, before switching to a male dress-up of the woman as seductive object without any clear indication that the two might have been playing together. Was this a narrative stream of consciousness and, if so, whose? Whatever electricity that might have been generated by tablecloth pyrotechnics, when he imprisons her, and fishbowl ultimatums, when she threatens to drop the innocent fish on his head, is blown by a faulty relationship fuse. Myriad objects took focus, initiating inventive games, taunts and obsessions, played out by a couple who remain isolated ciphers in a venture bound towards dystopic inevitability.

Emotional vacuity may well have been the premise for the work except that Fuse’s midpoint sparked with nostalgia when Charles Aznavour crooned “Dance in the old-fashioned way” over a brief quickstep or two of union before the couple, with an affection not offered to one another at any other point, gave the floor over to an invited elderly partnership from the audience. The long anticipated circuit connection was eloquently embodied in this man and woman dancing together with an ease of companionship, bearing testimony to frictions overcome and wrought into genuine fusion. Old-fashioned love with all of its accompanying imperfections made an indelible impression and with such mesmerising simplicity that it was hard to resist reminiscing on faded sepia mementos of a lost past. Contemporary performance operates on a register where frustrations pervade both on-and-off modalities and deny durability and determined continuity. Having introduced this alternative moment, Newton and Buckels then make the technically efficient but dramatic error of setting up the next array of objects in the background. Or was that decision intentional: a way of subverting a stolen precious moment?

Any fuse which may have energised the work was blown when object logistics intervened, tripping desires for personal relationships with scepticism and clever (or otherwise) subversions. Happy endings are simply dead leads, forgotten under the morass of electronic cables and instruments of new social relations. The program notes suggest that Fuse explores the reciprocal issues of identity change in a love relationship. Physically, Newton and Buckels do convey, in moments, intriguing interaction, moving with a satisfying sense of oblique empowerment, but reciprocity is ever absent and objects, rather than people, construct the narrative current. Interactive physicality in Fuse mainly comes across in combative situations with, can it be said again, objects?

Post-Aznavour, violence predictably, took over. Incarceration within the tablecloth, with a knowing nod to Hitchcock, turns lurid and rape-like. What more can he do but bind her in domesticity, hang her on the same cloth under the up-turned table before collecting his material staples and departing? As with so much of the object manipulation in this work, the image of this woman, strung under the armpits by the same cloth which so consumed her attention at the beginning, could have carried devastating or poignant capital. Unfortunately, terror and/or empathy were de-fused by our simply not caring who she or he, as vulnerable individuals, might have been.

Fuse, concept, direction Jonathan Buckels, performers Jonathan Buckels, Rhiannon Newton, music director & DJ Travis Collins, lighting Mike Nanning, presented by STRUT Dance; PICA, Perth, Aug 26-Sept 3

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 20

© Maggi Phillips; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Thrashing Without Looking, Aphids

Thrashing Without Looking, Aphids

Thrashing Without Looking, Aphids

INCREASINGLY, I WANT EACH ARTS HOUSE SEASON TO COME WITH A CURATORIAL STATEMENT. YES, THE ART WORLD HAS, FOR AT LEAST A DECADE, BEEN ENGAGED IN A FURIOUS DEBATE ABOUT WHETHER CURATORSHIP HAS COME TO SUPERSEDE THE WORK OF ART.

Curation, in Anton Vidokle’s much-quoted words (e-flux Journal 16, May, 2010) now routinely oversteps the line, becoming a “reinforcement of authorial claims that render artists and artworks merely actors and props for illustrating curatorial concepts. Movement in such a direction runs the serious risk of diminishing the space of art by undermining the agency of its producers: artists.” However, as Alison Croggon has put it elsewhere, without critical reflection on the art of the times, without drawing connections, instead of a culture we will merely have ‘a lot of art.’

While offering much to enjoy this year, Melbourne’s Arts House has so far presented us largely with a lot of art. While I concede that it might understand its role as presentational rather than culture-shaping, as serving the artist rather than imposing a zeitgeist, Arts House is nonetheless the premiere venue for live art in Victoria. It makes programming decisions that shape how this city understands an artform; its lack of explanation does not diminish its curatorial power—it merely renders it opaque. Finally, I am unsure whether artists benefit from this silence at all if, as this year, the programming presents works of clashing sensibilities; works that, without proper juxtaposition, appear to negate each other’s propositions, ideas and statements.

By way of example: members of Sydney-based Team MESS introduced two intriguing participatory works, both sitting broadly within the British-inflected tradition of live art in which the unpredictable, artless liveness of the performance event is its chief intriguing ingredient, and art-ness obtained almost exclusively from the framing of the encounter. The first, This Is It, is set up as a press conference for a non-existent film that—judging by the promotional material we are offered—merrily merges an infinitude of clichés of Australian cinema: a moody drama about a childless couple, haunted by suburban malaise and a mysterious dark-skinned stalker. The actors are terrific as diplomatic mouthpieces for the film: some with underlying anxieties (Malcolm Whittaker’s hands almost imperceptibly shaking throughout the evening), some unflappable in their pretty muteness (Kate Randall, perhaps a dumb starlet, but perhaps simply settled into her role as conference eye-candy); and finally Frank Mainoo, explaining that his character is simply “darkness,” “the Other” and “really a plot device more than a character.”

This Is It, Team MESS

This Is It, Team MESS

This Is It, Team MESS

The format opens up for playful interaction as the event opens for questions invited from the floor. Questions start pouring in: about the reason for including zombies, shooting in 3D, possible sequels, Pasolini influences, interlaced with inquiries into Dara Gill’s directing method and racism. It was thrilling to watch the performers respond to this barrage of challenges, rising to incorporate our flights of fancy while remaining true to the characters and the set-up. “Well,” opined critic Paul Harris, the host of the event, “I’d say it might be a racist movie, but it does not endorse racism.” (See Julie Robson’s review of Team MESS at PICA)

The second work was Malcolm Whittaker’s A Lover’s Discourse, a love-letter-writing project for perfect strangers. As any performative dimension is completely absent from this collaborative effort, it presented itself through participants’ personal accounts, followed by attempts to find their correspondents live on Omegle (a roulette-like, random pairing chat room). While the event soon became tedious, as one’s recommended daily intake of irony was surpassed, it ended with a queue to sign up for further letter writing.

Both these works create only tenuous artistic frames around a collaborative exchange between participants who are only vaguely aware of the project’s agenda and in no way prevented from hijacking it. Indeed, the wide margin allowed for creative play is the biggest strength of both projects and much of the enjoyment seems to derive from actively testing the elasticity of the artful boundaries.

By contrast, Thrashing Without Looking, a project bringing together a number of prominent Melbourne-based live artists, divided the audience into two groups: one that assembled a karaoke video from a cryptic menu, and the other, strapped into video goggles (thus watching the event from the camera’s point of view), obediently executed their selection. Participation is the wrong word entirely to describe the audience’s role in this work. It is more accurate to think of us as theatre fodder, disoriented bodies reacting to a confusion of sensory inputs, or choosing through such a short list of options that a randomising script could have easily done the same job. However, the main interest of Thrashing Without Looking is in something else entirely: the old-fashioned blurring of mediated and live experience and the emotional and sensory vulnerability it provokes. (See John Bailey’s review.)

Post’s Who’s the Best? sails through similar waters, although the blurring here is, as usual, between the performers’ real and their performed selves. The technology is not only reduced to the bare bones of theatre (curtains and lights), but even those are wonky: the contest to decide which of the three members is the best is constantly undermined by the stage going about its own business, structuring the banter into a Shakespearean dramatic curve largely on light and sound alone (not dissimilar to Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s NO DICE). (See review in RT104)

I left My Shoes on the Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain, Gabrielle Nankivell

I left My Shoes on the Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain, Gabrielle Nankivell

I left My Shoes on the Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain, Gabrielle Nankivell

Next to it, Talya Rubin’s Of The Causes of Wonderful Things, a one-woman play that involves a town in the American South, missing children, a private detective and many small props, looks like an archival piece. While Rubin’s is an evocative performance—her ability to shift character is instantaneously mesmerising—there is so much style in the work (the 1940s noir, which has come to replace the Gothic as immediate indicator of macabre) and so little evidence of the concerns present in the rest of the season (liveness, mediation of reality, audience experience) that these qualities all but dis-appear in context. (See review in RT101)

The same could be said for Gabrielle Nankivell’s poetic I Left My Shoes on Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain. It is a dance work weighed down by dense narration closely collaborating with sound and light (Luke Smiles and Benjamin Cisterne) to create a syncretic image of anxieties and fears plaguing a young woman. While technically impeccable and brilliantly performed, formally it is no more than an introspective dance poem, and it is unclear what prompted its inclusion in this ostensibly live art program.

Finally, what to make of the inclusion of Joan Baixas’ Pregnant Earth? An astonishing work, which incorporates live painting, puppetry and spoken narrative, from one of Spain’s great artists, it was both timeless and not of the moment. It revealed a depth of craft and a relatively independent set of concerns that needed to be somehow brought back into relation with the more fumbling, but fresher, set of local performances we had witnessed immediately prior. Without such a context, Baixas’ delicate and violent narrative, which moved from the burnt National Library of Sarajevo to a puppet that did not like to perform, was both weighty and stupefying.

We have come to expect such radical decontextualisation from mainstream festivals, which in Australia function exclusively as showcases and, indeed, Pregnant Earth would have made perfect sense had it been programmed in the Melbourne International Arts Festival. And yet, if even food and film festivals shape their programs with some subheadings and introductions, how is it possible that suggesting the same to an arts festival has become a hallmark of art sabotage?

Arts House: This Is It, created by Team MESS, performers Frank Mainoo, Natalie Randall, Malcolm Whittaker, Meat Market, Aug 5; A Lover’s Discourse, devised by Malcolm Whittaker, Meat Market, Aug 12; Thrashing Without Looking, creators Martyn Coutts, Elizabeth Dunn, Tristan Meecham, Lara Thoms, Willoh S Weiland, North Melbourne Town Hall, Aug 3-7; Who’s the Best?, devised and performed by post: Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose with Eden Falk, Meat Market, Aug 3-6; Of the Causes of Wonderful Things, writer, deviser, performer Talya Rubin, co-deviser, director Nick James, Meat Market, Aug 11-13; I Left My Shoes on Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain, text, physical content & performance Gabrielle Nankivell, sound Motion Laboratories – Luke Smiles, design Benjamin Cisterne, North Melbourne Town Hall, Aug 11-13; Pregnant Earth, devisor, performer Joan Baixas, Arts House Meat Market, Melbourne Aug 16-17

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 36

© Jana Perkovic; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Raimund Hoghe

Raimund Hoghe

Raimund Hoghe

WHAT I ENJOY MOST ABOUT THE FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE IS THE CURATORIAL CONTRACT THAT ALLOWS YOU TO FORFEIT CHOICE IN EXCHANGE FOR A GUIDED TOUR OF SORTS. IN THE CASE OF MONTPELLIER DANSE 2011 IN JUNE, THIS ALLOWED TIME AND SPACE TO DEEPEN ENGAGEMENT WITH PARTICULAR ARTISTS (RAIMUND HOGHE, PHILIPPE MENARD, ANGELA LAURIER), BUT ALSO THEMES (SEX, DEATH, ANIMALS), AESTHETIC TENDENCIES (REPETITION AND DURATION) AND REGIONS (FRANCE AND ISRAEL).

montpellier danse

The encounter with Hoghe was a journey of discovery never afforded in typical major city programming. In fact all featured artists appeared to be handled with a kind of care by the festival that was apparent and infectious; Hoghe in particular seems to attract deep and committed support.

Hoghe’s six casual afternoon shows were meant to both reprise his oeuvre and connect with the state of the festival. He presented some of his favourite things (Astaire and Rogers in Cheek to Cheek, a video of Gret Palucca shown around on an iPad, his favourite female singers from Piaf to French diva Dalida), sequences from his own past works, his collaborators’ works and short performances. His repetitive, durational pieces (walking while measuring his body with his hands, simple joint flexions and extensions) seem like a gift and are well suited to this ‘sharing’ format.

Hoghe’s history as dramaturg for Pina Bausch perhaps sets an expectation regarding expression that he seriously subverts. He presents himself, movement patterns (most often based on walking), objects and music in a kind of neutral co-existence that exceeds Bausch’s ‘showing-not-telling.’ It is the figure and character of Raimund Hoghe that anchors this highly formalist work, where humanity seeps from the body.

The focus on Israel was illuminating, even interrupted as it was by a political protest mounted on the lighting grid above one of the main stages on the opening night of the Batsheva Dance Company’s work. In a festival curated around alternatives to ‘contemporary dance’ (the sub-title of the festival was “Opening Out”), Project 5 was an anomaly. Between Ohad Naharin and Barak Marshall (ex-Batsheva), a genuine alternative movement language (seen here during the company’s residency at Sydney Festival 2007), is apparent; unconnected to ballet or release-based techniques it appears as a back-to-basics reinvention. Repetition, but also accumulation, marks the work with the first section of four structured around accumulating text and accompanying movement phrases: “Ignore concepts and ideas, ignore Beethoven, the Spider and the Damnation of Faust…don’t smoke too much, drink enough to relax…wipe your ass.” Each time it’s back to the first line and back to starting poses, vaguely balletic in form but gestural and soft. Naharin’s inventiveness is startling. Zipping changes of direction and height and impossibly deep second pliés and lunges are complicated with intricate and eccentric gestures of arms and hands; curling into the body like handles, cupped beside the face, sideways shrugs as if responding to shooting pain. The movement is full-bodied, vigorous and exciting; in unison, the impact is complete. Naharin repeated the entire program of four works in the second half with a male cast. The pieces created for the women suffered a little in comparison but the final piece, Black Milk, made more sense.

Barak Marshall’s Rooster is like a stage musical that you’d actually want to see, with great music, dancing, characters and story. Based on the life of a quiet man who lives and dies without remark, the work takes the figure of the rooster as a strutting opposition to the lead character’s tendency to fall asleep at key moments. So dancers regularly strut about the stage with feather fans for tails. The costume design is 1930s-40s with a score shifting from Jewish folk themes to American jazz and swing, making for a kind of historic-fantastic scenario not seen elsewhere in the festival. Scenes of weddings, murder, jealousy and deception are played out in dance, monologues (sometimes in English, sometimes in Hebrew) and through an opera aria. The whole is punctuated by joyous, full-bodied and rhythmic choreography that has some affinity with Naharin’s expansive style, but here is characterised by staccato accents from splayed hands and wide arms and gestural patterns that recall Bausch but are fired with a youthful energy.

Dance in France was represented by Didier Theron, Bartabas (with Ko Murobushi), Laurent Pichaud (with Deborah Hay) and Menard and Laurier who are discoveries of long-term festival curator Jean-Paul Montanari, and appeared to inspire a ‘circus’ theme within the festival. This representation of the French scene indicated the kind of diversity that real funding commitment for dance can produce over time. In Pichaud and Hay’s Indivisibilités Hay seems the leader; the notes on the work state that she was performing material from a new solo while Pichaud responded to her larger body of work. The performers broke up the proscenium space in Montpellier by inviting the audience to move between stage and seating and by stringing flags, curtains and theatre lights across the divide. Hay further challenged the space by focusing on the small groups of people sitting on stage, moving amongst them, touching and watching them watch her. Pichaud, meanwhile, negotiated cumbersome objects such as a fire hydrant and a large theatre light.

Bartabas’ Le Centaure et L’Animal is a dark and archaic piece that featured some of the most enticing choreography in the festival from Murobushi, but also the four horses in the cast: Horizonte, Soutine, Pollock and Le Tintoret. Inspired by the epic poem Les Chants de Maldoror (1868-69) by Comte de Lautréamont, a satanic and gothic mood was matched by a deep and grinding score. The piece begins with Murobushi coming to life on all fours, part animal and part man, naked, silver and Golem-like, traversing the stage with gnarled, detailed convulsions. A scrim drops dramatically and the figure of a dark horse and rider haunts the back of the stage between gold curtains. Bartabas and his mount zig-zag forward as if covering territory. When the horse’s head appears still, downstage and sideways from the wings, the effect is surreal. The appearance of the horses occurs as replayed sequences separated by blackouts. Morobushi confronts a white horse and its rider. The horse slowly falls sideways as if in slow-motion from the weight of muscle and the rider collapses too, head falling back in a swoon. Blackout and repeat. These cycles were juxtaposed with sustained images—fine dust falling onto writhing figures, a horse licking his rider clean.

Israel Galvàn

Israel Galvàn

Israel Galvàn

The focus on movement per se, independent of other disciplines, was strong across the festival with mostly plain, black box designs and music, alone of the art forms, making a regular and important appearance, particularly in the work of Hoghe, Marshall, Israel Galván and the various Boleros (Naharin, Theron, Hoghe) and Rites of Spring (Menard, David Wampach and Meryl Tankard).

Galván was a revelation—I felt like an audience member in Paris in 1909 at the Ballets Russes, seeing a genre completely transformed for the first time. The documentary Bailaores (D Albertina Pisano, 2004) includes a younger Galván in a group of artists re-inventing flamenco in Spain, exploring contemporary forms, moves and aesthetics. As seen in Sydney recently (see page 14), Galván is now in peak form and his revolution is in every step. His improvisations in Le Edad De Oro keep him in a state of constant change with extreme juxtapositions from intricate and fast footwork to angular poses, extreme arches with his pelvis thrust forward, mad surprises like percussive slaps on the soles of his shoes, his bare belly or teeth, rhythmic bourrées in his flamenco boots, reaching around his head to pull his face back, or using his hand to suggest a rooster’s comb or a falling leaf. This is passion through form, meticulous and original. The sex and bravado of flamenco are subverted through references to the cockerel, but also ‘feminine’ provocations such as pulling his shirt tails up to reveal waist and arse and performing dandyesque port de bras.

Shanghai Bolero

Shanghai Bolero

Shanghai Bolero

The recurrence of Ravel’s Bolero itself seemed a template for a ubiquitous compositional trend toward repetition and duration as a means of creating drama. Reading Doris Humphrey’s choreographic treatise while at the festival provided a striking historical counterpoint. Humphrey’s insistence on an ideal composition built of variation and balance in the service of ideas is replaced here with a foregrounding of form and self-aware strategies supported by clean, clear and charged movement languages. A visitor to Australia through a connection with Strut Dance’s director Agnes Michelet in Perth, Theron’s take on the score in Shanghai Boléro is beautifully articulated in his program notes; “approaching the mechanics of desire from a technical point of view.” Three sections present three different performances to the complete score on a bare, black stage. The first ‘take’ involves a cast of a dozen or so female dancers dressed in black shorts, long-sleeved tops and stilettos. Walking in grid patterns in perfect time to the music, the catwalk aesthetic is first broken by two of the women holding hands. This develops with couples and trios grabbing and embracing each other in endlessly different ways, changing partners, groups as well as pulling their tops up over their heads, or onto their heads, to reveal black bras. The work follows Ravel’s build, never dropping the swinging walk, with more complicated clusters of women and a final merging of all of them, joining to lift one dancer and disappearing in a second on the last notes. This is desire formalised as partnering and separating, encountering and disconnecting.

The second take features three male dancers in black jeans who begin a bouncing rhythm from side to side and forward and back that continues throughout the score. This bouncing energy contrasts with the drawn out swagger of the women, the male dancers lacking the poise and proficiency of the women, looking more physically and technically pedestrian. In the third take, the cast come together in various states of dress/undress in a series of tableux held for a consistent number of bars, rotated to show every angle, then mixed up until the dancers run into dynamic frozen compositions. The quality of the poses ranges from baroque and sublime to flat and disconnected, but the drama of the compositions is complete and thrilling. Another dancer is raised into the air and then, once again, the dancers are gone with the final notes.

julidans, amsterdam

Curatorially the Julidans program lacked the through-lines and recurrences of Montpellier, and ‘star’ acts such as Ultima Vez, Maguy Marin and Sidi Larbi Cherkauoi (whose piece was replaced with a solo work by Gregory Maqoma due to the absence of a dancer) collectively represented a dance theatre tendency that seemed worlds away from the formalism in France.

One standout was a young American choreographer based in Brussels, Daniel Linehan. His work with two other dancers, Thibault Lac and Salka Ardal Rosengren, Zombie Aporia, sets up a series of tasks (eight dances) involving a transposition of information from one medium to another. In one, Pacman-like figures on a screen represent positions in the raked seating, and as they move on screen, the dancers move to the corresponding position. In another, the dancers mimic an improvised comic dance performed earlier by Thibault which is played back on a monitor, appearing like glitchy, uncoordinated marionettes (recalling for me Luke George’s work with A Chorus Line in Now Now Now at Dance Massive in 2011; RT102).

In another section, Rosengren scrolls text on a computer screen with her eyes shut as Linehan whispers the text in Lac’s ear, who pronounces it out loud with dramatic intonations set by Linehan. In yet another, Linehan’s vision as he dances is perfectly mimicked on a screen—we see what he would be seeing—except that the auditorium seats are empty (it has been pre-recorded). Interesting in themselves, the texts (both spoken and sung) add a whole other layer, and the ‘lyrics’ are handed out before the show encouraging a sing-a-long. Reflexivity about the potentialities of the body, the role of performance, self-critique and Continental philosophy bump together with an experimental energy and clarity that’s truly exciting.

Montpellier Danse, June 22-July 7, Montpellier, France; Julidans 2011, Amsterdam, Netherlands, July 1-10

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 10,12

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Slave Pianos, installation

Slave Pianos, installation

Slave Pianos, installation

SLAVE PIANOS’ PERFORMANCE OF THE GIFT—REDACTION AND DECONTAMINATION (2011) AT THE MONASH UNIVERSITY MUSEUM OF ART CLOSED A PARTIAL SURVEY OF SOME OF DANIUS KESMINAS’ VARIED COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS. THE GIFT SPECIFICALLY ‘PERFORMANCISED’ THREE ROOMS CONTAINING KESMINAS’ PROJECTS—MEANING SLAVE PIANOS ELABORATED THE THEMES AND REFERENCES FROM EACH OF THESE INSTALLED SPACES INTO PERFORMED WORKS.

Let me briefly sketch these complex spaces. The Slave Pianos room contained a Cold War-era fabrication of a global bunker for disseminating obtuse musical texts composed by contemporary artists. These were ‘audio-visualised’ via a huge wall map across which an automated map-plotter bore a small TV screen which named a piece’s title, date and composer when it reached that composer’s country of residence, at which point a MIDI-controlled grand piano (affixed to a fashioned electrical chair) ‘performed’ the quoted piece. The Punkasila room contained numerous artefacts from Kesminas’ collaboration with the Indonesian agit-punk group Punkasila, displaying the band’s ‘meta-batik’ costumes, hand-painted banners and rifle-prop guitar constructions. And the Pipeline To Oblivion room projected Kesminas’ documentary interview with a Lithuanian farmer who illegally distilled vodka, while in the centre of the room a working still was hooked up to a pump organ to play a Lithuanian folk melody.

While the installations featured the objects and texts described above, the Slave Pianos’ staging of those objects and texts rendered all references musical. The rooms generated the score for the performance, and in turn illuminated their musical genesis. All of Kesminas’ art is wilfully and sardonically tainted by music and musicology, and while many of his performance projects have occurred in a variety of music venues and contexts, his Slave Pianos project often occurs within galleries and museums. The Gift was an astounding declaration of the trajectory Slave Pianos has refined over decades.

Now if this were 1961, we could continue tra-la-la-ing down a Fluxus garden path. I could programmatically champion how the gallery allows space for contra-musical pro-conceptual investigations of music—a sort of music heavy on conceptualising the performative and light on exploring the sonic. For those early Fluxus manoeuvres were warranted retorts to the academicism of notational avant-garde music—especially the revolutionary atonal/post-tonal modes which had struggled to define a post-war canon for the concert hall. Inspired by John Cage’s late 50s philosophising on musical eventfulness and procedures for activating a consciousness in musical practice, Fluxus were trans-medial in the true Dada tradition, de-specifying art forms and in the process welcoming actionist tactics and conceptual strategies.

Unfortunately, if one reads supposedly critical (let alone theoretical) writing on contemporary music sixty years later in 2011, it seems we are still living in 1961. Many things currently appear to be at stake—the drive to explore, the will to comment, the need to subvert, the power to startle, the mandate to re-orient—but a theatre of ideological gestures qualifies these views. Rarely has experimental/exploratory music/sound/art (pick your own T-shirt: one size fits all) evidenced conceptual rigour which opens up a critical space for discussing music. In place, experimental music enacts experimentalism as a series of codified tropes, almost as if the 60s is fetishised as some golden period where, well, experiments were undertaken. Sure, modulating nodes like punk, Max-DSP, globalism, the internet etc have changed a few things in the now, but as a survey of the names of the myriad new-sound/music festivals around the world attest, their claims to radicalism reside in their branded logos more than generative outcomes.

Yet Slave Pianos’ staging of The Gift achieved so much of what Fluxus only ever flaunted in its insular pseudo-utopian conceptualisation of a revolutionary/liberating/empowering art. Far from making effete claims to being music of an exploratory post-Cageian form, The Gift instead uses music as a platform to articulate and vent a dense conceptualism of music as a textual force. Hilariously quoting risible bourgeois waffle about ‘the art world’ from a Joanna Murray-Smith play, an autobiography by Nikola Tesla, ruminations on Nietzsche’s pessimistic attraction to pianos and Soviet journalist Vitali Vitaliev’s earthy embrace of vodka, The Gift plotted an obtuse series of incidents where music and creativity are treated as produce of ‘the gifted.’ Kesminas seems bent on debunking creativity as a privileged act, and his conceptual interrogation of the muse in music—via his quoted texts performed by actor Richard Piper—ably queries musical production and its musicological reception.

Slave Pianos, The Gift: Redaction and Decontamination, Performance

Slave Pianos, The Gift: Redaction and Decontamination, Performance

Slave Pianos, The Gift: Redaction and Decontamination, Performance

There is boldness in this move. In the arts, few things are so upsetting to more people than shifting (more like dragging screaming) music into the conceptual domain. That most turgidly theoretical and nullifying abstract of places wherein the sonic, the experiential, the exploratory should not venture. The fundamentalist tenets of music believe it to be somehow capable of mystically escaping discourse. I sense this in just about any writing on sound and music: the feeling that the words distrust themselves, that they are dreadful linguistic apologies for the supreme essentialism of ‘music itself.’ Such a view verges on the theological: as if to speak about sound/music with any conceptual bent incurs wrath. This implies that music is mired by an awful iconic orthodoxy which prohibits discourse due to sound and music’s inalienable unutterability.

Cage—in a supreme stroke of authorial scripture which is rarely critically attributed to his oeuvre—actively halts discussion post-performance. It is as if the event—the thing which most excited Fluxus—allows conceptual birthing but forbids conceptual growth. Discussion about the Cageian legacy tends toward discussing the concepts behind the sounds of works like the Variations series (its instructions, their interpretation, the works’ eventfulness etc), rather than discussing the sounds conceptually. This has partially shaped the ongoing impasse of incisive writing on new/experimental sound/music: its critical writing enforces either humanist performance mechanics (paraphrasing traditional jazz ideologies) or reverts to authorial acquiesence. It’s a situation I find entirely conservative.

The thing is, Cage—via Duchamp—gave me license to accept that all material and plastic arts (ie everything but literature) are powerful enough to carry any conceptual weight thrust on them. Music especially seems that way to me. Far from shirking from the fear that one might ‘kill’ sound/music by being too analytical about its materiality—let alone its cultural semiotics—I’ve always figured sound/music to be an immersive world which activates critically reflexive thought while it incites psychologically responsive feeling. To write about music—to acknowledge its textual potentiality—is inevitable, exciting and productive. To continue invoking historically proscribed pseudo-radical truisms about music’s linkage to avant-garde, experimental and exploratory strategies seems quite the opposite.

Experiencing The Gift as an actual outcome of Fluxus practice, I was forcefully reminded that ye olde white cube still has power. This particular Slave Pianos event maximised the ‘void-space’ of art to consider music in a way that is unthinkable in the current social contexts for experimental/exploratory music-making. And while maybe a recording of The Gift would be played as few times in my collection as my Cage recordings, the eventfulness of the staging sharpened the conceptual precision of the project. More Godardian than Cageian, The Gift returned the conceptual to music. Think of it as a welcome home gift.

Slave Pianos, Punkasila, Pipeline to Oblivion, 3 Projects by Danius Kesminas and collaborators, curator Max Delany; Slave Pianos performance, The Gift—Redaction and Decontamination, July 23; Monash University Museum of Art, Caulfield campus, Melbourne, May 5-July 23

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 37

© Philip Brophy; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Mavin Khoo, Devi in Absolution

Mavin Khoo, Devi in Absolution

Mavin Khoo, Devi in Absolution

parramasala

Artistic Director Philip Rolfe says this year’s Parramasala festival (October 30-November 6) will be “bigger and more diverse than the inaugural festival last year. We have some of the world’s most renowned international artists presenting a number of Australian exclusives right in the heart of the city of Parramatta…You have the chance to enjoy the cultural richness of a region of the world that is becoming more important to us and our futures. What you experience is also indicative of the transforming nature of Australia and the embracing of more diversity. The arts on show at Parramasala are as important to modern Australia as those from our Anglo-Celtic and European heritages” (Media Release).

The central city precinct around Town Hall and St John’s Cathedral Square and the Riverside Theatres precinct will be focal points for the festival, featuring a free outdoor stage, daily Masala markets (performances among bustling food stalls). Works will appear in a variety of performance, film and exhibition venues. The festival includes the six-day South-Asian Film in Focus, a program of independent film (“beyond the glitzy world of Bollywood”) including free documentaries at lunchtime, premiere features in the evening and a retrospective of the work of master filmmaker Satyajit Ray. In fact, film is a common theme of this year’s festival with many of the live productions having screen components. Mother India 21st Century Remix by English company Kala Phool sees the three-hour classic edited to 45 minutes and re-scored with a live band featuring UK turntablist DJ Tigerstyle. In another event entitled Cinema, Karsh Kale “mixes Indian classical and folk with electronica, rock, pop and ambient music—the sound that helped define the club phenomenon of the late 90s dubbed Asian Massive.” Local multimedia group CuriousWorks has been commissioned to create The Other Journey: Leaving Lanka and Becoming A Battler to be presented on the Parramatta River. “Based on stories of recent Sri Lankan refugees, audiences are taken on a moving journey with large-scale outdoor projections, a boat tour and Eastern and Western influenced music, relayed to personal headsets via individual mp3 players.”

As you’d expect in a festival celebrating this region, there’s a fabulous selection of music and dance including percussionist Trilok Gurtu and his band performing in a concert with the young sitar virtuoso Niladri Kumar and David Hykes and the Harmonic Choir performing in St John’s Cathedral and also joining Dr Madan Gopal Singh and Chaar Yaar for a concert combining harmonic sufi and qawwali music. The Chandralekha Group from Chennai will be a highlight of the dance program. “Challenging traditional notions of classical dance in India, Sharira combines contemporary dance with yoga practice, traditional Keralan marital arts and live Dhrupad song and music performed by the world famous Gundecha Brothers, in a stunning, intimate production.” For the many more pleasures to be had see www.parramasala.com. Parramasala, Parramatta. Sydney Oct 30-Nov 6

fiona mcgregor’s water series

“When I see a tap running, unattended, unused, I feel like I am watching someone bleed.” Fiona McGregor’s Water Series is a set of durational performances presented both live and via photography and video. “The works are all generated through the artist’s response to the fundamental substance of water, in a time of environmental strife. This response is in part predicated on proximity—an emotional attachment to the ocean as a coastal dweller. More crucially it is generated by issues surrounding scarcity and usage of fresh water in Australia—especially the issue of salinity—deepened by McGregor’s recent visit to Lake Eyre, across the outback, along the Murray River. An awareness of water as the main component of the human body is consistent across the series, particularly apparent in the endurance elements of the works as the artist enacts extended encounters between water and the body: the body struck by water; the body marked by water; the body consuming liquidity; the body expelling liquidity” (Media Release). Immediately following Water Series, Artspace will present the work of six artists/artist collectives whose practice utilises or examines performance and live action; Nothing Like Performance will feature the work of Matthew Bradley, Lauren Brincat, Brown Council, Paul Donald, Will French and Yiorgos Zafiriou. Fiona McGregor, Water Series, Nov 1-20; Nothing Like Performance, Artspace, Sydney Nov 25-Dec 22, www.artspace.org.au

performance space: exchange

Performance Space ends the year with Exchange, a season of five intriguing works that tackle considerable ethical and aesthetic issues by expanding our notions of interactivity, installation and reconciliation. To comment on our compulsive consumerism, Theatre Kantanka, with contemporary music collective Ensemble Offspring, offer a “toxic nightmare in all the colours of the rainbow”, Bargain Garden, “an immersive, multi-sensory performance installation, inspired by the thousands of bargain stores and two-dollar shops that multiply across our cities” (Nov 1-5). In Return to Sender, Paul Gazolla and Jeff Khan have curated a challenging dance program with an impressive range of artists (Alison Currie, Nadia Cusimano, Matthew Day, Atlanta Eke, Jane McKernan, Latai Taumoepeau, Tony Yap and Yumi Umiumare) devising “works that recreate the choreography, score, or essence of an international peer’s work.” Media artists Michele Barker and Anna Munster’s new interactive artwork Hokus Pokus (Nov 3-26), “examines illusionistic and performative aspects of magic to explore human perception, senses and movement” within the framework of 19th century magic, early cinema and traveling science shows.” Helen Pynor and Peta Clancy’s installation, The Body is a Big Place (Nov 3-26), “explores the fluidity of boundaries between bodies, specifically questions arising from the processes and practices of organ transplantation surgery, and research into the complex phenomenological responses reported by organ transplant recipients.”

My Darling Patricia (see page review of Africa) in collaboration with Indigenous artists from Moogahlin Performing Arts will present their much anticipated Posts in the Paddock (Nov 9-19), a performance and installation drawing on the fact that 111 years ago relatives of company member Clare Britton were murdered in the Hunter Valley by the Aboriginal Bushranger, Jimmy Governor (the subject of Tom Kenneally’s novel, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and Fred Schepisi’s film). The artists offer the work as “an intimate and ultimately very personal work of reconciliation.” Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Sydney, www.performancespace.com.au

OH, Yong-Seok, cross, single channel, 5 min, 2002

OH, Yong-Seok, cross, single channel, 5 min, 2002

gold coast art gallery: korean re-imaginings of the city

Following the impressive Now and When exhibition (RT103), Gold Coast City Art Gallery is hosting an exhibition from the Seoul Museum of Art presented as part of the Korea-Australia Year of Friendship in response to Australia: Digital Urban Portraits. Drawn primarily from the SeMA collection, in this exhibition artists consider urban space as not materialistically composed of buildings, but inseparable from the environment, continually accumulating historic events. The artists in the exhibition imaginatively transform the urban environment. Korea-Australia Exchange Exhibition: Re-imagining the City, Contemporary Korean Media Art about Cities and Change, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Nov 5-Dec 11, www.theartscentregc.com.au/art-gallery/coming-soon.php

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 48

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

Charlotte Rampling, The Eye of the Storm

Charlotte Rampling, The Eye of the Storm

FILMMAKERS BRAVE (OR FOOLHARDY) ENOUGH TO TACKLE PATRICK WHITE’S RICH LITERARY LEGACY MIGHT BE COUNTED ON A COUPLE OF FINGERS. ALTHOUGH VOSS HAS BEEN SUCCESSFULLY ADAPTED TO THE OPERATIC STAGE, NOTHING CAME OF HARRY MILLER’S PROPOSED FILM IN THE LATE 60S, WHILE JIM SHARMAN’S THE NIGHT, THE PROWLER (1978) WAS FILMED FROM WHITE’S OWN SCRIPT.

