realtime tv: Dalisa Pigram, Edwin Lee Mulligan, Marrugeku’s Cut the Sky from RealTime on Vimeo.

Co-conceiver and choreographer Dalisa Pigram and storyteller/dream catcher Edwin Lee Mulligan discuss the process of creating Cut the Sky, premiering at the Perth International Arts Festival (27 Feb-1 March, 2015), followed by WOMADelaide (7-8 March, 2015).

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014

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

Anthony Pateras, live in Bruxelles, 2014

Anthony Pateras, live in Bruxelles, 2014

Anthony Pateras, live in Bruxelles, 2014

Tētēma is the new duo by Australian composer/musician Anthony Pateras (currently based in Berlin) and US rock vocalist Mike Patton (singer for Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas). Geocidal is their first release on Patton’s Ipecac label. Following is the full version of Oliver Downes’ email interview with Pateras about the collaboration, the compositional process and the complexities of “chrono-diversity.”

tētēma– where did the name come from?

It comes from Artaud, who I’d been researching a lot due to my involvement in Sylvère Lotringer’s film The Man Who Disappeared (which is loosely based on Artaud’s trip to Ireland in the 30s). We were looking for a band name and it made sense to me to evoke something physical, sensual and unnameable, so of course Artaud’s great for that. There is a part of Fragmentations when he talks about cauterising a wound with a flame, twice over and the word refers to that.

How did you first come in contact Mike Patton? What sort of mutual familiarity with each other’s work was there beforehand? Was there an initial spark to collaborate or did the project germinate more gradually?

Mike became aware of my work through me sending some PIVIXKI stuff to Ipecac to consider for release. I sent my second Tzadik record with the demo also. I really didn’t expect him to listen to either, but as it turned out something on both of those recordings resonated with him (PIVIXKI and he did a show together in 2011). Ultimately the spark really came from Mike—he was on tour with Fantômas in 2009, called me for a beer out of the blue.

Of course I was familiar with his work—Faith No More were huge when I was in high school. After that I was always into the more exploratory side of it—I went to see Maldoror at Joey’s, a duo with DJ Schizo at The Punter’s Club and all ages Bungle shows at the Corner Hotel. I really respected the fact that there was this guy who could basically just cruise on major label royalties if he wanted to, but instead chose a path of interrogation.

How was collaborating with Patton different from previous collaborations you’ve been a part of?

It was unnerving to us both how natural it felt. For me it was just great to see someone in that position to still be asking questions, still be curious, still be respectful of colleagues and 100% committed to making great music. I’ve dealt with a lot less famous people who are all about food anecdotes and career monologues and its incredibly tedious.

What did you enjoy the most?

Recording wise, I think my favourite part was Mike screaming directly into my ear acoustically to demonstrate the different upper harmonics he could achieve by varying throat positions.

There’s some extraordinary textures on the record, both in the electronics and in Patton’s vocals—what was the recording process? How do you think that process influenced the final work? To what extent was material pre-conceived rather than emerging through the process of recording?

Basically it panned out that I took care of the instrumental parts and Mike took care of the vocals (although he contributed some excellent Moog). The recording process for the instrumentals was long and multi-faceted and then we did most of the vocals in 2014. There was really no deadline for this and I learnt a lot about how that can affect one’s compositional decisions. For example, if you’re trying to squeeze out a certain amount of music for a commission in a certain amount of time, you’re already dealing with a prescribed length of time and I’ve found that can mess with your structural thinking. If you don’t really know what something is, or when it should be done by, anything can happen, right? The sounds, the duration, the intensity—it’s all up for grabs.

As the press blurb states (and has been widely misconstrued), I locked myself away for a couple of weeks with just pen and paper and my record collection. This was in a really shitty part of France, in Picardie to be precise—depressed rural community, lots of drunk soldiers, middle of nowhere. I was in an ex-convent which is kind of like an arts residency (except you gotta pay). I then went to Paris and met with Will Guthrie. I had about 26-28 solid notated ideas that I either sung to him or played on prepared piano for him to articulate on the drum kit. He didn’t have to learn entire songs or anything, so we just went rapid fire through this list in bursts, riffing on variations of the core ideas together, recording the drums and prepared piano simultaneously. I intentionally ran the session to generate the most flexible material possible—things which could be stitched together in unorthodox ways. Ultimately they were just rhythmic cells recorded for maximum elasticity.

Over the next few months, I added synths at WORM and Piethopraxis, editing the drums and cutting sounds in over the top. Songs began to drop off, till I had about 15. I then began to orchestrate the synth lines, first with strings, clarinets, revox, trumpet, then proceeded with orchestral percussion, acoustic guitar and recorders. By the end I whittled it all down to 12 and then sent everything to Mike. He spent ages (almost a year) absorbing the music; then I went to San Francisco for a 48 hour rapid scratch session for the vocals. This was insane not only because we found how easy it was to work together, but how much great work we got done. He then kept elaborating on the vocals over the next six months, sending [them] to me over email, for mixing and comments.

Once we had it all down I returned to Bruxelles, which is where I started the whole thing, and did a lock down at Ateliers Claus for two weeks to mix it. Bruxelles is pretty bleak, Anderlecht even bleaker. Being the “capital of Europe” the place has a sense of doom and disarray, given what a mess the EU is in. You have people in the Berlaymont building trying to run the place while sex trafficking is going on no more than a few blocks away. I guess what I’m trying to say is, this kind of energy, this dissonant theatre of things supposedly working but clearly not, fed into the album.

How does the process of making electronic music differ for you from writing for an ensemble for instance, or creating a piano work? Is a different brainspace demanded or are there more similarities than differences?

This album was very much about creating a sound world from scratch—every sound on it is recorded and edited. Early in, I had the idea to make a “sampler record without a sampler” (or specifically, Dilla’s Donuts, but without vinyl)—to record every single element in the real world and manipulate/edit it electronically. It was a very specific mindset with a very specific goal. I’m sure my ensemble or piano thinking played into that and I’m sure it would’ve impacted on my process of selection, in terms of what sounds came alive to me.

Composition is amophous across the board, all of your experiences in playing, listening and reading feed into everything you do. Its counterproductive to distinguish, because then you get involved with stuff like “this is a classical piece, I can’t do that” or “this is a song, I can’t do that”—when its probably precisely the thing you need to do to give something a life.

A diverse array of musicians were brought together for this project—what were you looking for in collaborators? To what extent were parts improvised by the musicians or pre-composed?

I basically hired people who I think sound great. Will and I collaborated on some of the drum parts, in the sense that his kit has a very specific sound and he has a very personal feel, but ultimately most of the grooves were shaped around the prepared piano and edited in post production. In some cases I muted the prepared piano, so you just have the drums playing along to it without being able to hear it in the mix, which got some pretty odd feels or particularly idiosyncratic rhythmic emphases.

For the rest, everything is orchestration of the ARPs [synthesisers] I used at WORM and the various bits and pieces I used at Piethopraxis. For example, musicians were told to mimic or ornament the synth parts which I had already played in, so there’s always this hybrid electro-acoustic thing going on.

In many cases this approach was informed by Feldman’s observation on what makes Xenakis’ music interesting: taking conventional instruments and bringing them into a world of hallucination, rather than using hallucinatory instrumentation, and bringing it into a world of convention. For example, even though Xenakis used an orchestra with orchestral instruments in something like Hiketides or Synaphaï, the way he organises it in relation to itself recontextualises those instrumental forces into a whole new thing, He succeeds getting the orchestra out of the orchestra (and Feldman does too, for that matter.)

So for me, this record was about trying to timbrally get the song out of the song and to do that, its wasn’t about getting a didgeridoo, or a sheng or some interface to create unique sound palettes, it was about canalising the tools I had into finding a unique constellation and because I was always moving around, those tools were always changing.

The last thing I added, which was Jessica Azsodi’s voice on the track “Irundi,” was extant from this process to some degree, as that material grew out of a solo piece I wrote for her called “Prayer For Nil.” I was working on both things simultaneously and somehow the wires got crossed in a great way.