During the author’s lifetime this paucity might have been attributed to the inexorable control that White exacted over his work and legacy—to the point of denying his own official biographer access to his private journals. However since his death, a new generation has been slow to grasp the opportunity presented by the novels. Indeed, it’s an experienced team who’ve risen to the challenge with The Eye of the Storm, the novel that tipped the scales to net the author his grudgingly accepted Nobel Prize in 1973.

Former socialite Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling) lies dying in her lavish residence by Centennial Park in Sydney. Occasionally lucid, though as often floating on an ocean of memory, her needs are attended by two nurses, the sassy Flora (Alexandra Schepisi) and saintly Mary (Maria Theodorakis), a housekeeper, the irascible masochist and Holocaust survivor Lottie Lippmann (Helen Morse), as well as stalwart family lawyer Wyburd (John Gaden). Into this delicate arrangement arrive Elizabeth’s estranged adult children: Dorothy (Judy Davis), the Princess de Lascabanes, smarting from a failed marriage into European aristocracy that has stranded her in middle age with nought but a title and some jewels; and Basil (Geoffrey Rush), a rumpled actor, knighted by the British, who floats through life playing to other people’s expectations while haunted by his failure as Lear, the role by which he measures the limits of his talent. Temporarily united by a shared plan to pack their mother away to a nursing home and generally accelerate their inheritance of her fortune, the pair descend upon the deathbed to extract what they feel is owed.

The extent to which the film is seen as a successful adaptation depends entirely on the degree to which the story is viewed as inseparable from the prose in which it was written. The pleasures and frustrations of White’s writing—which for many may amount to the same thing—unravel organically, brilliant tendrils of digression curling away from painstakingly crafted scenes, present action illuminated by streams of consciousness, prose of unrelenting precision sinking its barbs into the reader’s mind: “the women, either in loud summery shifts, apparently with nothing underneath, or else imprisoned in a rigid armature of lace, shrieked at one another monotonously out of unhealed wounds.” Writing to Cynthia Nolan in early 1970, White commented that the novel was “going to be in the shape of a spider’s web,” and indeed to read it is to trace each thread through the concentric circles of narrative that slowly orbit Elizabeth’s impending death.

The dangers in adapting a narrative of this complexity are manifold. Judy Morris, whose lengthy resume as a film and television actor is complemented by writing credits on the Babe sequel Pig in the City (1998) and George Miller’s dancing penguin extravaganza Happy Feet (2006), has sharpened the primary relationships while shearing away the majority of Elizabeth’s mental forays into the past, trimming the frumpish Jessie Badgery from her entourage and generally rearranging and combining scenes to allow a seamless cinematic flow, one that is amply realised by director Fred Schepisi.

Having made his name at home directing films such as The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), Schepisi departed for the US where he solidified a reputation for producing films both critically respected and commercially robust. With Eye he is less analeptically trigger-happy than might have been expected, relying on loaded visual imagery to suggest the barely supressed corruption in which White revelled, the camera lingering on mould formed on a dish of preserves, two kilos of beef rotting in a garbage bin, and worms “lashing themselves into a frenzy of pink exposure” beneath rose bushes “at the climax of their beauty.” The film combines lush costumes and decor—gilt bed frames, colonnades and chandeliers. The house at Centennial Park is an exercise in opulence. Adding a smoothly vapid jazz soundtrack, Schepisi succeeds in capturing the crass indulgence of the period without aiming for the florid ruthlessness with which White represented his countrymen—although Colin Friels’ lascivious politician Athol Shreve comes close.

One of Schepisi’s most obvious achievements with this film is simply assembling a cast of such calibre. Judy Davis is superb as Dorothy, the perennially disappointed princess, murmuring the correct formalities through sour lips, roiling insecurities being permitted meagre outlet as she kicks her mother’s tasteful furnishings. Trained by Elizabeth in pursuit of wealth, Dorothy takes none of her mother’s unalloyed pleasure in the material; in one brilliant scene, she is surprised by Mary while rubbing her face on a sumptuous rug, Davis’ face collapsing from mortification into self-disgust on learning that the fur is platypus. Rush is equally good as the fumbling, narcissistic actor: “I think I might be ready for something real” he tells Flora with sublime self-delusion after their mutual seduction— though his presence tends to overwhelm the whole, a fact not helped by his unnecessary narration.

Charlotte Rampling is also excellent as the still-regal Elizabeth, her features displaying both the collapsed beauty and inner steel of the dying matriarch. Even from her death bed she is capable of slicing through the affectations of her love-starved children, out-performing the debonair Basil in their excruciating reunion or reducing Dorothy to sputtering incoherence with a sweet enquiry: “Are you going through a difficult time again?” However it is in its representation of Elizabeth that the film runs against the limits of the medium. In the novel, White accessed scenes from across a lifetime of casually unthinking egotism and the brutal pursuit of status, offering her character both as it was and is perceived in recollection all at once. Rampling, though brilliantly cast, can only gesture toward such psychological depth.

This is made manifest in the way both texts deal with Elizabeth’s moment of revelation, where, battered by the hurricane of the title on the fictionalised Brumby Island, she relinquishes her own unyielding hold on life and experiences a moment of sublime grace. In the novel, her rambling mind persists in returning to this moment, which both anchors the novel and her character, the insight into her own selfish refusal to open herself to love casting its illumination across the rest of her life. “She was no longer a body, least of all a woman,” White writes. “She was instead a being, or more likely a flaw at the centre of this jewel of light: the jewel itself, blinding and tremulous at the same time, existed, flaw and all, only by grace.” Limited as he is by the eye of the camera, Schepisi is merely able to capture the image of Rampling standing in the surf, dappled by the shadows of seabirds, her face upturned and exaltant. Although beautiful, the moment is perhaps unavoidably stripped of much of its psychological and indeed metaphysical resonance.

“The worst thing about love between human beings,” declares Elizabeth early in the novel, is “when you’re prepared to love them they don’t want it; when they do, it’s you who can’t bear the idea.” Over the course of nearly 600 pages of vividly imagined prose, White meticulously traces the destructive effects of attempting to impose one’s will on the heart. In contrast, Schepisi and Morris have managed to dramatise the essentially meaningless theatre to which relationships descend when denied loving sustenance.

The Eye of the Storm, director Fred Schepisi, novel Patrick White, screenplay Judy Morris, cinematographer Ian Baker, editor Kate Williams, production designer Melinda Doring, composer Paul Grabowsky, Paper Bark Films, distributor Transmission, 2011

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 21

© Oliver Downes; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

FUKNO, 1/4_inch

FUKNO, 1/4_inch

FUKNO, 1/4_inch

IN THE FINAL PART OF THIS SURVEY OF EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC ACTIVITIES AROUND SYDNEY (AND A LITTLE BIT BEYOND) I ATTEND ONE OF THE LONGEST RUNNING AND MOST NOMADIC EVENTS, 1/4_INCH, AND THE YOUNGEST OF THE BUNCH, PSH.LIVE, OPERATING OUT OF A NEW ARTIST-RUN-SPACE IN ROZELLE .

¼_inch

¼_inch began in 2002 in the heady days of the first wave of experimental audio events. Started by Aaron Hull and Julius Ambroisine, then students at the University of Western Sydney, it sought to complement gigs like Caleb Kelly’s impermanent.audio. Both took place at The Frequency Lab and while Kelly certainly programmed emerging artists ¼_inch had an arguably more laid-back curatorial approach, presenting more student works and a more diverse range of musics.

In 2005 Hull moved events to Wollongong (where he lives and works) still presenting occasional Sydney shows; however as of 2010 he has concentrated solely on Wollongong. Since 2008 events have been co-curated with Greg Hughes taking place in a range of venues including the iconic Headlands Hotel in Austinmer (now closed, the site slated for redevelopment), a modern industrial unit and various spaces around University of Wollongong. The night I attended, the venue was Yours and Owls, a cute café bar in the heart of Wollongong’s CBD.

It was hard not to expect a playful tone to the night with band names such as Gregisms, Wizard Bong, FUKNO and a DJ known as AKA. Gregisms is Dean English & Jariss Shead, students at the University of Wollongong, playing, to my taste, the most engaging set of the night. Using no-input mixing, voice, iPhone and various other effects they create sculpted layers of textured feedback, filling the harmonic spectrum to create an intense soundscape with satisfying internal logics and plenty of detail.

Next up was Wizard Bong—Fraughman (Steve Stuart) on guitar/vocals and Swerve (Steve Harris of DualPlover label) on analogue synthesiser/vocals. Perhaps their sound was too big for such a small room serviced by a non-attended PA, as even they admitted that they struggled to create any sense of structure or relative clarity within their particular brand of guitar assault cum big synth effects and vocal screamo. A shame, as listening to their tracks later online (http://wizardbong.bandcamp.com/releases) there’s definitely something intriguing going on there that sounds completely different from their live performance.

Final act for the night was local hero FUKNO who appeared with a yellow T-shirt fashioned into a balaclava with drawn-on smiley face, playing a range of electronics housed in a plastic bread-delivery crate. The music is noisy, crunchy idiosyncratic techno, with unpredictable squeals and squelches over great thumping beats that he bribes us to dance to by passing out tabs of “acid.” Maybe they worked as a few lads hit the one-by-one-metre dance floor. It’s a neat, well-executed parody (or extension of a form, I’m not quite sure which) and particularly amusing given the inappropriateness of the venue.

This session of ¼_inch had cohesion in its selection of acts, playful and chaotic as they were. Other events have had more serious approaches and the very presence of the gig in a regional city (admittedly one very close to Sydney) is important in terms of developing local musicians and the beginnings of an east-coast touring circuit for both interstate and international artists.

Defektro, PSH.Live

Defektro, PSH.Live

Defektro, PSH.Live

psh.live

It seems fitting to end this series on sound events in Sydney with the newest gig on the scene, PSH.Live. The PSH gallery is part of Anyplace Projects, a collective that negotiates between property owners and potential tenants to allow temporary use of unoccupied spaces for community and cultural purposes. The Terry Street warehouse in Rozelle includes the Blood & Thunder printing press, a screen-printing facility open to the public, a cinema, a band rehearsal room and artists’ studios. The PSH gallery is basically the garage of the warehouse, allowing one-night-only exhibitions, and also opens its roller door once a month on a Sunday afternoon for live experimental music curated by Romy Caen (also curator of Sound Series see Part 2, RT104) and Liam O’Donoghue.

The July instalment focused on handmade and home-hacked instruments. Anomie kicked off the afternoon with John Papert on cobbled together drum kit augmented with glass vases and objects and Mark Hall on pedals and guitar. Papert’s percussion has an orchestral feel, with deep tom rolls, cymbals, gongs and glassy boings on the vases, spacious and well integrated with Hall’s sheets of affected guitar feedback moving through a nice mix of rhythmic shifts.

Next up was Defektro (Hirofumi Uchino) who makes his own effects pedals and instruments. With a startling array of electronics on the table in front of him, his version of noise is curiously restrained and minimal with only a few sonic elements introduced at one time—a slow insistent beat, scraping metals, small taps and the occasional squall of dirty feedback. The effect is of small episodes of sound and I wish for more momentum in the middle section but he makes up for this with his shredding jet engine sequence near the end, augmented by a military-like parabolic speaker scattering sound around the small space in unpredictable directions. Of course it’s impossible not to mention the gas-powered sound cannon that shoots a burst of flame when the spring mechanism is hit, producing a surprisingly sweet clang and quiet whoomf. Defektro also sells his pedals, which are beautiful hand-made objects in themselves.

The final act of the afternoon was Mike Majkowski and Dale Gorfinkel working with extended techniques on double bass and vibraphone respectively, an interesting analogue complement to the earlier acts, and covered recently in RealTime (see Part 2, RT104).

Given the range of events discussed in this series of articles, one might wonder whether we needed another experimental music gig, however PSH.Live offers a point of difference by including an after-show discussion. The conversation following this performance covered instrument building and its political, economic and creative motivations as well as lively debate around the difference between experimental practices and experimental music. All the discussions are transcribed and published online, along with full sound files of each to the sets. This is a great resource (though difficult to find on the Anyplace site without the direct link from Facebook; www.anyplaceprojects.com/?p=129), and makes PSH.Live a vital addition to the culture of experimental music in Sydney and most particularly its documentation.

life cycles

The gig series featured in this three-part survey are key activities that ensure a vibrant spirit of adventure and innovation across a range of music practices including pop, improv, noise and electronica, which for better or worse can be defined as experimental in agenda. In addition to these events there are also venues that mount individual gigs such as Dirty Shirlows and the CAD Factory, and a few loungeroom events that wish to remain under the radar for fear of the imposition of town council regulations. There’s a range of activities more in the jazz realm such as 501, Colbourne Ave at Glebe Cafe Church, Impermanent Studio, Cockatoo Calling and regular SIMA events that also have an impact on the vibrancy of the non-mainstream musical landscape. While some of the events occasionally receive funding, allowing artists to be paid a small fee, on the whole these activities are fuelled solely by a passion to provide avenues for artists to explore their practice and for audiences to experience new sounds. This DIY model inevitably leads to short life cycles, although this survey illustrates that longevity is sometimes possible. As the impact of new liquor and public entertainment licensing laws is just beginning to be felt in Sydney, I look forward to seeing which events will thrive and what new activities will develop in the future.

¼_inch, curators Aaron Hull, Greg Hughes, performers, AKA, Gregisms, Wizard Bong, FUKNO, Yours & Owls, Wollongong, Aug 25; www.1-4inch.com; PSH.Live, curators Romy Caen, Liam O’Donoghue, performers Anomie, Defektro, Dale Gorfinkel & Mike Majkowski, PSH Gallery, Rozelle; July 31; www.anyplaceprojects.com

See also Part 1: The Silent Hour, Ladyz in Noyz, High Reflections (RT103) and Part 2: The NOW now, Sound Series (RT104)

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 36

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Fourth Portrait

The Fourth Portrait

ON THE ONE HAND IT WAS GREAT TO SEE OUR REGION’S CINEMA HIGHLIGHTED AT MIFF THIS YEAR WITH THE “ACCENT ON ASIA” STRAND. ON THE OTHER HAND THIS BRACKETING OFF OF ASIAN CONTENT REFLECTS THE UNRELENTINGLY EURO AND US-CENTRIC CINEMATIC VISION PREVALENT IN AUSTRALIA.

While the festival’s “World Panorama” program consisted almost entirely of European and American fare, cinema from our near neighbours was still packaged as an exoticised sideshow. Nonetheless, these “accented” titles provided two of the festival’s most engaging films from a pair of directorial talents only just emerging onto the world stage.

the fourth portrait

Rising Taiwanese director Chung Mong-hong delivered a stunning childhood tale from the wrong side of the island with The Fourth Portrait. Taiwanese cinema has undergone something of a revival in recent years, clawing back a share of the island’s box office after years of domination by the Hollywood steamroller. Among the clutch of popular titles released over the past half-decade was Chung’s debut Parking in 2008, a solid if at times overly sentimental look at the darker, after-hours side of life in Taipei. The Fourth Portrait similarly deals with experiences lying beneath the visible flow of daily life, but it’s an altogether more complex and affecting work than Parking.

The Fourth Portrait opens with Xiang, a taciturn 10-year-old boy, left alone following his father’s sudden death. After he is caught stealing lunches at school, a gruff cleaner realises Xiang has no family at home, and through his intervention the boy is reunited with his long absent mother, now living in a rural area with a baby and a brooding second husband. As Xiang hesitantly moves into his new life with his surrogate family, his dreams become haunted by his older brother, who vanished in mysterious circumstances several years earlier. Disturbed by these nightly visions of his sibling’s wandering soul, Xiang begins to suspect his stepfather knows more about his brother’s disappearance than he is letting on.

At one level Chung’s film is a beautifully understated study of the powerlessness of childhood, strongly reminiscent of François Truffaut’s classic The 400 Blows (1959). Like Jean-Pierre Léaud’s character in Truffaut’s film, Xiang is a boy who has experienced too much too young, and who understands far more about the world than the adults around him realise. He moves through his surrounds as an observer rather than a protagonist, trying to make sense of adult senselessness and sketching his encounters in a series of portraits illustrating his gallows humour and growing sophistication. In another nod to Truffaut, when Xiang reaches his fourth portrait, Chung’s film ends in a startling moment of reflexiveness that turns the boy’s gaze back upon the viewer—and upon Xiang himself.

The Fourth Portrait is also rich in allegorical resonances. Xiang’s missing brother is the most literal of the film’s apparitions, but Taiwan here is an island haunted by many spectres, from the elderly school cleaner’s traumatic memories of wartime Shanghai to Xiang’s mother’s more recent painful past on the mainland. Like Xiang, Taiwan has entered an era of relative freedom since the death of its patriarch, but as a political and cultural entity it remains unsure of itself and where its future lies. Xiang finds an uneasy shelter in his mother’s new home—just as Taiwan has ensured its economic survival by cosying up to Beijing—but his bullying stepfather, nursing his own dark secrets and murderous temper, is hardly a role model for the boy. If there is hope, it lies with the younger generation, expressed in Xiang’s final moment of clear sighted, unflinching self-reflection.

The allegorical undertones never feel forced however and the spare script and restrained performances prevent the story ever slipping into sentimentality or melodrama. Bi Xiaohai is wonderful as Xiang, achieving a fine balance between expression and introversion. Hao Lei is also excellent as Xiang’s mother. Best known for her lead role in Lou Ye’s Summer Palace (2006), Hao’s performance in The Fourth Portrait earned her Taiwan’s 2010 Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actress.

The Fourth Portrait bodes well for Chung Mong-hong’s career as a budding talent of Taiwan’s contemporary film revival. While the film’s pace and domestic drama is reminiscent of the classics of Taiwan’s new wave, and the Truffaut influence is clear, The Fourth Portrait remains an original, quietly searing picture of childhood, whose atmosphere lingers long after Xiang’s probing eyes have burnt up the final frames of the film.

eternity

Thai director Sivaroj Kongsakul’s debut Eternity is another tale in which ghostly memories haunt the landscape, leaving gentle vibrations in the physical world. Much Thai cinema is replete with ghosts, spirits and slow-burn sexuality, and the influence of local master Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Syndromes and a Century, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) is obvious here.

Eternity begins with a series of long take panoramas of a rural landscape, traversed by a man on a motorbike apparently searching for something—or someone. He finally stops at a tiny roadside shrine, prays and gazes sadly at a small house in the distance. From here we move back to the man’s first holiday in his home village with his Bangkok girlfriend. Their love is obvious in small moments of togetherness, yet they barely touch until their final night in the village, when he slides under her mosquito net and into her bed. On their way back to the capital, a discussion beside the grave of a relative segues into the girlfriend’s departing the cemetery with two grown children. She is older, slightly heavier, with the same cool grace, but now marked by an air of sadness.

This fluid sense of time carries the viewer along throughout the film, in gentle eddies and swirls of memory as past and present intermingle in the family’s Bangkok home. The teenage son echoes his father’s youthful flirtatiousness, while the father’s spectral presence is marked by flickering lights. Or maybe it’s just a fluctuation in power. Whether we read Eternity as a ghost story or a more literal tale of memories living on in the lives of those we leave behind, it’s a beautifully minimalist evocation of profound, unspoken love—and the melancholy absence that’s left with our passing.

a world apart?

Other titles in MIFF’s Accent on Asia strand showed the region’s commercial industry is powering on, particularly South Korea’s seemingly endless stream of highly popular, ultra-violent tales of male disintegration. Several Japanese titles, including Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage, proved the island nation can still match Korea in terms of bloody cinematic extremes. It was The Fourth Portrait and Eternity, however, that demonstrated some of the world’s most innovative and subtly poetic works continue to come from our northern neighbours, even if here in Australia we still tend to view these films as somehow standing apart from the rest of world cinema.

Melbourne International Film Festival, various venues, July 21–Aug 7, www.miff.com.au

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg.

© Dan Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

 Jerome Noetinger, Overground

Jerome Noetinger, Overground

Jerome Noetinger, Overground

THE SECOND OVERGROUND, THE FESTIVAL-WITHIN-A-FESTIVAL SHOWCASING “CREATIVE AND IMPROVISATIONAL ARTISTS” AT THE 2011 MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL, WAS AS CONTESTED AND CURIOUS A BEAST AS THE INAUGURAL EVENT, WHICH TOOK PLACE AT THE 2010 FESTIVAL.

The focus this year was on international, inter-generational and inter-scene collaboration, which is laudable enough as a buzz-word gambit, until you realize exactly what this kind of unguided, ‘pick-a-name-out-of-the-hat’ cross-wiring often leads to—‘experimentation’ in its most pejorative sense, as if some kind of dumb mathematical equation (ie Tony Conrad + Chris Abrahams) could equate to engrossing performance, simply by resting on brand power. It was not to be.

The highlights came early. Entering the main room in the Town Hall, I caught Charlemagne Palestine and Oren Ambarchi in deep commune, Palestine working the Town Hall organ with rigorous yet sensitive force, Ambarchi further mutating the bottom-end. Both artists have pretty much defined their aesthetic remit by now, such that the combination of Palestine and Ambarchi yields exactly what you’d expect, but in this case the duo was both a no-brainer and perhaps the most genuinely sympatico collaboration of the day’s events. They managed to do one thing, brilliantly, over the course of a simple half hour—a lesson that many of the other performers at Overground would have done well to learn.

Palestine’s next performance was to be a solo set of his electronics, but he backed out, which meant the organisers wisely bumped Jérôme Noetinger’s solo performance across the schedule, into a longer slot. After a charming spoken introduction, Noetinger spent 19 minutes proving why he is still the master of the Revox: few other artists have such a clear, eloquent grasp of their instrument and of the possibilities of live electroacoustics. Part of the pleasure of Noetinger’s performance was its tactility, the sheer sensual pleasure of watching a tape gently looping around reels laid flat, while he toggled switches, manhandled the tape to slow, speed or warp the audio, turned his concrete vocals to rough, abraded signal and generally mapped his mastery of the idiom into a concise, gripping performance. Nothing to fault here—Noetinger is in a class of his own.

Après, le deluge. The remaining hours of Overground, sadly, offered little of merit. Collaborative endeavour within experimental music is a tricky beast, one further complicated by the presence of free improvisation as a sub-set within the meta-genre. But improvisation is not a simple metonym for experiment and Overground repeatedly placed artists together who were fine working within their own dialect, but not (yet) able to speak across boundaries. As one local wag mentioned later, “If it were Derek Bailey playing with another top-flight improviser, things would be different,” but this wasn’t—not to take away from the performers necessarily. However too often this kind of all-in-one love-fest of experimentation offers little to the audience beyond the sum of its parts.

The pairing of Jim Denley and xNOBBQx was a clear example. The set felt like a botched attempt at entente cordiale between xNOBBQx’s wild punk primitivism and Denley’s glossolalic improvisations. There were moments dotted throughout where they almost built up momentum, but mostly this consisted of two ideas running parallel, without the thrills that seemingly random, post-Surrealist juxtaposition can throw at the listener. In the end I simply wished I’d seen both performers do their usual fabulous things. Sky Needle and Snawklor were perhaps more suited, but they faced a similar problem. Both worked well with their own idiom, but the results didn’t gel. Sky Needle also seemed a little lost, the initial charm of their shtick—hand-made instruments turning out brilliantly odd avant-pop miniatures—wearing a bit thin, with little new to offer. Let’s hope this is just a holding gesture, while they figure out their next step.

Will Guthrie and Cured Pink was another abortive mismatch. Since moving to Nantes, France several years ago, Guthrie’s playing has shot through the firmament, but this new articulacy was lost in his duo with Brisbane-based agent provocateur Cured Pink, who spent the set playing at the kind of fifth-rate body/sound art that was practically dead in the water by the mid 80s. Guthrie responded with some of the most physically vicious playing I’ve seen from him in some time, and if anything, this set was worthwhile just to see him behind a full kit again, playing with a desperate edge—I guess that’s called making the best of a tough situation.

Two of the drawcards of the festival were Krautrock pioneers Faust and their one-time collaborator, minimalist Tony Conrad. Tellingly, they were also drawcards for festivals in the Northern Hemisphere, such as the Table of the Elements in the mid to late 1990s. Faust’s set with Noetinger and Sean Baxter was an abject disaster of aimless ‘out-rock’ doodling, despite the brave attempts of both Baxter and Noetinger to get things on track. (It proved beyond doubt that the brilliance of Faust’s sainted 1970s albums was all due to their studio construction.) Closing the night, Conrad’s duo with Chris Abrahams was another botched collaboration, with Conrad treating Abrahams as an accompanist, playing weak-kneed, scraping violin improv stylings with all the style of a remedial Jon Rose, giving Abrahams nothing to actively work with. It speaks volumes of Baxter and Abrahams that they pushed against the odds; and if anything, Overground proves that Australian experimental and improvised music is both thriving and deserving of a far better showcase.

The presence of the festival’s roamers and installation artists was most telling of the contentious relationship between official festival culture and the feverish creativity of the underground, loaded and uncomfortable though that word may be. There’s no denying that they added character to the event – walking past disco auteur Fabio Umberto doing his thing in a stairwell was one of the day’s highlights. But when performers dared to cross an invisible psychic line, such as when vocal scream artist Kusum Normoyle set up and gave an electrifying solo scream performance while ‘official’ festival musicians were playing in an adjacent room, only to be abruptly shut down by a festival co-organiser, the poverty of the set-up was made clear, despite co-curator Joel Stern’s assertion in Mess and Noise that the roamers were “asked…to be mobile, flexible, interventionist and interactive” (personal disclosure: I know Normoyle).

So, just remember, don’t be too interventionist and don’t disrupt the sanctity of official culture. (You can see the performance here: http://vimeo.com/25476198.) While Normoyle’s performance may have momentarily disrupted other artists, such are the risks one must accept when ‘intervention’ is encouraged. The moment was sadly telling of an overall lack of heart and spirit in an event that felt much more about hedging bets than really taking risks.

Overground, Melbourne International Jazz Festival, co-curators Sophia Brous, Lloyd Honeybrook, Joel Stern, Melbourne Town Hall, June 9

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 40

© Jon Dale; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

http://culture.arts.gov.au/have-your-say

The Government’s National Cultural Policy Discussion Paper appears to cover all bases: the “core” arts (or “cultural industries”), the creative industries, Indigenous arts, innovation, young artists and audiences, new technologies (including the role of the National Broadband Network), arts education in schools and a National Arts Curriculum, reviews of private sector support and of the Major Performing Arts sector, a creative industries strategy, a national design policy, a review of the National Classification scheme and more. Some of the reviews are already under way, including a Convergence review “examining the policy and regulatory frameworks that apply to the converged media and communications landscape in Australia.” There’s an overriding desire for inclusivity, “to bring the arts and creative industries into the main­stream of Australian life,” to create careers and increase innovation and productivity. There’s also a desire for a “whole-of-government” approach, not least for the creative industries and Indigenous arts. The paper’s data on the current productivity in the arts and creative industries clearly suggests that further government investment (current investment is also very clearly delineated) would be even more beneficial for the Australian economy. The Discussion Paper is nothing less than ambitious if all its goals were to be realised. Only once, I think, is a 10-year time framework mentioned. Much will depend on the outcomes of the public discussion, the stripe of the governments in power over the next decade and the strength of the National Cultural Policy itself, if it’s to be more than a motherhood statement. You can read the Discussion Paper at http://culture.arts.gov.au/ and make submissions online or by email (culturalpolicy@pmc.gov.au) until October 21. The paper is well worth reading: it warrants your contribution to a critical discussion.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 2

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Michael Rymer

Michael Rymer

Michael Rymer

LOCATING AUSTRALIAN DIRECTOR MICHAEL RYMER IN A LARGE HARBOURSIDE HOTEL COULD BE A CHALLENGE. HE’S BURIED AMONGST THE POTTED PALMS AND SURROUNDED BY WHAT LOOKS LIKE A WHOLE CONVENTION OF JAPANESE FLIGHT ATTENDANTS. THE DIRECTOR PROBABLY HAS A WEARISOME SLEW OF THESE INTERVIEWS BUT HE IS CHARMING AND RELAXED COMPANY. WITH HIS CRISP BLUE SHIRT AND TANNED FEATURES HE HAS A LOOK THAT ONE COULD DESCRIBE AS ‘CALIFORNIAN HEALTHY.’ RYMER, ORIGINALLY FROM MELBOURNE, HAS INDEED SPENT QUITE A LOT OF TIME IN NORTH AMERICA HAVING GONE TO FILM SCHOOL IN NEW YORK AS A VERY YOUNG MAN. “I AM A LITTLE BIT TRANSPACIFIC” HE SAYS, AND IF YOU LISTEN CAREFULLY YOU CAN DETECT VERY FAINT TRACES OF AN AMERICAN TWANG.

In 1995 Rymer burst on to the Australian scene with the quirky, utterly brilliant Angel Baby, an oddball love story starring the inimitable Jacqueline Mackenzie. Pretty soon Rymer was off to North America. He spent quite a lot of time in Vancouver where he worked for years on the highly cult sci-fi Battlestar Galactica (once described as ‘Star Trek for grown-ups’). Rymer loved working on it and says it taught him a hell of a lot about how to hold audiences with just timing and good directing. “It’s dark and broody. But we shot five or six pages of script a day so I learned some tricks about covering material fast and keeping an audience on its toes.”

He needs these skills for his return-to-Australia film Face to Face, which has secured a lot of festival notice including more than one audience selection. Given that it is in some ways a tough watch, Rymer is pleased with those non-critical accolades. When I tell him I have only seen the film with other critics he urges me to see it again “with a real audience.”

Face to Face

Face to Face

Face to Face was born out of Rymer’s encounter, via his friend David Moore, with the alternative approach to crime resolution known as Restorative Justice. They both thought it would make the basis for some incredible drama. So did playwright David Williamson and he wrote a play based on the idea. To some Williamson is a ‘national treasure’; to others he is someone who grasps abstract issues better than real characters. Rymer says Williamson can sometimes get depressed about those accusations. He told his friend not to worry as he would surely outlast his critics. Rymer took on the challenge of converting the play to the screen whilst avoiding staginess. He showed the drafts to Williamson and was pleasantly surprised how smoothly it all went. “I was a little bit nervous showing it to him but he was very generous. He must have liked what I did as he didn’t change much at all.”

We talk about some of the other plays to film adaptations. Rymer recalls Robert Altman (a big influence) coming to his film school and showing them Streamers (1983). More recently there was Nicolas Hytner’s filming of his stage-directed History Boys (2006). The best analogy for Rymer though is Sydney Lumet’s first film: “I love that. I would like to think of this film as an Australian contemporary Twelve Angry Men (1957).”

The look of the film is very much down to its location. Apart from a few strategic flashbacks to open it up, the whole shoot was done in a big Trades Hall in central Melbourne. Rymer turns out to be a pretty good location scout too: “I knew I had to find a place that had great texture and light. That is the look of the whole movie. It was actually a working bar too so at night we had to pack up the whole shoot!”

The film was shot using available light. Rymer was initially worried as the film was pioneering the use of new compact digital cameras—the Canon D series. “I remember we had to wait for a special patch to convert to film frame speed.” Although the cameras were forgiving, the rapid intense shoot does make one nervous. As Rymer says, “the one thing with that kind of shoot is that there is no margin for error. If just one of the actors had not been on form, or if something technical had gone wrong, then you are in trouble.”

Rymer’s strong suit is his amazing cast with at least four well-known names and some excellent support players. Rymer was canny about this aspect too. It helped that some of the cast lived in the city where it was shot and that the shoot took only about two weeks of their busy lives. “The trick is to ask people really late. If you ask them too early—and there’s little money in it—they are unlikely to block out that period of time or avoid better paid work.” Given that the film is about victims and perpetrators confronting the past and each other, it can get very intense. Rymer describes the shoot as a ‘crucible’: “I am a believer in the idea that what happens behind the camera affects what’s in front and vice versa. We benefited from an intense shoot I think. We didn’t have time to rehearse too much and over-think it. You need very good actors to do that of course.”

Although the film has meaty roles for Matthew Newton and Vince Colosimo and Luke Ford (the up and coming actor from Black Balloon and Red Dog) it was actually anchored around Sigrid Thornton. “She was first person on board and that is important. She was a friend I had always wanted to work with. The movie doesn’t really belong to her character but she is so good, so generous. She even co-wrote a monologue (approved by Williamson) which adds to her character.”

There’s no big PR and marketing budget either so the film will depend a lot on word of mouth. Rymer was pleased the film got the audience vote at the recent Melbourne International Film Festival. He hopes the package as a whole will intrigue people: “It’s a home-grown film and privately funded. We just think we will take it to the ‘court of public opinion’.”

Face to Face, direction, screenplay Michael Rymer, from the play by David Williamson; distributor Australian Film Syndicate, 2011

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 24

© Julian Wood; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Alicia Crossley

Alicia Crossley

Alicia Crossley

CHRONOLOGY ARTS, A COLLECTIVE OF COMPOSERS PREDOMINANTLY CONSISTING OF GRADUATES FROM THE SYDNEY CONSERVATORIUM, WAS FORMED WITH THE AIM OF PROVIDING A PLATFORM FOR THE AIRING OF NEW AUSTRALIAN MUSIC.

Addicted to Bass, the performance I attended, was part of this ongoing project. Alicia Crossley had approached seven of Australia’s leading young composers during her Masters research into bass recorder performance, to compose “pioneering works that would launch the bass recorder into the twenty-first century, pushing extremes.”

Financing these commissions herself, Crossley was determined not only to develop the repertoire of her favourite instrument but to feed Sydney’s budding new-music scene. This endeavour ticked all the boxes of contemporary composition: obscure instrumentation, sexy performer and underground venue (Sound Lounge is a concrete bunker under Sydney University’s Seymour Centre). The ambitious compositions delivered by the beautifully bejewelled Crossley varied in listenability. Some compositions explored the crossovers and divides of timbral combinations, including Tristan Coelho’s As the Dust Settles. Others felt like they might have been better expressed through poetry or dance rather than the abstract world of sound. In some cases, such as Night Seller Tissue Season by Hayden Woolf, Canto-Fiato by Chris Williams or Calliphora by Mark Oliveiro, the concepts were easier to appreciate than their execution in composition and performance.

Calliphora is the Latin name for the common blowfly. Oliveiro’s work for bass recorder and electronics was designed to mimic the sounds that might be heard if a tiny microphone were placed under a fly’s wings. Making use of trills and overblown high notes, it would make the perfect soundtrack to an interactive aeronautical museum. At times echoes seemed to come through long tin piping, hinting at the digestive system of a mechanical cockroach. A motif of overblown harmonics had Aboriginal dreamtime overtones.

Woolf’s trio for soprano, piano and bass recorder entered the bleak world of illegal organ trade. Supposedly this was a metaphor for the recorder’s innocent, disjointed and vulnerable reputation. With lyrics that included: “thieves laugh, cash comes in…vascular vulture he is slicing our surgical frown…we are meat, just meat to you, milked of our meat…payment refused, organ abuse…” and a rollicking piano line, the treatment of this very serious issue played out musically as too tongue in cheek. “Defective subjects screech…” soprano Anna Fraser shrieked. As pure musical romp, it had good movement and contrasting sections but it could have been written for any instruments. The bass recorderness was not immediately apparent.

Doppelganger by Elias Constantopedos continued in the language of 20th century composers for recorder including Hans Ulrich Staeps and Chiel Meijering. However, rather than creating layered lines in ensemble writing, he let technology duplicate and modify solo sounds. All electronics were created live from the bass recorder input and shaped by sound engineer Ben Carey.

Impulse Stream, Alex Pozniac’s work for solo bass recorder was the stand out, seeming to come from a well-defined source, a self-etched canon including solo works Mercurial, Interventions, Crush and Flying Verticles. To communicate the value of the usually marginalised recorder, Pozniac revealed some of the technical skill required to play it well. Recognising the big recorder’s tone production as “fragile and malleable” Pozniac’s piece allowed Crossley to demonstrate her technical brilliance by withdrawing her instrument from the equation, at times having her sing and vocalise the tonguing she would otherwise direct into the recorder: T k t k t tktktktktktk. WoooooOOOooooo. The composition also captured allusions to childhood self-consciousness by having Crossley whistle and sing in a high-pitched, nervous way. Her little girl voice begged pardon for her technical virtuosity in a wonderful opposition. Pozniac not only explained the technical stream of recorder playing but the impulses of the recorder player’s self doubt.

Andrew Batt Rawden introduced his piece E, for bass recorder and electronics, as a battle. His title is derived from the abbreviated name for Ecstasy, a drug Batt Rawden admits he has never tried. He imagines the drug helps to “transcend consciousness and exit corporeality into a darker side of the mind” and that while the drug is said to produce a friendly haze, there is “more to love than the fluffy bits.” But what of the performance? Crossley looked great in chunky headphones but her recorder was so heavily miked that sheet-music page turns turned out to be major sound events in the battle.

Addicted to Bass was built on a solid base of musical integrity if sometimes competing with an aura of glamour. The project has been a success in the sense that repertoire for bass recorder has been expanded. By producing a commercial recording a space of reverence has been carved out around these new compositions: a sort of self validating gesture which is absolutely valuable because who is better equipped to judge the merit of this innovation than musical peers? These young composers have collectively asserted that these works are worth circulating.

Alicia Crossley and Chronology Arts: Addicted to Bass, performers Alicia Crossley, Vatche Jambazian, Victoria Jacono, Joshua Hill, Anna Fraser and Ben Carey, Seymour Centre, Sydney, Aug 25

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 41

© Felicity Clark; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Tebekenikora Village, The Hungry Tide

Tebekenikora Village, The Hungry Tide

IS THERE ANY GREATER SIGN OF AUSTRALIA’S GLIB ISOLATION FROM WORLD AFFAIRS THAN THE LOCAL ‘DEBATE’ OVER CLIMATE CHANGE? WHILE HUGE SWATHES OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION ARE ALREADY HAVING TO COPE WITH THE DIRECT CONSEQUENCES OF A WARMING PLANET, HERE IN AUSTRALIA THE QUESTION OF WHETHER GLOBAL WARMING IS EVEN HAPPENING IS STILL TREATED AS A SERIOUS ONE. INTO THIS DIVIDED DISCOURSE STEPS TOM ZUBRYCKI’S NEW FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY, THE HUNGRY TIDE, A PORTRAIT OF SYDNEY-BASED ACTIVIST MARIA TIIMON AS SHE WORKS TO DRAW ATTENTION TO THE PLIGHT OF HER PACIFIC ISLAND NATION KIRIBATI, WHICH IS ALREADY BEING INUNDATED BY RISING TIDES.

“I’ve been following the climate debate for a number of years and became very interested in the countries on the frontline,” says veteran director Zubrycki. “Kiribati and its neighbor Tuvalu are expected to be the first nations in the world to disappear as a result of climate change, so this was the trigger and motivation to make the film. The next step was to personalise the issue and find a narrative.”

Into this breach stepped Tiimon, an advocate with the Pacific Calling Partnership NGO based at the Edmund Rice Centre in Sydney. As the film opens, she is preparing to journey to Copenhagen in late 2009 to represent her nation at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.

“Kiribati seems at the very edge of the earth for most Australians, yet it is only just east of Bougainville,” Zubrycki says of Maria Tiimon’s homeland. The country’s 33 atolls are an average of only two metres above sea level. Given that even optimistic forecasts predict a rise of 0.8 metres by the end of this century, it’s likely that Kiribati will be virtually uninhabitable by the time today’s babies reach old age.

Despite the severity of the threat, Maria is initially quite shy in her advocacy role, and part of the film’s journey is her growth as a media performer over the 12 months Zubrycki follows her. “Maria was the total opposite of Ramos Horta,” the director says, referring to his 2000 film The Diplomat, a classic portrait of the East Timorese leader. “Horta was driven by ego and the unshakeable belief that history was on his side. For Maria, being an advocate for her country was something thrust on her. She was a little reluctant at first, even though she believed passionately in the cause.”

Maria Tiimon, The Hungry Tide

Maria Tiimon, The Hungry Tide

Despite Maria’s shyness, Zubrycki manages to build an easygoing intimacy with her, based on a mixture of observational footage and casual verbal interactions. It’s a style that has served him well over the course of more than a dozen films, lending a personal dimension to his broader socio-political concerns. Recalling his early days in Sydney’s community video movement and the influence of US documentarians like Frederick Wiseman and Richard Leacock, Zubrycki explains, “I was restricted by budget so I could never do ‘pure’ direct cinema. So I developed a signature style which was a mix of direct cinema, interview and montage.”

The personal encroaches on the political in The Hungry Tide as Maria is torn between her family in Kiribati and her role on the world stage. These personal conflicts provide an involving emotional sub-plot and counterpoint to the broader dilemma faced by her nation.

As we follow Maria home to Kiribati just before the Copenhagen conference, the stark global inequalities driving the climate change phenomenon become all too apparent. From the luxury of life in Australia we are plunged into the basic existence of the Kiribati people, where even the arrival of a television set in Maria’s brother’s home is a major event. “It was only when I got to know Maria better that I became aware of the pressures from her family back on the islands,” says Zubrycki. “She was supporting two families in fact—her extended clan on her home island of Beru and her brother and his eight kids in the impoverished, overcrowded Kiribati capital Tarawa. She was living two lives and trying to find a balance between them.”

The stark impression of a global pecking order is only reinforced by the scenes in Copenhagen. The Kiribati delegation is forced by budgetary restraints to stay two hours out of the city and Maria has to double as a dancer at the nation’s press conference because they can’t afford to fly in a professional troupe. As we follow the backstage machinations from the Pacific Islanders’ perspective, we hear of the intense pressure applied by Canberra to these nations to withdraw their demand for a legally binding treaty—a manoeuvre barely mentioned in the post-conference rush to blame the dismal outcome on China.

Meanwhile, back in Kiribati the tide steadily encroaches on coastal settlements, roads and agricultural lands. “It struck me as a great irony,” Zubrycki comments wryly, “that Kiribati has contributed least to global carbon emissions but has the most to lose in terms of its vulnerability.” Unlike The Diplomat, which concluded with Ramos-Horta’s dramatic return to an independent East Timor after 25 years in exile, The Hungry Tide documents an ongoing struggle that is both more complex and potentially more devastating in its outcomes. Yet as Zubrycki notes, “Kiribati is not even on the radar for most Australians.”

Despite the vital role documentaries like The Hungry Tide play in bringing under-represented issues to public attention, Zubrycki remains frustrated with what he sees as a reluctance on the part of local broadcasters to back films with a regional focus. “For reasons that are beyond me, broadcasters believe their current affairs teams can cover Asia and the Pacific much more efficiently,” he says ruefully.

The fact that Kiribati’s plight is barely known in Australia contradicts the broadcasters’ belief—and illustrates why long-form documentaries are so important. It’s a testament to Tom Zubrycki’s skill as a filmmaker that he has touched upon so many vital issues in his career, through such intimate portraits of personalities big and small. Reporting the facts is important, but it’s our understanding of the people behind the headlines that can sow the seeds of real engagement—and in the longer term, the possibility of real change.

The Hungry Tide, director, producer Tom Zubrycki, 2011, Melbourne International Film Festival, July 21–7 Aug 7; www.miff.com.au

The Hungry Tide will screen in Sydney and Melbourne cinemas in late November. A 52-minute version will be shown on SBS 9.30pm, Sunday, Oct 9.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 25

© Dan Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

HAVING WON THE APRA/AMC ART MUSIC AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE BY AN ORGANISATION FOR THEIR ANNUAL PROGRAM AS WELL AS THE QUEENSLAND STATE AWARD (RT103), BRISBANE’S CLOCKED OUT ARE PRESENTING THE SECOND OF THEIR THE TRILLING WIRE SERIES WHICH BRINGS TO BRISBANE DARING NEW MUSIC PERFORMERS FROM ACROSS AUSTRALIA. THE MOVEMENT OF NEW MUSIC ACROSS STATE BORDERS, FOSTERED SO STRONGLY BY THE NEW MUSIC NETWORK AND EVENTS LIKE TURA’S TOTALLY HUGE AND MONA FOMA, IS GIVEN EXTRA AND MUCH-NEEDED IMPETUS BY THIS CLOCKED OUT INITIATIVE.

Erik Griswold, co-director of Clocked Out with Vanessa Tomlinson, tells me, “I started The Trilling Wire Series last year upon realising that there were a number of really great contemporary/experimental music ensembles around the country doing fantastic programs that never made it to Brisbane. So I invited Perth’s Decibel, Melbourne’s Golden Fur and Sydney’s Ensemble Offspring to come and present some of their best programs of 2010. Held in the intimate Shopfront space of the Judith Wright Centre, The Trilling Wire Series was a rare chance for audiences to hear avant-garde chamber music in a non-conservatorium environment.”

First up in the 2011 series is Adelaide’s Soundstream Collective, led by Gabriella Smart and resident ensemble at the University of Adelaide. Their program entirely focuses on the idiosyncratic Polish composer Hannah Kulenty’s Circle series (1994-96) representing “Kulenty’s self-titled ‘European trance music,’ her original version of ‘post-minimalist’ style…In many ways this music is closer to the meditative qualities of Indian ragas, rather than Western minimalism” (press release).

Chris Reid wrote about hearing the Fourth Circle at the Soundstream Adelaide New Music Festival in 2009: “Kulenty’s is a stunning piece, emotionally overwhelming and brilliantly executed. Following a long piano passage like a tolling bell, the cello begins a series of questioning phrases that become incessant, using short, microtonally notated glissandi, crying imploringly—why? why? why? An intense crescendo is then slowly relaxed, with the glissandi curling downward. I was speechless for some time afterwards, so affecting were the writing and the performance” (RT93). The Brisbane performance, a very special occasion, will be the first time the series will be played in its entirety, featuring musicians John Addison, Janet McKay, Martin Phillipson and Gabriella Smart.

Melbourne’s Quiver, led by Matthias Schack-Arnott, will present the meeting of Louise Curham’s “hyper-expressionist” 8mm film with David Young’s watercolour graphic scores—”Shot in Yokohama Japan, this 45-minute hand-processed Super 8 film/music work forms the basis of the musical scores…The inter-medial nature of the work creates a hovering connectedness between image and sound, shifting the boundaries between the artforms” (press release). The program also premieres a Quiver commission from James Rushford—Viper Gloss, with “a compositional process…informed by the ‘grisailles’ technique of staining glass, where different shades of grey are used to create the effect of a relief.”

The final concert in the series, Early Warning System, launches a new percussion-based ensemble directed by Michael Askill and Vanessa Tomlinson.

Tomlinson describes the concept for the group: “Michael has contributed so much to the identity of Australian music over four decades of work, commissioning composers, composing himself and generating huge enthusiasm for Australian music through his work with Synergy. Early Warning System harnesses his pioneering experiences and combines with my eclectic style of playing and interests.”

The group’s debut performance features works by American John Luther Adams (not the other John Adams; see The New Yorker, May 12, 2008, available online) and a premiere of a new composition for cello and percussion by Erik Griswold. Tomlinson says, “Both composers represent a way forward for acoustic percussion performance that acknowledges the listening detail of electronic music and is accepting of particularities of place. We will also be playing Chinese composer Tan Dun’s Snow in June—which obviously makes more sense in the southern hemisphere than the north—and a classic of Michael Askill’s, Free Radicals, dealing with rhythmic cycles and the joy of percussing.”

The title of the series comes from TS Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton, but what does it mean for Clocked Out? “The trilling wire in the blood/ Sings below inveterate scars/ And reconciles forgotten wars.” Erik Griswold says, “Yes, the TS Eliot connection is there. I also like the connection to a news wire—transmitting contemporary music developments around the country, and more generally to the notion of the trilling wire emitting vibrations, both acoustic and electronic. Taking a slightly broader context of that section of the poem, there is much brighter imagery which suggests energy and lightness: ‘The dance along the artery/ The circulation of the lymph/ Are figured in the drift of stars/ Ascend to summer in the tree/ We move above the moving tree/ In light upon the figured leaf’.”

Clocked Out, The Trilling Wire Series: Soundstream, Nov 3; Quiver, Nov 17, Early Warning System, Nov 23; The Judith Wright Centre, Brisbane. www.jwcoca.qld.gov.au/; www.clockedout.org

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 41

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

IN DECEMBER LAST YEAR SYDNEY BECAME THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL CITY OF FILM, JOINING UNESCO’S CREATIVE CITIES NETWORK, A GLOBAL WEB OF KEY CITIES COMMITTED TO PROMOTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT THROUGH THEIR CREATIVE INDUSTRIES. THERE IS NOW A MEMBERSHIP OF 27 CITIES FEATURING THE CULTURAL CATEGORIES OF LITERATURE (MELBOURNE, EDINBURGH), MUSIC (BOLOGNA, SEVILLE), DESIGN (SHENZHEN) AND FILM (BRADFORD AND NOW SYDNEY), AS WELL AS CRAFTS AND FOLK ART, MEDIA ARTS AND GASTRONOMY, WITH MORE THAN 20 CITIES ON A WAITING LIST TO JOIN.

The granting of this prestigious international title brought a flurry of media stories, including one that quoted filmmaker Gillian Armstrong saying that you have to feel slightly embarrassed about the fact that “we’ve been given this incredible honour: City of Film, and we don’t have a cinematheque, we don’t have a film centre. This should make us realise it’s time to move on that.”

a new initiative

And there has apparently been some movement. In late September another little burst of stories confirmed that progress had been made. Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore announced that $30,000 had been approved for a feasibility study which would consider the size, location and operating model for a film centre, and to establish its potential financial benefit to Sydney. “The feasibility study will help prepare the case to go to State and Federal Governments to seek their support in creating a centre.” Moore said.

Gillian Armstrong, along with Margaret Pomeranz, AFTRS head Sandra Levy, and departing Sydney Film Festival director Clare Stewart, had last year formed the Sydney Film Centre Committee to campaign for the proposal, while directors Dr George Miller, Jane Campion and Peter Weir, and actors Cate Blanchett, Bryan Brown, Toni Collette, Guy Pearce, Richard Roxburgh and Geoffrey Rush had all pledged their support.

The planned Barangaroo development in the CBD was seen as a possible site for the centre, and when the Barangaroo Delivery Authority called for cultural proposals late last year the committee made a submission. They proposed a permanent space with state-of-the-art facilities and year-round exhibition, focusing a cinematheque style of programming on the history of the moving image, including both international and Australian production, as well as innovative trends in screen-based media. Such a film centre could stage major festivals, host film classes and allow the public to watch films on demand, while the National Film and Sound Archive would be able to screen work from its collection.

Of course, this is only the latest in a number of attempts to establish a cinematheque in Sydney, even if it is now part of an ambitious and high profile project with major cultural support. So the point is not why it has taken so long for this idea to surface, but why the admittedly spasmodic and differing efforts over many years have never really delivered a permanent and recognised cinematheque.

what is a cinematheque?

What is a cinematheque, anyway? The name and the model come from the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, which has had a chequered history since it was founded in 1936 through the passion of the legendary Henri Langlois, who started collecting and preserving films in the 1930s (and had to smuggle huge numbers to unoccupied France to protect them during the war). Dedicated to rediscovering, restoring and conserving all sorts of cinema, to make it available for public screenings, it was the first and most famous institution of its kind, and is now a cultural icon in France.

It wasn’t always so; while the French government provided a small screening room, staff and a subsidy for the collection after the war, and many of those who had their film education through these regular cinematheque screenings went on to become the filmmakers of the New Wave, Langlois himself was fired as head of the Cinémathèque by Culture Minister André Malraux in 1968, sparking protests in Paris, worldwide shows of solidarity, and threats to withdraw films from the collection. He was reinstated two months later, and earned both an honorary Oscar and a César in 1974. But the Cinematheque and its collections moved all over Paris for years, and a fire damaged its Musée du Cinéma in 1997; it finally found a permanent home in 2005 in Frank Gehry’s madly skewed building, originally created in 1994 as the American Centre, but now wonderfully refurbished and housing four screening rooms, several floors of museum space, a multimedia library and a bookstore. The Cinémathèque makes the films from its collection of 40,000 available to the public, screening a rich and varied program of national cinemas and retrospectives devoted to various artists, as well as providing teaching activities and lectures.

There are now cinematheques in many cities, from the British Film Institute’s National Film Theatre in London, the Museum of Modern Art’s Film Department in New York and a number of centres in European cities. Most feature curated and changing programs of classic and current cinema, focussing on themes, genres, national cinemas and directors, and increasingly on innovations in screen practice.

australian cinematheques

There was much talk about a national cinematheque in many of the lively debates and discussions about film culture in Australia from the 70s and early 80s. It was argued that not only would audiences profit from regular screenings of films from other national cinemas, curated seasons of the work of particular directors, screenings of specific genres and of rarely seen gems, but that our own filmmakers, film students and audiences could benefit from being exposed to such a rich diversity of filmmaking practice.

There already was a successful local example; the Melbourne Cinémathèque had been doing something along those lines in its annual program of screenings, a program which continues today. Starting as the Melbourne University Film Society (MUFS) in 1948, and becoming the Cinémathèque in 1984, it’s run by a self-administered, non-profit, membership-driven group of committed cinephiles who every year program a challenging and diverse selection of classic and contemporary films, curating both retrospectives and thematic series from archival and new prints sourced from all around the world. (This year their program has included retrospectives of the work of Agnieszka Holland, Henri-Georges Clouzot and Masahiro Shinoda.) The huge benefit from such an uninterrupted screening history is the building of a loyal and committed audience, and for a number of years they’ve had the added advantage of screening at the well-equipped Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne’s own version of a film centre (which of course runs its own interesting film exhibition program, as well as providing studio, exhibition and workshop space).

For some years from early 90s the Australian Film Institute ran what was called a national cinematheque, taking the Melbourne Cinematheque program around Australia to a circuit of cinemas including the AFI’s Paddington Town Hall cinema, later to become the Chauvel, the Media Resource Centre in Adelaide and the Film and TV Institute in Fremantle. This venture was supported financially by the Australian Film Commission. In Sydney the AFI had handed management of the Chauvel to the idiosyncratic Alex Mescovitz, who refused to screen the Melbourne Cinematheque-curated program in its entirety, preferring to pick and choose, augmenting the program with many of his own favourite films – which included a lot of Kurosawa, film noir and Tarkovsky. However, when the AFI wanted to consolidate all its exhibition and run an enhanced national cinematheque, the AFC withdrew the funding, ran the project itself for several years, then watched it gradually dwindle away.

the mca cinematheque

The closest Sydney came to a dedicated, purpose-built cinematheque was through an initiative that started in the early 90s, centred in the newly opened Museum of Contemporary Art. As described by one of the instigators, director Dr George Miller, this visionary project involved an additional building which would house a cinematheque, designed to be “a national gallery, screening venue and study centre for film, video and computer-based media…a breeding ground for experimentation and discovery, a creative gymnasium, moving-image nerve centre and power plant.”

The new building was designed to look out across Circular Quay to the Opera House, and would contain three cinemas and a visual resource centre. David Watson, who had worked at London’s Museum of the Moving Image, was brought on board first as a consultant and then as cinematheque coordinator; he put together a challenging interim program of screenings, debates and talks in the MCA’s existing and not very film-friendly facilities. But, as he said, the new cinematheque would be “distinguished by its programming philosophy, standard of presentation and technical sophistication. Moving images will be shown as they were created to be seen, with precision and ambience.”

There followed years of meetings, workshops, the changing and development of the proposal, and the holding of architectural competitions. (The first was won in 1997 by distinguished Japanese architect Kazuo Segima, with a building like a glowing white box.) All the interested parties, the MCA itself, Sydney University, the NSW Government, the Sydney City Council and the Sydney Cove Authority, went through seemingly interminable negotiations. By 1999 it all came to nought; negotiations broke down, the money ran out, and the MCA cut back on staff, including the cinematheque coordinator. (Revised plans for the MCA’s future have conspicuously lacked any mention of a cinematheque.)

the goma cinematheque

David Watson took his expertise and experience north, where he became consultant to the film strand in the development of a gallery of modern art that was slowly but very surely taking place in Brisbane. The Gallery of Modern Art opened in December 2006, complementing the Queensland Art Gallery building in the inviting cultural complex on the Brisbane River. GOMA focuses on the art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and its flagship project is the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art series of exhibitions, now a major event on the national and international arts calendar. In its two modern, state of the art cinemas, GOMA runs the Australian Cinematheque, presenting retrospective and thematic film programs and exhibitions, exploring the important lines of influence between the moving image and other areas of visual culture, and showcasing the work of influential filmmakers and artists.

GOMA’s Cinematheque has held several extensive and revelatory Asian programs, while the breadth and depth of the seasons it has held in the last five years is quite staggering, both in the size of each program and the strength of its curatorial expertise. Its current season is The Savage Eye: Surrealism and Cinema, which coincides with Surrealism: The Poetry of Dreams in the gallery. It’s a survey of the surrealist sensibility in cinema, and considers “films made under the rubric of the movement alongside popular cinema with similar themes”; its amazingly extensive program includes surrealist documentary and ethnographic surrealism, as well as French serials from the silent era, including the wonderful Les Vampires. The next program is Alfred Hitchcock: A Retrospective, an extensive survey which includes all 56 of Hitchcock’s films still in existence from a career that spanned six decades from early silent cinema to his masterpieces of suspense in Hollywood, and his work across a variety of genres, including a selection of his television programs. It will be one of the most extensive Australian retrospectives to date of Hitchcock’s work..

arc cinema, nfsa

In Canberra the establishment of the Arc Cinema with its state-of-the-art archival film projection system has meant that the NFSA is able to screen rare prints not only from its own collection but from other libraries and archives around the world, opening up access to films rarely seen in Australia. The NFSA is now running an exciting screening program that offers a range of classical and contemporary cinema as well as work from the NFSA’s moving image collection, highlighting strengths and key areas of development, works of national and international significance and important work that has emerged from the NFSA’s preservation and restoration activities and technical skill-base.

Of course, Sydney does have some cinematic pleasures, with the NSW Art Gallery running an imaginative program of free screenings allied to its exhibitions; various film societies screening to their loyal audiences in the city and suburbs, and several of the national cultural bodies offering screenings on an occasional basis. Even the Chauvel Cinema, now part of the Palace chain, has again programmed a regular weekly slot called a cinematheque that screens a rather eccentric, esoteric program. But what we don’t have is a year-round program of properly curated seasons, supported by serious documentation, screened in a permanent, dedicated space.

why, and who will come?

Barrett Hodsdon, in his important book Straight Roads and Crossed Lines: the Quest for Film Culture in Australia (Bernt Porridge Group, Sydney, 2001), says that a cinematheque “must be supported by a permanent high level of subsidy.” He argues that “the fluctuating fortunes of local efforts to build a cinematheque represent more than the issue itself. To some extent these fortunes reflect an inability to come to grips with what is at stake…(as) a properly constituted Cinematheque, with a permanent site and a continuous, well-received program, could act as a long-term magnet in the accrual and development of audiences. But in order to do so, a cinematheque must have a reasonable chance to develop a meaningful identity.”

And then there’s the question of whether younger audiences in particular will actually come to the cinematheque. There’s been much debate lately on the future of film festivals, with claims that audiences will decline as film enthusiasts increasingly find much of what they need on DVD, video on demand and streaming from the Internet, and this also applies to a cinematheque. The counter claim is always that people want to watch good films in good cinemas, that the communal experience of watching movies on the big screen in the dark just can’t be matched, no matter how good the home cinema. But the next generation of audiences are so wedded to their computer screens, which just get better each year, while the promise of superfast broadband and huge bandwidth offers enormous potential for their private viewing experience. Will they even consider coming to the cinematheque? Will the new cinematheque, if it actually happens, face an immediate challenge of proving its relevance to this next generation?

But I prefer to think what American film theorist and critic David Bordwell has argued on his blog, “the cinephile loves the idea of film. That means loving not only its accomplishments but its potential, its promise and prospects. It’s as if individual films, delectable and overpowering as they can be, are but glimpses of something far grander. That distant horizon, impossible to describe fully, is Cinema, and it is this art form, or medium, that is the ultimate object of devotion. In the darkening auditorium there ignites the hope of another view of that mysterious realm. The pious will call Cinema a holy place, the secular will see it as the treasure-house of an artform still capable of great things. The promised land of cinema, as experimentalists of the 1920s called it: that, mystical as it sounds, is my sense of what the cinephile yearns for.”

This is what a cinematheque promises; the question is, will it actually happen this time? A friend of mine, who has been through or observed several past campaigns, was recently heard to mutter, “don’t hold your breath.” I would prefer to be positive, but I do have some concerns. First of all, why this insistence on being beside the Harbour? The attractions should be inside, on the screen, not the view. Surely the best location would be somewhere central; the more easily accessible the better, I would have thought. ACMI, on Melbourne’s Federation Square, has the sort of central city location that seems ideal. And while Barangaroo might have much to offer, just how long will it actually take to come into being? Sydneysiders are notoriously fickle; a cinematheque, starting from scratch, is going to need all the help it can get to attract and build the sort of loyal and committed audience it will need. I can only hope there are enough cinephiles out there, people who, like me, still want to explore that promised land of cinema.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Tina Kaufman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Paul Capsis and George Shvetsov, Malthouse

Paul Capsis and George Shvetsov, Malthouse

Paul Capsis and George Shvetsov, Malthouse

PUBLICITY FOR MATTHEW LUTTON’S MALTHOUSE PRODUCTION OF SCHUBERT’S DIE WINTERREISE PROMISES TO “CARRY US ACROSS THE AGES OF MAN TOWARDS SOMETHING THAT MAY NOT BE SALVATION, BUT MIGHT RESEMBLE SOMETHING LIKE GRACE.” MEANWHILE, IDA DUELUND HANSEN AND JETHRO WOODWARD’S RENDITION OF THE SONG CYCLE, TITLED BLOOD, IS PREFACED WITH AN IMAGE OF SCHUBERT PLAGUED BY SYPHILIS IN THE FINAL YEAR OF HIS LIFE, COMPOSING WHILE HALLUCINATING AND COUGHING UP BLOOD. THE IMAGES OF THE COMPOSER AS EITHER A WISTFUL INVALID OR AN ANGRY YOUNG MAN CAN OVERSHADOW THE ROMANTIC CONVENTION OF LITERARY IRONY THAT PERMEATES SCHUBERT’S LIEDER.

These two productions came closest to achieving bitterness and repose when they refrained from presenting “sad” or “angry” Schubert and—often by radically altering the original score—delicately portrayed conflicting effects.

In his memoir, Schubert’s friend Josef von Spaun recalls being “dumbfounded” by Die Winterreise’s “gloomy mood,” before suggesting that the intense emotion of the work contributed to the composer’s early death. Here we find von Spaun under the sway of an 18th century notion of the melancholic artist, an image that we cling to today.

The protagonist of Lutton’s Die Winterreise is one such character: a middle-aged man (George Shvetsov) pondering his turbulent life from the vantage point of a hot suburban living room. Sound designer Kelly Ryall diffuses Schubert’s songs—performed around the contemplative figure by Paul Capsis and Alister Spence—through a meditative fog of reverb. The songs are occasionally slowed down and their fragmented melodies repeated like the ruminative malcontent replaying his memories. Similarly, as part of Chamber Made Opera and The Malthouse’s Things on Sunday event, Blood, bassist and vocalist Duelund Hansen and sound designer Woodward mused over Die Winterreise’s text, harmonic turns and fragments of melody.

Another of Schubert’s friends, Johann Mayrhofer, remarked that “[h]e had been long and seriously ill, had gone through disheartening experiences, and life for him had shed its rosy colour; winter had come for him. The poet’s [Wilhelm Müller’s] irony, rooted in despair, appealed to him: he expressed it in cutting tones.” In Lutton’s production anger and bitterness were represented by unbearable, amplified shrieking.

The use of reverb, repetition and amplification in these productions presented unconvincing musical analogues of the emotions they were supposed to convey. Slow down, fragment and reverberate any music and it will become a ponderous sonic landscape. This device, much abused by sacred minimalists such as Arvo Pärt and John Tavener, presents a hollow image of the sublime that very quickly becomes tiring. Amplifying any sound enough will, far from triggering an existential crisis, leave the audience resenting the production for their ringing ears. In the context of Schubert’s music such one-dimensional presentation of affect mistakes the ends for the means. Schubert and his contemporaries understood that despair and the sublime were hard won through literary contradiction or irony.

As musicologists Susan Youens and Richard Taruskin have pointed out, Schubert’s lieder express suffering through a conflicting relationship between words and music. For example, dancing mockingly around the solemn protagonist of Lutton’s production, Capsis played up the sinister subtext of the sad–happy key change in “On the River.” In the song cycle, Schubert’s wanderer comes upon a frozen river and remembers its former joyful sound. At this point the piano accompaniment does not play an imitation of the remembered cheery bubble, but a menacing, loping bass line. When the wanderer writes his ex’s name on the river’s now frozen surface, a gesture that is hardly innocent and happy, the accompaniment modulates from E minor to E major. Recognising the similarity between the hard river and his broken heart, he asks whether there isn’t also, under its frozen surface, a raging torrent, whereupon the piano breaks into a frenetic clamour. As Capsis recognised, Die Winterreise does not smile, but smirks.

To Schubert’s favourite philosopher Friedrich Schlegel, irony as the incongruity of appearance and reality was a literary device engineered to produce a shock through which one could glimpse the irrational, the divine and the infinite. Duelund Hansen produces such an ironic effect on the word “Stürme” (storm) in “Einsamkeit” by changing the original score. Stürme, combining the roar of rain, a crack of lightning, and a peal of thunder, is usually howled over tumultuous piano chords. Duelund Hansen makes a decrescendo on this word, rendering the melodramatic gesture an impotent sob. This frustration of expectation reveals for a moment one’s distance from the raging storm, and in doing so, the magnitude of the storm itself.

I would argue that Schubert’s illness provides us with a situational irony that changes the way we hear his literary irony. It is one thing to hear an ironic passage and be confused for a second (read: glimpse the infinite) and quite another to feel oneself at odds with the world, such as during prolonged illness, when everyday activities seem hopelessly impossible. It is this situational irony, that of writing a clever song while using a chamber pot, that gives the true smirk to the first.

It is in expressing this situational irony that sincerity is required—and achieved—in both performances. Duelund Hansen begins her rendition with a mashup of two songs of estrangement, “Gute Nacht” and “Einsamkeit.” She delivers the lines “As a stranger I came, as a stranger I will leave” in a clear and direct tone, accompanying herself with chords played high on the double bass fingerboard. These chords, with their natural, unsaturated sound, provide a matter-of-fact plodding behind the remorseful statement. Lutton’s production concludes with the protagonist, after communicating his tragic past in a monologue, dancing to “Die Leiermann” (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man) with wry resignation. By understating and bringing together the conflicting emotions of Die Winterreise the productions develop a more complex and even sublime emotional palette. At these moments, though deviating or adding to Schubert’s original score, they are closer than ever to its spirit.

The Malthouse: Die Winterreise, songs Franz Schubert, concept, direction Matthew Lutton, orignal text Tom Holloway, choreography Chrissie Parrott, set, costumes Adam Gardnir, performers George Shvetsov, Paul Capsis, George O’Hara, Alister Spence, sound design Kelly Ryall, lighting Paul Jackson, music supervisor Iain Grandage, additional arrangements, composition Alister Spence; Malthouse, July 20-31; Malthouse & Chamber Made Opera, Things on Sunday series: Blood, songs Franz Schubert, double bass, voice Ida Duelund Hansen, performer Caroline Lee, sound design Jethro Woodward, other compositions Alex Garsden, Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, Jesse McVeity; Malthouse, Melbourne, July 31

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 42

© Matthew Lorenzon; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

{$slideshow} DEPARTING THE HEADY, HUMID DOWNSTAIRS GALLERIES OF CAIRN’S KICKARTS YOU MOVE UP INTO THE COOL CALM OF KEITH ARMSTRONG AND JAMES MULLER’S REMNANT (V2). IMMEDIATELY YOU ARE SURROUNDED BY DELIBERATE, SLOW SOUNDS THAT ECHO THROUGHOUT THE SPACE. VISITORS RUSH IN, SHOVING A HEAVY BLACK CURTAIN ASIDE, AND THEN STOP, GAZING AROUND, THEIR MOVEMENT SLOWING, ADJUSTING TO THE DARK AND GRAVITATING TO A LARGE TRUMPET-LIKE ‘TELESCOPE’ SUSPENDED FROM THE CEILING AT THE ROOM’S CENTRE.

The equipment’s installation is a work in itself—you can clearly see all its functional components, nothing is concealed. The centrepiece is a large black viewing tunnel at the end of which appears a projected vector map on a floating screen at the end of the room. Suspended at the very end of the telescope is a hologram.

Interaction occurs when you position yourself at the entrance of the viewing platform, your head movements directing focus to different parts of maps of a rainforest reserve. The hologram layers a satellite map over a projected vector map, providing a 3D experience to you alone as you twist and turn your head to unlock the imagery. When you ‘hover’, not unlike a butterfly, over an area of the map a piece will break away and release an often abstract image. A mixture of footage displays current land use, and also historic photographs including ones of the traditional owners using the land. It is up to you to put together the story depending precisely on what part of the map you are exploring. The images communicate the myriad uses and issues impacting this fragile rainforest reserve.

Remnant (V1) was a major commission by the Sunshine Coast Council for the 2010 TreeLine ecoArt event. It explored the loss of rainforest in the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve in the region and was based on an aerial view of the area. The imagery in Remnant V2 is sourced from the reserve area and unlocked by the user. The original was installed at the Reserve Ecological Information Centre, its components completely concealed; the viewer simply looked into a long tunnel. Remnant (V2) presents the same imagery, sounds and concept, however the main difference is in the way it is installed and its new setting—in Cairns and for a different demographic.

Central to the work’s title is the exploration of what is left when nearly everything has disappeared—referring both to the small slice of remaining rainforest and the fragile survival of the Richmond Birdwing butterfly dependent on it. Importantly the environmental message is presented gently and intelligently, offering information for gallery visitors to piece the story together themselves.

I witnessed a mixture of reactions to the installation; some found the navigation easy and spent a good 10 minutes engaging with the work. Others however, maybe influenced by the immediacy of technologies such as Wii and Kinect, found the sensitive movements needed to navigate the work too difficult and stopped in frustration after only a minute or so.