The album is at times fiercely kinetic and there are many sections that are almost danceable—to what extent were you consciously commenting on or riffing off, I suppose, more ‘commercial’ uses of rhythm?

Rhythm is one of the only fundamental parameters of music that comes to me naturally and I would say timbre runs a close second. So when I was doing something like this, ostensibly writing songs, which normally prioritise pitch and form, I was coming at it from a different angle. Maybe to some people that’s danceable, but to me, it was about creating something physical and not in the macho noise sense of the word, nor the superficial-buzz-word ‘psychoacoustic’ sense, it was about trying to make something which reflects what I love about sound and which has a physical affect on me and that was it. I can’t get involved with what’s ‘commercial’ or what’s ‘experimental’—how do you deal with something like Spring Breakers [Harmony Korine, 2012] when you’re thinking like that? Immediately you’re in trouble, because the reason why a film like that is so powerful, is because it completely sidesteps that whole distinction to make something which exists in its own space and still manages to clearly communicate.

“Geocidal” seems to suggest to me a death or erasure of place, almost having a synonymous quality with the idea of ‘sacrifice zones’—areas of land or communities ruined through corporate practices. Was there an intention for the record to hold those kinds of environmental and political resonances?

Its not about politics, I’m not qualified for that and anyway there’s nothing more sick-making than an artist using the political zeitgeist as a platform for their self-aggrandisement. Sure, its important to be aware of your environment and you do what you can, but for me, what I was more interested in was exploring the idea of the finisterre, or always being on the edge of known territory (my edge, at least). I moved country twice while making this and I was totally castrated. I was constantly insecure and decentralised because I was in a permanent state of adjustment. And that is really amazing place to make music in, because you really have nothing but the material that’s coming out to guide you. And in my experience making this, that always gave a stronger, truer, more vital orientation than sticking to some construct or macrostructure, or trying to fulfill some kind of artist’s statement. I feel that’s what’s wrong with a lot of music—it becomes about filling a brief rather than simply using what one has at your disposal to see what happens.

You say in the press blurb that: “the whole geocidal thing is about coming from no place, re-birthing, watching the place you are from be altered beyond recognition that you have nothing to do with it anymore”—what are your feelings towards Australia at present?

The Pulp Fiction soundtrack plays to an empty beer garden.

Are Patton’s lyrics his own or were they also collaboratively crafted?

Mostly his, but there was one instance on “Kid Has Got The Bomb” where I sat down and translated the glossolalia from the SF scratch session into words, because I suddenly started hearing phrases within all of these abstracted mouth sounds. I was afraid of giving it to him, because it was the first time I had written lyrics, and you know, its ‘Mike Patton’ and I’ve never written lyrics in my life, but he was totally into it and was like (North Cali accent) “Man these are great, this is what we used to do in the old days in Bungle!” So he’s very open to ideas and through that experience, seeing that he was prepared to trust me on that level, made me see how creatively stubborn I can be, to be honest. We all get caught up in our own head and making work for me is a constant oscillation between letting things in and keeping things out and I find that balance very difficult to judge.

One aspect of the album that really appealed to me was the ritualistic, almost incantationary, quality that seems to hover over it—even a title like “Invocation of the Swarm” suggests an entering into some sacred, alien space. Was this something you envisaged from the outset? Is there any link to Zerzan’s idea of the ‘future primitive’?

I was not aware of the work of Zerzan, thank you, I’ll check it out! If anything theoretically specific, Virilio’s ideas were very important to this music, I mean, the second track “Pure War” is named after his 1983 interview with Sylvère [Lotringer]. I was really into his stuff while making this music, particularly his ideas on chrono-diversity.

I wasn’t aware of Virilio or the idea of ‘chrono-diversity’—perhaps you could flesh out the idea a bit as it applies in your mind to the record?

Virillo’s ideas revolve around the science of speed, or to use his term, dromology. They are, compositionally speaking, very useful when understanding the environment in which we make music now. Basically I found that when I read The Adminstration of Fear [Semiotext(e), 2012], there were passages in there which lucidly articulated what had been bothering me about making music that I couldn’t effectively formulate myself and I was just relieved to find that someone else had to clarity to say them like he has.

Its difficult of course to summarise without doing it some kind of disservice, but in brief, he argues that, largely due to technology, we as a species are losing rhythmic diversity. Our emotions are becoming synchronised, interactions destabilised, we are becoming “de-realised”—we lose our place and our body on a daily basis. A thing I love is that he equates instanaeity with immobility and I think what he means is something like—if you need to know something, you look it up and bang, there it is. But in that process, you don’t actually learn and retain something, you just get shown something and then its most likely gone. Speaking for myself here, but I can feel my memory is compromised now. I can feel my concentration is shot. I feel I could be much smarter but my discipline to commit to knowledge has eroded. Its becoming very fashionable to talk about this and you can even book tech-detox retreats, but Virillo is quick to point out its not an ancients vs moderns debate. In fact, he has been dealing with it since the 1970s and he shows that speed, tempo and our relationship with them largely dictates how we experience and make a life and by extension, how we experience and make art.

So when it comes to music, you see the affects of speed everywhere. Its all geared towards acceleration. New gear and operating systems are not made for musicians, they’re made for the market. Or as Virilio puts it, “accumulation is left behind in favour of acceleration”—instead of accumulating skills, which takes time and focus, we just want to go fast. And I think something dies in that, some inherent energy or level of craft which makes records from 30 or 40 years ago sound a lot different to the ones made today, not just on the level of sound quality, but in the depth of musicianship itself.

So in terms of what I did, how I approached this problem, I was very conscious of somehow magnifying rhythmic and timbral nuance in the music when I could. Preserving as many live takes as I could, coaxing the most idiosyncratic performances I could. I wanted to de-quantise everything, deny instantaneity, create a space where going the long way around didn’t matter, because you find important ideas that way. The idea you open your computer, pull up a few presets…it’s death, but that’s what gets taught as composition these days. We teach musicians how to die before they even start.

Will there be any live performances of the Geocidal material? How will they work?

We don’t know how they will work, but it will definitely be in duo format and possibly with a cinematic element. We’re already working on the next record and won’t be able to play live until 2016 because of Mike’s commitments, so both of those things have a big impact on how it’ll be on stage.

What does 2015 hold for you? What will you be working on next?

I’m working on my fourth large improvising ensemble piece for a group in Lille, writing an extended electro-acosutic piece for the Audible festival in Paris and releasing a ton of vinyl on my Immediata label. I’ll also be working on the next tētēma album and trying not to be yet another Australian in Berlin who speaks shitty German!

tētēma (Anthony Pateras & Mike Patton), Geocidal, Ipecac Records, IPC-167, http://ipecac.com/artists/tetema

See also Liver Downes article/review.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. web

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

Drums pound in ceremonial commencement; a lone throat singer issues a deep incantatory note; a choir of male voices loom in warning, their mordant harmony blending with a metallic wash of strings, the sound rent by a wailing clarinet; a savage muttering appears, half-formed echolalia cut with madness; the texture rises to a peak, a voice calling out in almost snarled lament, then suddenly cut off, leaving the buzz of a lone insect scuttering over the deep hum of industrial machinery. Then all hell breaks loose.

Thus opens Geocidal, the debut record of tētēma, a new collaboration between Australian composer, pianist and electronic wunderkind Anthony Pateras and maverick vocalist Mike Patton, demi-god of 1990s alternative rock outfits Faith No More and Mr Bungle, high-priest in the church of John Zorn and most recently dapper interpreter of 1950s-60s Italian pop. With Geocidal they have produced a densely visceral offering that endeavours to “create a sound world from scratch.”

The pair became acquainted after Pateras sent recordings of his grindcore duo PIVIXKI to Patton’s label, Ipecac. Something must have clicked, as Patton got in touch while touring Australia with experimental metalheads and miners of pop-culture Fantômas in 2009. “I’ve dealt with a lot less famous people who are all about food anecdotes and career monologues and it’s incredibly tedious,” says Pateras. “It was unnerving to us both how natural it [working together] felt. I really respected the fact that there was this guy who could basically just cruise on major label royalties if he wanted to, but instead chose a path of interrogation.”