The highlight of the opening night was the interaction of a three-year-old girl with the artwork, unabashedly pushing ahead of her mother and positioning her head perfectly in the viewing platform. Quite naturally and calmly she directed the work in a deliberate and engaged way. The room went quiet—everyone was amazed at her dexterity. Had we witnessed the ultimate success of the work—a little girl participating in a debate taking place across Australia? Was this the engagement from a member of a generation that will be most affected by the loss of natural habitat and animal diversity, by climate change and rising sea levels? Will she remember this moment when she is a young adult, living in a world where catastrophes are the norm?

This innocent engagement highlighted an harmonious collaboration between technology and artistry. An artwork that effortlessly engages youngsters, makes their parents stop and think about their children’s environmental future in such a gentle and interactive way, is a successful work of art.

Remnant (V2), artists, producers Keith Armstrong, James Muller, sound design Leah Barclay, KickArts, Cairns, 3 June -Aug 6

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 28

© George Dann; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont, Harold Holt 1968, Juan Carlos Ongania 1968

Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont, Harold Holt 1968, Juan Carlos Ongania 1968

Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont, Harold Holt 1968, Juan Carlos Ongania 1968

IF EVER THERE WERE A RACE TO BE PERTH’S ART DARLINGS, TARRYN GILL AND PILAR MATA DUPONT WOULD WIN. THEY TROT OUT A SUMPTUOUS AESTHETIC LIKE PROUD SHOW PONIES LADEN WITH RIBBONS. IT IS CLEAR TO SEE, HOWEVER, THAT IN THEIR COMPETITIVE SPIRIT, THEY ARE NOT BENIGN, OR AT LEAST THIS IS WHAT THE IMAGE ADVERTISING THEIR LATEST EXHIBITION, STADIUM, AT PICA (PERTH INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART) SUGGESTS.

This image [see our cover] humorously reminds us that while the art game might be about prancing and parading, foul play is certainly not out of the question. The two artists link arms as a formidable duo on the racetrack, with the carnage of their fallen competitors splayed behind them. Their faces sport elated grins and their hair groomed to perfection contrasts with blood-splattered fists, tops and knees, that tell us a different story. This type of play of meaning underlies many of the duo’s works, though not always so literally; it is often articulated tongue-in-cheek. The seductive glamour, burlesque, kitsch-Australiana and Hollywood styling is adopted with a wry stare derived from a deeper critique of issues anchored in nationalism, militarism and patriotism.

Stadium marks Gill and Mata Dupont’s first survey exhibition, spanning a decade’s practice which has seen their meteoric rise to prominence through a bold and savvy aesthetic across a range of media encompassing performance, video, installation, design and photography. It is entirely appropriate that the PICA gallery be transformed into a sports arena for this show, replete with bleachers, a custom vinyl logo pasted on the ground and a mini-stage with weights and a boom box. The contextualisation of their practice expresses a degree of self-consciousness of their own torch-wielding power in the art world arena. It is articulated here in several series that demonstrate Gill and Mata Dupont’s fitness across the field in an intersection of ideas about art, sport and war, drawing from influences grounded in propaganda, autobiography, art history and most significantly, cinema—ranging from John Huston’s film of the musical Annie to Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3.

left - With Terrific Power Behind It The Shotput Hurtles High Above The Arena; right -  In Their Dash to Victory The Runners Circle The Main Stadium

left – With Terrific Power Behind It The Shotput Hurtles High Above The Arena; right – In Their Dash to Victory The Runners Circle The Main Stadium

left – With Terrific Power Behind It The Shotput Hurtles High Above The Arena; right – In Their Dash to Victory The Runners Circle The Main Stadium

On entry one encounters the raw structure of the rear of the stand of bleachers, opposite which are three photographs from the Stadium Series (2009) referencing the life and pioneering aesthetic of German filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl. Each black and white image features the same model in states of focused determination, aiming for victory. She’s captured in statuesque poses defined against the high-intensity glow of the sun, her face expressing the sheer exertion involved in fighting for the nation in the games arena. The nation is not Germany, but Australia, as attested by the swan logo decorating the model’s top. This kind of investigation into the sporting figure as iconic nationalistic hero subject to a fascistic routine recurs in another work on display, the video piece Gymnasium (2010), winner of the 2010 Basil Sellers art prize.

Gymnasium screens alongside other video works viewed from the bleachers. In a gymnasium, athletes are filmed mechanically and repetitively working through robotic routines. The ideals and values of the military are here aligned with sport, as the proud and grinning Aussie athletes imply.

In parallel gallery spaces a series of works are taken from Heart of Gold, an epic-scale project that propelled the duo, on their glittery trail, to a theatre production finale (see RT94). In Gallery 1, the Heart of Gold Project 5 blooms with a sumptuous intensity in the All Australian Lifesaver Series (2008), based on the Cronulla riots of 2005-2006. Here, Varga style girl models feature in sparkling red and gold skullcaps and shiny gold onesies, belted with red sashes. The images show no attempt to conceal their fiction; their celebration of artifice is excessive, from the cherry-red lips to the painted sunset backdrops. As such they reside in a realm of simulacra to poke fun at the high status of the lifesaver as an archetypal Australian hero. Of course, these ladies are more Hollywood Baywatch than Aussie surfer gritty and their gestures belie action in the static nature of their poses. But like the very image of the lifesaver in the Australian psyche, they are presented as women of action, women who have it all, sporting bodies and glamour-girl looks, “A Gladiator Class, Envied by all the Men, Adored by all the Women,” as one of the titles sardonically suggests.

Hero mythology is further explored with specific attention to the war hero. In the Heart of Gold Project 3 (2006-07) WWI and WWII propaganda posters are referenced in staged photographs (RT94, p42). Pictured are such scenes as women in the place of men on the front line, part of the ‘Boys Brigade’, their tarnished faces ever-enthused and glowing in blessed, blinkered, nationalistic pride. Drawing from their own autobiographies for The Presidential Portraits series (2008), Mata Dupont is made-up in the guise of Juan Carlos Onganía, defacto President of Argentina, while Gill becomes Harold Holt, each in their politically turbulent year of 1968. Troubled history also courses through Lament for the Argentine Military (2010), made for the 2010 Sydney Biennale. This work, part installation, photography and video, addresses Argentina’s history from the military perspective. It adopts such symbols as a teary Virgin of Luján, patron saint of Argentina, in a large-scale portrait and in the song and dance video a silvery green Ford Falcon, reportedly used in the middle of the night to forcibly take civilians from their homes. This work, like others in the exhibition, is crafted with keen attention to detail and framing made accessible through its adoption of the codes of high-fashion.

A Gill and Mata Dupont show would seem almost incomplete without the added seduction of a live event. On opening night and several dates in the exhibition season, the collided spectacle of art, sport and war was made performative. On the mini-stage, flexing muscles and pumping iron, was a body builder à la Charles Atlas and, to detract from the abjectly mesmerising quality of his bronzed pecs, was the piece de resistance, the premiere of a new performance, Ever Higher. In this work an aerialist triumphantly tackled a rope, rose and fell in a gracious tangle analogous to the precarious risks of sudden drops at the heart of a career in the arts as much as sport or the military. The aerialist climbed to reach a megaphone and, hanging upside-down, barked a chant at a troupe of cheerleaders dancing below who enthusiastically belted out spiked lyrics such as “Take your safety off your gun, let’s go have some combat fun.”

Gill and Mata Dupont demonstrate just how easily a golden propaganda machine can mask sinister realities. They dance through the games of the art world distracting and seducing onlookers with their rich and glittery aesthetic. Using the languages of fashion and dance, they have deployed archetypal sports star, war hero and glamour girl avatars in the last decade. For the next project can we anticipate Gill and Mata Dupont using the conceptual strength of their sense of irony and parody as a launch pad for a deeper critique? It is evident that their work contains the promise of something else, something more challenging, more disturbing, a little weirder.

Tarryn Gill & Pilar Mata Dupont, Stadium, curator Leigh Robb, STADIUM, PICA, Perth, Sept 3-Oct 30; Performances: Oct 15, 2pm; Oct 28, 4pm, as part of the Commonwealth Festival for CHOGM.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 43

© Laetitia Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

William S. Burroughs—A Man Within

William S. Burroughs—A Man Within

THIS YEAR’S SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL OFFERED AN EXCELLENT LINE-UP OF PROVOCATIVE FILMS SPANNING DOCUMENTARY, SEXPLOITATION, SPOOF, HORROR, ANIMATION AND THE EXPERIMENTAL, WITH PLENTY OF CROSSOVER BETWEEN GENRES.

An outsider theme permeated many of the features on show. From Yony Leyser’s documentary portrait of William S. Burroughs, experimental filmmakers in Free Radicals, through to the transformative relationship of The Ballad Of Genesis and Lady Jaye and the studies of prostitution in Guilty of Romance, X and Profane, there was a sense of filmmakers wanting to explore unorthodox lives.

william s burroughs: a man within

The perennially cool William S. Burroughs loomed large over the festival. In creating his portrait of the conflicted, crazily influential iconoclast, Yony Leyser presents a multitude of interviews with those touched by Burroughs: fellow Beatniks, ex-boyfriends, biographers, artists, filmmakers, including John Waters and Gus Van Sant, and punk rockers Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and members of Sonic Youth and The Ramones. Recently released archival footage shows Burroughs reminiscing with Allen Ginsberg about the Beat movement. A beautifully textured soundtrack contributed by various punk luminaries and Morocco’s Musicians of Jajouka is often overlaid with Burroughs intoning typically searing lines.

Though there are a few anecdotes about his youth, the documentary devotes itself largely to the years following Burroughs’ emergence as a writer, dating roughly from the awful incident in 1951 when he killed his wife, Joan Vollmer. Given Burroughs’ incredible cultural reach (Laurie Anderson notes, “William seemed to have a connection with anything and everything”), a picture emerges not only of the man, but of the second half of the 20th century, an era defined by a series of radical changes—manifest in the Beat Generation, queer activism, Punk—steered in some way by Burroughs.

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

the ballad of genesis and lady jaye

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge—performance artist, Punk musician—was mentored by Burroughs and appears in Leyser’s documentary. Another of his mentors, Burroughs collaborator Brion Gysin, invented the ‘cut-up’ method (adopted by Burroughs) where pages of type were scissored and aligned to form unexpected new meanings. This method influences the unconventional relationship at the heart of Marie Losier’s intimate documentary, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. “When you’re madly in love with someone,” P-Orridge proffers, “you want to consume each other…not be individuals any more.” He and his wife, performance artist Lady Jaye, embarked on a project to become as physically alike as possible through various measures, including cosmetic surgery, cutting and recombining themselves à la Gysin in order to create a “third entity”—the Pandrogyne.

P-Orridge dominates the documentary. It’s packed with his whimsical utterings; performances old and new; footage of his seminal industrial band Throbbing Gristle and the more recent Psychic TV; and personal anecdotes, including one of being violently bullied as a schoolboy. Lady Jaye in contrast remains something of an enigma. The pastel-infused cosiness characterising the film is tempered by a revelation towards the end, making it as much requiem as frothy documentation of an off-beat love.

free radicals

Pip Chodorov, thanks to his director father Stephan, was steeped in experimental film from childhood. He presents an engaging, often humorous celebration of the subject in Free Radicals. The title, taken from a 1958 four-minute animation by New Zealand born artist Len Lye, perfectly encapsulates the defining philosophy of experimental film as Chodorov sees it—absolute freedom from rules in a radical reaction against conventional realist cinema. Lye’s animation is one of many experimental works played throughout the documentary, which charts the movement’s growth from early post-WWI Dadaist stages to a blossoming in 60s and 70s counter-cultural America. Chodorov conducts laid-back interviews with leading practitioners including Peter Kubelka, Jonas Mekas, Maurice Lemaître, Nam June Paik and Ken Jacobs. There’s also footage of pioneers, the late Hans Richter and Stan Brakhage (who coined the term ‘underground cinema’). Chodorov’s infectious enthusiasm should swell the ranks of budding experimental filmmakers everywhere.

tomie unlimited

No underground film festival is complete without something twisted from the horror genre, and SUFF didn’t disappoint in this regard, showing former Troma director Trent Haaga’s Chop alongside Japanese shockers Helldriver and Tomie Unlimited. The latest of several films based on Junji Ito’s Tomie manga series, Tomie Unlimited (Noboru Iguchi, 2011), centres on Tomie (Miu Nakamura), a vengeful schoolgirl who, as the title suggests, cannot be destroyed, but keeps cropping up in an assortment of ever more bizarre and repulsive manifestations, with the primary aim of tormenting her younger sister Tsukiko (Moe Arai). Tomie often relies on displacement, a standard horror technique which has things appearing where they don’t belong: identical miniature heads in a school lunchbox, for example, or a dead schoolgirl returning to the bosom of her family.

While Tomie Unlimited might begin in a (relatively) restrained manner, it certainly doesn’t finish that way. As with the magnificently off-the-wall Helldriver, whose director Yoshihiro Nishimura created Tomie’s special effects, this fim’s horror is ultimately about excess; though bizarre, it’s not aiming at profundity. Both films are fabulously inventive when it comes to the sheer variety of mutations they present, something that’s led to comparisons with David Cronenberg’s body horror. To some extent the comparison holds, but Tomie replaces the Canadian director’s broader social anxiety with the intimate jealousies and injustices lurking within a schoolgirl’s network of relationships.

Guilty of Romance

Guilty of Romance

guilty of romance

If a Burroughs thread ran through the festival, so did one of prostitution, evidenced in films like Usama Alshaibi’s Profane (which promised an intriguing discourse on the collision between Islam and sex work, but failed to deliver), Australian thriller X and Sion Sono’s Guilty of Romance (2011), which opens with a gruesome murder in a Tokyo ‘Love Hotel’ district. Travelling back in time, Guilty Of Romance follows Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka), a young woman missing since the murder. Through a series of chance events, Izumi, who is caught in a subservient, sexless marriage, finds herself turning from glamour modelling to casual sex then prostitution. She discovers a mentor of sorts in Mitsuko Ozawa (Makoto Togashi), a literature professor/streetwalker who drops references to Kafka’s The Castle and seems to view prostitution as the ultimate act of bodily actualisation.

Dark and richly detailed, in some ways recalling Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967), Guilty of Romance presents a woman in search of her own sexual degradation. There’s an interesting existential element to the film’s ruminations on female sexuality, somewhat undermined by the titillating depiction of some fairly demeaning encounters (and a certain double standard when it comes to male versus female nudity). It’s complex enough however to make for a problematic but absorbing meditation on the failure of romantic ideals (as symbolised for the protagonists by Kafka’s unattainable castle).

x

The Australian film X, like Guilty of Romance, is a thriller focused on female prostitutes: one seasoned; one neophyte, but there the comparison ends. X’s depiction of the sex trade is anything but titillating. As much character study and geographic portrait as thriller, writer-director John Hewitt and co-writer Belinda McClory’s film concentrates on a night when the lives of two prostitutes intersect in Sydney’s Kings Cross. After witnessing their drug-dealing client’s murder, Holly (Viva Bianca), a successful call girl on the brink of retirement, and Shay (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence), a teenage newcomer to the sex trade, suddenly find themselves on the run. Fear, a natural component of any thriller, drives the film at this point, insinuating itself into the landscape. “RUN,” reads graffiti on a wall. “NOW,” shrieks a hairdresser’s sign. As the characters tear along Darlinghurst laneways or traverse the lurid stretch of William Street, an impression of the Cross’s predatory nature builds—this is a place that won’t let people escape.

Hewitt broadcasts Sydney’s identity throughout the film, using the city’s bright lights and glittering skyline to highlight his protagonists’ gradually shattered aspirations. While the thriller format slightly reduces X’s realism, Bianca and Mangan-Lawrence give deeply convincing performances, and the end of the film echoes Midnight Cowboy (1969), another account where a character’s circumstances prevent the realisation of a dream escape.

2011 Sydney Underground Film Festival, Factory Theatre, Sydney Sept 8-11

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 23

© Katerina Sakkas; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

John Tonkin, Metacognition

John Tonkin, Metacognition

John Tonkin, Metacognition

STEPPING OUT OF THE LIFT INTO THE NEW BREENSPACE GALLERY ON LEVEL THREE OF A CONVERTED WAREHOUSE BUILDING, IMMEDIATELY BRINGS YOU INTO THE PENUMBRA OF THE GALLERY SPACE. RANGED AROUND THE WALLS ARE FRAMED IMAGES LOOKING CONTEMPORARY AND COLLECTABLE, FLICKERING WITH MOVEMENT, RATHER THAN MADE STATIC WITH PAINT. JOHN TONKIN IS A SEASONED MEDIA ARTIST WHO LIKE OTHERS, IS PROBING THE TASTES, DESIRES AND WALLETS OF THE COLLECTORS.

Can ‘progress’ be made in this endeavour, or is interactive moving image work the genuine ephemeral article claimed (but rarely delivered) by earlier movements of art makers?

The four works presented, like Tonkin’s earlier work, break ground in an amusing and convincingly stable way; while interactive multimedia installations can be plagued by inadequate technology or buggy preparation, not so here. He begins by renaming the phenomena “responsive video,” thus avoiding troubled histories and focusing on the predominant contemporary art form, video. Approaching one of the floating frames causes the flickering image to animate, to run forwards or backwards, or to in some way change its appearance, or cut to another shot.

The pieces are developments from Closer: eleven experiments on proximity seen at Performance Space, last year (RT100). Those interactive encounters were more casual than the current show, tucked away in various corners of CarriageWorks; prosaic images of a rolling drink can caught at the top of an escalator, or a boiling kettle, all controlled by our movement into confined stall-like spaces. Emphasis is on the ordinariness of that physical activity and its effect on the perceived image.

This is a novel and profound ability, to influence the quality of motion in the image; it is an extension of Deleuze’s ideas of the time-image and its perception: “A flickering brain, which re-links or creates loops – this is cinema.” No longer is the motion picture confined to analogue and linear sequencing; in the digital domain, as many of us have been pursuing, sequence is determined frame to frame by the participant selecting, knowingly or not, from a database of moving image files. The artist determines the rules and the materials applying to the collection that the participant will explore.

John Tonkin, Metacognition

John Tonkin, Metacognition

John Tonkin, Metacognition

A biology of cognition, the title of one of the pieces in the exhibition, is key in providing the only shock in the show—approaching the screen causes a large face to suddenly appear from the murk to stonily eyeball the viewer while intoning briefly, mumbled and indistinct, phrases related to the title (referencing the 40-year-old seminal essay by Chilean biologist, Humberto Maturana). Attempts are made by the participant to devise various choreographic strategies and clarify the utterances. Is there a narrative, a sequence meaningful to what is not present here? A conclusion, if there is one, cannot be drawn, other than bringing to mind the considerable research developed since the essay’s appearance. Andy Clark, among others, more recently described the external environment, actively structured by us, as a source of cognition-enhancing ‘wideware’ containing external items such as devices, media, notations etc, that scaffold and complement without replicating biological modes of computation and processing.

Tonkin floats these ideas, leaving meaning beyond the immediate experience of the work in abeyance: avoidance for some, completion for others.

Closing the loop of fractions of time caught in memory cycles—suddenly recalled as thresholds are crossed, as proximity is shortened—is simulated as we approach the image of a window frame in Selective Attention. Focus changes to the plane of the glass and then to the rain falling beyond, then on retreating, returning to the ‘warmth’ of the interior. Subjectivity comes to the fore and the window through which we stare is the mirror of past events. Perhaps these feelings are the reinforcement sought by collectors, who are prepared to forgo the tenuous material basis and investment potential of their artefact?

As an artist who is also a programmer, John Tonkin’s long term engagement with novel interfaces for visual databases goes back beyond the 1990s and currently explores the recent addition of the Kinect sensing device to the tools available. Titles of the works, however, emphasise the theoretical underpinning of the ongoing investigations: Direct realism is like a still image of light refracted through glass and vegetation that begins to twinkle in movement as you draw near. On approaching the image of a seated person gazing at the screen before him in Metacognition, a street scene on the screen expands to be replaced by an image of feet walking in the bush, or a garden. It becomes possible (if the game is played) to enter different spaces within the work, to keep up with the walker; the framing of these adventures becoming the description of cognitive function being applied, from moment to moment.

John Tonkin, A Biology of Cognition, Breenspace, Sydney, July 1-30; www.breenspace.com

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 28

© Mike Leggett; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Cao Fei, China Tracey, RMB City, 2009

Cao Fei, China Tracey, RMB City, 2009

FROM CAO FEI’S ENTRE TO THE ART WORLD IN THE LATE 1990S SHE WAS PITCHED AS “NEW GENERATION”—A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE MUCH NEEDED NEXT WAVE OF ARTISTS TO CARRY ON FROM THE THEORETICAL DILEMMAS (AND HYPE) GENERATED AROUND THE CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ARTISTS WHO HAD PRECEDED HER. DRAWING ON THE LANGUAGES OF POP AND YOUTH CULTURES, SHE SIGNIFIED A NEW VOICE ON CHINESE SOCIETY, ONE THAT WAS SAVVY WITH GLOBALISATION AND COULD COMMENT ON CHINESE CONSUMERISM WITH THE TOOLS OF THE SYSTEM ITSELF.

More than 10 years on, Cao Fei is astoundingly accomplished, having spent the greater part of her 20s engaged in elaborate experiments with multimedia, collaborative performance pieces and deep explorations into the world of virtual reality. While primarily a video artist, Cao Fei’s interest in theatre has extended her work to the stage, often toying with the distinction between the digital and the real. Films inspired by the cultures of hip hop, pornography and gaming have given verve to her artistic vocabulary; meanwhile her cool eye is manifest in a number of shrewd documentaries. Cao’s works have been included in biennales around the world and dozens of catalogues and compendiums include essays under her name.

Is Cao Fei still next generation then? When asked, she raises her eyebrows sarcastically and, with characteristic minimalism, points to the eight-months pregnant belly before her (she also has a two-year-old son). “You’d still call me a young artist?” Whatever the relevance of such categories, however, Cao’s work maintains the same exuberance that first attracted the label of youth—the vivid colours of popular media and a preoccupation with fantasy.

at play with commercial culture

Cao Fei, East Wind (2011)

Cao Fei, East Wind (2011)

In Cao Fei’s most recent video work, East Wind (2011), a dinky blue Chinese truck with the face of Thomas the Tank Engine beetles around the streets of a Chinese city to the theme tune of the BBC program. The truck stops for petrol, attracting a crowd of delighted fans. It collects rubbish from a demolition site and then merrily takes this to a dump on the outskirts of town (the driver stopping for a pee by the side of the road on the way). With a sense of joyful conquest, the bright smiling face of Thomas charges through the changing Chinese landscape, announcing the triumph of simplicity at every turn.

“When I had my son, I came into contact with all these new DVDs. They gave me this new kind of feeling of innocence,” says Cao Fei. “You can learn a lot about the adult world through children’s culture,” she adds. As is common in Cao’s works, however, the spirit of innocence in East Wind belies the film’s sophistication. Using a nationally manufactured truck for this naively made Thomas (a truck developed by Mao in the 1950s and named East Wind with reference to the proverb “the East Wind will prevail over the West Wind”) and adding its own synthesised version of the theme song, the film is as much about Chinese appropriation of Western culture as it is about Western hegemony.

Raised in the country’s South, on a diet of MTV, foreign films and Hong Kong comedy, Cao has a droll kind of ease with the global commercialisation of culture: “Our generation of Chinese artists, those born in the 1970s, grew up after the Cultural Revolution so it didn’t really influence us that much. Of course our parents gave us a sense of that time, but the larger influences came from the 1980s—when Western culture came to China.” Curious rather than anxious about questions of authenticity, her art takes a playful approach, deploying these same images of commercial culture for its nimble social critiques.

a second life china

The activities which have most defined Cao Fei’s reputation to this point are those associated with her RMB City project—a highly ambitious and multi-faceted venture into the online world of Second Life. Beginning in 2007, with Cao’s creation of an avatar called China Tracy, the project quickly spiralled out into more than a dozen artworks and events, each one an experiment with popular media and a consideration of its power as a means of escape. The framework for all this was the RMB metropolis, built within virtual reality. A bubble-like
topography of Chinese landmarks and inflated pandas, RMB City was a vision of an aspirational China—”a city at the top of the economy”—named after the Chinese currency and dizzy with its own possibility.

With land for sale, and subjects needed, RMB City rapidly evolved into a collaboration with the contemporary Chinese art world. Prominent collectors such as Uli Sigg and the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art purchased buildings and were accordingly given positions as mayors. Curators and fellow artists took on Second Life avatars and engaged with the project as citizens. A virtual Yokohama Triennale was even held in the city’s streets (a dancing, slightly drunken version), resulting in the film Play with Your Triennale (2008) which was shown later at the actual festival. As the city developed, its pumped up colours, youthful avatars and illusions of confidence came to suggest not only the hyper-reality of contemporary Beijing, or even global consumerism, but the international art world itself.

“It was a bit like a residency,” says Cao, referring to the role played by her investors and collaborators. “You could do a two- year residency in virtual space. And if you asked me what aspect I’m most proud of in RMB it would be the fact that it combined so many elements and people.” Accompanied by a range of press materials and merchandise—from stickers to newsletters to advertisements—RMB City became a major, almost orchestral, production. When asked about this penchant for theatrics, Cao points to her earliest film and documentary projects, and even beyond that to her years at school. “New media came later, along with the internet. But my first interest I’d say was performance.”

Cao and her gallery, Vitamin Space, are now looking to hand RMB over to new caretakers, ideally a university or research institute. “Students could use it, or people with the right kind of specialty,” she says. “This way we wouldn’t have to ‘delete’ it. It could continue as something alive.”

fantasy & melancholy

Not all of Cao Fei’s art is so colourful. Some of her best-known films are comparatively gritty, depicting China’s economic development with images conveying the reality. Even these works however are leavened with the effects of pop culture, the private desires that keep people going, or an editing that gives life to industrial machinery. Cao’s interest in China’s development appears to be largely in the aspirations that keep it churning and the melancholy that is the flip side of fantasy.

“Perhaps there is something in me which just can’t grow up,” she says. “The humour in my art—it might be a social critique, or a national critique, but it’s not so direct. It’s closer to daily life. It praises life and shows how people in all kinds of situations can find the happiness they need to live on.” Good-humoured more than ideological, Cao’s work often bristles with mischief and can brighten you on a bad day. It doesn’t challenge the consumer system so much as tease it gently (and articulately) from within. Perhaps Cao Fei could try an Annie Leibovitz move and do a strange Walt Disney commercial on the side. Her work is already a collaboration with various dream factories—a voyage of pop utopias conducted in the languages of illusion.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 44

© Christen Cornell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Wendy Blacklock

Wendy Blacklock

Wendy Blacklock

“GIVE ME AN OVERVIEW OF THE ORIGINS OF THE KEY WORKS PERFORMING LINES HAS TOURED?” WAS ONE OF THE FIRST QUESTIONS FENN GORDON ASKED HER PREDECESSOR, WENDY BLACKLOCK, WHEN SHE ASSUMED OFFICE AS CEO OF PERFORMING LINES.

Gordon had formerly worked at Performing Lines for a year as she progressed from being seconded by Creative New Zealand to becoming a major player in the Australian performing arts scene as Director of Market Development for the Australia Council for the Arts. Blacklock’s extensive arts knowledge says much about her legendary capacity to ensure that every aspect of this complex little organisation’s business passed across her desk during the 30 years of her dominion there.

Indeed, when she talked after her ‘retirement’ about the growth of Performing Lines from its earliest existence as the Australian Content Department of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (AETT)—which Blacklock started with just one associate, Trish Solomons—to today’s team of seven producers, an accountant and a part-time marketing expert, touring 16 productions in 2010 to 64 venues from Cairns Centre of Contemporary Art to the Venice Biennale via Sydney, Melbourne and Flinders Island, Blacklock let it be known, “Of course I checked all the budgets myself—my father was an entrepreneur!”.

Few would have guessed it; Blacklock’s early life acting the dumb blonde in myriad stage and TV productions led many to assume that the persona was reality. But from the first days of Australian Content in 1981, she put the commercial completely behind her to nurture the experimental, the cross-artform, the Indigenous and the multicultural. And fellow performers with ambitions in these directions were comfortable opening up to her about their dreams.

So Aboriginal actor Brian Syron brought playwright Robert Merritt to her office in the AETT rabbit warren with his play, The Cake Man, which had already had a couple of fringe productions in Sydney and been filmed for the ABC. Where else could it go? Well, it so happened that Blacklock was looking for something to send to the World Theatre Festival in Denver on behalf of the AETT. And most shows it did then weren’t Australian. With some lateral thought about funding sources such as the Aboriginal Affairs Department, the show did go on.

That ‘Where else could it go?’ question was a constant in Blacklock’s mind. The only way small performing companies could survive, she believed, was to be given the maximum encouragement to create well—preferably involving Blacklock herself in the rehearsal room—and then tour as long as there was a market for them. “The Australia Council [her major funder] sent in a consultant once,” she recalls, “asking why we were operating overseas? They thought it was a distraction. But I said, ‘You funded the show, we toured it and now it’s ready for the world. It’s a logical progression.’ And they eventually realised it themselves, setting up the Performing Arts Markets to encourage international sales.

“But back then, we were on our own. There was no Playing Australia, Mobile States or Sound Travellers, no subsidy for tours, no association of venue managers like APACA [Australian Performing Arts Centres Association], no Long Paddock, and no Roadworks group of 11 really adventurous regional art centres” who today entrust Performing Lines to send them two shows a year by companies like Force Majeure or Red Stitch in 2010. And yet somehow, back in the 90s, Performing Lines managed to extend the lives of productions by such companies as Human Veins, One Extra, Entr’Acte, the Sydney Front and even Open City—the performance company that became the publisher of this magazine.

And that Indigenous strength—which has today lead to the Sydney Festival putting Blacklock (so much for retirement!) in charge of I Am Eora, a major commission for next January and to Performing Lines being appointed by the Australia Council to establish and manage a new National Indigenous Touring Consortium—grew from two things. Firstly, there was Blacklock’s enquiring mind which asked, “What else is there about?” after The Cake Man. She soon found Jack Davis’ The Dreamers in Perth, and sent it off on a 17-week East Coast tour; then went on to commission Uncle Jack to write the children’s play Honey Spot, which is still running, as well as No Sugar, which would end up in London.

Secondly, there was Blacklock’s determination to make her project truly national. “We needed to know what Tasmania, West Australia and the Northern Territory were doing—not just send them stuff that was ‘good enough for Sydney and Melbourne, so it must be good enough for them.’ Such an egocentric view! The ethos can be so different. Take Tassie—it was so tough there, many artists had left for the mainland, meaning audiences had no experience of local shows. It took us four years to reverse that by a two-way process of touring national shows in and Tasmanian shows out.”

One of Performing Line’s seven producers is Annette Downs, based in Tasmania, who works with independent artists and companies, matching emerging artists with mentors, advising on appropriate artists for projects, linking Tasmanian producers with national and international touring opportunities and developing networks and support for regional touring. Funds come from Arts Tasmania. Similarly in WA, producers Fiona da Garis and Rachael Whitworth work with five core companies/artists, but occasionally produce projects for other independent dance and theatre artists. They’ve included dancer Aimee Smith, who’s quoted on the Performing Lines’ website as saying, “I never want to self produce again.”

And then there’s MAPS in NSW with producer Viv Rosman—a joint State and Australia Council venture with Performing Lines offering management and producing services, plus touring, to three dance and three theatre companies. “Producers are fashionable today,” relishes the woman who trained up names like Wendy Martin for the Sydney Opera House (now at Southbank, London) and Karen Rodgers now with Force Majeure. “Even the Australia Council has recognised that artists can’t exist in a vacuum.”

And even a Duracell dynamo like Blacklock learnt to share her own vacuum. With the advent of triennial funding, now at $350,000 a year to create a box office risk-free turnover of almost $4 million; with the Major Festivals Initiative asking Performing Lines to take on big shows such as The Theft of Sita [2000, director Nigel Jamieson, composer Paul Grabowsky and Indonesian artists] and Three Furies [2005, writer Stephen Sewell, director Jim Sharman]; plus those ongoing deals with the States, Performing Lines needed others with experience to share the load. In came Harley Stumm, fresh from rescuing Legs on the Wall, and John Baylis, with extensive experience in touring programs at the Australia Council. “Performing Lines needs a range of skills…you really do have to like contemporary dance to produce it. And Harley loves performance art, while I was always a script person.”

“Creating new work on limited sums of money is hairy,” Wendy Blacklock concludes. “Limiting the risk requires attention to detail. But most of all, good producers need to love the artists.”

Wendy Blacklock, founder and former General Manager of Performing Lines, has been recognised with many awards, including an Order of Australia, Helpmann’s JC Williamson Award, a Drovers’ Touring Legend Award from APACA, and a Sydney Theatre Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her contribution has been honoured in the recently installed Theatre Walk at Walsh Bay, Sydney. Detailed accounts of Blacklock’s earlier career can be find at www.liveperformance.com.au/halloffame/wendyblacklock1.html and elsewhere online. For more about Performing Lines, go to www.performinglines.org.au.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 8

© Jeremy Eccles; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Trevor Jamieson, Namatjira

Trevor Jamieson, Namatjira

Trevor Jamieson, Namatjira

OF ALL THE AXIOMS BY WHICH WE EVALUATE A WORK OF LIVE PERFORMANCE, ITS SUCCESS IN MEETING ITS AUDIENCE SEEMS RELATIVELY IGNORED. I DON’T SIMPLY MEAN THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN A WORK AND THE BODIES AND MINDS OF THOSE WHO WITNESS IT—THERE’S NO LACK OF DISCUSSION AROUND THE FOURTH WALL, IMMERSIVE THEATRE AND THE LIKE. BUT WHEN IT COMES TO THINKING THROUGH WHO IS ATTRACTED TO A PARTICULAR WORK AND WHY, IT WOULD SEEM A MATTER OF MARKETING RATHER THAN AESTHETICS. IT’S FOR THIS REASON THAT TOO MANY THEATRE-MAKERS, WHEN ASKED ABOUT THE ASSUMED AUDIENCE OF THEIR EFFORTS, CAN REPLY ‘EVERYONE’. WHICH TOO OFTEN AMOUNTS TO ‘NO-ONE.’

Four recent productions to grace Melbourne suggested more nuanced and considered answers, playing on audience expectation and knowledge and seeming to understand that a work that will appeal to a universal audience is as unlikely as the existence of a universal human. I’ve never come across an instance of art that hasn’t found its detractors; to acknowledge this is a primary step for artists, and to proceed anyway an act of essential, necessary bravery.

big hart, namatjira

Big hART’s Namatjira takes a bold stance in this regard. The work is an exploration of Australia’s most famous Indigenous painter, Albert Namatjira, whose art was among the first to gain widespread recognition in white Australia from the 1940s onwards. But far more than straightforward biography, Big hART incorporates a mode of direct audience address that denies its viewer the opportunity to experience the work as if through a one-way mirror. From the outset performer Trevor Jamieson speaks to his audience, but not just any audience: Namatjira assumes that its audience is white.

As a work with a heavy touring schedule, I can’t tell how this gambit would travel, but in the inner-city surrounds of the Malthouse it seemed disarmingly appropriate. Jamieson jokes about progressive white Australians who might want to give their children Aboriginal names, and wonders whether a service should be established to advise them on this. He prods at the white nervousness surrounding Indigenous protocols and anxieties about causing offence through sheer ignorance. Most of all, Jamieson subtly circles around the expectations his audience may have towards something we’ve come to call “Indigenous theatre”—what does that mean? Is it a label that liberates or confines? Can it do both?