Anthony Pateras, live in Lille,  2014

Anthony Pateras, live in Lille, 2014

Anthony Pateras, live in Lille, 2014

A path most certainly shared by Pateras, whose extensive back catalogue of works for solo piano, small ensembles, percussion and electronics regularly pushes into the underexplored sonic terrain that lies between notation, improvisation and electronic programming. Moreover, he cleaves boundaries between the ‘culturally sanctioned’ sphere of traditional composition, offering commissioned works such as most recently A Reality In Which Everything Is Substitution (2014) for solo amplified flutes and electronics or the forty-minute piano solo Blood Stretched Out (2014), while also pursuing more avant-garde projects such as PIVIXKI or Kayfabe, a glitch spattered collaboration of experimental electronica with Natasha Anderson. “Composition is amorphous across the board,” Pateras comments, “all of your experiences in playing, listening and reading feed into everything you do. It’s counterproductive to distinguish.”

From the ritualistic opening of “Invocation Of The Swarm,” Geocidal chews its way through an at times unsettling and often vicious exploration of rhythm and timbre. Patton, who absorbed Pateras’ musical tracks over a year before contributing vocals, uses his extraordinarily versatile voice as much for atmospheric or textural effect as for delivering lyrics. A song such as the seven and a half minute centrepiece “Ten Years Tricked” contains sections of eerie quasi-Gregorian chorus but also deep droning, spitting, gurgling, girlish sighs, imaginary words and other timbral effects. Other songs such as “Irundi” or “Tenz” are built around pulsating rhythms, Pateras’ orchestration providing touches of colour in framing Patton’s voice. “When I was doing this, ostensibly writing songs, which normally prioritise pitch and form, I was coming at it from a different angle,” says Pateras. “Maybe to some people it’s danceable, but to me it was about creating something physical—not in the macho noise sense of the word, nor the superficial-buzz-word ‘psychoacoustic’ sense—[but] trying to make something which reflects what I love about sound and which has a physical affect on me.”

An important undercurrent to this prioritisation of rhythm over other musical elements came about in his response to the ideas of French cultural theorist Paul Virilio, who argues that the accelerated development of technology has disrupted humanity’s natural rhythms. Pateras was particularly drawn to Virilio’s equation of the instanaeity that modern technology provides with human immobility and paralysis—“even when immobile we are in motion” chants Patton on “Tenz.” “Instead of accumulating skills, which takes time and focus, we just want to go fast,” explains Pateras. “I was very conscious of somehow magnifying rhythmic and timbral nuance in the music when I could…I wanted to de-quantise everything, deny instantaneity, create a space where going the long way around didn’t matter, because you find important ideas that way. The idea [that] you open your computer, pull up a few presets … it’s death, but that’s what gets taught as composition these days. We teach musicians how to die before they even start.”

Having developed the seed of the record over a couple of weeks staying in “a really shitty part of France—depressed rural community, lots of drunk soldiers, middle of nowhere,” Pateras enlisted drummer and percussionist Will Guthrie to assist in fleshing out the lacerating rhythms that propel many of the songs. “[We] riff[ed] on variations of the core ideas together, recording the drums and prepared piano simultaneously,” he explains. “I intentionally ran the session to generate the most flexible material possible—things which could be stitched together in unorthodox ways. Ultimately they were just rhythmic cells recorded for maximum elasticity.”

From there, the material was edited and wittled down, synthesisers added and parts written for the diverse array of instrumentalists, strings, clarinet, trumpet, percussion, acoustic guitar and recorders, whose contributions lend the record its dizzyingly multi-faceted texture. “I had the idea to…record every single element in the real world and manipulate/edit it electronically,” Pateras says, “encouraging [the musicians] to mimic or ornament the synth parts…so there’s always this hybrid electro-acoustic thing going on.” As he explains, this approach was informed by “[Morton] Feldman’s observation on what makes Xenakis’ music interesting: taking conventional instruments and bringing them into a world of hallucination, rather than using hallucinatory instrumentation, and bringing it into a world of convention. This record…was about canalising the tools I had to find a unique constellation.”

For a record so preoccupied with the collapse of boundaries – even the word “Geocidal” suggests the death or erasure of place—this concern grew less from any desire to make a broader political point, but emerged from a desire to explore both “the idea of the finisterre, or always being on the edge of known territory” as well as the practical circumstances from which the recording emerged. “I moved country twice while making this,” says Pateras, “I was constantly insecure and decentralised because I was in a permanent state of adjustment. And that is a really amazing place to make music in, because you have nothing but the material that’s coming out to guide you. I feel that’s what’s wrong with a lot of music—it becomes about filling a brief rather than simply using what you have at your disposal to see what happens.”

tētēma (Anthony Pateras & Mike Patton), Geocidal, Ipecac Records, IPC-167, http://ipecac.com/artists/tetema

See the full interview with Anthony Pateras.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. web

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

To kick off 2015 we’ve asked RealTime contributors for a little recap of 2014—what, thrilled, challenged, inspired or knocked their critical socks off. They also let us know what they are hoping to see in the upcoming Year of the Sheep (or Goat) which the ever reputable internet tells us is a symbol for the arts!

John Bailey | Ben Brooker | Urszula Dawkins | Nerida Dickinson | Kathryn Kelly | Matthew Lorenzon

John Bailey
John Bailey

John Bailey

I’d like to say that UK performance artist Bryony Kimmings’ Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model was one of the most stirring experiences of 2014, but that would be wrong. The 2014 bit, I mean. I’m far from alone in nominating it as a work that will alter my theatre-going expectations for years to come, and I know of a range of artists and audience members who have already said the same. It was impassioned, outraged, hilarious and heartfelt; a Quixotic attempt to wage war on the culture industry that sells young girls an image of themselves as commodities (see RT120).

 Bryony Kimmings, Taylor Houchen, Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model

Bryony Kimmings, Taylor Houchen, Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model

Bryony Kimmings, Taylor Houchen, Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model

Kimmings’ earlier autobiographical work Sex Idiot was also a favourite among many Melburnians last year but Credible… is to me more compelling in the way it sees its maker shifting from a solipsistic practice of self-interrogation to one that scrutinises that self’s place within a larger context, and tries to find some agency through which to change that environment. I’m excited by Kimmings’ next venture here, Fake It ‘Til You Make It (http://www.bryonyandtim.com), in which she collaborates with partner Tim Grayburn to do battle with taboos surrounding male depression. I can’t think of a more capable warrior. (John interviews Kimmings in RT125.)

Red Stitch’s production of George Brant’s Grounded took the theatre of a more literal war as the starting point for something approaching the sublime (see RT122). Kate Cole’s depiction of a fighter pilot landed with a desk job controlling a military drone evoked the heightened electricity of the combat-addict and the soul-crushing alienation of high-tech state-sponsored terror. Far from a ripped-from-the-news-pages war drama, its unfolding was more like a visitation from the beyond.

Mary Hellen Sassman, Frankenstein, courtesy Malthouse

Mary Hellen Sassman, Frankenstein, courtesy Malthouse

The Rabble’s Frankenstein was a more cosmic kind of horror, and one bereft of any hope of transcendence. It offered some of the most viscerally upsetting imagery the company has yet dreamt up. While it’s not a world I’d ever want to live in, it suggests at least that there are those among us willing to venture deeper into the darkness than most of us are able (see RT120).

If there’s a common thread apparent in these three works it’s one I’ll be hunting for more earnestly in the year to come: an engagement with issues personal, political or philosophical that doesn’t ‘explore’ so much as push through, taking its audience to a place that hasn’t yet been articulated, leaving them with the task of finding their own way back. Or not. Maybe there’s no way home.

See John Bailey’s Contributor Profile.