If it has to be labelled, Namatjira might be thought of as postcolonial Indigenous meta-theatre; it doesn’t merely give voice to the history and experience of Aboriginal Australia but questions how that voice is heard, what conversations it is part of. It’s a rich celebration of a fascinating figure, but also one rife with irony: in recreating the painter’s rise and fall in heroic terms, Jamieson notes that this is “the story whitefellas want to hear… the only story people seem to remember.” Alongside this drama we are given counter-narratives, most obviously incarnated through Jamieson’s co-performer Derik Lynch and the descendants of Albert Namatjira himself who work on a massive chalk mural dominating the back of the stage throughout the piece. They are reminders of the presences which persist beneath any official telling of the past, of the continuities which cannot be captured through biography alone, since a biography must perforce end, while a life’s legacy is more complex.

Timothy Ohl, Fiona Cameron, Look Right Through Me,  KAGE

Timothy Ohl, Fiona Cameron, Look Right Through Me, KAGE

Timothy Ohl, Fiona Cameron, Look Right Through Me, KAGE

kage, look right through me

Another Malthouse production engages with the legacy of an icon who is still very much at work. KAGE’s Look Right Through Me took as inspiration the cartoons and drawings of Michael Leunig, an artist of whom no Melburnian would be unaware. But how to do justice to an oeuvre that carries with it the weight of many decades, and to an iconography that has very specific significances to the legion of fans Leunig has accrued over this time? To attempt an act of translation, in this sense, opens up the possibility of getting it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ according to what meanings each individual reads into the artist’s work.

It helps that KAGE’s physical theatre methodology is very much based around images, but director Kate Denborough wisely avoids a literal staging of the Leunig with whom we are familiar. Rather, she has pieced together an independent narrative that seems to riff on the artist’s canon like a jazz take on a standard score; the cartoonist’s themes and characters rise and fall like a refrain, but the work itself doesn’t rely on recognition as its fundamental source of meaning-making. Of course, Denborough knows that in this city at least recognition will have its own potency, but this is a work that would make as much sense to an audience unfamiliar with its source.

On its own terms, Look Right Through Me has strengths and weaknesses. Some of its vignettes, which chart the course of an alienated everyman shadowed by his own childhood, are of unarguable impact: a rope swing dangling from a tree takes on the grim aspect of a noose; a patch of grass becomes both comforting bed and unsettling grave. It may be in the relationships between performers that Denborough’s work really shines here, and her choreography is both deftly athletic and emotionally charged, producing a very visceral realisation of the dynamics that connect and divorce humans from one another. At other times, such as an extended sequence of carnivalesque abandon, both the narrative and its emergent themes become more muddied, and it’s at these times that I found myself turning back to the artist and wondering if there was an element of his work that I was missing and which was vital to interpret the on-stage events. These were rare moments, however.

Mary-Helen Sassman, Liz Jones, Special, The Rabble

Mary-Helen Sassman, Liz Jones, Special, The Rabble

Mary-Helen Sassman, Liz Jones, Special, The Rabble

the rabble, special

The Rabble is a company equally interested in the power of image-based theatre, often producing far more disorienting results. In the case of Special, this isn’t a bad thing. For much of the shortish piece I didn’t really know what was going on, but this didn’t hinder enjoyment of it in the least. Mary Helen Sassman plays a belligerent, heavily pregnant woman harassed by her equally self-obsessed mother; they inhabit a strange space of hyperreal colour dominated by a massive mound of sand. Their interactions are fragmented, not quite nonsensical but obscure in nature, and the whole comes across like Beckett directing a children’s party. As their condition of static animosity plays out, however, a series of bizarre rituals is introduced whose intentions are left deliberately open to the audience, but which clearly possess an internal logic to which we are not privy.

With the slightest of changes Special could be wilfully obscurantist, an exercise in self-indulgence and a frustrating severing of signification and referent. But director Emma Valente somehow pulls it off marvellously, keeping her audience onside even while maintaining a constant distance between performer and viewer. She seems to acknowledge that we understand this mode of playmaking and expect more from absurdity than a basic deferral of meaning. Rather, the strangeness of what we see seems as real as any more rational presentation of plot and character; we may not understand the motivations that compel these figures, but how many of our own drives are unquestioned and equally odd, when put in the spotlight?

Thrashing Without Looking, Aphids

Thrashing Without Looking, Aphids

Thrashing Without Looking, Aphids

aphids, thrashing without looking

And into the spotlight is exactly where Aphids’ Thrashing Without Looking thrusts its audiences. Indeed, whether ‘audience’ is an applicable term here is moot. The work makes its participants both spectator and spectacle, simultaneously, as half the crowd is equipped with ingenious headsets that channel the footage being shot by a range of video cameras moving around the room. The other half direct the course of events, which are established according to the kitsch conventions of karaoke music videos—a romantic dinner for two, a turn at a pumping nightclub, a slow dance that ends in heartbreak. Those given the active roles are watching themselves at a distance while playing out each scene, and it’s a profoundly giddy experience. If the pleasures of classical cinema are of the voyeuristic kind, giving the passive viewer a sense of power over what is depicted on screen, this dynamic is up-ended when the gaze is directed back on itself.

Thrashing Without Looking was a short, sharp shock that managed to provoke questions about the place of the audience in a way quite rare these days. Hopefully it will go on to enjoy an expanded life in some form, as these are questions that deserved to be asked, and in this case at least, were a joy to be part of. (See also Jana Perkovic’s review)

Malthouse Theatre and Big hArt, Namatjira, writer, director Scott Rankin, performers Trevor Jamieson, Robert Hannaford, Derik Lynch, Kevin Namatjira, Lenie Namatjira, Michael Peck, Elton Wirri, Hilary Wirri, Kevin Wirri, designer Genevieve Dugard, composer Genevieve Lacey, costumes Tess Schofield, lighting Nigel Levings, sound design Tim Atkins, Malthouse. August 10-28; Malthouse Theatre and KAGE, Look Right Through Me, concept, direction Kate Denborough, creative collaborator Michael Leunig, co-devisers, performers Craig Bary, Fiona Cameron, Timothy Ohl, Cain Thompson, Gerard Van Dyck, composer Jethro Woodward, designer Julie Renton, lighting Rachael Burke, Malthouse. September 7-18; The Rabble, Special, director, Emma Valente, concept Emma Valente, Mary Helen Sassman, devisor-performers Liz Jones, Mary Helen Sassman, lighting, sound, composition Emma Valente; La Mama Courthouse, August 4-21; Arts House and Aphids, Thrashing Without Looking, creators Martyn Coutts, Elizabeth Dunn, Tristan Meecham, Lara Thoms, Willoh S Weiland, producer Thea Baumann, sound designe Alan Nguyen; Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall. 3-7 August

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 29

© John Bailey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Donna Miranda, Pow Martinez, Of Course Not, This is a Bathtub

Donna Miranda, Pow Martinez, Of Course Not, This is a Bathtub

Donna Miranda, Pow Martinez, Of Course Not, This is a Bathtub

AFTER A HIATUS DUE TO HER SECOND PREGNANCY, CONTEMPORARY DANCE ARTIST DONNA MIRANDA LOOKS FORWARD TO A BACK-TO-BACK THREE-WEEK RESIDENCY AND 10-DAY WORKSHOP IN AUSTRALIA. SHE IS ESPECIALLY INTERESTED IN WORKING WITH SYDNEY-BASED DANCERS AT THE CAMPBELLTOWN ARTS CENTRE, WHERE THEY EXPECT TO EXPLORE COLLABORATIVE INCLINATIONS AND RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN INDEPENDENT ARTISTS.

Miranda helped combust the independent contemporary dance movement in the Philippines, with platforms such as the Anatomy Projects and the Contemporary Dance Map. In 2005, duos and small groups performed out of their studios and tiny art galleries to audiences sitting on the floor or standing against a wall, with minimal lights and costumes: nothing to distract from the movement on the demarcated performing space. The now-biannual WiFi Body Independent Contemporary Dance Festival is a landmark of the successful establishment of the current burgeoning scene.

It was during a 10-week touring residency in 2005 bringing together eight artists from different parts of the world that Miranda was thrust into collaborative work. The Chasing the Whale project was independently organised and funded, involving young artists mainly from the Asia-Europe Foundation’s (ASEF) Pointe to Point Forum. “We were constantly in the ‘creating’ zone and never managed to finish a work,” she remembers and chuckles, “Hippies.”

The residency occurred in four cities: Bangkok-Manila-Kyoto-Tokyo, where the audiences were “mostly confused. The ‘performances’ were actually open studios; they were about four to six hours long. So, we had certain sections that were set and some that were improvised without time limit. We were confused too, because we still couldn’t let go of ‘performing’ and not just working as [we were] already working.” She also learned to “appreciate constraints as well as deal with not knowing what to do.” The experience resulted in Beneath Polka-dotted Skies, which won the Jury Prize at the 2007 Yokohama Dance Collection R Solo x Duo + and has been performed in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.

Miranda’s early experience with the touring residency also generated the creation of another work, Summer Begins and Ends as You Wish, which was first performed at the 2006 WiFi Body Festival. Subtitled as a deconstruction of Vaslav Nijinsky’s L’Apres Midi D’un Faune, the work was first performed in a converted conference room, where Miranda was tied with a red ribbon to a bench. Criticised for being too arrogant and/or lazy to create any real ‘dancing,’ Donna Miranda was disappointed that the creative efforts of her collaborators had gone unnoticed. “That was when I really got into problematising the collaborative condition,” she shares. “What does a collaborative work result in?”

Summer Begins…found Miranda working with artists from other disciplines and resulted in a multimedia work where the ‘dancing’ was projected on the wall behind her as she sat on the bench, smoking. Maria Taniguchi was her visual director, “but you can barely see any of her mark. In fact she was with me throughout the process, while I constructed the solo; she advised me on ‘poses’ that worked and those that did not. All the artistic decisions including taking photos of the solo and re-animating them as a video were collaboratively made.”

The goal was to make one seamless work, instead of an obvious mix put together by several people and Miranda acknowledges that it’s still obvious in Summer Begins…that the sound was coming from somewhere else. Given that, “I’d say that was the beginning.” Noteworthy collaborations followed, including the most ambitious, Of Course Not, This is a Bathtub, where she and sound artist Pow Martinez performedx inside an actual bathroom, with a camera set up inside and hooked to a television in the apartment’s living room, where the audience sat to view the ‘performance.’

Although there’s no definite agenda planned for the Campbelltown residency, Donna Miranda is planning to explore performance scoring in this collaboration. “I’ve been very much interested in writing performance scores, reading scores, making the text in dance more obvious,” she recounts. “About a month or two ago I stumbled on Francisca Reyes-Aquino’s Dance for All Occasions and then it started to dawn on me that ‘Hey, Francisca Reyes-Aquino started it all…’ or that we have a wealth of textual material that just begs for attention.” Aquino is the first National Artist of Dance in the Philippines, acknowledged for creating a notation archive of folk dances from all over the country.

“I want to get to the heart of the matter that contemporariness has in no way anything to do with style,” Miranda expounds. “I choose to work with material that has been tagged as ‘traditional’ but really it’s not. I think Francisca Reyes-Aquino was far ahead of her time and contemporary in the sense that she created text out of the ephemerality of dance. To deal with the materiality of dance, that’s very contemporary. And as someone who is in contemporary practice, there are varied ways to work with ‘traditional’ or ‘folk’ material without having to fuse them together, or even call attention to their ‘Filipino-ness.’

Another project she’s planning is to organise a social dance gathering: “In this work I’m interested in pushing choreography as a practice in organisation and building relationships of bodies, bodies in space, bodies to music, music to space, etc, etc. In this sense, choreography is a practice of building a community and not just putting steps together. In fact in this work I’m not making any steps, any dance steps but merely framing the situation and signing it. Like appropriating.” In Filipino, she says that she was thinking why should she create dance when dance is already there? “Like how inventive in movement vocabulary can one be?”

Laughing, she admits that she may be getting older and is taking stock of her work. “Of course, while I’m saying that I will restrain myself from making dances in the sense of creating a unique vocabulary or voice, that process of appropriation is also in itself ‘a way of making’.”

Donna Miranda is scheduled to visit Australia for a three-week residency at the Campbelltown Arts Centre from October 10. Opportunely, she was also invited by the Goethe Institut to participate in a 10-day Critical Path group residency at Bundanon in regional New South Wales in the second week of November. The workshop will be attended by other choreographers from the region and moderated by Singaporean creative producer, dramaturg and critic Tang Fu Kuen.

Donna Miranda residency with independent Australian dance artists, Dean Walsh, Nikki Heywood, Matt Day, Sam Chester and Alexandra Harrison; performance October 29, 8pm Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, www.campbelltown.nsw.gov.au

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 12

© Joelle Jacinto; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Noni Cowan, Gestures, Theatre & Performance Studies Honours Project Performance, UNSW

Noni Cowan, Gestures, Theatre & Performance Studies Honours Project Performance, UNSW

Noni Cowan, Gestures, Theatre & Performance Studies Honours Project Performance, UNSW

IN PART 1 OF THIS SURVEY OF AUSTRALIAN CONTENT IN THE CURRICULA AND SYLLABUSES OF COURSES IN AUSTRALIAN THEATRE AND CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE IN TERTIARY EDUCATION, IT WAS CLEAR THAT THERE WERE SOME VALUABLE RESOURCES AVAILABLE IN PRINT AND ONLINE FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS, BUT ALSO MUCH THAT WAS MISSING.

I concluded that “there was a strongly felt need to be able to understand and teach Australian performance on its own terms but within the framework of national and international perspectives that this country has struggled so long to attain.” Here are further responses to my query to academics about how and where Australian content fits in their courses.

university of melbourne

Peter Eckersall, Associate Professor of Theatre Studies in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, wrote to me that his subject, “‘Live Art Beyond Theatre,’ addresses many contemporary Australian artists and practices (and the RealTimeDance portal is a remarkable and helpful teaching resource). Our teaching tends not to be based on ideas of national arts practices, however, and Australian artists are discussed alongside, in comparison to, and in collaboration with developments, events and trends internationally. We also have Master of Arts and PhD students who are working on contemporary Australian performance. Some of these projects are focused on historical practices from the 1960s-1990s. Others are focused on contemporary performance works. A number of these projects have been/are being undertaken with creative components.” Eckersall identifies “a tendency to think about arts practices more regionally, locally and conversely more globally. Australian artists and practices have become so diverse that we often discuss them with a focus on more specific, or more diverse, analysis and critique. I would say that it is not the arts practices that are elided, but the notion of an ‘Australian artist’ and what this means is more complex and sometimes less meaningful.”

Eckersall also believes that “there is a need for more publishing on contemporary performance. There are many more research articles and documents than books …There are some good resources such as Ausstage and RealTime but there is a need for more perspectives and more ways to disseminate findings.”

murdoch university

Helena Grehan, Senior Lecturer in the English and Creative Arts program at Murdoch University in Western Australia, writes that the work of Australian artists is important “as the work reflects (often) issues and themes that are of interest to our students and the work is also often inspiring in terms of identifying what can be done in a constrained environment (fiscally).”

Grehan’s own teaching focus is “primarily on current practitioners (or at least from the last 20 or so years).” As for written resources she “directs students to available books but also RealTime (I use it all the time with my students), Australasian Drama Studies, Performance Paradigm (www.performanceparadigm.net) and About Performance (Department of Performance Studies, University of Sydney), which are all very useful, as are blogs. There could always be more but l’d like to focus on quality rather than quantity. Alison Croggon’s Theatrenotes is, for example, outstanding.

university of sydney

Laura Ginters, lecturer in the Department of Performance Studies at the University of Sydney writes, “Contemporary artists and their practices are central to what we teach and research in Performance Studies at the University of Sydney. While we don’t create work with our students, and nor do we train artists, the Rex Cramphorn Studio is filled, year round, with our artist-in-residence program and the work of these artists feeds directly into our teaching and research. For example, the 3rd Year Honours entry courses, Rehearsal Studies and Rehearsal to Performance, are based around a project where students observe, document and analyse two weeks of a rehearsal or creative development process taking place in the Rex. In 2011 the students observed My Darling Patricia at work on a new piece; last year it was Version 1.0, developing Table of Knowledge.

“In researching the company whose work they will observe, RealTime is often a valuable resource for students. Our Honours students also sometimes undertake their professional placement—they observe and analyse a full-length rehearsal process, then write up a casebook on the experience. This can be with one of the artists or groups of artists working in the Rex—or they will undertake such a placement with a company or artist outside the department: this could be anything from Tess de Quincey Co to Opera Australia. We also offer an Honours level course in Contemporary Performance (which is heavily focused on Australian artists), and this will sometimes include a practical workshop component for the students with a practising artist like Barbara Campbell.”

In second year, students commence performance analysis, seeing live performances and writing about them. Other courses—Embodied Histories, Theories of Acting, the Playwright in the Theatre, Playing Politics, Cross-Cultural Performance and Gender and Performance—”use the work of contemporary practitioners in dance, contemporary performance, performance art, and theatre and other genres. In my own Dramaturgy course in third year my students have had the opportunity to observe a director, actors, writer and dramaturg developing a new work for performance. And while we’re not training practitioners we’ve got a long history of practitioners coming to us for postgrad study—enjoying the chance to reflect on their own practice or a related topic.”

Study in this department is advantaged by having a large archive in print and video of performance documentation. Ginters is appreciative of RealTime, Currency House’s Platform Papers “and (a very few) good bloggers—like Alison Croggon and James Waites for “delivering interesting commentary and reviews of work I can’t see myself and/or won’t see reviewed elsewhere. Our own journal, About Performance, also often includes analyses of the work of contemporary practitioners: recent editions have included essays on ‘refugee theatre,’ the work of Back to Back Theatre, Marrugeku, Pork Chop Productions, Australian Dance Theatre and the Gathering Ground project in Redfern’s The Block, to name just a few.”

Ginters would like more books on contemporary practitioners, “and indeed their forebears: I’m writing a book on drama activities at Sydney University in the late 1950s and early 1960s has made me very aware of how little has been written about the pre-1970 era.” Often, she says, the primary material exists—”the ausstage project is a great example of this; so is the National Library’s Trove search function. Having more of RealTime’s earlier editions also available would be a terrific addition. Personally I’d also be thrilled if I could get access to the Sydney Morning Herald archives online after 1954 without having to visit the State Library in person!”

university of new south wales

Clare Grant, Lecturer in the School of English, Performing Arts and Media at the University of New South Wales, tells me that, “artists of late 20th and early 21st centuries such as The Sydney Front and Jenny Kemp are specifically studied in John McCallum’s survey course, Staging Australia, along with earlier Australian artists. In his Program and Repertoire course, close attention to current performance programming forms part of the curriculum.” The Introduction to Theatre course “refers to several contemporary performance makers such as Deborah Pollard, and from an earlier era, Ken Unsworth.” In Reading Performance and Multi-Media production, artists include Australian drag performance (eg The Kingpins), both live and mediatised, William Yang, Stelarc, Tony Schwensen, Australian dance companies, Mike Parr, version 1.0, Back to Back Theatre, Marrugeku, Guillermo Gomez-Pena’s Museum of Fetishized Identities, as well as local festivals.”

In the practical courses Grant teaches, students also see performance works— including media art, live art, ‘documentary’ performance, site-based work—in Sydney, “many of which involve the students or ex-students themselves…The work of Australian artists is vital to the department of Theatre and Performance Studies, especially as the work of students forms part of the contemporary performance milieu in Sydney. Many of the students work with practising artists through PACT Centre for Emerging Artists and Shopfront Theatre, often undertaken alongside their studies at UNSW.”

For 12 years Grant has produced an annual student devised work for the public. This year, however, she says the process “will shift to a number of smaller group shows created through contemporary performance-making practices. As well, each year a class of up to 35 solo performance makers publicly present their works.”

As for resources recommended to students, there are “extracts from Richard Allen and Karen Pearlman’s Performing the Un-nameable (Currency Press with RealTime, 1999) in various courses; Edward Scheer’s book on Mike Parr (RT102, p47); John McCallum’s Belonging: Australian Playwriting in the 20th Century (Currency Press, 2009); plus Marrugeku’s Burning Daylight in DVD and booklet form. But we always need more; any new documentation is taken up quickly and used; Australian work with the physical and the documentary could use more attention. Streaming options, which Artfilms is working to develop soon, are valuable and probably more economical. Many of us teach the works we happen to have on DVD courtesy of the performance makers themselves.”

The evidence in Parts 1 and 2 of this brief survey provides clear evidence of commitment of teachers to Australian performance content in their courses, not only turning to print and online resources but, in various ways, putting students in touch with artists in residence, encouraging them to see productions, teaching analysis, developing dramaturgical awareness, making works and placing Australian work in the larger contexts of overseas works and the issues of the day. Most teachers would welcome books on contemporary artists (as more commonly happens in the visual arts) as well as stronger, more available video documentation. The emergence of contemporary performance from the 1960s to 80s warrants particular attention.

artfilms

A very special resource is the Melbourne based artfilms (www.artfilms.com.au/) with its growing collection of Australian performance works and documentaries on DVD. Artists and companies include Jenny Kemp, Stelarc, 5 Angry Men, Trevor Jamieson (Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji, a documentary about Big hArt’s Ngapartji Ngapartji), Melbourne Women’s Circus and others alongside their international peers. In the dance realm, Artfilms has works available from Chunky Move, Lucy Guerin Inc, Chrissie Parrott, Igneous, Bangarra Dance Theatre and Meryl Tankard. The company’s latest project, director Kriszta Doczy tells me, is its Australian Avant-Garde series featuring Nigel Kellaway, Mike Mullins, Ken Unsworth and the experimental films of Gary Shead with work currently progressing on a DVD about the Sydney Front. Artfilm’s director Doczy eagerly encourages Australian artists to make documentation of their performances available to universities, schools and individuals. You can read more about Artfilms in the December-January edition of RealTime.

Another valuable resource is the National Library Oral History Collection’s interviews with leading theatre professionals Peter Oysten, Richard Cottrell, Richard Murphet, Nicholas Lathouris, Alan Seymour and others conducted by James Waites. Waites has been conducting these “whole life” interviews with a variety of people in and outside of the theatre business (http://www.jameswaites.com/) since 1996.

Theatre/Performance education part 1 appeared in RT 104 – see article.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 30

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Israel Galván, David Lago,  La Edad de Oro (The Golden Age), Spring Dance

Israel Galván, David Lago, La Edad de Oro (The Golden Age), Spring Dance

Israel Galván, David Lago, La Edad de Oro (The Golden Age), Spring Dance

SPRING DANCE 2011 PROVED TO BE AN INTIMATE AND ENGAGING MINI-FESTIVAL WITH A CLEAR SENSE OF PURPOSE, IN ITS TRIBUTE TO PINA BAUSCH. UNLIKE MOST INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVALS THESE DAYS WITH THEIR HUGE PROGRAMS, HERE THERE WAS THE LIKELY OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE RESPONSES TO THE WORKS SEEN RATHER THAN BE TOLD HOW REMARKABLE THE SHOW WAS THAT YOU MISSED.

israel galván, la edad de oro

In La Edad de Oro (The Golden Age) Israel Galván firmly invokes the tradition of flamenco dance while transforming it, releasing his body from its taut if vigorous framework to create his own distinctive choreography. Some of this is achieved by expanding the space occupied by the flamenco male dancer, some by taking its stances and gestures (including some usually associated with the female dancer) and extending them to an almost surreal degree while texturing his vocabulary with influences from tap (he’s an admirer of Fred Astaire) to contemporary dance.

The performance by Galván, guitarist Alfredo Lagos and singer David Lagos, comprises a series of solos, duets and trios in various combinations in which, again, tradition is sustained but also transformed to sometimes dramatic, sometimes almost comic effect. An impassioned duet between Galván and the singer is conducted unconventionally at the front of the stage, face to face in an upward spiralling dialogue between body and voice climaxing in a conciliatory handshake. In the good-humoured encore to the show, Galván sings, not particularly well, and plays the guitar, badly, while his fellow artists parody his dancing.

By then, we too, having revelled in a series of dance pieces, have come to recognise Galván’s idiosyncratic movement language. It’s rooted in flamenco with its proud, erect demeanour, but this body is far more angular, falling out of the frame, dipping deep from the knee and unfurling upwards, mutating pounding feet into subtle, musical taps, gliding scrapes and rapid skips, propelling himself, forwards or backwards, across the stage, executing improbable leaps and spins without losing the pulse of tradition. In one piece, he dances with his shadow.

Much of this Galván performs in profile—thus we miss nothing of the detail. There are numerous small touches—the fully extended arm that reaches behind his back so that his hand appears like an alien extension; the conventional tugging of the front of the shirt he extends to sexily reveal his abdomen or turns to magically make the shirt tail vibrate as with a life of its own. His hand clapping extends to slapping various parts of his body, including his face. He vibrates his lips, or holds one eye strangely wide open. Recurrently his right arm snakes up, the hand suspended and drops suddenly, or slowly, like a falling leaf.

In all of this, Galván for the most part (except where solo he makes his own music with his feet and hands) is supported by a fine, expressive tenor and a guitarist who, more Paco de Lucia than Paco Pena, oscillates between traditional playing and seductively inventive, contemporary phrasing. Each artist has their much applauded place in the spotlight. For anyone who thought that flamenco was locked into tradition, here was a remarkable dancer who revealed that without losing its pride, momentum and subtleties, the form can have new life.

Byron Perry, Joseph Simons, Kristy Ayre, Lee Serle, Antony Hamilton I Like This, Chunky Move

Byron Perry, Joseph Simons, Kristy Ayre, Lee Serle, Antony Hamilton I Like This, Chunky Move

Byron Perry, Joseph Simons, Kristy Ayre, Lee Serle, Antony Hamilton I Like This, Chunky Move

chunky move, i like this

As we well know by now, dance theatre doesn’t necessarily involve a lot of dancing, such is its ever evolving hybridity. But it still needs the discipline, poise and courage of dancers to make it. Chunky Move’s I Like This, created by Byron Perry and Antony Hamilton, who, with minimal mutterings, themselves manipulate sound and light on the stage in front of and amidst a trio of dancers, play at putting together a performance, constantly reframing the action with brisk blackouts in which the dancers and their chairs and props are rapidly re-arranged, collapsing time with staged jump-cuts.

The work moves from whimsy into grotesque slow-motion dream states; the dancers deftly wielding portable industrial lights, transforming their world; one swings a light in a wide arc, expanding the performance space as the show takes on a cosmic dimension, a reverie in which the performers later appear to pull a planet into their sharing hands. Suddenly remnants of the work’s evolution are shown and dismissed. A film noirish episode haunts the stage. The performers’ world subsequently appears to sink into an ocean of light and sound. The sense of dream escalates until the work’s creators are shrouded by the dancers in a large white sheet to the sound of rain and thunder. Glowing from within, the object appears like a thundercloud, but just as much a brain, from which something like the words “it’s not at all a real ending” are ironically muttered at the work’s conclusion. I Like This is a richly inventive work, adroitly voiced by the dancers and expertly danced where called upon, the overall passage from droll jump-cut minutiae to cosmic reverie only seeming a little short-changed at the end with some all too-easy irony; but it’s that kind of show—pushing hard at the edges of post-modern self-reflexivity.

Hannes Langolf, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Can We Talk About This?, DV8, Spring Dance

Hannes Langolf, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Can We Talk About This?, DV8, Spring Dance

Hannes Langolf, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Can We Talk About This?, DV8, Spring Dance

dv8, can we talk about this?

DV8’s Can We Talk About This? is a profoundly provocative dance theatre work in both form and content. Its continuous flow of spoken word and movement (occasionally literally entwined, more often laterally) deals with the ramifications of Islamic migrant culture for Western nations. It is in no way right wing anti-Islamic, nor is its rhetoric left wing. It speaks directly about “the paradox of diversity,” of “multiculturalism losing its intellectual spine,” of “multicultural separatism” and of fear: of being killed, as people were in several countries (the dancers hold photos of the dead which they slowly drop to the floor) over a cartoon that mocked Mohammed; of fear of being labelled racist; of losing “community cohesion”; of being the target of a fatwah—”What can we speak about without being killed—in free countries?” A much more volatile topic in the UK and Europe than here, nonetheless the work resonates with debate within Australia.

Drawn from numerous interviews, the spoken text includes statements from Muslims: a young anti-cartoon protestor in Denmark jailed for four years for merely carrying a placard; a man who spoke regularly at his local mosque until a fatwah was issued over his support of Darwinian theory (he withdraws it later, there is no choice); a young Somalian woman (deliberately near-naked in underwear on stage) who wrote the script of the documentary that resulted in the murder of Theo Van Gogh and suffers guilt for his death; the offending Danish cartoonist standing upside down, trying to function normally, dressing, zipping ‘down’ his fly while his world is inverted.

These brief tellings (they don’t unfold as stories per se) sit side by side with those of a UK school headmaster sacked for alleged racism for being critical of aspects of Islam and the fatwah against Salman Rushdie (“a political turning point”), the continued custom of forced marriages, of girls over the age of 11 not allowed to sing, the promotion of Sharia law and the UN’s refusal, under pressure from Pakistan, to even consider it as a human rights matter, let alone address it. One dancer repeating the words of Anna Cryer, an ex-politician who fought for years to prevent forced marriages, speaks eloquently and quietly about the issue; cup and saucer in hand, she sips tea all the while sitting elegantly on a male dancer (resting on the floor) cradling and shifting her about as if to suggest that, even beneath such calm, support and balance is frighteningly precarious.

What grips is the dancers’ realisation of real voices, real people, while mostly in a constant flux of unusual movement, the greatest sense of which is restless containment, of suppressed violence, of “a paralysis of the West.” The initial dancing is laterally folk-like, as if drawing on the uniformity of clog or hornpipe dancing; elsewhere the dancers break off into opposing groups who intermingle but never reach the point of actual violence; a pro-Rushdie Muslim woman is contained in a circular chase by a man who never catches, but does contain her; people seem locked into duos and trios, while occasionally a solo dancer manages to glide through the potential mayhem.

Meanwhile on two small screens, video images play out, including footage of the huge anti-Rushdie protests and a TV debate where a man asks an Islamic leader, “Would you really kill me as an apostate?”

At the commencement of Can We Talk About This?, a dancer asked for a show of hands: “How many of you feel morally superior to the Taliban?” There was, as far as I could see, a negligible response, a nervous laugh or two—but the provocation had been quietly thrust upon us. At the very end of the work, we were virtually asked if we were in fact afraid and would, consequently, “just shut up.”

Doubtless there will be objections to Can We Talk About This?, not least when it plays in London following a tour after its premiere in Australia. The show directs its complaint at the extremes of Islamic culture that don’t fit with basic human rights, not at its Muslim liberals, its civil moderates. Just as much, it asks us what we will do about those rights, our own and those of Muslims who are oppressed by their own culture. We are so used to the posturing of the right and the shift of liberals to the right in the West that it comes as a welcome shock to be provoked by DV8, by the courage of their multicultural performers and director, Lloyd Newson, by their sheer inventiveness in the equal flow of words and movement, which is at once mesmeric and, in just how they ask us where we stand, utterly disturbing.

Out of Context—For Pina, Les Ballets C de la B, Spring Dance

Out of Context—For Pina, Les Ballets C de la B, Spring Dance

Out of Context—For Pina, Les Ballets C de la B, Spring Dance

les ballets c de la b: out of context—for pina

Les ballets C de la B’s Out of Context— For Pina is a consistently intriguing and exhilarating work, one very different from the company’s work previously seen in Australia where a transport terminal of some kind (La Tristeza Complice) or the top of an apartment building (lets op Bach) have a strong design materiality. Here, the black curtain-framed stage is bare, save for a microphone on a stand, two loudspeakers and a pile of orange blankets. The dancers, it turns out, are seated amongst us and approach the stage one at a time where they undress and wrap themselves in the blankets as if about to commence a yoga class—a scenario which persists in various ways. At other times, in a line, they sway gently like a line of Buddhist monks, forming a physical and sometimes vocal chorus for a solo dancer. However, they are subject to further transformations. As they initially circle each other they commence sniffing, heads leaning into necks, a blend of human and animal accompanied by the grating sound of perhaps a pig—growling and snorting and later intersected with classical piano and further on a soprano voice. In this tribute to the great Pina Bausch, it is as if, as in her own work, anything can happen, here in the shape of enormous shifts from animality to popular to high culture (in the finesse of yoga and exquisite dancing).

The sniffing done, the dancers pick up, virally it seems, a simple swing back of the lower leg from the knee, and then gradually shed their blankets, like snake skins. It’s as if they’ve achieved some strange kind of commonality, short of touching—which comes soon enough. From here on we’re in for a kaleidoscope of images of interaction, often forcing us to choose which simultaneous action to greedily focus on. Look centre and you might easily miss a man consistently collapsing his abdomen with masterful yogic calm.

Elsewhere two men tangle in something like slowed, abstracted Graeco-Roman wrestling, one stretched out on the floor, his weight incredibly pivoted on his head and an arm while his legs splay and his oppressor climbs astride him. A later ‘wrestle’ has, again, two men but squatting side by side, facing us, slowly executing a curious symbiosis, arms entwining, hands manipulating each other’s jaws, becoming one creature. A female dancer executes yoga-based movements with incredible extensions while behind her, facing away, a male performer, microphone in his mouth, growls and grunts and turns adopting a simian pose, lifting the woman onto his shoulders where she becomes chimp-like, squealing into the microphone. Again there is a sense of oneness, of a new multi-limbed body, arms and legs writhing like the goddess Kali.

At other moments the performers are child-like—hands over their loins and tongues protruding—or collectively disabled, battling against a loss of centre of gravity in dance that is once disorienting and beautiful. An extended club dancing passage emerges from a series of single song lines (“No woman no cry,” “I’m calling you,” “that’s the way I like it” etc) but the dancing transforms from predictable to remarkable moves, popular culture elevated beyond belief, and calculatedly tinted with a balletic female duet—if you caught it. There are scenes of adolescent flirtation executed adroitly with comedic relish by a tall female dancer. Rock star posturing manifests from time to time but the play with the microphone—toyed with, slowly lowered, thumped—makes for a different kind of music. Everything is subject to mutation. I was mindful of Ros Warby’s Monumental, which I could not attend in this Spring Dance, but had seen several years ago (RT90) with its enigmatic but magical transformations of the artist from ballerina to bird to soldier.

Into the midst of the relentless action of Out of Context—For Pina steps Lutz Förster, an original member of the Pina Bausch company, suited and performing “The man I love,” first as recitation, then accompanying a recorded version, but all the while signalling the words in Aslan. This affecting “intervention” as the Les ballets C de la B director calls it, was circumstantial, because Förster happened to be in Sydney as a guest of the Goethe-Institut. Elsewhere in the world the intervention will come, says Platel in a Q&A, from other performers or groups or even audience members. What was immediately brought to mind by Förster’s performance is that sense of the artists Bausch employed—distinctive personalities, varied bodies, committed and passionate—and which Platel’s performers likewise embody.

In the end, the dancers fold their blankets, dress and return to their seats among us in the auditorium. We leave the theatre still immersed in the complexities of what it means to be a human animal—from our diverse physiognomies to our desires and our cultural creations. The production’s sense of exploration, spontaneity and passion, unpredictability and sheer purpose and skill, was indeed an apt tribute to Pina Bausch.

Along with two films about Bausch’s work, which showed her at her most charming and good-humoured (given we’ve heard so much about the hard, distant, but nonetheless loved taskmaster), the film tribute to Tanja Liedtke and the foyer exhibition of William Yang’s exquisite photographs of Bausch’s company at the 1982 Adelaide Festival, Spring Dance added up to an exceptional experience. The dance works were quite unlike each other but all revealed intense exploration of form, sometimes with embedded ideas about human nature and creativity, while DV8 made explicit its cultural and political concerns at the same time uniquely energising the relationship between words and movement.

In our December edition you can read interviews with Alain Platel and Israel Galván.

Spring Dance: Israel Galván, La Edad de Oro—The Golden Age, choreographer, dancer Israel Galván, singer David Lagos, guitarist Alfred Lagos), artistic direction Pedro G Romero, lighting Ruben Camacho, sound Félix Vázquez, Playhouse, Aug 23-27; Chunky Move, I Like This, direction, choreography, lighting & sound Antony Hamilton, Byron Perry, performers, Kristy Ayre, Antony Hamilton, Byron Perry, Lee Serle, Joseph Simons, costumes Paula Levis, Studio, Aug 24-28; DV8, Can We Talk About This?, concept, direction Lloyd Newson, choreographer Lloyd Newson with the performers: Joy Constantinides, Lee Davern, Kim-Jomi Fischer, Ermira Goro, Hannes Langolf, Samir M’Kireh, Christina May, Seeta Patel, Anwar Russell, Ira Manela Siobhan, design Anna Fleischle, lighting Beky Stoddart, video artist Tim Reid; Drama Theatre, Aug 25-28; Les Ballets C de la B, Out of Context—For Pina, dancer-devisers Elie Tass, Emile Josse/Quan Bui Ngoc, Hyo Seung Ye, Kaori Ito, Mathieu Desseigne Ravel, Mélanie Lomoff, concept,direction Alain Platel, dramaturgy Hildegard De Vuyst, lighting Carlo Bourguignon, sound design & electronic music Sam Serruys, costumes Dorine Demuynck, Drama Theatre, Aug 30-Sept 1; Pina Bausch (2006), director Anne Linsel, Sept 2; Life in Movement (2011), a documentary on Tanja Liedtke, producer-directors Bryan Mason, Sophie Hyde, Sept 3; Dancing Dreams (2009), director Anne Linsel, Sept 3; Spring Dance 2011, artistic director Wendy Martin, Sydney Opera House, Aug 23-Sept 4

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 14-15

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

LASALLE acting students learn Kathakali performance skills

LASALLE acting students learn Kathakali performance skills

LASALLE acting students learn Kathakali performance skills

PROFESSOR PETER BOOTH, SENIOR DEPUTY VICE-CHANCELLOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY SYDNEY WAS RECENTLY REPORTED ON THE FRONT PAGE OF THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD AS SAYING OF AUSTRALIAN ‘STAY-AT-HOME’ STUDENTS: “WE AS A UNIVERSITY THINK IT’S QUITE SAD AND WE’VE MADE A LOT OF EFFORT. IT WOULD BE BETTER FOR AUSTRALIA TO HAVE MORE POSITIVE PROGRAMS TO ENCOURAGE STUDENTS TO DO SOME OF THEIR STUDY OVERSEAS” (SMH, SEPT 14).

If you have ambitions in the performing arts and a strong interest in intercultural performance Singapore’s LASALLE College of the Arts might be the place for you with its embrace of Asian and Western traditions, excellent facilities and teacher-student ratios, as well as a related media arts faculty and film school.

For many years Australian universities have relied financially on a steady flow of overseas students, mostly from Asia. Although, after USA and Britain, Australia has the third largest take-up of foreign students globally, some 22% of the Australian university population, numbers have dropped by 9.4% in 2010-11. This is for a variety of reasons: fears of racist violence, the high Australian dollar, foreign student management scams outside of the university sector and, given new visa restrictions, decreasing opportunities for students to stay on in Australia after graduating (the Australian Government has recently relaxed somewhat the visa and post-study work restrictions to help universities sustain numbers and income). Another reason is the growing attractiveness of universities and other tertiary education institutions within Asia itself, particularly as the region plays a growing role in the world’s economy and develops its tertiary education sector.

Focusing on fine art, design, media and performing arts in a culturally rich island state LASALLE is located in Singapore’s cultural centre. Equipped with one theatre and two black box spaces, its Faculty of Performing Arts was spearheaded by Aubrey Mellor, a leading Australian theatre director, formerly Director of NIDA. Mellor was the Dean of the Performing Arts 2008-2011 and is now a Senior Fellow at LASALLE. The faculty has long had connections with Australia through a number of teachers working there over many years, for example composer Lindsay Vickery (now returned to Perth), virtuoso saxophonist Timothy O’Dwyer, NIDA alumnae Edith Podesta and a former concert soloist with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Bronwyn Gibson.

What LASALLE offers students is a rich cross-cultural, practice-based curriculum in the performing arts with a very attractive and highly competitive (not least for Australian universities) ratio of one teacher per seven students.

Venka Purushothaman, LASALLE’s Vice-President (Academic) and Provost, and Acting Dean of the Faculty of Performing Arts, says, “Singapore is at the ebb and flow between the west and east. LASALLE is therefore able to capitalise on the rich and diverse groups of visiting artists from North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific. Through its link to UK film producer David Puttnam supporting the development of young filmmakers in Asia, The Puttnam School of Film, part of LASALLE’s Faculty of Media Arts, has also been instrumental in growing the creative talent base for the film and video industry.”

Wolfgang Muench, Dean of the Faculty of Media Arts, writes, “The philosophy within LASALLE is to encourage students to collaborate on interdisciplinary projects in order to learn new skills and sensibilities that will stand them in good stead when they enter the real world. Many of the Media Arts students have collaborated with dance and acting students on performances that showcase the diversity of the range of talents that are developed here.”

Aubrey Mellor likewise emphasises a diversity of experience and interaction: “In the Diploma in Dance, contextual studies support the understanding of distinct stylistic features, but dance practice and dance skills take precedence. The aim is a versatile and flexible dancer, equally at ease with any choreographic demand from popular, ethnic and period dance. Essentials of classical ballet, contemporary dance and physical theatre are used but are not specialisations.” As for music training the focus is on “knowledge of style, rhythm and cultural sources and the inclusion of cross-disciplinary subjects such as Performance Art, Film and Video Collaboration and Southeast Asian Cinema that accord students with the scope to exercise versatility and to think and practise across artforms and cultures.”

Timothy O’Dwyer, who heads the School of Contemporary Music within LASALLE’s Faculty of Performing Arts, elaborates: “In the popular music oriented Diploma in Music, students rehearse in small groups and perform every week. They learn how to improvise, have lessons on their instruments, learn music theory, compose their own songs and learn about the history of music from some of the most experienced performers and educators in the region. The BA(Hons) Music covers classical, jazz and popular music as well as composition and music technology. Taught within a western musical discourse, the programs introduce a diverse blend of ideas found in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas—and schools students in a range of contemporary musical practices, in both practical and theoretical contexts.”

LASALLE students perform Journey To Nowhere

LASALLE students perform Journey To Nowhere

LASALLE students perform Journey To Nowhere

For students undertaking the Diploma in Performance, the first year course in acting, improvisation, voice, movement and script analysis is framed within the history of the performing arts and visual culture. The second year focuses on musical theatre, with the experiential work underpinned by lectures and seminars in Southeast Asian performance traditions as well as dramatic writing and dramaturgy. The third year involves acting work in LASALLE’s Screen Acting Unit and studies in Southeast Asian Cinema.

For the BA(Hons) Acting, through classes, projects, workshops and productions, the course develops students’ abilities to work in an ensemble environment and with awareness of their own imaginative resources. The program collaborates with other faculties, specifically The Puttnam School of Film in the Media Arts faculty and offers rich training within a wide cultural and historical context. For students from non-Asian cultures an attractive feature in Level 1 is the Asian Theatre Project plus intensive stylistic workshops, from Commedia to Kabuki. In the final year, Level 3 operates as a theatre company, with ensemble members experiencing a range of roles, styles, genres and disciplines.

Recent First Class BA(Hons) Acting graduate Walter Hanna, who hails from Perth, feels privileged to have been given the opportunity to experience different forms of Asian theatre practices during his studies at LASALLE. Hanna says, “From the very beginning, we were trained by very experienced practitioners who are skilled in Kathakali, Chinese opera, and Indian martial arts. The Asian Theatre Project in our first year of acting school gave us a wide spectrum of learning opportunities and allowed us to be schooled in traditional Asian artforms. This is something that I would not have had the chance to experience if I had studied in Australia.” Hanna participated in a LASALLE production, Journey To Nowhere, in 2010—a tongue-in-cheek take on the famous Chinese epic Journey To The West. “Before doing this show, I had absolutely no idea about Chinese myths and cultural beliefs,” says Hanna.

The distinctive BA(Hons) Theatre+Performance degree with its orientation on leadership is intended for theatre devotees who do not wish to work onstage or backstage. Aubrey Mellor writes, “Graduates are equipped to initiate theatre-making or writing and find employment collaborating with creative leaders locally, regionally or internationally. It engages with traditional and contemporary theory and current and traditional methods of both the East and West are valued. Emphasis is placed on developing the leadership skills for those students wishing to become directors, playwrights, dramaturgs, critics or drama teachers. Level 3 includes advanced studies in inter-cultural theatre practice, developing a specialisation and a major personal production and thesis.” The BA(Hons) Musical Theatre is the first of its kind in Asia designed to prepare students for professional careers in musicals, plays, cabaret, film and television. Numerous graduates from both Musical Theatre and Acting programs have found employment around the world.

There are also Diplomas in Technical and Production Management and in Audio Production as well as a BA(Hons) Technical Theatre, where stage management is central and students can specialise in scenography, lighting, sound and production management. These programs deliver to the huge number of fully produced plays and musicals as well as dance and music shows. Graduates are in high demand from the rapidly growing performing arts, both nationally and regionally, with another 39 new performing spaces brought on line in Singapore.

There is emphasis throughout on a solid grounding in performance administration and financial management as well as professional theatre internships and periodical performance projects. In all diploma and degree courses, leading directors, conductors and choreographers from the region and beyond are involved in the creation of productions.

Bronwyn Gibson, Program Leader for Musical Theatre, says, “LASALLE offers a unique opportunity for Australian students to receive internationally-recognised tertiary education while developing the self-sufficiency and personal growth that comes with living in a foreign country. Student life is enriched by the constant cross-cultural dialogue and learning opportunities derived from peers of diverse backgrounds. Singapore is an inherently multi-racial country and offers an excellent introduction to the dynamic potential that Asia has to offer on a global scale whilst positioned in close geographical proximity to Australia. LASALLE offers the Australian student the best of both worlds.”

According to a recent OECD report, Education at a Glance, there are “24 international students in Australia for every one national studying overseas. The ratios for both the US and Britain are 1-11” (SMH, Sept 14). Certainly, given the impact of traditional Asian dance and theatre traditions on Australian performing arts, you’d think more young Australians would take up opportunities that combine both their own Western and increasingly familiar and pertinent Asian traditions and innovations in performance.

LASALLE College of the Arts, Faculties of Performing Arts & Media Arts, www.lasalle.edu.sg

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 31

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Splendour in the Grass, Close Encounter, Jordana Maisie

Splendour in the Grass, Close Encounter, Jordana Maisie

Splendour in the Grass, Close Encounter, Jordana Maisie

FOR SEVERAL YEARS NOW, ARTIST CRAIG WALSH HAS OVERSEEN AN ARTS PROGRAM AT THE LARGE-SCALE ROCK FESTIVAL SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS. THE INCLUSION OF CONTEMPORARY ART AT SUCH AN EVENT HAD PREVIOUSLY BEEN SOMETHING OF AN ANOMALY IN THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC FESTIVAL LANDSCAPE—OR AT LEAST AT THE MORE ROCK’N’ROLL, GEN Y-ORIENTED END OF THE SPECTRUM—SO SPLENDOUR’S INVESTMENT IN THIS AREA IS AN INTRIGUING AND NOTEWORTHY PHENOMENON THAT HAS THUS FAR FLOWN LARGELY UNDER THE RADAR OF MAINSTREAM AUSTRALIAN ART DISCOURSE.

From humble beginnings, the Splendour in the Grass Arts program has continuously expanded, in what seems like an ongoing investigation of just what exactly the possibilities for art might be in this spectacular, pop culture-oriented event. Walsh is an experienced media artist and a leading proponent of the creation of work for non-gallery environments, so he is a fitting choice to head up this project. Particularly interesting amongst these creative possibilities has been the development of the Splendid Arts Lab: a program inaugurated in 2009 and largely funded by the Australia Council’s Opportunities for Young and Emerging Artists initiative, in partnership with Splendour itself and a consortium of regional galleries and organisations situated close to the festival’s original site of Belongil Fields, in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales (the festival has relocated to Woodford, Queensland, for the past two years). In 2009-2011, the Splendid Arts Lab has supported a group of young and emerging artists to attend Splendour in the Grass and a connected art-making laboratory that is designed around the conceit of making a site-specific, interdisciplinary, collaborative work to intervene into this loaded environment. Following the lab and a development period, the artists propose their works to a curatorium, and several works are selected to be made for the following year’s festival.

On paper it seems like a no-brainer, particularly from a funder’s perspective. Gen Y artists, making work for a Gen Y festival, in a groundbreaking, cross-disciplinary style. But the realities of making art for this context are more complex than those tick-boxes would suggest. Firstly, the field of site-specific and socially engaged practice is somewhat under-resourced and underdeveloped in Australia, with few of our major arts institutions supporting the development and presentation of this mode of work. Secondly, as far as situations for site-specific work go, you couldn’t get a site more specific than Splendour in the Grass. A clear-felled, rambling area in the middle of the bush, usually occupied by an annual folk festival, being temporarily overtaken by a massive rock festival, replete with 30,000-odd (mostly white, mostly twentysomething, mostly intoxicated) punters, food stalls, amusements and of course the dozens of bands, DJs and musicians across genres that everyone is there for in the first place.

In short, Splendour is like a mini-city, built around the particular desires of a particular demographic, designed to solicit their interaction, enjoyment and, of course, their cash. Such a setting would be a challenge for any artist to grapple with, and for a young emerging artist who is launching into their practice, the complexities of such a proposition might be especially daunting. Having been employed by Splendid as a Provocateur on the 2010 Lab, I have a particular attachment to these artists and to the developmental process that they undertook. It was encouraging to see them respond to the abovementioned challenges with unflinching rigour, enthusiasm and curiosity. Opportunities to focus on process, and really unpack the complexities around making work—particularly site-specific work—are rare, and so Splendid has provided an important service in this regard. For this year’s festival, three artists from the 2010 Splendid Arts Lab were selected to create work: Jordana Maisie, Jimmy McGilchrist and Matthew Kneale, although Kneale’s performance intervention was unfortunately abandoned due to logistical uncertainties—a real shame considering the rich potential for performance practices in this arena.

Jordana Maisie’s sculpture Close Encounters provided a meeting point at the festival’s Mix Up Stage. Taking the form of a large-scale UFO, its gleaming metallic surface hovering over the crowd, Close Encounters offered an inverted reflection of the ground-level spectacle of the punters themselves. Embedded in its side surface was an LED screen, the kind beloved by lottery kiosks and Jenny Holzer alike. Through an SMS service, festival goers could “talk to the aliens” and have their short-form communiqués broadcast on the screen for all to see. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of jokes and friends shouting out to other friends, a kind of banal toilet-door-graffiti talk. But these were punctuated by the odd message that was genuinely eccentric or heartfelt. Meanwhile, the artists were concealed behind a nearby fence, sending the punters’ messages to the screen and posting their own replies, presumably from the aliens’ perspective, creating micro dialogues. These text-based interactions were an odd reflection on the ‘heightened’ state of the festival audience, and became mini portraits of the strange modes of socialisation that were taking place around the festival. Despite the technical wizardry, my favourite part of the work was its central shaft—a cylindrical mirrored portal at the centre of the UFO that visually transported punters away from this tangle of crowd and (mis)communication, into the uninterrupted calmness of the sky. A moment of quietness and the sublime amidst the relentless spectacle.

Behind the scenes, Curious Creatures

Behind the scenes, Curious Creatures

Behind the scenes, Curious Creatures

The other work commissioned through the Splendid program was Jimmy McGilchrist’s interactive shadow projection Curious Creatures. Half-concealed up a hillside, people were drawn towards the work by the strange animal-like noises it emanated, and the soft white glow of the projection screens. Across a panoramic screen surface, the shadows of several peculiar, children’s story-book animals roamed a sparse, alien landscape. As viewers approached the screen, their own shadow appeared in the scene and the creatures were drawn to it, running over to interact in vicious, loving, or baffling ways. This deceptively simple effect was in fact a complex programming feat, operated by McGilchrist and his collaborators behind the scenes. Though markedly different in their aesthetic and conceptual strategies, it is interesting to note that both McGilchrist’s and Maisie’s works harnessed digital, interactive technologies to engage the distractible festival-goers, suggesting a potential-laden way of connecting art with a transient crowd such as this.

Beyond the Splendid program, Walsh has been exploring other ways to activate the festival site and its audience through artistic intervention. This year, the Cream program, curated by Annemarie Kohn, brought three artists working with ephemeral, street-based practices together to create temporary interventions into the festival landscape of Splendour. The masking-tape murals of Buff Dis; Oliver in the Sky’s cardboard pop sculptures; and Fernando Llanos’ projections onto a customized blimp provided a counterpoint to Maisie and McGilchrist’s tech- and material-heavy works. Installed responsively throughout the three-day festival, the execution of these temporary works gained an extra performative edge in the heightened but highly contained festival site. Fleet-footed and engaging, the Cream program hinted at exciting approaches yet to come in the Splendour Arts context.

Splendour in the Grass, Splendour Arts program, Woodford, 29-31 July, http://splendourinthegrass.com; Splendid Arts Lab, Lismore and Woodford, www.splendid.org.au

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 3

© Jeff Khan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Big Bang

Big Bang

Big Bang

WE ARE LIVING IN UNCERTAIN TIMES. STABLE CLIMATE, LIBERAL DEMOCRACY, CAPITALISM AND THE GLOBAL DOMINANCE OF WESTERN CIVILISATION ARE ALL LOOKING LIKE THEIR TIME MIGHT HAVE PASSED. A SIMILAR SENSE OF IMPENDING CRISIS IS TANGIBLE ACROSS THE STATE FUNDED ARTS IN EUROPE. THIS YEAR’S EUROKAZ PROCEEDED IN A SPIRIT OF AUSTERITY, ITS BUDGET REDUCED BY A STAGGERING 30% AT THE 11TH HOUR.

With the program accordingly thinner, it was hard to escape the feeling that much contextualising of the remaining works had also disappeared. The curatorial thread of the festival was reduced to a dashed, disconnected line: successful works remained, but were significantly less eloquent about each other than is usually the case.

Between tableau theatre, Congolese performance, dance on science and an entire video retrospective on Christoph Schlingensief, critics had to deal with a cacophony. However, the highlights of the festival could be lined up as examples—if stand-alone—on how to speak, how to make a sound, on the future of the world.

noise

This year’s program-within-the-program consisted of four performances by emerging artists, created within the European Focus on Art and Science in the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, the majority of works presented could be dismissed as ‘Chunky-Move-on-a-Shoestring.’ The conceptual framework often appeared no deeper than placing a machine among the dancers and turning it on, but the machines—unlike Chunky’s often brilliantly innovative technology—seldom excited with their possibilities. So Santasangre’s Bestiale Improvviso (Beastly all of a Sudden) delivered dancerly twitching to harsh sounds and stormy lighting, atmospheric but hardly thought-through. Technology in this context, disappointingly, was largely interpreted as noise and flashing lights, a well-worn metaphor for impending catastrophe. In contrast, WE GO vzw/Vincenzo Carta presented Gnosis #1, a research-driven work, the main thrust of which was the dancers’ states of mind activating stage lights of different colours. However, while this resulted in fairly opaque stage business, the mechanics of the translation of mind to light was never explained sufficiently, leaving the audience sceptical as to the exact method employed and unable to judge its success or failure.

I would single out Dewey Dell’s Cinquanta Urlanti Quaranta Ruggenti Sessanta Stridenti (Furious Fifties, Roaring Forties, Shrieking Sixties) as the most successful in this program—not because it offered significantly greater dramaturgical thrust (it did not), not even because it engaged with technology beyond the obvious (it did not), but because its sheer strangeness was unapologetically devoid of either facile catastrophism or technophiliac laziness. Three young women, the next generation of the Castellucci family, appear on stage in padded black unitards that exaggerate their thighs, white-painted arms and faces in similar blistering white, but with central black circles, resembling the traditional Venetian moretta (or ‘mute maid’—a small, round woman’s mask, held in place by biting onto the button on the underside). A series of very simple movements—arms slicing, small hops, upper body swaying—rigorously correlates with Demetrio Castellucci’s music, a rhythmic bunch of roaring, shrieking noises, every so often embracing a broad tune, such as a two-tone siren wail. But instead of attempting to illustrate a tragedy, Dewey Dell create a dark, childishly primal pantomime of a badly remembered nightmare. There are seas, shipwrecks, maidens in distress and sandmen in this show, all executed in an aesthetic realm halfway between Lemony Snicket and Michel Gondry’s music video for Daft Punk’s “Around the World.” Vaguely built around the mystical harshness of the Antarctic winds, the performance lacks the maturity of Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s adult works, but is powerfully visceral in the best sense of the word.

Big Bang

Big Bang

Big Bang

silence

From these relatively superficial explorations of a noisy cataclysm, Philippe Quesne and Vivarium Studio proceed to play with silence. Big Bang, defying expectations, opens with a woman reading at a table, silently constructing the word BANG from wooden letters. The end of the world again. However, instead of pathos, Quesne offers soft, benevolent humour. The evolution recommences. Amoeba-like creatures, crawling on barren land, rise into hairy apes around a fire and surprisingly quickly evolve into humans sitting in an upturned car, reading Chris Ware’s comics and drinking beer from cans. A lake appears, as do astronauts, and someone is always walking around with a sketchbook, finding aesthetic pleasure in the cataclysm. The scale shifts between miniature and lifesize, a number of performers in green overalls walk around unperturbed, setting the scene and a small island is formed from the debris upstage.

Quesne’s background is in set design, and the work builds as a series of gradually shifting tableaux; the dramatic structure is entirely unencumbered by words. His professed aim is to develop a new dramaturgy that evolves around an almost anthropological observation of the human microcosm, sidelining the simplistic inquiries of text-based theatre. Ambitious, but Big Bang—despite sometimes gruelling slowness—is never hostile to the spectator; Quesne has quickly become an audience favourite in France. His post-Bang trajectory from plankton to postmodernism is gentle, melancholy and humorous and we are quietly entertained despite having sat through the end of the world—twice. However, Big Bang also plunges one into the sludge of First World resignation, no less genuine, or troubling, for its Tati-like sweetness. Watching it almost feels like making peace with despair—or perhaps walking into and through it.

More more more future

More more more future

More more more future

talking

Faustin Linyekula and Studio Kabako’s More more more…future begins where Quesne ends, with impotent silence at the end of the world. Linyekula starts at a real, non-metaphorical place of catastrophe: his native Democratic Republic of Congo, still blistering from the biggest war in African history. Trying to use the social power of music, Linyekula wants to marry ndombolo—hugely popular Congolese pop music, wild and energetic and profoundly escapist, carrying with itself a culture of bling—to the political spirit of punk. The show is structured as a musical performance, centre-stage given over to the Kinshasa guitar sensation Flamme Kapaya. He performs a powerful mix of hip-swinging ndombolo and raging rock to the seething lyrics of poet Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, a political prisoner in Kinshasa and Linyekula’s childhood friend.

So far, so predictable. But the emotional trajectory of this concert is devastating. Muhindo’s lyrics unravel the history of Congo, from clinging to tradition, idols and ideology to the revolution against Mobutu, and the illusory promise of democracy that ends in civil war. Muhindo weaves in Zarathustra’s thoughts on the ever-turning cycle of history, but continues to invoke a break to the pattern: “more than a glorious past, give us the future.” The future here stands not even for a time in which our optimistic plans come to fruition, but a time in which optimism has a chance to exist. It is a call for hope, the same one spoken about by Deo Masugi in SBS’s documentary Go Back To Where You Came From (director Ivan Mahoney). After 10 years in a refugee camp, “we can’t ask for anything more than tomorrow.”

While the musicians are dressed in ‘authentic’ ndombolo glitter and gold, the three dancers wear frilly, ballooning outfits made from refugee bags [cheaply made sacks of woven nylon fibres. Eds]. They begin with simple ndombolo dancing. As the music heaves and grows in anger, it also transforms into trance, madness and, finally, violence. The energy on stage is numbing. Why not live for today, if there is no tomorrow? “Carpe diem, even if it’s the middle of the night.” And then, after the physical fighting has subsided, the thread of the performance is slowly picked up again.

Writing on political performance, cardinal Flemish dramaturg Marianne Van Kerkhoven has said, “A process of truly interiorising the social options is for the ‘political artist’ probably the most important artistic deed.” This is a profoundly political work, agitating without propaganda and empathetic without resignation. In a Gramscian sense, it couples pessimism of intellect with optimism of the will. Unlike others in the program, it is not a romantically apocalyptic narrative, but an attempt to articulate a way out of a real cataclysm. Linyekula does not romanticise the political power of music, nor African sensuality, but neither does he cerebrally avoid them. Instead, he acknowledges ndombolo’s agonistic tendencies, seeks to uncover its generative potential and allows it to disintegrate as it naturally would. Yet the performance does not end in despair, but with sombre, tenacious hope. Linyekula goes that one step beyond Robyn Orlin’s Dressed to Kill…Killed to Dress… (RT 87,p38), not simply staging a culture of escapism and excess, but pushing it to come to its own catharsis.

An ethical question that increasingly troubles me at Eurokaz is the misplaced colonialism of the continuous importation of First World melancholy and cynicism, through art, into a culture of a developing country. It is often genuinely unsettling to see the apathy of a consumer society, in which all of one’s insignificant wishes are a priori sated, performed in front of an audience of precariously-employed, politically disenfranchised, economically doomed citizens of an unstable democracy. Last year’s Ballad of Ricky and Ronny (RT98) was one such instance, this year’s Big Bang another. The high value accorded to such art, its forms and ideas, always teeters on the possibility of creating an educated apathy where it is least needed and imports melancholy as a baseless fashion. There is a place for melancholy performance, and for apocalypse, but there is also a somewhat conspicuous excess of both in the world today—perhaps a natural extension of the general state of crisis we are living through. There is a lot more to take home—from the kind of questioning to the cathartic path out—a lot more that is intelligent, emotionally rich and, ultimately, new from the work of Faustin Linyekula.

Bestiale Improvviso, Santasangre, authors Diana Arbib, Luca Brinchi, Maria Carmela Milano, Pasquale Tricoci, Roberta Zanardo, MSU, June 28; Gnosis #1, WE GO vzw/Vincenzo Carta, concept, choreography Vincenzo Carta, concept, soundscape Ongakuaw, MCUK, June 29; Cinquanta Urlanti Quaranta Ruggenti Sessanta Stridenti, Dewey Dell, choreography Teodora Castellucci, performers Sara Angelini, Agata Castellucci, Teodora Castellucci, sound design Demetrio Castellucci, set and light Eugenio Resta, MSU, June 29; Big Bang, Philippe Quesne/Vivarium Studio, concept, direction Philippe Quesne, artistic and technical collaboration Yvan Cledat, Cyril Gomez-Mathieu, production Vivarium Studio, ZKM, July 4-5; More more more… future, Faustin Linyekula/Studios KABAKO, author Faustin Linyekula, music Flamme Kapaya, Patou ‘Tempête’ Kayembe, Le Coq, Cédric ‘Béton’ Lokamba, Patient Mafutala Useni, dancers Dinozord, Papy Ebotani, Faustin Linyekula, text Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, production Studios Kabako, Dance Centre Zagreb, July 3, 5; Eurokaz festival, Zagreb, June 27-July 5

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 4

© Jana Perkovic; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

WHILE REAL TIME HAS RECENTLY DOCUMENTED A NUMBER OF MEDIA AND VISUAL ARTS PROJECTS DEALING WITH ISSUES OF SUSTAINABILITY (RT103), THERE HAVE BEEN FEW REPORTS OF THEATRE, MUSIC OR DANCE PRODUCTIONS TACKLING GREEN TOPICS. WITH A FEW EXCEPTIONS, THE PERFORMING ARTS SECTOR SEEMS LESS INCLINED TO INCORPORATE THE CONTEMPORARY DISCOURSE OF CARBON TAX DEBATES INTO STAGED PRODUCTIONS.

If all things sustainable have not yet infiltrated the rehearsal room, they have started to change the producing structures. Sydney Theatre Company, for example, is positioning itself as a world leader, with its Greening the Wharf program, “believed to be a first of its kind for any theatre company in the world in its scale and comprehensive approach to sustainability” (sydneytheatre.com.au/visit/greening-the-wharf). The rainwater harvesting, solar power, waste reduction and programming of science and art talks (The Wentworth Talks series) makes STC a model for engagement with green issues.

Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne is another production house that is engaging with sustainability in major structural and program changes. Malthouse Greenlight includes an innovative recycling program for the many industrial lights used throughout the building and on the stages (malthousetheatre.com.au/page/MALTHOUSE_GREENLIGHT). A carbon surcharge on tickets, educational programs with green themes and the hosting of the very successful Tipping Point meeting in 2010 all contribute to a lively and multifaceted corporate engagement with sustainability.

Other major organisations in Australia engaging with infrastructure change include Queensland Theatre Company who launched the Green Theatre Initiative in 2008 and The Australian Ballet who are reducing the carbon footprint across their operations. City of Melbourne venue and producer Arts House has a very popular Green Tix for Nix project (melbourne.vic.gov.au/ArtsHouse/Program/Pages/GreenTixForNix.aspx) where those who travel by public transport, foot or bicycle receive free tickets to a weekend matinee.

These initiatives and many more are listed in Greening the Arts, the online resource published by Tipping Point, an international organisation that “energises the cultural response to climate change.” In Australia it is led by Angharad Wynne-Jones who is now the Creative Producer for Melbourne’s Arts House. Greening the Arts surveys sustainable arts and culture activities in Australia and is still the most comprehensive resource for the sector. When taken in conjunction with the many international publications to which it links, such as the Green Rider or the Green Mobility Guide created by Julie’s Bicycle, the pioneering London based organisation “making environmental sustainability intrinsic to the business, art and ethics of music, theatre and the creative industries,” this document will assist most arts organisations in achieving carbon neutrality while starting to introduce dialogue around green matters into their programs and projects. See on-the-move.org/files/Green-Mobility-Guide.pdf; tippingpointaustralia.com/resources, and juliesbicycle.com/resources/jb-green-riders.

Since the guide was released in 2010 there have been a few new initiatives, such as Earth Station, a satellite event to WOMADelaide. Earth Station is “both forum and festival” and includes a full program of performances and art works as well as panels and debates over three days. Art works dealing with sustainability topics such as Stan’s Café’s installation, Of All the People in All the World, are accompanied by speakers such as former Al Gore chief of staff Roy Neel and Giselle Weybrecht, author of The Sustainable MBA as well as Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton. Perhaps inspired by international projects such as A Greener Festival, where leading music festivals have prioritised camping, reduced waste and emissions and incorporated discussion and debate, this new addition to the Australian festival sector will hopefully inspire other forward thinking festivals to follow suit. For details take a look at earthstationfestival.com.au and www.agreenerfestival.com.

So, as old buildings are renovated to reduce their carbon footprint and organisations strive to be carbon negative, artists are starting to explore new ways of making their work and taking it to their audiences. In a rousing article in Greening the Arts, Wynne-Jones looks forward to a new cultural entrepreneur: the artist-as-producer. “Who better than artists-as-producers to re-imagine the cultural infrastructure, funding frameworks and networks we’ll need in a zero carbon future, who better than those for whom the bottom line has never been the motivator.” Wynne-Jones writes about the need for a “fit-for-purpose infrastructure” where the artists-as-producers design a new set of tools for creating art and taking it to audiences. She imagines alternative forms of artistic encounter, where “our virtual capacity needs to be imaginatively maximised.” She writes of “face-to-face as a privilege” and has followed through on these thoughts in her Tipping Point commissions. In Home Art (homeartproject.com) in partnership with City of Melbourne, Lucy Guerin has been commissioned to create a series of art works in the homes of audiences, taking the art out of the infrastructure and into another form of connection. In Riot, the Tipping Point/Dara Foundation/Malthouse Theatre Climate Commission, Torque Show will stage a riot in which popular dissent and direct action become a form of performance.

Tipping Point is also partnered with the Australia Council’s IETM Collaboration Project on a climate commission with Kaaitheater in Brussels. Entitled Time’s Up: Control of the Commons, this project by Tim Boykett takes a series of watercourse journeys in Australia and Europe, investigating water usage, attitudes to water and kinship/friendship networks. The presentation at the Burning Ice Festival at Kaaitheater in June 2012 will include direct documentation, interviews, photography and video mapping.

Long term artist-producer, David Pledger, the outgoing Director of the Australia Council IETM Collaboration Project, contextualises this project in a European dimension in his blog on the Australia Council website entitled Do Nothing Do Something. Pledger is working with Julie’s Bicycle to measure the carbon footprint of his entire program. Pledger’s blog responds to the second of the Slow Boat conferences, initiated in 2009 by The British Council and Arts Admin to consider sustainable arts touring and perpetuated in 2010 by Kaaitheater in Brussels. He wrote of the conference’s problematising of cultural exchange and mobility as “a motivation and opportunity for artists, programmers and presenters to rethink what we do, and evolve cultural production imaginatively by developing new dramaturgical templates to create new work and new producing environments in which that work can happen” (www.australiacouncil.gov.au/special_projects).

The Slow Boat conference challenged the value of mobility with questions that included: “How can we genuinely reduce the ecological footprint of all our travels and tours?”; “Would better and more efficient co-operation and networking be a way of bringing down CO2 emissions?”; “Are such terms as ‘relocalising’ and ‘permaculture,' which crop up increasingly in the debate on a transition to a sustainable society, relevant to the arts too?”; “Is the nomadic existence many artists lead still desirable?” (vti.be/en/projects/slow-boat-2).

With the current political, social and financial turmoil in Europe and North America many Australian artists will be rethinking their touring plans and hopefully, inspired by Greening the Arts and other publications and initiatives, they will begin to explore more inventive routes to audiences, whether in their own communities or internationally via new media. Having recently collaborated on a publication examining the trend for international co-productions and in these same pages reported upon the growth in the international activity of Australian artists and companies, it is interesting to note that the tide that has to date so favoured mobility and exchange may now be turning. Ironically, the restrictions imposed upon artists often lead to the most impressive art, so there is great hope that straitened times might lead to longer residencies, works remaining in repertoire, more participatory projects, more innovative communications over distance between artists, more inventive exchanging of scores and other performance 'texts' and a general flourishing of the inspired and dynamic artist-as-producer.

Sophie Travers and Judith Staines edited the International Co-Production Manual, subtitled “the journey which is full of surprises,” published by KAMS (Korean Arts Management Services) and IETM (International network for contemporary performing arts, March 2011. For more information go to IETM
(http://www.ietm.org/index.lasso?p=information&q=resourcedetail&id=125&-session=s:5B5591691638313D99iHmODC7F11) or download a PDF version of the manual (http://www.ietm.org/upload/files/2_20110615110511.pdf).