Related articles

A reason to care for strangers
John Bailey: Bryony Kimmings, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, FOLA
RealTime issue #120 April-May 2014 pg14

Braving the limits of the monologue
John Bailey: Red Stitch, Angus Cerini, BalletLab
RealTime issue #122 Aug-Sept 2014 p46

Dark mothering
John Bailey: Katie Warner’s Dropped; The Rabble’s Frankenstein
RealTime issue #120 April-May 2014 p41

Ben Brooker

Ben Brooker

Ben Brooker

How to hold in the mind a total image of live performance in Australia in the year behind us? Not possible. Better to try for a single impression, a freeze-frame that speaks of what preceded it and what must, we imagine in hope or despair, surely follow.

The Shadow King

The Shadow King

The Shadow King

Perhaps more than anything else, 2014 saw Shakespeare, ever our contemporary, revitalised once again. My year was bookended by two flawed but ambitious and important productions, Malthouse’s King Lear retelling The Shadow King (creators Michael Kantor and Tom E. Lewis, see Stephen Carleton review RT124 & Keith Gallasch review RT119) and the State Theatre Company of SA’s Othello (director Nescha Jelk). Holding up lenses of, respectively, indigeneity and feminism, both productions violently transposed Shakespeare’s canonical texts to the here and now, illuminating the individual and social costs of institutionalised prejudice and subjugation.

Chris Nietvelt, Hans Kesting, Roman Tragedies

Chris Nietvelt, Hans Kesting, Roman Tragedies

Chris Nietvelt, Hans Kesting, Roman Tragedies

In contrast, Toneelgroep’s Roman Tragedies (director Ivo Van Hove, see RT120) eschewed critique, paring back the poetry of Shakespeare’s Roman histories to plain, contemporary English (via Dutch) and rendering the plays with the urgent, pummeling aesthetic of the 24-hour news media. Audience members will recall for a long time performances, especially those by Gijs Scholten van Aschat, Frieda Pittoors and Hans Kesting, of a rare intensity—Shakespeare given back to us by way of nothing more alchemical than the actor’s craft in unencumbered motion.

“If there is a sphere whose very nature precludes all prognostication, it is that of culture, and especially of the arts and humanities.” With Creative Australia shelved and funding for the non-elite arts gutted by the Coalition, Vaclav Havel’s cautionary words resonate freshly. The only certainty looking ahead into 2015 is likely to be uncertainty as our artists and arts facilitators continue to attempt more with less. It is ominous that, judging by reports, the mood at this year’s Australian Theatre Forum was siege-like, culminating in a statement aimed at the Abbott Government and signed by 52 delegates: “… we are compelled to respond by our urgent concerns about the ideologically-driven erosion of our collective social fabric, which, unless checked, will radically reduce our capacity to hope, dream, imagine, build and share.”

While the forum was on, an independent two-week season of readings of new Australian plays was happening in Adelaide.* Eleven of the 14 playwrights were women, many of whom travelled from interstate to share the dreams—bold, angry, messy, beautiful—that they had each built on a shoestring. Perhaps we will always find ways of restaging Shakespeare as though the centuries that separate us are an illusion. This is one kind of vitality that sustains our stages. Another is predicated on the living playwright and it is to her that I hope 2015 will belong.

*One of my own plays was presented as part of these readings.

See Ben Brooker’s Contributor Profile.

Related articles

Adapto-mania: insights and limits
Stephen Carleton: Brisbane Festival
RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 p8

The trouble with tragedy
Keith Gallasch
RealTime issue #119 Feb-March 2014 p16-17

The imagination writ large
Benjamin Brooker: 2014 Adelaide Festival—theatre
RealTime issue #120 April-May 2014 p22

Urszula Dawkins

Urszula Dawkins

Urszula Dawkins

Urszula Dawkins

2014 felt like a year of individual triumphs and collective headway. I loved seeing events like the Festival of Live Art create critical mass for such a physically, viscerally and psychically engaging form (see Gail Priest review RT120). My 2014 live art highlight was one step at a time like this’s profound and intimate piece, nowhere, which felt like ‘active philosophy,’ setting off deep intellectual and spiritual resonances.

Roslyn Oades Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday

Roslyn Oades Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday

Roslyn Oades Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday

Works that privileged the emotional, without sentimentality, also thrilled me—Roslyn Oades’s Hello Goodbye & Happy Birthday was one. I saw younger artists acknowledging history and making it new (see John Bailey review RT124): James Welsby’s dance work Hex achieved this beautifully re the past and present history of AIDS. It’s been great too to see feminism’s renewal in incisive works by artists like Mish Grigor or I’m Trying To Kiss You (see Jana Perkovic’s review RT121).

Madonna Arms

Madonna Arms

Madonna Arms

I sense growing collectivity and togetherness within the performing arts especially, both in emerging/experimental arts, and across the established/emerging hierarchy. More flagship companies seem to be finding resources to create development opportunities and ‘emerging’ seasons for younger artists. At the same time, I sense ‘emerging/experimental’ artists themselves are collaborating more ambitiously to produce successful, larger-scale independent events. Perhaps there’s a politics of resistance at play, a sense of urgency that if artists don’t get together and do it themselves, things just won’t happen.

In 2015 I’d like to see more of all of this. More togetherness, more art as social intervention, more DIY and more support for the risky, the devised, the collective and the hard-to-define. A busting open of the divides between visual arts, performing arts and literature. More chances for great new work to further develop and tour. More small and medium-scale philanthropy, including creatively interactive crowd-funding. And for arts/non-arts collaborations to burgeon, loosening ‘the arts’ from its categories and letting creativity roam wider in a world where it’s sorely needed.

See Urszula Dawkins’ Contributor Profile.

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It’s all about you
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In others’ words
John Bailey: Melbourne International Arts Festival
RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 p10-11

Risk yields new forces
Jana Perkovic: Next Wave 2014
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The primordial present
Urszula Dawkins: Melbourne International Arts Festival: Dance Territories
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Nerida Dickinson

Nerida Dickinson

Nerida Dickinson

Nerida Dickinson

Festivals brought the Perth cultural scene to life in early 2014 with eruptions of performance bookending the year. The summer madness of FringeWorld saw an expansion into suburban hubs and an explosion of diversity and number of acts. Perth International Arts Festival kept standards high and brought new modes of theatre to audiences, with immersive pieces from Punchdrunk Theatre (The House Where Winter Lives) and Rimini Protokoll (Situation Rooms, see Keith Gallasch review RT120), as well as showcasing music in the Festival Gardens. Proximity Festival celebrated the magic of one-on-one performance, expanding horizons of participating artists as well as audiences (see preview RT123 & review RT124. Also pushing artists to the edge of their practice and beyond, the MoveMe Improvisation Festival explored the potential of spontaneous creative performance (see reports in RT125).

Situation Rooms, Rimini Protokoll

Situation Rooms, Rimini Protokoll

Situation Rooms, Rimini Protokoll

Beyond festivals have been steady productions from the Perth Theatre Company and Black Swan, who delivered a range of exciting and provocative new works—including 8 Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography—and solid straight theatre—A Streetcar Named Desire. Independent productions had a good year at The Blue Room Theatre, the highlight being the debut of Finegan Kruckemeyer’s Those Who Fall In Love Like Anchors Dropped Upon The Ocean Floor, and also at PICA Performance Space, where The Last Great Hunt’s Falling Through Clouds impressed on many levels (see RT124). Barking Gecko Theatre Company constantly inspires, with onefivezeroseven pushing theatrical boundaries beyond its nominal teen audience. STRUT Dance Company provided opportunities to see dance creativity in development, from SHORT CUTS, to IN SHORT and PRIME CUTS (see interview RT121). Touring dance companies provided inspiration—Chunky Moves with Keep Everything and Sydney Dance Company’s explosive 2 One Another stood out.

Adriane Daff in Falling Through Clouds

Adriane Daff in Falling Through Clouds

Adriane Daff in Falling Through Clouds

In 2015 if these festivals, venues and companies continue to thrive, they will provide the infrastructure for talent to work in Perth, as well as create new opportunities for artists to develop creative practice. In broader terms there should be plenty of opportunities for audiences to experience new things, feeding back into a vigorous local creative culture. Of particular interest in the next 12 months will be the development of politically charged intimate performance from Toyi-Toyi Theatre, who have been tackling topical issues of social justice and immigration policy (see my review of their The Queue in the Proximity Festival).

Nerida Dickinson joined the RT team in 2014 writing about theatre and dance.

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Nerida Dickinson: The Last Great Hunt, Falling Through Clouds
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Kathryn Kelly

Kathryn Kelly

Kathryn Kelly

I spent a lot of last year trying to understand the impact of the rise of TV and the decline of film on Gen-Y and millennial performance. LaBoite Indie, home of hipster zeitgeist was a case in point: three of the four shows by terrific new playwrights displayed experimentation in form and plot but a curious flatness in the naturalistic dialogue (see RT123). This is TV reshaping the cadences of our performance texts.

Screen culture as framed by film has long been old fashioned in mediatised work but last year we went organic with media experimentation in performance: a fluid psychological interiority that echoes the bell chamber of screen culture in darkened media rooms or tunnels of concentration with i-Phones. Highlights for me included Circa Associate Ben Knapton’s projection work in Margi Brown Ash’s He Dreamed of Trains which began with the most subtle distortions within a picture frame that gradually colonised the entire naturalistic interior of the set, as if we were inside the mind of the dead man who owned the home.

Hedonism’s Second Album, La Boite Indie

Hedonism’s Second Album, La Boite Indie

Look out for a monograph by academic Sandra Gattenhof in 2015 all about how under 16s go to the theatre for each other, not for the content. Liveness is all. So cause for optimism perhaps? While joyful about the potential of performance as experience in the coming age, I couldn’t shake the feeling last year that we were the New Edwardians and that like them, we have lost the ability to predict the future based on the past.

Australian theatre has finally woken up with a start to its whiteness and maleness and the resulting initiatives are like water in the desert. Big highlights include Future Fidel’s autobiographical show at LaBoite: a live boxing match as Fidel recounts the experience of being a child soldier in the Sudan. Rather than a centre giving way to a margin, this seems to me the way forward: authentic cultural collaboration, artist to artist in rooms of our own, live or digital.

See Kathryn Kelly’s Contributor Profile.

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RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 p35

Matthew Lorenzon

Matthew Lorenzon

Matthew Lorenzon

Matthew Lorenzon

Last year was one of goodbyes. If I can stretch the year to include December 2013, then the year included Margaret Cameron’s Opera for a Small Mammal, directed by David Young (see RT119). An imagination like Cameron’s is rare, a team like Cameron and Young even rarer. When Cameron passed away in October, Australia lost a medium listening at the threshold of theatre and music (see RT’s obituary and archive)

Margaret Cameron, Opera for a Small Mammal

Margaret Cameron, Opera for a Small Mammal

Margaret Cameron, Opera for a Small Mammal

We bid farewell to Australia’s only national contemporary music radio programme, Julian Day’s New Music Up Late, along with the ABC’s live broadcasts for Sunday Live. Without these shows, Australia’s contemporary music scene will become more fragmented and disparate. We were deprived (temporarily, this time) of two excellent ensembles who have contributed so much to our musical life. James Rushford and Judith Hamann from Golden Fur joined their band mate Samuel Dunscombe on the sunny shores of California. The power couple behind Brisbane’s Kupka’s Piano, Liam Flenady and Hannah Reardon-Smith, moved to Brussels.

The year was also one of returning. ELISION made a much-anticipated tour of Australia and Liza Lim returned from Huddersfield. I look forward to hearing more of Lim’s detailed and enchanting music in 2015. Richard Barrett’s visit with Speak Percussion showed that the complex and virtuosic textures of Lim and Barrett’s generation have reached an almost classical maturity.

Eine Brise, Maurice Kagel

Eine Brise, Maurice Kagel

Eine Brise, Maurice Kagel

The Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music was my standout experience last year (see RT123). Under David Chisholm’s careful curation, the intensive three-day festival explored some of the most daring works of the 20th century alongside commission-fresh new music. I might not go to hear Stockhausen’s opera Sirius at midnight in the dome of a 19th century library again, but I probably won’t have the chance either. I certainly will be going to hear more music by Claude Vivier and performances by guitarist Mauricio Carrasco.

In 2015, Chamber Made Opera will wake up from a year of development and mount several new shows. Keep an eye out for a new Liza Lim and anything by the emerging composer Samuel Smith, who recently accepted a commission from Adelaide’s Soundstream Collective with his fascinating piece BUTTERFLY 3. Check in with Melbourne’s quiet achiever the Medley Hall Concert Series, especially for the musical responses to Heather Swann’s “Nervous” exhibition.

See Matthew Lorenzon’s Contributor Profile.

Matthew’s music blog Partial Durations is published in association with RealTime; https://partialdurations.wordpress.com

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Unerring explorations
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RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 p41

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. web

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

When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing, Heiner Goebbels, Melbourne International Arts Festival

When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing, Heiner Goebbels, Melbourne International Arts Festival

When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing, Heiner Goebbels, Melbourne International Arts Festival

“WHAT DO LITTLE GIRLS DREAM OF?” “KNIVES, AND BLOOD,” INTONES CARMINA SLOVENICA, A SLOVENIAN CHOIR COMPRISING 40 YOUNG WOMEN AGED 10 TO 18, UNDER THE DIRECTION OF HEINER GOEBBELS.

This blend of innocence and darkness infuses all of When the Mountain Changed its Clothing, a work devised in 2012 that continues to tour the international festival circuit.

There are the vocal textures of the choir, so often in minor keys, droning, warping, sometimes with a hint of horror. Yet these sounds are generated by seeming ingénues in pastel 50s-style skirts and blouses, holding fluffy toys.

Then there is the set, with its square of bright, fake lawn centre-stage, backed by painted nature scenes successively unveiled throughout: a kind of three-dimensional storybook completed by tableaux vivants. But the texts delivered here (ranging from Adelbert Stifter to Ian McEwan to Gertrude Stein) are probing, absurdist dialogues, often interrogations as the choir crowds around a girl or two to examine mortality and lay bare the passage of time.

Despite their surreal and luminous look, many scenes have an earthy, old world feel. A girl visits a neighbour bearing a loaf of bread. Two others sit by a campfire with a small roast on a spit. Two others sit and sew while discussing poverty. At least, at a glance they seem to be sewing, with innate grace and efficiency. But in fact one is eviscerating her teddy bear and the other is bundling the white stuffing into clouds on strings, which they then drift across the lawn while the rest of the choir sings. The loss of innocence is implied in all of this. But so too is the role of youth as the voice of wisdom.

Still another facet of innocence shines in the exuberance of the girls’ physicality. They bustle round the stage like worker bees, rearranging the set between scenes. At one point all 40 gather on the lawn to chant and clap and yelp in vigorous syncopation; and they bring full-throated verve to choral works by Slovenian composers along with Brahms, Sarah Hopkins and Yugoslavian propagandists. Even when a chthonic chill hangs around the fake lawn, their vivacity remains intact. There is vitality, without naivety, in their dramatic presence.

They’re not ingénues after all, I think to myself in those moments. More like sibyls. Poised on the threshold of womanhood, as future mothers they stare beyond the threshold of death. Into history too: “Do you remember when your mother was a little girl?” they ask. This ‘tracking’ and flexing of represented time is the most haunting aspect of the work.

Visually, time’s changes trickle early in the piece, through costuming. Appearing first in contemporary dress, the ensemble gradually and seamlessly rolls back generations, with just a few performers changing at a time. In a group this size, there’s no way to notice individual changes. Instead we witness this mass effect as an unveiling of years, a slow emergence—wonder, an allusion to the title?

When the Mountain Changed its Clothing has no narrative or sense of linearity. Rather, its unfolding feels kaleidoscopic. And in its shifting scenes we watch the play of colour, light and darkness that is present in life’s mysteries and elemental changes.