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg.

Precarious, Merilyn Fairskye

Precarious, Merilyn Fairskye

COMBINING A CINEMATOGRAPHIC FLAIR FOR MOMENTUM AND A PHOTOGRAPHIC EYE FOR THE MOMENT, MERILYN FAIRSKYE HAS, IN PRECARIOUS, HER FIRST FEATURE-LENGTH FILM, CREATED A CHILLINGLY BEAUTIFUL ACCOUNT OF THE AFTERMATH OF THE CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR REACTOR DISASTER OF APRIL 26, 1986 IN THE NOW INDEPENDENT UKRAINE, BUT EFFECTING IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER LARGE PARTS OF THE POPULATION, ECONOMY AND ECOLOGY OF THE FORMER USSR. WE ARE TOLD IN THE OPENING TITLES, “OVER 600,000-700,000 PEOPLE KNOWN AS LIQUIDATORS TOOK PART IN THE CLEAN-UP.”

These people from across the USSR, along with the plant’s workers, locals and the citizens of nearby towns continue to be the victims of the Chernobyl catastrophe with an expected surge of cancer cases in 2011—25 years after the fire.

Precarious opens with a bleak winter landscape viewed through, but not visibly framed by, the passenger window of a moving car—dark, leafless trees and now and then apparently deserted houses glide by, the sky as white as the snow on the ground. We will learn later what this place is. The sense of desolation is reinforced by Robert Hindley’s haunting sound score (Fairskye had asked the sound designer to “put himself inside the reactor”).

Our gaze is focused on the landscape while we listen to five people—a former helicopter pilot, a scientist, a medical specialist, an information officer, a researcher and a former Intourist worker). They remain unseen and the filmmaker’s questions elided. Their accounts (in Russian and spare English, subtitled) of the event and its consequences are woven through the body of the film. One of them, a former newspaper photographer, speaks of his frustration at being denied access to the incident site during the crisis. An oncologist in Kiev speaks about his commitment to rehabilitation and the prevention of radiation poisoning. Another voice tells us that the layer of contaminated surface material in the region is buried in snow, making the place relatively safe in winter. The mesmeric ride through this grim landscape and these calmly spoken but disturbing testaments create the first of an increasing number of polarities.

Precarious, Merilyn Fairskye

Precarious, Merilyn Fairskye

We find ourselves on the boardwalk in Alushta gazing at the contaminated Black Sea, the movement now in the waves and the sound of their fall; the camera is still, framing the water, the immediate coastline walkway and buildings from various points. People amble by. One of the intreviewees recalls “respectable men using means legal and illegal to get through the checkpoint,” to flee the disaster. Families, not trusting government assurances, soon sent their children away—sometimes “trainloads of children were turned back.” But many did go to other parts of the USSR. Alushta was now “[a] city without children…it was like an unpleasant science fiction film.” As for today, one interviewee simply says, “we’ve got to live; adjust somehow.” Meanwhile night comes on and sea and sky fill the screen, this time enveloping us with barely contrasting Rothko-ish deep and deeper grey-blue.

Taking in the elegant, elderly city of Yalta, we hear of the 8,000 workers who continue to flow into Chernobyl and the city of Prypiat for one-off three-week shifts and of the young firemen who battled the Reactor 4 blaze in 1986 only to “quietly disappear from life.” One of two eerie satellite images in the film closes in on the region, indicating the direction of the flow that will come with Spring of contaminated water from Chernobyl to cities and into the Black Sea.

In a grey Kiev the camera tilts to take in the golds, greens and blues of Orthodox churches and then fixes on a distant view of the city from a park as we listen to recollections of a warm, sunny, cheerful May Day parade. The government had issued no news about Chernobyl—there were only rumours almost a week after the event, only dignitaries sending their children away. And then came the news and advice: take charcoal and iodine and drink vodka. Kiev becomes a city inhabited only by men. The helicopter pilot speaks for the many liquidators: the job was an honour, there was no choice, “We were educated to be like this.”

Now we’re on the road to Chernobyl, on the edge of the Exclusion Zone where residents are banned from hunting, fishing and gathering berries and cannot sell their produce: “Ten years of our lives have been stolen from us.” Soon we’re inside the zone, the camera closing in on the rusting “sarcophagus” of Reactor 4, its new containment as yet still not built. An aerial view suspends us above the Reactor’s inadequate cooling pond. A line of trees is described as the Red Forest because after the explosion its summer leaves turned red—the soundtrack flutters as if to evoke in the distance “the crazy singing of Geiger counters” that one interviewee spoke of earlier in the film.

Within the Exclusion Zone we drift through the ghost city of Prypiat, its streets full of wild new growth stilled temporarily by Winter. But we know liquidators will be somewhere here while, around the city, displaced locals illegally search the zone for fish, animals and scrap metal. The helicopter pilot, like many others has received a Badge of Honour but his illness drives him away to Israel. The camera pans to rest on a never-to-be-used Ferris wheel, due to begin operating at the time of the fire, adding the faintest touch of colour, not to mention irony, to the otherwise black and white scene. In the Stills Gallery, a large, wide photograph of the wheel dominates our gaze as the film plays out on the mezzanine.

Precarious, says Fairskye at her artist’s talk, was “never planned, but came out of a Black Sea holiday [because] of a long term fascination—I had to go to the Crimea.” She went alone in 2009, staying in “an otherwise empty 5-star hotel in a deserted town [Alushta] on the edge of contaminated water.” There she picked up a silk map of the region, “once restricted information from 1947.” A name grabbed her attention—Chernobyl. She felt she must go there and, once through the checkpoint, found herself “immersed in another world, faced with a remarkable opportunity and provided with an official driver and a guide heading into the heart of Prypiat,” 18kms from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and inside the Exclusion Zone. It was after being taken to see the Ferris wheel that Fairskye felt like she was “at the end of the world. There was not a sound. That’s when the film began to take shape. Before that I’d been shooting randomly and when I got home to Australia the material looked patchy.”

So, at exactly the same time a year later, Fairskye returned, this time with her Russian-speaking partner as interpreter and plenty of research behind her about the consequences of the Reactor 4 explosion in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. She was anxious that the promised new containment of the reactor might provide imagery quite different from that of her first visit, but the government had not followed through on its promised spending, “so, ironically, I got continuity.” All that can be done with Chernobyl is containment while 35% of the GNP of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine goes towards remediation, health and the 8,000 workers who manage the zone.

Fairskye thinks that “there’s a national state of mind that the site is a force that cannot be contained. At its centre is the so-called ‘elephant’s foot,’ 200 tonnes of festering fuel.”

For her interviews, Fairskye’s strategy was to ask a simple question or two and let people speak, which they did: “they wanted to tell their stories. But none of the speakers appears onscreen. I had no desire to be dramatic—we just listen and watch.” She found herself “humbled by the stoicism” of the people she spoke with, the effort evident in their tone “to be nice, to make things normal, even though there is no end in sight.” She was struck by the strangeness of Prypiat “taken over by dense curtains of foliage and vines,” and the heavy covering of snow—”snow and ice damp down the radiation, so the bleaker the landscape the safer.”

As for her filming, “I have a fondness for the pan—to take it all in and see what’s there.” In the car, “I had the camera on all the time, handheld, but I wasn’t looking through it.” She speaks of a sense of “looking out,” which we share with the people who wander through the Kiev scenes, like tourists. Sometimes she used a tripod, panning and not knowing how it would turn out. At times “it was a real nightmare, the camera and the tripod freezing in the cold, making some material unuseable.” Although shot in colour, the effect is monochromatic because of the Winter weather: “I’ve always admired Kieslowski’s Decalogue where he almost pulls out all the colour, but in this case it was natural.”

Was Precarious made as a statement about nuclear power and political irresponsibility, I ask. Fairskye is firm: “I had no political intention. I was just taken by it all. Life was tapping me on the shoulder, saying look at this.” Nevertheless, as Edward Scheer writes in his fine accompanying essay, “In the year of the meltdown at Fukushima [the film’s images] provoke some reflection, not only on the nuclear question, which is everywhere in the public discourse, but also on the status of the image to both reassure and to trouble the way we think about a disaster as fundamental as a tear in the fabric of the natural world.”

As the film speeds us away from this haunted zone, the sun appears low in the sky, partly veiled in swathes of grey and white cloud, an almost Baroque vision with an abstract expressionist overlay: trees blurring past, black verticals as if grimly brush-stroked in, apt accompaniment to the final sad sentiment as a woman quietly says, “We don’t learn from our mistakes.”

Precarious, conception, camera, editing Merilyn Fairskye, sound design & mixing Robert Hindley, online editor & grading Greg Ferris, Plus+Minus Productions, 66mins, 2011, www.precarious.com.au; Stills Gallery, Aug 3-Sept 3, artist’s talk Sept 3

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg.

Marina Rosenfeld's Teenage Lontano, THNMF 2011

Marina Rosenfeld’s Teenage Lontano, THNMF 2011

Marina Rosenfeld’s Teenage Lontano, THNMF 2011

TUCKED AWAY IN A REMOTE CORNER OF MIDLAND, IT’S DOUBTFUL THERE WAS A BETTER LOCATION THAN THE MIDLAND RAILWAY WORKSHOPS FOR THE REALISATION OF TWO OF MARINA ROSENFELD’S MORE ARCHITECTURALLY FOCUSED COMPOSITIONS, TEENAGE LONTANO AND CANNONS.

The huge industrial space was impressively illuminated with stage lighting for maximum impact, the rig’s installation a feat in itself—a clear embodiment of the effort that has gone into realising these works. Visibility was minimal which only served to add atmosphere to the music.

The evening began with Teenage Lontano. As the audience entered the vast warehouse a teenage choir stood motionless and expressionless in the thin strip of light that cut directly through the performance space. Teenage Lontano is halfway between a ‘cover’ and an interpretation of Gyorgy Ligeti’s choral work Lontano. While Rosenfeld’s composition keeps the choral sound mass as its central sonic characteristic, the addition of pointillist synth sounds curiously obscures the foreground and background of the music. Synthetic and vocal sounds are fused, with changes in either highlighting unique musical characteristics.

The most visually engaging aspect of the work is the rotating speaker suspended above the choir spinning at 33 revolutions per minute, the same as a gramophone record. While the speaker was smaller than expected, it remained something of an engineering feat (on all accounts), adding a Doppler effect to the synthetic sounds also emitting from other speakers during the performance.

The audience was encouraged to wander to experience the work from multiple locations—only a few individuals took advantage of this option. This was a shame, because as you moved past the choir different parts of the sound were highlighted, revealing the intricacies of the work’s functioning in the space. Performers were cued from synchronised iPods, which, in the context of the eerie siren calls, emergency whistles and the tense harmonies of the voices, added an undertone of cultural assimilation to the work making it all the more unsettling.

Decibel performing Marina Rosenfeld’s Cannons, THNMF 2011

Decibel performing Marina Rosenfeld’s Cannons, THNMF 2011

Decibel performing Marina Rosenfeld’s Cannons, THNMF 2011

After a short break the audience returned for Decibel’s performance of Rosenfeld’s Cannons. This work utilises four bass ‘cannons’—large steel pipes fitted with subwoofers that act to resonate and alter the sound—in association with viola, cello, bass percussion and turntables. Beginning with Rosenfeld’s renowned ultra-minimal electronic sound objects the piece builds to a busy conclusion with an industrial feel.

Once again the audience was encouraged to wander around the space, which many did this time, experiencing the way the piece utilised the unique characteristics of the space. Sitting close to the ensemble, individual details and their direct connection to the musicians are apparent but the listener may have the sensation that they are unable to understand these sounds in the larger context of the work, thanks in particular to the directionality of the cannons. Further away from the ensemble more sonic details become apparent and the separate nature of the sounds slowly collapses into one huge combined sound object, aided by the absence of visual association between sound and performer and their location in the space. Truly a unique experience—no two people hear the performance in the same way.

Teenage Lontano and Cannons rounded out perfectly Marina Rosenfeld’s contribution to the Totally Huge New Music Festival. These works demonstrate different yet connected elements of Rosenfeld’s music exploring the role of projection of sound in space. As such, the performances offered a very special experience of sound sculpture in composition.

Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011: Marina Rosenfeld and Decibel, Teenage Lontano and Cannons, composer Marina Rosenfeld, Decibel artistic director Cat Hope, choir coordinator Laura Lowther, performers Decibel (Stuart James, Tristan Parr, Aaron Wyatt), Teenage Lontano choir members, cannon construction supervision Karlos Ockleford, Michael Bradshaw, production support Jeremy Pownall; supported by Tura New Music, Midland Railway Workshops; Sept 24; www.tura.com.au/totally-huge-music-festival/about

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 39

© Sam Gillies; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

ina Stuhldreher, HOW I GOT GLOBALISM - Elements of a magic serendipity circle, (work in progress), 2011

ina Stuhldreher, HOW I GOT GLOBALISM – Elements of a magic serendipity circle, (work in progress), 2011

ina Stuhldreher, HOW I GOT GLOBALISM – Elements of a magic serendipity circle, (work in progress), 2011

live art galleries

Whether by chance or design, two Sydney galleries are opening their doors for a month of performances and live art. At Tin Sheds Gallery, Rules of Play includes a series of readings, performances and works in progress. This is the Australian iteration of the exhibition which first took place at the Bell Street Project Space in Vienna in 2010 and features familiar faces from the growing live art/visual art cross-over scene such a Sarah Rodigari, Brian Fuata, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Teik-Kim Pok, Michaela Gleave and Kathryn Gray alongside international guests Bernadette Anzengruber, Michael Poetschko and Nina Stuhldreher.

Family photograph of Teik-Kim Pok performing magic in Singapore circa 1995

Family photograph of Teik-Kim Pok performing magic in Singapore circa 1995

Family photograph of Teik-Kim Pok performing magic in Singapore circa 1995

Teik-Kim Pok is available for psychic readings, Brian Fuata asks his audience to learn and pass on a performance while Michael Poetschko continues his video-work-in-progress made across a number of cities exploring the idea of the “zone” in Tarkovsky’s Stalker. The exhibition component is open during the day with performances Wednesday-Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. Rules of Play, curator Kathryn Gray, supported by the Tin Sheds Curate/Innovate grant, Tin Sheds Gallery, Sept 9 – Oct 1; http://tinsheds.wordpress.com/; http://playingrules.tumblr.com/

Alexandra Clapham and Penelope Benton: THE GREAT WINTER

Alexandra Clapham and Penelope Benton: THE GREAT WINTER

Alexandra Clapham and Penelope Benton: THE GREAT WINTER

September has also seen Peloton (P25) hosting Performance Month showcasing “both emerging and established artists within the field and spirit of Performance” (website). The final performances will feature Alexandra Clapham and Penelope Benton presenting the Great Winter, an endurance work built around movement and stillness inspired by the Norse myth of a three-year Winter—prelude to a devastating battle destroying heaven and earth. Sach Catts continues his ongoing investigation into stress and points of failure using concepts from structural engineering. Kevin Platt hopes to sing with a dog named Alfie, and the work by a collective of 80s performance artists R.O. & S.Q. remains deliberately mysterious. Art band Ex-Trendy (Robbie Ho and Matte Rochford) will finish off the month rocking the final night party. Performance Month, curator Francesca Heinz, Peloton, p25, Sept 1-25 peloton.net.au/

roaming sydney streets

Victoria Hunt, No Cold Feet, De Quicney Co

Victoria Hunt, No Cold Feet, De Quicney Co

Victoria Hunt, No Cold Feet, De Quicney Co

For 10 years the annual Art and About festival has been chipping away at the reputation of Sydney’s CBD as a cultural wasteland and the program for the 2011 festival looks like they’ve really made some headway. A particular highlight will be Janet Echelman’s Tsunami 1.26 (actually based on the Chilean earthquake in 2010, not the recent Japanese catastrophe)—a gigantic piece of crocheted netting based on a 3D model of the tsunami. Made from high-tensile rope and suspended above the city it will “create an oasis of sculpture delicate enough to be choreographed by the wind” (website). Tsunami 1.26 is part of Powerhouse Museum’s Love Lace exhibition.

UK artist Michael Landy will present the 24th Kaldor Public Art Project, Acts of Kindness, in which he maps the collection of stories of small moments of kindness from Sydneysiders. Contested Landscape: Art Meets Science at Customs House Square curated by Leo Robba and produced by Anthony Papp, brings together a collection of artists and scientists “to tackle the complex contests for scarce land and resources facing our local communities” (website). At Sandringham Gardens in Hyde Park, Liane Rossler and Heidi Dokulil will present Happy Talk, building a pavilion using traditional methods and instigating talk and sharing around design in Pacific Island culture. And of course there’s the next installment of Laneway Art running until January 2012. (See review of the 2010 installment in RT101)

As well as the main program there’s a range of associated events such as the Mad Square After Hours activities at the AGNSW and De Quincey Co’s No Cold Feet, a dance/BodyWeather performance taking place in and around the architecture of St Mary’s Cathedral Square (See realtimedance for a profile on Tess de Quincey). Art & About, various locations, Sydney, produced by City of Sydney Events Unit, Sept 23- Oct 23

thou dost protest too much

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay, Crack Theatre Festival, TINA

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay, Crack Theatre Festival, TINA

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay, Crack Theatre Festival, TINA

Almost here is This is Not Art, the multi-headed beast that includes the sub-festivals Electrofringe, The National Young Writers’ Festival, Critical Animals Creative Research Symposium and the Crack Theatre Festival. Back in July, the situation seemed dire with Newcastle City Council deciding not to renew the festival’s triennial funding leaving them with an $18,000 shortfall. However in a show of support for the event, over $9,000 was raised via crowd-funding, with the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) coming on board with matching funding. In addition, local businesses chipped in and now the Council has seen the error of its ways and looks like increasing support in the future. So TINA lives on!

Now in its 14th year, Electrofringe is, as always, jam-packed with geekery, but with an emphasis on accessibility. You can learn about Arduino interfaces, hackerspaces, digital prototyping, solar-powered sound systems and the artistic integrity of robots. Then you can experience a range of innovative performances including electronic music duo Icarus’ album of 1000 variations; witness audiovisual meldings in the Electrobinge showcase and get into ‘digital freestyling’ with instruments generated in the Experimental Digital Instruments and their Performance course. Not to mention the Treasure Hunt where you pick up digital clues on USB sticks around Newcastle. There’s also the annual Electroprojections video screenings and Soda_Jerk’s Pixel Pirate II. (See RealTime’s Studio for the duo’s The Carousel. Festival co-director Cara Anne-Simpson also features in our studio)

Cracked Theatre Festival is a recent addition to the TINA family, starting out as a performance program of the 2007 National Young Writers’ festival. This year it’s offering workshops with Restless Dance Theatre, Leisa Shelton, Ever After Theatre and MKA. Also on offer are performances including Laura Scrivano’s Rapid Response, creating short site- specific performances around the city; Insomnia Cat Came To Stay, a kinky cabaret by Fleur Susannah Kilpatrick; and the Remix project by dancer Emiline Forster conjuring new choreographies from audience remixes of video clips.

Sound Summit, which has been part of the festival since 1998, has now separated from TINA, but will take place at the same time, same place, producing a range of workshops, label showcases and gigs headlined by MONO (Japan), Moon Duo (USA) and Wet Hair (USA) plus industry panels and DIY workshops.

This Is Not Art, various venues Newcastle, NSW, Sept 29-Oct 3; http://thisisnotart.org/, http://electrofringe.net/2011/, http://cracktheatrefestival.com/; Sound Summit, various venues Newcastle, NSW, Oct 1-Oct 3; www.soundsummit.com.au

southern fringes

Atlas, Melbourne Fringe

Atlas, Melbourne Fringe

Atlas, Melbourne Fringe

It seems Spring breeds fringe festivals, with Brisbane’s Under the Radar almost over, Sydney Fringe continuing and the Melbourne Fringe kicking off on September 21. As usual there is a plethora of performance, dance, music and visual art experiences from independent artists, too numerous to offer highlights here. As well as presenting a range of independent productions, the Melbourne Fringe produces some programs itself and this year their ‘keynote’ project is Atlas. For the last three months local artists Benjamin Ducroz, Kieran Swann and Kit Webster have been consulting architects and designers in order to adapt their practices towards creating large scale installations and instigations around Melbourne, looking to actively engage the spectator as performer. Ducroz uses pattern based stop motion animation exploring the movements of nature; Swann ranges across performance, video and installation; while Webster works with audiovisual installations, digital sculptures and projections. The projects are expected to be “of a scale and standard that is beyond the usual financial or technical capabilities of an independent artist. And the audience can watch it as it unfolds” (media release). Melbourne Fringe, various venues; Sept 21- Oct 9; www.melbournefringe.com.au/

music takes flight

While Perth audiences are being treated to the banquet of events that is Totally Huge New Music Festival (see RealTime’s daily onsite coverage http://www.realtimearts.net/feature_contents/Totally_Huge_New_Music_Festival_2011) Sydney audience will have the pleasure of a one-off performance by acclaimed New York sextet Eighth Blackbird (named after a Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”). Playing from memory, the group is widely recognized for their “theatrical flair—and for making new music accessible to wide audiences” (website) with the New Yorker describing them as “friendly, unpretentious, idealistic and highly skilled.” For their Sydney concert they’ll be performing works by Philip Glass, Fabian Svensson, Mayke Nas, Timo Andres, Dan Visconti and Stephen Hartke. Eighth Blackbird, Studio, Sydney Opera House, Sept 22; www.sydneyoperahouse.com

local sites and sounds

The Leichhardt Council is calling for proposals for their pilot program that will see the historic town hall opened up for a variety of cultural activities across Autumn 2012. Individuals and groups are invited to submit proposals for a one-off, or series of events between March and May that will “will entertain, provoke, stimulate, and/or educate local and visiting audiences” (submission form). There’s an emphasis on engaging with the local community but events can include performances, concerts, festivals, workshops and even balls and markets. While the Leichhardt Town Hall is the focus for this program there is the potential to extend to other town halls and spaces within the Leichhardt local government area which includes Balmain, Rozelle and Annandale. Applications are also open to artists and groups not based in the area. Applications close October 11, 2011, www.leichhardt.nsw.gov.au/Grants.html

RealTime issue #104 Aug-Sept 2011 pg. web

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

Decibel performing Talking Board, THNMF 2011

Decibel performing Talking Board, THNMF 2011

Decibel performing Talking Board, THNMF 2011

NEW MUSIC ENSEMBLE DECIBEL HAS PRESENTED A NUMBER OF CONCERTS AT PICA THIS YEAR, EACH HIGHLIGHTING SPECIFIC UNDERCURRENTS IN CONTEMPORARY MUSICAL THOUGHT. THE THIRD IN THE SERIES, ENTITLED CAMERA OBSCURA, FOCUSED ON THE INTERSECTION BETWEEN SOUND AND SIGHT.

Visuality plays an enormous role in the interpretation of sound and vice-versa. In film, dance, theatre, games and live music visual and sonic textures intermingle, each feeding the other. The tendency is toward a direct relationship. In film, for example, music is used principally to heighten the emotional content of a scene. However Camera Obscura explored musical works with a more dynamic relationship between sound and image.

The first piece, Mothlight, by NSW composer Austin Buckett is inspired by a Stan Brakhage silent short film from 1963. As Brakhage did not want his silent films to be accompanied by music, the sound and image are isolated from one another. The musicians play flute, percussion and synthesiser tones which flutter, insect-like, about four speakers. A blank screen and large film projector onstage cast the players in a light of anticipation.

After a short pause in the performance the film projector whirs into life and Brakhage’s Mothlight plays while the performers sit in silence. The film is gorgeous—red silhouettes of moths skittering in grainy handmade animation. We recall the sonic textures, the remembered performance becoming the film’s soundtrack. The shimmer of percussion, the whir of the projector and the quivering moths of the film combine in an insect hum.

The next piece, Talking Board, is a collaboration between Decibel members Cat Hope and Lindsay Vickery. The score is a huge composite image of various drawings and photographs projected onto the screen at the back of the stage, which the performers also face. Four circles representing the four instruments (bass clarinet, bass flute, cello and viola) move about the image instructing players as to which section of the graphic to read. The notation is all asemic—not prescribing any specific meaning in terms of pitch, rhythm etc but rather implying a sonic texture. The conversation between sight and sound in the piece is beautiful. Jackson Pollock-inspired drippings and alien landscapes are answered by percussive murmurings and velvety drones.

In Talking Board, the score itself is allowed a voice in the performance. The circles move according to their own rules of chance and logic. This creates a mobile form, where no two performances will repeat and the performers are no more certain of the next move than the listener. The shared drama of such a form is a big part of what makes this piece so involving for the audience.

Samuel Dunscombe’s West Park adopts a similar mobility. A fully notated score for clarinet and flute is pulled apart and randomly rearranged. The live sound of the instrumentalists is mixed with field recordings made at West Park Asylum in Epsom, UK. The visual element of this piece is mostly imagined whereas the field recordings are directly referential, describing the world in exact terms. Particularly when such loaded material is used, the sounds conjure instant and vivid imagery. The live instruments heighten the experience, creating an immersive and unsettling event.

Next was recent WAAPA graduate Kynan Tan’s piece, Split Mirror Planes, featuring four live performers, four speakers and four visual sources (networked laptops whose screens were visible to the audience). The eye is drawn around the space as various flashes and abstract motifs are passed between the laptops. Spatialising audio is by now a fairly common technique in new music but spatialised visual material is something I have not seen before. The sound and images here do not merely reflect one another but rather create a sonic-visual counterpoint, constantly in motion toward or away from each other.

The final piece of the night was White Lines by Marina Rosenfeld, who joined Decibel, playing turntables. The piece uses a film score with two parallel white lines changing width and opacity to direct subtle shifts in sound. The background of the film used much more concrete imagery than the other films of the night, with footage of flowers, cigarettes and churches all tied together by the visual motif of the white lines.

Connotation is a huge part of Rosenfeld’s work. The associations of imagery and sound take on more complex meaning when they are juxtaposed. White lines suggest associations ranging from division to purity to cocaine and it is interesting to see how these all play off one another. One particularly intriguing section involved delicate swelling sounds from percussionist Stuart James superimposed over footage of an 80s glam rock band at full fervour, their teased hair and pelvic thrusts taking on some surprising new connections.

Sound and imagery create a feedback loop. Image directs the way that one hears sound just as sound frames one’s reading of imagery. Such relationships have existed forever. What Decibel has done in Camera Obscura is to foreground these relationships. What the audience is left with is a fuller sensory experience: sight and sound as a dynamic conversation.

Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011: Decibel, Camera Obscura, performers Cat Hope, Lindsay Vickery, Stuart James, Malcolm Riddoch and Tristan Parr, with Marina Rosenfeld supported by Tura New Music, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Sept 19; http://www.tura.com.au/totally-huge-music-festival/about

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 39

© Henry Andersen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Speak Percussion, Flesh and Ghost, THNMF 2011

Speak Percussion, Flesh and Ghost, THNMF 2011

Speak Percussion, Flesh and Ghost, THNMF 2011

SPEAK PERCUSSION’S FINAL PERFORMANCE AT THE STATE THEATRE’S STUDIO UNDERGROUND FOR THE TOTALLY HUGE NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL WAS A TRUE SHOWCASE OF AUSTRALIAN TALENT. PERFORMING FOUR COMMISSIONED WORKS FROM AUSTRALIAN COMPOSERS LUKE PAULDING, THOMAS MEADOWCROFT AND LONG TIME COLLABORATOR ANTHONY PATERAS, SPEAK PERCUSSION, WITH ASSISTANCE FROM PERTH-BASED PERCUSSIONISTS, PERFORMED A FLAWLESS SET OF INSPIRATIONAL WORKS.

Refractions, an Anthony Pateras composition, was the oldest piece in the program, originally premiered by Speak Percussion in 2009. A piece for six performers, the work utilises a wide variety of percussion instruments, from bass drums, gongs and snares to glass bottles, keys and wine glasses. Refractions has a real emphasis on texture, ranging from harsh and brutal to moments of delicate beauty. The arrangement of sound for the acoustic ensemble is akin to experiments in electronic music. Very fast motifs fuse sounds together to form complex timbres and Pateras’ manipulation of the orchestration takes on, in parts, an almost granular character.

The ensemble is laid out in a semi-circle, with identical instruments arranged opposite one another. This allows for acoustic manipulations of the stereo field of perception, with sounds appearing to transition from one side of the ensemble to the other through the use of slight delays and subtle pitch relationships. Here, Speak Percussion demonstrate their formidable performative abilities in realising the subtleties of these sound movements, moving between various states of solid sound mass via moments of sonic fluidity that kept the audience mesmerised.

Speak Percussion, Great Knot, THNMF 2011

Speak Percussion, Great Knot, THNMF 2011

Speak Percussion, Great Knot, THNMF 2011

Thomas Meadowcroft’s The Great Knot followed. Alluding to a domestic environment through the incorporation of a variety of household objects laid out on a large kitchen table, Meadowcroft’s composition begins gently. A slow melody is performed on the thin sounding CASIO keyboard as the three performers create long drones from perfectly pitched wine glasses. With occasional inclusions of additional recorder drones and the noisy sound of marbles being spun in CD containers and mixing bowls, the piece feels almost synthetic, approaching the calm tranquillity of the synthesis works of Alva Noto.

Just as the audience begins to settle into a state of reflection however, backing music built from the sounds of the CASIO keyboard is triggered. Sounding like a campy soundtrack to an 8-bit video game from the 1980s, the change is totally unexpected. Noisy textures continue to be performed by the ensemble, and while the composition doesn’t exactly build to a climax, it is certainly clear that the music is getting busier. Somehow, this sudden change climbs above a simple shock tactic and takes the piece to a new level. What began as a quiet, contemplative composition by the end displays a playful sense of parody that seems to delight in so easily manipulating the listener’s expectations.

Luke Paulding’s work Surface Given Radiance was the first piece following the intermission. Utilising pitched-metal resonating instruments, the emphasis of this work is on the sound possibilities of the 80 microtonally tuned aluminium tubes and their interaction with the vibraphones and crotales. The latter instruments create a mesmerising blur of sound, a thick washy texture against which the dampened, microtonal pitches of the aluminium tubes can be sounded. The end result is an overwhelming sound mass that appears tonal, but which allows for various subtle microtonal fluctuations to be played out over time, brought out perfectly by the measured performance of Speak Percussion.

The final piece was Anthony Pateras’ second composition for the evening, Flesh & Ghost. The piece was premiered by Speak Percussion earlier this year at MONA FOMA (see RT102, p5), and was originally received on the eve of Speak’s 10th birthday. As with Refractions there is a strong spatial element to this work. Maximising the performance possibilities of all 12 performers, frequencies are sent up and down the length of the ensemble and bounced from performer to performer, elegantly curving in precise patterns. New material muscles its way through old material to propel the work forward, and while the general structure of the piece consists of blocks of rapidly developing rhythmic material, the general emphasis of the piece is on the movement of and relationship between different sounds. Thunderous toms and intense bursts of marimba disguise what is essentially a playful manipulation of frequencies and sound relationships and the variety of ways sound can be manipulated by the ensemble.

Speak Percussion’s final major performance for the Totally Huge New Music Festival (they had one more performance including a repeat of The Great Knot at The West Australian Academy of Performing Arts on Sept 20) was an excellent demonstration of some of the most exciting new Australian music written in recent times. Speak Percussion’s skill and dedication in realising these pieces is impressive and only serves to reinforce how much better off the Australian music scene is for their interest in commissioning new and original works.

Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011: Speak Percussion, Flesh and Ghost, composers Anthony Pateras, Luke Paulding, Thomas Meadowcroft, performers Eugene Ughetti (artistic director), Matthias Schack-Arnott, Peter Neville, Leah Scholes, Matthew Horsley Louise Devenish; presented by Tura New Music; Studio Underground, Perth State Theatre Center; Sept 17; http://www.tura.com.au/totally-huge-music-festival/about

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 38

© Sam Gillies; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Julian Day, Club Huge #1

Julian Day, Club Huge #1

Julian Day, Club Huge #1

FOLLOWING THE VIRTUOSIC PERFORMANCES OF ROSS BOLLETER, MARK GASSER AND ANTHONY PATERAS AT THE PIANO TAPESTRIES PERFORMANCE, A SMALL GROUP OF NEW MUSIC ENTHUSIASTS RETIRED TO THE PICA BAR FOR CLUB HUGE #1, SOMETHING OF AN AFTER PARTY FOR TURA’S MAIN PRESENTATION THAT EVENING. THERE, MARINA ROSENFELD AND JULIAN DAY PERFORMED STRIPPED BACK, ELECTRONIC PERFORMANCES.

Julian Day’s set was of a continuation of his synth drone project, An Infinity Room (or AIR for short). This has included up to 30 separate synthesisers, but tonight was reduced to two with each synthesiser connected to a separate speaker. Using large metal bolts to continually sustain notes, Day manipulated thick six-note chords, one note at a time, gliding from synth to synth, his minimal gestures creating maximal results.

Exploring various approaches to the manipulation of drones makes up a large part of Day’s composition practice, something that has been clearly realised with his AIR project. In this context, Day is able to construct tension and release through slight adjustments in the chords, generating beat frequencies and other psychoacoustic effects by creating clusters of notes close to one another. While the initial addition of a note stands out, it is quickly absorbed back into the larger sound mass. At the same time the removal of a note before it is replaced creates a noticeable gap in the chord bringing abscence to the foreground.

The PICA bar space offered a unique experience of the music. While sound filled the space, rather than being particularly reverberant some areas of the room were successful bass traps which gave the work a nice, inadvertent interactive element. By and large however, much of the audience was content to remain seated in a fixed location. While the set was too loud for some, others were content to bow their heads in a kind of monastic reverence for the 25-minute duration.

Following a brief intermission, New York artist Marina Rosenfeld performed a 25-minute turntable-based set. Rather than using pre-existing recordings of other people’s sounds, Rosenfeld transfers her own pre-recorded sounds to acetate records. This gives the samples a different sound quality from traditional vinyl, which is fully exploited as a unique musical characteristic.

Compared to Day’s, Rosenfeld’s set was a decidedly minimal affair, with rhythmic clicks and bursts of noise playing against gentle, evolving tones. Unfortunately the noise of Perth’s Friday night Northbridge clientele imposed itself on what was otherwise a more meditative set.

Rosenfeld occasionally built up several layers of intensity but the more remarkable element of her performance was how willing she was to use space between her sounds. While Julian Day’s performance maintained a consistent intensity, Rosenfeld was able to incorporate space and dynamic nuance into her performance, placing an emphasis on the relationship between different sounds. Bass tones were used sparingly, almost more to add emphasis in certain places and to remind the audience that a fair proportion of the music consisted of mid and high-ranged sounds. This interplay between samples embedded the entire set with a sense of gravity and significance, the result of which was an engaging performance that brought the evening to a surprisingly introspective end.

Overall Club Huge #1 was the perfect response to the intense, virtuosic nature of the earlier Piano Tapestries concert. After the breakneck performances of Mark Gasser and Anthony Pateras, a couple of hours of laid-back, minimal electronic music from Julian Day and Marina Rosenfeld was exactly what was needed to clear the head.

Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011: Club Huge #1 – Marina Rosenfeld and Julian Day; PICA Bar, PICA, presented by Tura New Music, Sept 16; http://www.tura.com.au/totally-huge-music-festival/about

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 37

© Sam Gillies; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Ross Bolleter, Daughters of Time, Piano Tapestry, THNMF 2011

Ross Bolleter, Daughters of Time, Piano Tapestry, THNMF 2011

Ross Bolleter, Daughters of Time, Piano Tapestry, THNMF 2011

THE PIANO IS PERHAPS THE MOST ENDEARING SYMBOL OF THE ROMANTIC ERA COMPOSERS. IMAGES OF LISZT SWAYING BACK AND FORTH AT THE KEYBOARD OR BEETHOVEN TAKING THE LEGS OFF HIS PIANO TO BETTER HEAR ITS VIBRATIONS THROUGH THE FLOOR FORM PART OF THE SYMBOLISM OF THAT MUSICAL ERA. IN THE 20TH AND NOW 21ST CENTURIES THE PIANO PRESENTS MORE DIFFICULT QUESTIONS FOR THE COMPOSER. PIANO TAPESTRY DISPLAYS, THROUGH STARTLING VIRTUOSITY, SOME WAYS IN WHICH CONTEMPORARY COMPOSERS HAVE APPROACHED THE INSTRUMENT.

The opening piece of the night, and the one furthest removed from the romantic tradition, was by Ross Bolleter improvising on what he calls “Daughters of Time.” These are three pianos taken from various locations in outback Australia where, through years in the harsh climate, they have been weathered to the point of ruin. The instruments are heavy with memory. They have spent lifetimes in outback hotels and on verandas at the mercy of the elements. The symbolism is stark but affecting. It is impossible to distance the sound of these pianos from their connotations. The unevenly resonating strings and muted chimes instantly conjure images of the Australian outback and of an uneasy relationship to European heritage.

The visual element of the performance furthers such associations. Bolleter sits not on a piano stool but on a cushion on the floor, his head down and arms outstretched in order to reach the three pianos surrounding him. It’s a far remove from the exaggerated raptures of Liszt or Chopin but Boletter’s performance is nonetheless intense and introspective. Improvised freely, the music exists in two time frames; firstly in the immanent present of the improvisation, and secondly in the imagined memory of these Daughters of Time. As Ross Bolleter writes “Ruins are what remain–still passing away to be sure, but lingering.”

The romantic image of the piano is also closely associated with those other romantic inventions, the solo recital and the instrumental virtuoso. This is a world that second performer, Mark Gasser, inhabits. To see a performer so totally in control of his instrument is mesmerising. In Gasser’s first two pieces by Ronald Stevenson, there is an incredible athleticism to the performance. The music is loud, complex and unrelentingly fast.

Gasser’s third piece, Luigi Nono’s …sofferte onde serene… (…serene waves endured…) uses a recorded performance of Nono’s friend, the pianist Maurizio Pollini as its seed. This recording, made slightly before Pollini’s death, blends with similar material played by Gasser. Nono says that the recorded piano resonates like the bells in the lagoon near his house and the serene bells of a funeral. The result is of still, calm beauty in the face of tragedy.

The last piece, by Australian composer Lindsay Vickery, employs the Yamaha Disklavier, which uses data from a laptop to drive small motors attached to the piano’s hammers. This automated material blends with passages played by Gasser–a duet for man and machine. Having keys move of their own accord thwarts associations with the piano as an extension of the performer’s fingers. Coming straight after Nono’s piece, there is a supernatural element to the performance, as if ghosts live in the keyboard.

The final performance of the night was from Anthony Pateras. Classically trained, he spent years experimenting with prepared pianos—using nails, coins and other objects inserted between the strings to expand the timbral and gestural capabilities of the instrument. Tonight’s piano is not tampered with but under Pateras’ fingers gesture is still the dominant force. The notes are so densely overlaid that any sense of pitch (other than in the most general sense of high or low) is meaningless. The music pivots between swarms of clustered notes and hammering percussive tones.

This performance too was improvised but with a stronger sense of form than Boletter’s. Pateras’ personality features prominently in his performances and he had clearly made a conscious effort not to engage the audience in any direct manner. He walked onto the stage in sandals (which he removed to play) and sat motionless at the piano for almost a minute before commencing, willing himself into a musical trance. This aesthetic is a big part of the way that Pateras brands himself. It seems to be a reaction against the ego and conservatism of the solo recital and, simultaneously, a bid for the audience’s undivided attention. This contradiction only serves to heighten the appeal of his music and of Pateras himself as an indispensable part of it. This is music that only he can play.

The aim of Piano Tapestry was to present three different approaches to the piano. Bolleter’s symbolism, Gasser’s virtuosity and electronics and Pateras’ gestures formed a triptych of contemporary approaches to the instrument—modern tastes, techniques and technologies meeting with the ghosts of the piano’s history.

Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011: Piano Tapestry, Mark Gasser, Ross Bolleter, Anthony Pateras, presented by Tura New Music, Perth State Theatre Centre, Studio Underground, presented by Tura New Music, Sept 16; http://www.tura.com.au/totally-huge-music-festival/2011/about

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 38

© Henry Andersen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l'Etoile

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile

LE NOIR DE L’ETOILE IS A WORK ABOUT SOUND IN SPACE…

Composer Gerard Grisey considered sounds as living objects—their time consisting of birth, life and death. Le Noir de L’Etoile is scored for six percussionists and tape, performed here by Melbourne’s Speak Percussion, with the musicians positioned in a circle around the performance space, audience seated in the middle. The sounds of the various gongs, drums and cymbals emanate from discrete points, move about the room, meeting in the reverberant space—their lifecycles intermingling. Grisey implements a number of dramatic spatial techniques, subtle gong sounds spill from one performer to the next, centrifugal drum rolls cycle rapidly around the players and a mess of independent tempi create a web of interlocking sound.

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l'Etoile

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile

Visually, there is a ceremonial and communal, almost tribal aesthetic created by having audience members huddled together in semi-darkness while around them visceral and often violent percussion plays. Percussion is very gestural in comparison to most other instruments, the physical movements of the player forming a direct relationship to the sound the audience hears. With sounds appearing from all points around the audience, however, this relationship becomes confused and the results range from mesmerising to terrifying.

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l'Etoile

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile

Le Noir de l’Etoile is a work about sound in space…

The impetus for the piece comes from a meeting between Grisey and Joe Silk, an astronomer and discoverer of the Vela Pulsar, the remnant of a long dead star whose electromagnetic fluctuations are made audible by radio receiver. This sound is taken, literally from space, and distributed via four speakers into the constructed space of the performance where it interacts with the live sound of the percussionists. In fact, the two sound sources are remarkably similar. The signal from the Vela Pulsar is so regular and percussive that it was originally believed to be a communication from alien beings. The sound of the pulsar, interacting with the tones of the percussionists, becomes another member of the ensemble.

The Speak Percussion Ensemble (Eugene Ughetti, Matthias Schack-Arnott, Peter Neville, Leah Scholes, Matthew Horsley and Louise Devenish) was truly awe-inspiring. The overriding impression of their playing was of total dynamic control: moments of still and delicate texture were interspersed with frenzied outbursts of noise without ever feeling abrupt or out of place. Even in moments of near silence there was an incredible intensity to the performance.

Underlining the spiritual and ceremonial undercurrents in his work, Gerard Grisey refers to the sound of the Vela Pulsar as “a meeting with the eternal timekeepers.” The performance then becomes a totemic celebration of this far distant sound. The resonant tones of the percussion contribute to a feeling of togetherness, the influence of something beyond the performance space. The intense, shaman-like concentration of the performers too played an important role in the overall environment in which the sounds were to live out their time.

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l'Etoile

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile

Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile

Le Noir de l’Etoile is also a work about sound in time…

The influence of music on one’s perception of time was an area of fascination for Grisey. Sound in space and sound in time are intimately related concepts though they do differ. Sound is a way of breaking up and measuring time, just as time is a way of separating sound. There is an interesting distinction to be made between the different ways sound is experienced by players and audience.

The piece’s six performers have a difficult relationship to time in the piece. Each is sent individual click tracks while they perform, allowing mosaic-like effects of overlaid tempi. The speed of each click track is not static either; a glance at the score reveals that at points throughout the performance tempi are changing every bar. For the performer this requires intense concentration—keeping exact measurements of time in complex circumstances and over such duration is no mean feat.

For the performer an understanding of time dictates their approach to sound. For the audience however, the understanding is much more subjective, the ebb and flow of time informed by the sounds of the performance. At points of relative quiet there was a feeling of anticipation among the listeners—time lengthened by expectation. During moments of climax the raw adrenaline of the performance took over and time seemed to speed up.

Le Noir de l’Etoile is an exploration of sound, space and time.

Speak Percussion act as conduits, their imposing array of instruments sounding in sympathy with a fundamental universal rhythm. A profoundly impressive experience.

Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011: Speak Percussion, Le Noir de l’Etoile, composer Gerard Grisey, performers Eugene Ughetti (artistic director), Matthias Schack-Arnott, Peter Neville, Leah Scholes, Matthew Horsley, Louise Devenish; Studio Underground; Perth State Theatre Centre, presented by Tura New Music, Sept 15; http://www.tura.com.au/totally-huge-music-festival/about

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 37

© Henry Andersen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

 Projection Playground, Olaf Meyer, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Projection Playground, Olaf Meyer, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Projection Playground, Olaf Meyer, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

THE RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT THAT RENOWNED FITZROY VISUAL ARTS INSTITUTION GERTRUDE CONTEMPORARY MAY FACE AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE WITH ITS BUILDING BEING PLACED ON THE MARKET HAS RENEWED DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE INCREASING GENTRIFICATION OF THE INNER SUBURBS OF MELBOURNE. GERTRUDE STREET IN FITZROY HAS FORMED A LOCUS OF SUCH DEBATES, HAVING WITHIN A GENERATION TRANSFORMED FROM A GRUNGY, NEGLECTED STRIP INTO A SOUGHT-AFTER PRECINCT OF GALLERIES (COMMERCIAL AND NOT-FOR-PROFIT), DESIGNER BOUTIQUES, QUEUE-INDUCING BARS AND HIGH-END RESTAURANTS.

Gertrude Street epitomises the eternal progression as well as the contradictions of gentrification, linked strongly to Melbourne’s persistent, prolonged and generally successful attempts to increase its tourist appeal. Gertrude Street nowadays is a must-see local spot for visitors, yet amongst the high-end stores and eateries, the central and most recognisable buildings of Gertrude Street remain the Atherton Gardens housing commission flats while the locally infamous 86 tram—immortalised by the Bedroom Philosopher—tracks down the street on its way to and from Bundoora.

The Gertrude Street Projection Festival began in 2008 as the initiative of the Gertrude Association, an organisation established by local residents and business owners Kym Ortenburg and Monique McNamara, as a response to changes in the demographic of the street and the local area. For just over a week in late July, Gertrude Street transformed into a long, outdoor gallery of light and projection-based artworks, displayed on and at times integrated within the street’s architecture and commercial spaces. Involving 29 sites and over 50 artists the theme of this year’s festival was Hidden: Places & Spaces, with a particular emphasis on projects that engaged diverse local communities as participants and makers.

Façade, Greg Giannis, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Façade, Greg Giannis, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Façade, Greg Giannis, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Many such pieces could be seen to respond to an idiom of being ‘hidden in plain view.’ Greg Giannis’ Façade engaged with the architecture and residents of the housing commission flats, imposing structures in themselves yet all too easily disregarded (consciously or unconsciously) by passersby. Giannis’ work re-inscribed them into the Gertrude Street landscape by presenting an interactive, community-based piece. Through the artist’s website people could create their own images and designs to be projected throughout the festival on the south-facing façade through a colourful tetris-like grid. Fittingly, the blockish nature of the projected images also hinted at the standardised and homogenous nature of public housing architecture.

Stars & More, Arika Waulum, Yandell Walton, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Stars & More, Arika Waulum, Yandell Walton, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Stars & More, Arika Waulum, Yandell Walton, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Particular emphasis was placed on the Indigenous history of the local area, connecting the festival’s theme to a sense of forgotten histories and rarely told stories. In addition to a camp-fire storytelling night at the Atherton Gardens involving elders and members of the local Indigenous community, vital places of Indigenous culture and history were highlighted through the 10-night projection series, in particular an imposing but relatively overlooked building on the corner of George Street, The Melbourne Aboriginal Youth, Sport and Recreation Centre (MAYSAR). This was the site of one of the festival’s most visible projects, with Indigenous artist Arika Waulu working with Yandell Walton to create a large-scale projection, Stars & More, on the building’s exterior. Combing archival images and photos of current MAYSAR participants with imagery of native Australian flora and Indigenous dancers, the piece presented a powerful image of ongoing and regenerative cultural practice. Waulu and Walton’s project re-animated a place of importance and ongoing involvement for Fitzroy’s Indigenous community, which remains perhaps little-known to many residents as well as passersby.

A number of the pieces were equally prominent—anything but hidden—projected large-scale onto recognisable buildings such as the Gertrude and Builders Arms Hotels. Olaf Meyer’s Projection Playground re-envisioned the Post Office rotunda as a spinning merry-go-round, offering a playful and compelling beacon and invitation to explore the outdoor gallery.

The festival largely reinforced a conceptualisation of time-based practice within public art, but moved it away from screen-based presentations. In contrast to pieces that enveloped the architecture of entire buildings, a number of artworks integrated themselves obliquely and unassumingly into the environment. In a sense, many reclaimed the spaces of commercialised interests in Gertrude Street for artistic expression and collaboration. Salote Tawale’s In the Bag elicited surprised responses from viewers as they searched for and eventually found the discreet installation in the window of a Crumpler store, with the video being precisely projected within one of the label’s distinctive bags. The piece illustrated the constraints to creativity by incorporating the image of the artist writing, sleeping and inhabiting a confined environment.

Portrait of a Man 1, Yandell Walton, Clare Hassett, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Portrait of a Man 1, Yandell Walton, Clare Hassett, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Portrait of a Man 1, Yandell Walton, Clare Hassett, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Yandell Walton and Clare Hassett’s intervention into Francis Antiques, Portrait of a Man 1, reconceived a symbol of decorative and homely adornment into an image of reserved melancholia. Taking a rather unremarkable portrait of a male figure on display in the store, the artists subtly projected a fine track of tears down the figure’s cheek, hinting at some unknowable story or secret. It was a poetic reminder of the memories and narratives attached to and embodied within objects, so easily lost and forgotten once personal ephemera become ‘second-hand’ objects of trade.

The Encounter with the Shadow, Sabina Maselli, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

The Encounter with the Shadow, Sabina Maselli, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

The Encounter with the Shadow, Sabina Maselli, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Other artworks offered fantastical and imaginative musings on the ‘inner lives’ of their inhabited spaces. Sabina Maselli’s elegant The Encounter with the Shadow revealed the ‘second life’ of the Gertrude Street store Bistrins Emporium—which doubles as a venue for evening dance classes. By incorporating an animated and silhouetted flamenco dancer against a folding screen in the shop’s rear, the piece evocatively re-activated the this space.

Fitzroy Learning Network, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Fitzroy Learning Network, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Fitzroy Learning Network, Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2011

Ultimately, some of the most moving pieces in the festival were the most modest in nature, made by and reflecting a diversity of local community groups. Located off Young Street and rather easy to miss was a simple photo montage—barely a few frames—offering a poignant image. Created by students at the Fitzroy Learning Network, the piece illustrated a group of young people shunning and physically excluding one of their peers from their friendship group. The piece resonated within the cold and dark streets, simply conveying the vital importance of individual and community bonds. Amongst the visually spectacular and crowd-pleasing installations of the festival, it was pleasing to discover that some of the most memorable artworks really were hidden, or at least requiring some patience and searching from the viewer, even on a chilly Melbourne winter’s evening.

Gertrude Association, The Gertrude Street 2011 Projection Festival , founding concept Monique McNamara, creative producer, director Kym Ortenburg; various sites, Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, July 22-31; www.thegertrudeassociation.com

RealTime issue #104 Aug-Sept 2011 pg. web

© Kate Warren; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Dave Sleswick, Noa Rotem, The Hamlet Apocalypse, The Danger Ensemble

Dave Sleswick, Noa Rotem, The Hamlet Apocalypse, The Danger Ensemble

Dave Sleswick, Noa Rotem, The Hamlet Apocalypse, The Danger Ensemble

IN THE HAMLET APOCALYPSE, DIRECTOR STEVEN MITCHELL WRIGHT AND DRAMATURG CHRIS BECKEY WITH THE DANGER ENSEMBLE PLAYERS (KATRINA CORNWELL, MARK HILL, ROBBIE O’BRIEN, NOA ROTEM, POLLY SARA, DAVE SLESWICK AND PETA WARD) AND THE CRUCIAL ASSISTANCE OF SOUND AND LIGHT CREATIVES DANE ALEXANDER AND BEN HUGHES HAVE PRODUCED A TOUR DE FORCE OF RAW, PHYSICAL THEATRE PERTINENT TO GENERATION Y.

On the evidence of some representatives pontificating on the ABC program Q&A, this generation can appear shallow and egotistical but in the theatre is producing work that, as in this case, is refreshing and strikingly insightful. The Hamlet Apocalypse proved a resounding finale to the La Boite Indie program—La Boite’s opening of its doors to Brisbane’s independent sector.

There was no attempt to deconstruct Shakespeare’s Hamlet but instead to distil its essence, a project which electrically proved itself along the nerves of an entranced audience, however fragmentary its final descent into chaos and however much it relied on the audience pulling together its own conception of the Ur-play. The rather simple conceit was to have the actors perform Hamlet while awaiting an unspecified but awfully imminent apocalypse that was announced at intervals by a shattering merge of light and sound which had the audience literally on the edge of their seats and the actors dealing with the prospect of their own demise.

As performers, they clung to what they knew best—performing a play but also performing themselves performing a play (in the tradition of Hamlet’s play within a play), spinning off in directions suggested by the characters or situation they were acting out that struck a personal chord in their own lives. Their energy and passion drew in the audience, creating poignant vignettes often absurd, comical or heart-breaking and presented in a fashion that created the sheer goddamned beauty of life, howsoever bitter the knowledge that these golden lads and lasses we had so briefly come to know must, implacably, come to dust.

The Hamlet Apocalypse, The Danger Ensemble

The Hamlet Apocalypse, The Danger Ensemble

The Hamlet Apocalypse, The Danger Ensemble

Hamlet’s reduction of man to a “mere quintessence of dust” equals the declaration by the Chorus in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus that, “Alas, generations of mortals, I count your life as equal to zero.” In both cases, the fate of the protagonist is a paradigm, not an exception. But the Greek play is closer to a sense of moira (fate) conceived not as the classical moira of the theoreticians of tragedy but as something darker looming in the distant background, something undefined and threatening that cannot take the form of gods, abstract ideas or forces of nature. Something “rotten” in the state of Denmark is only a poetic construction for this innate, savage fate that entangles us all in a common destiny (the etymology of the word moira means lot, share.) We are all subject to a dreadful wound, and guilt towards the divine, whether conceived as Greek hamartia or Christian original sin. Life, as the godless Kafka proposes, is a trial. This full force of tragedy was conveyed in the production by accelerating breakouts of chthonic sound and light counting down to an apocalypse that bore no historical significance but instead seemed innate to existence, relegating to tragi-comedy a society that prefers to go shopping.

The Hamlet Apocalypse, The Danger Ensemble

The Hamlet Apocalypse, The Danger Ensemble

The Hamlet Apocalypse, The Danger Ensemble

If anything, I would question whether the individualistic ‘post-apocalyptic’ pronouncements by the line-up of actors at the end were altogether too modest, even timid and fatuous after the journey we had taken together. The famous “To be or not to be…” speech by Hamlet was saved by Dave Sleswick to this very last, when it was underscored by having only the instantly recognisable opening lines quoted. “There is only one liberty,” wrote Camus in his Notebooks, “to come to terms with death. After which, everything is possible.” Feeling free and charged up after their performance, I wanted instead to raise my fist in the air and collectively take on the world.

What I admired about The Danger Ensemble was that they seemed to be working at full pitch not merely to break the mould of expectation regarding a familiar cultural artefact, but to emulate the tentative, flowing, continually improvised balancing act of life itself. They were constantly allocating to themselves private time and space to breathe in an atmosphere which seemed despotically totalitarian and to represent their own quotidian lives post 9/11 where, as in Elsinore, the currency of real political debate appears debased and scenarios for real planetary apocalypse abound. As a company, they seem to be exploring that friable edge which divides the tolerable from the intolerable, but they’re equally committed to physical precision, lucidity and direct expression that comes from training in the disciplines of Butoh and Suzuki method. The Danger Ensemble has created, in my opinion, a definitive homage to the tragic muse for its own generation.

La Boite Indie and The Danger Ensemble, The Hamlet Apocalypse; director, designer Steven Mitchell Wright, dramaturg Chris Becky, performers Katrina Cornwell, Mark Hill, Robbie O’Brien, Noa Rotem, Polly Sara, Dave Sleswick, Peta Ward, lighting design Ben Hughes, sound design Dane Alexander, costume designer Georgina Blythe, producer Katherine Quigley; La Boite Theatre Company @ The Roundhouse, Brisbane, Aug 24-Sept 10; www.dangerensemble.com/

This article first appeared in rt e-dition sept 6.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Douglas Leonard; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

realtime @ totally huge

RealTime will be on-site at TURA’s upcoming Totally Huge New Music Festival in Perth. Gail Priest will be joined by local writers Sam Gillies and Henry Andersen, delivering daily reviews of concerts, installations and events across the 10-day festival. Highlights include Space/Shifter, an installation by David Chesworth and Sonia Leber, and a surround sound concert by Philip Samartzis who has been Remote Artist in Residence in the Warmun community in the East Kimberley. Speak Percussion will perform two concerts: Gerard Grisey’s epic percussion masterwork, Le Noire de l’Etoile; and Flesh & Ghost featuring works by Anthony Pateras, Luke Paulding and Thomas Meadowcroft. International guests include the inspirational Marina Rosenfeld who will present Teenage Lontana at the Midland Railway Workshops working with local teenagers to create a 35-voice choir and speaker installation. Local ensembles Decibel and Etica will present concerts, and there is a three-day conference including Rosenfeld as a keynote speaker, panels and artist presentations. TURA, Totally Huge New Music Festival, various venues across Perth, September 15-25. www.tura.com.au/totally-huge-music-festival/events.

Onsite coverage will be posted in our features section. Join the RT- e-dition list to receive updates from our onsite coverage: www.realtimearts.net/joinemail

life on the fringes

Angela Hill, Laying Down Bone (Bringing up Brain)

Angela Hill, Laying Down Bone (Bringing up Brain)

Angela Hill, Laying Down Bone (Bringing up Brain)

Since the demise of the Live Bait festival based at Bondi Pavilion in the mid 2000s Sydney has been fringeless but 2010 saw a new Sydney Fringe emerge, run by the Newtown Entertainment Precinct Association, drawing on the wealth of venues, bars and vibrant culture of the inner west. This year the festival continues to grow with 300 events taking place over three weeks, extending beyond the inner city with activities in Leichhardt, Parramatta, Chatswood and beyond. With so much on, and heaps of new and emerging artists, it’s hard to pick out highlights (fringe festivals, by their nature being gloriously variable), but here are few intriguing possibilities.

For those seeking dance, Angela Hill’s piece Laying Down Bone (Bringing up Brain) with sound designer Andre Hayter at the Newtown Theatre explores the “body mind connection to trauma” (website), in a lecture, dance theatre hybrid. Hill’s work is playing in a double bill with Margot Politis’ Woman on Verge described as “Part Pina Bausch part Gloria Swanson…40s screen glamour, horrendous psychotherapies and definitions of insanity” (website). Over at PACT in Erskineville, Emiline Forster performs a solo, Dust, about a housewife defending her home from encroaching corporations and personal neuroses.

From Japan, Theatre Group Gumbo present Level 7 at the Greek Theatre in Marrickville, a provocative farce about three irradiated survivors of the post-tsunami nuclear incident trapped in a resort-style reality TV show. In Spinning a Yarn at PACT, Simone O’Brien and Susan Williamson become Mrs Polly Mer and Mrs Polly Ester (the Plastic Bag Ladies of the Sea) creating a coastal cubby house out of knitted refuse and inviting you in to share their stories. With a set by Joey Ruigrok and costumes by Matty Stegh, this short performance installation could hold hidden treasures.

Nice Work If You Can Get It, The Lost Rung

Nice Work If You Can Get It, The Lost Rung

Nice Work If You Can Get It, The Lost Rung

At the Newtown Theatre, The Lost Rung (Adam Jackson and Josh Mitchell) will present Nice Work If You Can Get It, an acrobatic onslaught as the two men fight to climb the corporate ladder. Also at the Newtown Theatre IPAN (International Performing Arts Network) presents Bite Size offering six new works by women writers drawing on the theme “things aren’t always as they seem.” See the full program for information on visual arts, cabaret, burlesque, music, special events and more. Sydney Fringe Festival, various venues, Sept 9-Oct 2; http://thesydneyfringe.com.au/

notes from the underground

Dad Made Dirty Pictures

Dad Made Dirty Pictures

Now in its fifth year the Sydney Underground Film Festival continues to hunt out “unique, quality independent films that transgress the status quo and challenge the conservative conventions of filmmaking” (website). RealTime contributor Katerina Sakkas reports here on her sneak peak at some of the fare:

Dad Made Dirty Movies takes an affectionate look at Stephen C Apostolof, the man who fled communist Bulgaria to eventually produce and direct such schlock classics as Orgy of the Dead (1965). Told mainly by his four children, with commentary from actors and film historians, the film features interesting archival material from Apostolof’s life and plenty of footage from the ‘dirty movies’ in question.

Better This World is a stranger-than-fiction documentary charting the events which led to two young Texans being charged with domestic terrorism after they were found in possession of Molotov cocktails at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Engagingly told through a mix of interviews, surveillance footage and court transcripts, it raises serious questions about the role of FBI informants and the justice of the US sentencing system.

Guilty of Romance

Guilty of Romance

From Japan’s Sion Sono, writer and director of cult horror film The Suicide Club (2002), comes the trippy thriller Guilty of Romance, a titillating, violent descent into sexual degradation wrapped up in a murder mystery. And finally William S. Burroughs—A Man Within pays tribute to the iconoclastic Beat writer, sometime heroin addict, gun enthusiast and ‘Godfather of Punk’ through a multitude of interviews with fellow Beatniks, ex-boyfriends, Burroughs biographers, filmmakers and punk rock luminaries such as Patti Smith and Iggy Pop. (KS)

Other highlights include Recycled Cinema featuring Soda_Jerk’s sample masterpiece Pixel Pirate 2, The Director’s Cut (see RT’s Studio), The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (previewed in RT103) and a range of short film programs with evocative titles such as Animation Fornication, LSD Factory and Mother’s Milk featuring shorts by female directors. Sydney Underground Film Festival, The Factory Theatre, Marrickville, Sydney College of the Arts, Rozelle, MuMeson Archives, Annandale, Sept 8-11; http://suff.com.au/

ozasia

Continent, CAVA, OzAsia 2011

Continent, CAVA, OzAsia 2011

Continent, CAVA, OzAsia 2011

The fifth annual OzAsia festival at the Adelaide Festival Centre will have a distinctly Japanese flavour. Japanese mime company CAVA will present their 2010 Edinburgh Festival smash hit Continent: a cartoon-style physical farce based on the Coen Brothers’ film Barton Fink. KOAN presents a concert of Japanese chamber music led by Natsuko Yoshimoto, violinist and concertmaster of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, along with Shakuhachi master Akikazu Nakamura from Japan and Claire Edwardes on percussion with Bernadette Harvey on piano. On the other end of the musical spectrum the festival will also feature the Australian debut of Shugo Tokumaru, known for his eccentric pop creations and Japanese Ska band Cool Wise Man with singer, songwriter, producer DJ Likkle Mai. The Japanese Film Festival has also been incorporated into this year’s OzAsia.

Rhinoceros in Love, National Theatre of China, OzAsia 2011

Rhinoceros in Love, National Theatre of China, OzAsia 2011

Rhinoceros in Love, National Theatre of China, OzAsia 2011

Non-Japanese fare includes Rhinoceros in Love by the National Theatre of China, directed by Meng Jinghui, which is said to have “reinvented modern Chinese drama” (website) when first performed in 1999. The show will debut at OzAsia and then tour to the Brisbane and Melbourne festivals. South Australian based Indonesian dancer Ade Suharto collaborating with composer David Kotlowy will present In Lieu, an evening of dance and contemporary gamelan music. And the festival would not be complete without the Shaolin Warrior touring spectacular featuring 22 Kung Fu Masters. OzAsia, Adelaide Festival Centre, Sept 2-17; www.ozasiafestival.com.au

monumental visions

Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont, Blood Sport, 2010 (detail). Courtesy of the artists and Goddard de Fiddes Gallery, Perth.

Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont, Blood Sport, 2010 (detail). Courtesy of the artists and Goddard de Fiddes Gallery, Perth.

Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont, Blood Sport, 2010 (detail). Courtesy of the artists and Goddard de Fiddes Gallery, Perth.

Presented in PICA’s Central Galleries, Stadium will be the first survey exhibition of work by Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont, who create large scale theatrical, video and photographic works exploring historic themes and cultural propaganda. The gallery will be literally transformed into a stadium, tiered bleachers and all, equating the idea of exhibition with “games or contests of strength” (press release). The centrepiece of the exhibition is Ever Higher, a performance inspired by the controversial 1930s films of Leni Reifenstahl involving an aerial performance and local cheerleaders, the Perth Angels. Along with the performances there will also be an artist talk hosted by curator Leigh Robb and a screening of Riefenstahl’s Das Blaue Licht (1932). A review of the exhibition will appear in RT106 (Dec-Jan). Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont, Stadium, curator Leigh Robb, PICA Central Galleries, Sept 3-Oct 30,; see website for performance times; www.pica.org.au

challenging perspectives

Warwick Thornton, Stranded, 2011, film still, commissioned by Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund 2011

Warwick Thornton, Stranded, 2011, film still, commissioned by Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund 2011

Warwick Thornton, Stranded, 2011, film still, commissioned by Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund 2011

Warwick Thornton’s Stranded, a 3D installation depicting the artist, dressed as a stockman nailed to a neon cross in the outback, bemused and challenged audiences when it first appeared in Stop(the)Gap, an exhibition of international Indigenous media art curated by Brenda L Croft, and part of the 2011 Bigpond Adelaide Film Festival. RealTime reviewer Tom Redwood wrote “Perhaps what we are seeing here is the juxtaposition not only of ideologies but of histories: the ‘newness’ of the flash cross (Christianity) highlighted by the ‘ancientness’ of the surroundings (Country, Dreaming)…Perhaps in Stranded we encounter another ‘muddying of the waters:’ art that worries at the line between Indigenous and non-indigenous, elusively pushing beyond established concepts.” (See full review.) Sydney audiences will be able to experience this intriguing work including a series of accompanying photographs at Stills Gallery through September. Warwick Thornton, Stranded, Stills Gallery, Paddington, Sept 7-Oct 8; www.stillsgallery.com.au

Bindi Cole, Made for Each Other, 2008, pigment print on Hahnemuhle (cotton rag) paper

Bindi Cole, Made for Each Other, 2008, pigment print on Hahnemuhle (cotton rag) paper

Bindi Cole, Made for Each Other, 2008, pigment print on Hahnemuhle (cotton rag) paper

Meanwhile Melbourne audiences will be treated to a survey exhibition of works by Indigenous artist and curator Bindi Cole. The exhibition, Seven Times Seven, will feature three major image series and a video work exploring the “classification of indigenous Australians according to the darkness or lightness of their skin” (press release). In her Not Really Aboriginal series Cole explores her own perspective on Aboriginality in contemporary Australia, while Post Us explores the influence of the “white Anglo-Celtic male viewpoint” on culture; and Sistagirls looks at transgendered people from the Tiwi Islands. Finally the video centrepiece, Seven Times Seven, explores ideas of forgiveness. Bindi Cole, Seven Times Seven, Nellie Castan Gallery, Sept 15 – Oct 8; www.nelliecastangallery.com

Elma Kris, Waangenga Blanco, Daniel Riley McKinley, Belong

Elma Kris, Waangenga Blanco, Daniel Riley McKinley, Belong

Elma Kris, Waangenga Blanco, Daniel Riley McKinley, Belong

Melbourne and Wollongong audiences can also experience Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Belong as it continues its east coast tour. Consisting of two works—ID by artistic director Stephen Page (see RealTime Dance for a full profile), and About by choreographer and company dancer Elma Kris—Belong has roused enthusiastic critical and audience responses in Brisbane and Sydney. Bangarra Dance Theatre, Belong: Merrigong Theatre Company, IMB Theatre, IPAC, Wollongong, Sept 8-10; www.merrigong.com.au/shows/belong.html; Playhouse Theatre, The Arts Centre, Melbourne, Sept 16-24; www.theartscentre.com.au; www.bangarra.com.au

RealTime issue #104 Aug-Sept 2011 pg. web

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

Ross Gibson and Carl Warner, ‘protection’ 2011, C-type photograph and blackboard paint; source material courtesy of Fryer Library, The University of Queensland

Ross Gibson and Carl Warner, ‘protection’ 2011, C-type photograph and blackboard paint; source material courtesy of Fryer Library, The University of Queensland

Ross Gibson and Carl Warner, ‘protection’ 2011, C-type photograph and blackboard paint; source material courtesy of Fryer Library, The University of Queensland

IN THE WEEK I FLY TO BRISBANE TO SEE THE UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND ART MUSEUM’S THREE EXHIBITIONS ABOUT ASYLUM SEEKERS, SBS SCREENS THE DOCUMENTARY GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM, TO MUCH CONTROVERSY AND ACCLAIM. IN THE WEEK I WRITE THIS ARTICLE, THE HIGH COURT RULES AGAINST THE MALAYSIAN SOLUTION, LIKEWISE TO MUCH CONTROVERSY AND ACCLAIM.

Not only do these two events bookend my encounter with these exhibitions, they also seem to encapsulate some of our representational habits when it comes to refugees. In both instances, asylum seekers are simultaneously everywhere and nowhere; being spoken about but rarely spoken to or with; being represented through images and text but rarely representing themselves. In other words, they seem to oscillate between invisibility and hypervisibility—disappearing into detention centres, only to reappear just in time for the next election.

Ross Gibson and Carl Warner, ‘protection’ 2011, C-type photograph and blackboard paint; source material courtesy of Fryer Library, The University of Queensland

Ross Gibson and Carl Warner, ‘protection’ 2011, C-type photograph and blackboard paint; source material courtesy of Fryer Library, The University of Queensland

Ross Gibson and Carl Warner, ‘protection’ 2011, C-type photograph and blackboard paint; source material courtesy of Fryer Library, The University of Queensland

Such an economy of visibility puts artists who are not asylum seekers in something of a double bind: if they choose to represent refugees, they risk reproducing them as spectacle; if they choose not to represent refugees, then they risk further hiding the already hidden. One solution is to work with images produced by asylum seekers themselves, as Ross Gibson and Carl Warner do in their commissioned work Waiting for Asylum: Figures from an Archive. The archive is the Elaine Smith Collection, held by UQ’s Fryer Library and named after the activist who donated it. From 2002, as part of Rural Australians for Refugees, Smith and her husband coordinated support for asylum seekers held on Nauru. Not only did they write letters to detainees, they often wrote for them—to parliamentarians, lawyers, anyone who would listen. They also sent disposable cameras to detainees so that they could document their lives on Nauru. When detainees had finished the film they would post it back