Melbourne International Arts Festival, Heiner Goebbels and Vocal Theatre Carmina Slovenica, State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, 23-26 Oct

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 16

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

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Director George Mannix, PACT, 1988

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Director George Mannix, PACT, 1988

JENNY NICHOLLS, FORMER PACT ACTOR, DIRECTOR AND BOARD MEMBER, HAS WORKED AS A TEACHER, THEATRE DIRECTOR AND CONSULTANT FOR THEATRE COMPANIES AND EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS AND SAT ON THE DRAMA COMMITTEE OF THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL IN THE LATE 80S. SHE’S A SENIOR LECTURER AT THE INSTITUTE OF EARLY CHILDHOOD AT MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY, SYDNEY. MORE THAN THAT, SHE GREW UP WITH PACT FROM THE AGE OF 13.

When, on the occasion of PACT’s 50th birthday, I interviewed Nicholls—who still recalls those early years with exuberance—it became clear that PACT had shaped her life and career, as it has doubtless done and still does for many others.

Originally housed on the edge of the Sydney CBD, near Darling Harbour, PACT was founded by a group led by Robert Allnutt, Jack Mannix and Patrick Milligan in response to the Federal Government’s Vincent Committee Report that “highlighted the dire state of Australia’s performing arts, film and television industries.” PACT (Producers, Authors, Composers and Talent, and later Producers, Artists, Curators, Technicians) aimed to develop a range of practitioners who would enrich Australian culture.

Central to Jenny’s experience of PACT was Jack Mannix, whose sense of community was shaped by the Depression and by the Catholic School Fellowship which encouraged young people to get involved in social activities in the 1930s. Thirty years later, when Jack teamed up with Patrick Milligan (Spike’s brother) and Bob Allnutt an ABC producer to form PACT, she says, “I think Jack’s mandate was to bring young people into the organisation and it was inherently about cultural leadership and access—and culture as a way to drive change as much as it was about an aesthetic. He felt there needed to be a way to be innovative.” There were PACT folk concerts, playreadings, a sub-group that called themselves The Leper Colony and a psychedelic theatre group, The Human Body, at a time in the late 60s when Australian playwriting was emerging.

Jack Mannix

Jack Mannix

Nicholls joined PACT in 1974 when free drama workshops were offered to teenagers. “Jack was very keen to bring in kids who didn’t have much access to culture. Culture! I use the term very broadly. I grew up on the northern beaches and I didn’t have much more access to culture than a kid from Fairfield really. I had the beach. No drama in schools. Virtually no after-school creative activity or anything like that.” Nicholls and 200 teenagers were introduced to “the great Australian do-it-yourself pantomime.” Not the English model. “No script. It was all up and down improvising, ‘OK, you go next… OK, now you swap parts.’ We were divided into groups according to where we lived and participated in three-day workshops over the school holidays. Between August and Christmas the groups alternated on weekends to rehearse and then five productions went on simultaneously throughout Sydney in late December.”

As well as going to PACT on Saturdays each week, Nicholls found herself attending Wednesday night events, mixing with older participants, many of whom were studying at university, “experimenting with poetry, movement sequences, sound, lighting, somebody walking slowly up a ladder while somebody else was reading a poem…” Later these became events titled Abstractions.

“Even though I wasn’t particularly aware of it at the time, I understand now that it was so much about aesthetics.” She quotes George Mannix (Jack Mannix’s son) from a speech at the PACT 50th Birthday celebration on 11 October, “People in the room knew something extraordinary was being created. You could have been acting or waiting your turn or doing the lighting or the music but we were all thinking, ‘Wow,’ this is amazing.’”

“PACT shouldn’t necessarily be privileged here because I think ATYP (1963) and Shopfront (1977) were also emerging. What was interesting however was that PACT moved from being a venue for folk concerts and playwrights to ‘This is great but we need more, we’ve got to do things on a bigger scale, we’ve got to get out to the suburbs and get young people in.’

“In 1976 we took the pantomime to the Chapter House at St Andrews Cathedral for a four-week season as part of the Festival of Sydney. At other times PACT would say, ‘We’ve been invited to take the pantomime to Telopea in the September holidays; who wants to do it?’ So those who volunteered would be packed off in a truck with somebody who had a driver’s licence and we’d turn up at a school or hall or whatever, put plastic black-out on the windows with gaffer tape, set up the lighting box and the reel-to-reel music and off we’d go. What an introduction to theatre at 15-16!

“I was growing up with PACT,” says Nicholls, as the organisation itself was developing its vision. She remembers being in Mannix’s productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, describing it as “environmental theatre.” It too was performed in the Chapter House, “a beautiful space—making use of the stairs and the balcony above with the audience on the floor and actors moving in and around them. Before that we did Eros and Thanatos based on the writing of [Marxist philosopher Herbert] Marcuse. We performed that downstairs at the Seymour Centre.”

Nicholls had become more than a participant: “The way the pantomime worked was that whoever did it the year before taught the next group coming in. Very privileged for me when I look back. At 14 I learn it and at 15 I’m teaching others.” There was only a scenario for the pantomime: “It was about a schoolteacher who didn’t like children and who was informed by a goodwill spirit that he had to put on a pantomime so he could learn to appreciate children. On the way he meets a whole lot of funny characters. It was interactive so at any moment you would have anything from 50-100 children on the floor of a hall and during the performance the children would be up and doing things—pretending to play a game of football or dancing around Cinderella’s coach, or holding up Jack’s beanstalk. Not only was I learning about aspects of theatre i was learning about children.”

Nicholls spent her teenage years with PACT. “We toured to Byron Bay, Canberra Theatre Festival. Then we started going out west—Dunedoo, Condobolin, Deniliquin—doing pantomimes and other performances—The Hobbit, Under Milkwood. By Year 12 I had to step back—Jack didn’t want anyone in Year 12 performing.”

So what was life like post-PACT? “After the HSC I had to decide what I was going to do. Am I going to work in theatre or is this place my family? And it had been my family. When I started at PACT I don’t think I knew much about what university was really. But according to Jack, all of us kids were going off to university—it was the Whitlam years—and we did. Well, not everybody but it was expected.” Clearly PACT itself provided quite an education: “You can just imagine hearing all these poets being talked about and quoted in performances—like TS Eliot. At 15 I knew the entire script of Midsummer Night’s Dream. We all did. I played Helena one year and Puck another year.” Nicholls chose the University of New England in Armidale: “In 1979 there were few universities offering a drama course with a strong practical focus.”

Drama at university was quite different from PACT: “I loved it. It completely challenged me because suddenly I’m doing warm-ups in drama classes. We never had warm-ups at PACT. At PACT it’d be, ‘If you want to get to know each other, go into the office and have a coffee’ and ‘Now we’re rehearsing.’ At uni it was great, full-year drama courses, sometimes two a year from Ancient Greek classics right up to “read two Australian plays a week, discuss them and write our own!”

In her final year Nicholls re-connected with PACT: “George rang me to say that he couldn’t go down to Berrigan in the South-West Riverina with the PACT production this year, would I like to. By now I’d finished my degree and had my teaching diploma. So I went and did something similar where I created a show with young people over three weeks. This led to a 12-month teaching appointment as a drama consultant in the Riverina.” The following year Nicholls was accepted into the directors’ course at NIDA, even if short on some of the technical audition demands. “I tell this story to my students. I didn’t need to be an expert in everything. I needed to have a vision, which is in fact what Jack had and everybody came along with his vision. I don’t put myself in Jack’s category but I think I’m visionary and innovative in my work.

“So I went to NIDA for a year, was an Associate Director at STC for 12 months, did some work for Jigsaw Theatre Company, travelled overseas for 12 months and came back to be met at the airport by current PACT staff and friends who asked me to work as artistic co-ordinator. And so I did. It was half time, not even that. PACT received a tiny amount from the Australia Council. I supplemented that by doing casual teaching and I helped organise the transition from Sussex Street to Erskineville, when we got kicked out.”

IN 1989 Nicholls staged the first full-scale production in the new PACT home in Erskineville, Playing for Time, an Arthur Miller film script—based on the life of Fania Fénelon, a Jewish prisoner of war in Auschwitz who formed an orchestra in the camp. Beginning outside the theatre, Nicholls separated the audience from their partners and moved cast and audience around like inmates. This ‘environmental’ tradition continues to this day at PACT with the constant, inventive reconfiguring of the space and its outdoors.

By 1990, says Nicholls, “I really couldn’t survive any more on a part time salary. I completed a Masters Degree in Theatre Studies at UNSW and was offered the opportunity with Sydney College of Advanced Education, teaching drama courses—and I was getting paid well.” The SCAE was amalgamated with Macquarie University and Nicholls moved into the area of Early Education. She says her teaching over many years is still grounded within the artistic philosophies of her years in PACT. In 2008 she was awarded a citation for outstanding contributions to Student Learning by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council for her innovative work in student engagement in drama and online technology.

Nicholls was on the PACT Board when Jack Mannix died in 1989: “He had a heart attack and was on life support for a while. I can remember everyone was running in and out of his hospital room playing music and singing pantomime songs, combing his hair…He hated having messy hair.”

I ask Nicholls to describe Mannix. She responds thoughtfully, “I think he was a visionary. He had extraordinary patience and a great relationship with young people. We thought he was the opposite of a father or grandfather figure; he was just an amazing adult. I don’t think anybody thought that he was particularly old. He just was. He smoked a pipe. The way that he created shows with young people was extraordinary—the discipline he demanded, the self-confidence he developed in kids from all backgrounds; and the ideas he introduced us to—art, literature, music. It was about getting young people to rise and rise to the best of their ability. I think that for a lot of people who’ve left PACT and gone on to make their own creative work, that’s [something they took with them.]

“And it was also about making beauty. George and I were talking about this last night and he said, ‘It’s hard to talk about beauty now. We talk about truth when we go to the theatre.’

“Jack was caring and gentle and absolutely of the belief that culture should be accessible and people should be able to have the opportunity to participate in the making. He said it better: ‘instrumentation of creativity.’ He was also very inclusive; nobody was excluded; there were no auditions, no try-outs. It was just that gentle way he had of saying, ‘You try reading Helena or you do Bottom.’ He just intuitively knew.”

Jenny Nicholls completed her many years with PACT by becoming Chair of the PACT Board FROM 1988 to 1994. She reminds me at the end of our interview, that her story is only one of hundreds from young people who were introduced to theatre (and so much more) at PACT.

In RealTime 125 (Feb-March 2015) we’ll look at the years since and the artistic directors and teachers who have maintained the PACT vision in their distinctive ways.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 37-38

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

Bree van Reyk and Narelle Benjamin

Bree van Reyk and Narelle Benjamin

Bree van Reyk and Narelle Benjamin

THE SECRET NOISE IS COMPOSER AND DEVISOR DAMIEN RICKETSON’S RESPONSE TO THE WAYS HIS CONSCIOUSNESS BECOMES HEIGHTENED WHEN HE PERCEIVES STRANGENESS IN SOUND OR SENSATION. IT’S A POETIC NUDGE AT THE SECRECY STILL ENTRENCHED IN STAGED ART MUSIC—WHERE PERFORMERS USUALLY WEAR BLACK, ACTING AS DEPERSONALISED TRANSMITTERS OF OTHERS’ GENIUS, WHERE THEIR EXPERIENCE IS NOT THE SUBJECT OF PERFORMANCE.

This collaborative music/dance/theatre work communicates not only the sound of music but also the experience of musical process as reception, memory and fantasy. It’s a critical commentary on our understanding as concert-goers of interpersonal musical exchange. What if ‘classical music’ were individually tailored and responsive at all times?

Ricketson was curious (his company/website is Curious Noise) about how to present those elements of music that are personal, undisclosed or mysterious. His exposure to private musical encounters that happen in public space, like ours, are frequent and often unworthy of mindful note. But those moments on the fringes of public experience inspire this collection of musical scenes which, coupled with dance from Kathy Cogill and Narelle Benjamin, and theatrical moments from Katia Molino, stage a world of absurd yet anything-but-hokey utterances. Ricketson, Ensemble Offspring and stage director Carlos Gomes have struck the right balance of exploration-to-permissible action here with the subtle coercion of parents, highly attuned to the rebellious habits of those they lead. Their psychology is always a step ahead of ours, guiding us to come to their realisations about the diversity of public and private musical sensations.

Our tickets are A4 and graphic scores that we can colour in or otherwise mark. As we enter a very gruff door-bitch (Molino) inks them violently with a Secret Noise stamp before ceremonially snapping a CD in two as a passing ritual. We are lead into the giant, low-ceilinged room below Sydney’s Town Hall in which five large seemingly fire-lit tents glow invitingly. From each sounds emerge, but there are no instructions, we must follow our noses and snoop. Each tent allows three curious folk in at a time and our tickets become the musical instructions for the performers inside. In one Claire Edwardes rings hand bells; in another Jason Noble has an assortment of whistles and a lyre; in another dancer Narelle Benjamin contorts into pretzel shapes with Indian hand-cymbals dangling from her toes while staring intently into the eyes of the few lucky entrants. Do bells sound better when your lower limb is perched on your shoulder? How about when they’re so close you can smell the metal?

Before we’ve had time to explore every tent we’re ushered towards seats that frame a long and narrow stage. The ‘real music’ begins. Dancers slink into the central space, spinning objects attached to strings over their heads. On close inspection we agree the objects are (brand-new minty-fresh) toilet brushes. One whirling brush makes a whizzing sound. In combination, two sound like currawongs. Three make for an R&B synth solo. This spinning gesture returns with other objects attached; later Molino flings a thicker one that sounds like a far-away traffic jam or distant train. Meanwhile clarinettist, Noble, lies down, gliding across the floor on his back while contributing a steady tone. Together they create the drone of the dreaded mozzie that keeps you up all night.

A more conventionally musical moment, where seated players staring at music stands made sounds, seemed the kernel of the work. The dancers couldn’t contain their curiosity and buzzed around the musicians, responding to the secretive sounds. Some interrupted the players with movements and exaggerated faces; their interference produced the energy that the musicians then encoded in sound. One dancer became a stole that slipped down the back of the seat behind a player. A chaotic tango arose —polyphonic in the extreme—in that each player emoted and swayed, performing with exceptional lyricism, in absolute ignorance of the ‘musical genius’ around them: every one a soloist. This scene captured the sensation of playing in an ensemble of battling egos—the music sounding as that circumstance feels. This tango grew legs, slipped to centre stage, abandoning the mass-ensemble. It tripped and drowned purposefully between Bree van Reyk on a fully unfolded accordion that became one with a sinuous Benjamin.

There were loud hailers, tubular bells, decks (turntables) and two saws played with violin bows, vibraphone, drum kit, black gowns and skulking chairs in which the dancer-actors slid towards the music. Under Carlos Gomes’ direction, the mediums for the performers became equally musical, theatrical and choreographic—it didn’t matter whether sound emanated from the action or energy was transferred. They communicated something else, something formless that belongs to all of us.

Throughout The Secret Noise, Ensemble Offspring and friends created an exploratory space that really worked (where many similar collaborations fall short): it felt natural, feasible and, at times, familiarly facile, as when we find ourselves alone, listening to the chatter of the air-conditioner or the hiss of our own nervous system.

Audience participation in The Secret Noise felt comfortable—no awkward, self-conscious delays—those displays of learnt humility—upon invitation to join in. The creative team fashioned an environment and culture that invited inquisitiveness. Towards the end cushions were delicately laid about the stage. Again, no instructions were given, but somehow we knew that we were invited to inhabit the stage, to lie on the floor and perhaps glide as the performers had earlier. So we too experienced the music on a horizontal plane, while locomoting backwards, navigating space and strangers.

As Saturday nighters bustled above the venue, dance music and drunken antics often bled into the space. Given the eclecticism of The Secret Noise’s aesthetic, this ‘noise’ was not unwelcome. It situated the work in the city and layered our attention on multiple simultaneous scales. No sound ever exists in isolation and yet many expect perfect art music performance to happen in a coughless, car horn-less vacuum. The partiers had no idea what we were listening to, seeing or feeling—it was our little underground. They showed us, in their obliviousness, how special these secret noises and moments were that we shared.

The Secret Noise, Ensemble Offspring, concept, composer Damien Ricketson, director Carlos Gomes, devising performers Bree van Reyk, Claire Edwardes, Jason Noble, Kathy Cogill, Katia Molino, Narelle Benjamin, lighting design Fausto Brusamolino, Lower Sydney Town Hall, 20-22 Nov

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 52

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

IT’S BECOME INCREASINGLY COMMON TO CATCH BRAVURA PERFORMANCES DURING MELBOURNE FRINGE THAT ARE AS IMPRESSIVE AS ANYTHING ON OFFER ELSEWHERE DURING THE YEAR. THE REASONS FOR THIS MUST BE MANY, AND MIGHT INCLUDE INCREASING OPPORTUNITIES FOR TRAINING AND PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE FOR PERFORMERS AS WELL AS THE INTEREST SEASONED PROFESSIONALS HAVE IN USING THE FRINGE TO TEST OUT MORE EXPERIMENTAL IDEAS.

I think it’s also to do with an increased cultural literacy among performers, who are able to expose themselves to a breadth and depth of work throughout the year that may not have been available to previous generations.

Maude Davey as Everyman, Everyman and the Pole Dancers, Auto Da Fe Theatre

Maude Davey as Everyman, Everyman and the Pole Dancers, Auto Da Fe Theatre

Maude Davey as Everyman, Everyman and the Pole Dancers, Auto Da Fe Theatre

Everyman and the Pole Dancers

Auto Da Fe Theatre’s Everyman and the Pole Dancers was an example of the tensions between new and old. A confusing excess that highlighted the importance of a sorting principle in any attempt to process centuries of theatrical convention, its own kitchen-sink approach was also part of its anarchic pleasure.

Drawing on the Morality Plays of 15th century England, the work presents a gloriously grotesque family beset on all sides by a fiendish figure who variously assumes roles such as cop, sex worker, psychoanalyst, umpire and others. The family members themselves are just as labile, with mother deciding she is a gay man, grandpa at times apparently channelling a dog spirit, grandma romantically attached to a seven-year-old who also seems a kind of priest, and even the ashes of a deceased grandparent continuing to display the same abilities of reinvention as everyone else.

This carnivalesque spirit can be overwhelming, as is so often the case, and it is Maude Davey who provides almost the only anchor on offer here. Her performance confirms her as a national treasure, both assured and playful enough to allow the rest of the work to stray as much as it does.

Nick: An Accidental Hero

Another Fringe performance with a stellar impact was found in Renee Lyons’ solo show Nick: An Accidental Hero. A recent trend at Melbourne Fringe seems to be the annual inclusion of a solo work from New Zealand that is exquisitely crafted and performed and Lyons is an outstanding example. The work was created around the true story of Nick Chisholm, an Auckland man who suffered a stroke during a rugby match and became afflicted with locked-in syndrome. The narrative here follows the impact this has on a number of people in his life, including the recovering alcoholic who appoints himself carer and a woman from the other side of the world who begins a relationship with Nick over the internet.

Lyons’ accomplishments here are many. She produces uncannily detailed character work that is alternately hilarious and moving, and employs simple theatrical devices to convey urgent medical procedures, the passing of time and the changes in an entire community. She also manages to produce great sympathy for several characters who would essentially be reduced to boofhead roles in many works, but who are indeed central to this narrative. Nick himself is never bestowed with any heroic status, and in fact one of the boldest moves here is in Lyons’ choice never to actually incarnate the work’s central character until a brilliant coup-de-theatre in the production’s final seconds.

Chinese Whispers

Chinese Whispers

Chinese Whispers

Chinese Whispers

The live art work Chinese Whispers also featured a surprise ending that both complemented and went well beyond what preceded it. The bulk of the experience involves a single audience member navigating an installation of billowing white fabric studded at intervals with small vignettes. An accompanying audio track weaves together interviews with survivors of the May 1998 riots in Indonesia, during which ethnic tensions saw the mass rape and murder of many Chinese-Indonesians.

Creator Rani Pramesti’s audio work here is first-class, producing a provocative and heartbreaking tapestry with little unneeded editorialising. The initial presentation was marred by sound-bleed issues, and it’s the kind of overall production that could sorely use funding support to reach the level of excellence it could attain. Its ending, however, was a delight—exiting the maze, each traveller finds themself alone with a performer of ethnic Chinese-Indonesian descent surrounded by Indonesian snacks and treats and invited to partake. What followed, for me at least, was a chat about racism in both Indonesia and Australia that was unexpectedly illuminating and which provided both of its participants with a number of “wait, really???” moments.

Dr Professor Neal Portenza Performs his Own Autopsy Live on Stage…one night only (Obviously)

Such moments are also a starting point for the bizarro comedy of Josh Ladgrove’s alter ego Dr Professor Neal Portenza. Portenza fits somewhat into the already unstable category of art comedy that has swollen in the last decade in Australia and includes performers such as post’s Zoe Coombs-Marr and the former members of Pig Island. Ladgrove’s is a unique entry in the class, bringing a deconstructed type of clowning to the mix and working less with ideas of anti-comedy, deliberate failure and flatness and more with audience dynamics to provide the punchlines.

His Dr Professor Neal Portenza Performs his Own Autopsy Live On Stage… is a masterclass in the form. Its rough structure is a short series of acts he will attempt, but these are merely a hook upon which to hang astonishingly quick-witted moments of audience engagement that build and build until the crowd itself feels emboldened enough to get in on the act. Ladgrove handles his audience so deftly that he is able to dress one member as the good Dr Professor and have them ad lib their own unscripted comedy. On the occasion I visited, this random punter’s routine was as funny as the ‘real’ show that framed it. It’s one thing to produce your own bravura performance, but to evoke one from an onlooker is a kind of magic.

Melbourne Fringe Festival: Auto Da Fe Theatre/Shinjuku Ryozanpaku, Everyman and the Pole Dancers, writer, director Lech Mackiewicz, Installation Naomi Ota, Mechanics Institute, 1-11 Oct; Nick: An Accidental Hero, creator, performer Renee Lyons, Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 19-26 Sept; Chinese Whispers, creator Rani Pramesti, design Shane Thompson, Bluestone Church Arts Space 3, 23-28 Sept; Dr Professor Neal Portenza Performs his Own Autopsy Live on Stage. One Night Only. (Obviously), creator-performer Josh Ladgrove, Tuxedo Cat, Melbourne, 22-8 Sept

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 18

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

Margaret Cameron, Opera for a Small Mammal, Chamber Made Opera

Margaret Cameron, Opera for a Small Mammal, Chamber Made Opera

Margaret Cameron, Opera for a Small Mammal, Chamber Made Opera

UNFORGETTABLE, WHETHER WHEN WE FIRST SAW HER IN 1986 AT PERFORMANCE SPACE IN ULRIKE MEINHOF SINGS, DIRECTED BY NICO LATHOURIS, OR ON THE MAINSTAGE IN JENNY KEMP’S PRODUCTIONS OF CALL OF THE WILD (1989) AND JOANNA MURRAY-SMITH’S NIGHTFALL AT THE SYDNEY THEATRE COMPANY IN 2000 OR, ABOVE ALL, IN HER OWN THINGS CALYPSO WANTED TO SAY (1990) AND KNOWLEDGE AND MELANCHOLY: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FICTION IN 2004, AGAIN AT PERFORMANCE SPACE.

We wish we’d seen her later performances and more of her acclaimed directing, which we first glimpsed in Aphid’s 2003 puppet-play trilogy A Quarreling Pair and last witnessed in Chamber Made Opera’s Minotaur The Island, for which she also provided the text for David Young’s composition, in the Aurora Music Festival in 2012 in Sydney’s west.

Acting, directing, writing or just being, Margaret was a dynamic presence, at once authoritative and intimate. Her idiosyncratic weighting of words, the lateral lilt of her sentences and that distinctive tone, all at one with her art, will long be recalled and treasured.

Keith & Virginia

In the archive

The RealTime archive includes responses to Margaret’s work and an article by her, “Art & care: where life and death connect”, which she wrote for us in 2013 in RT117.

Margaret on acting

Virginia Baxter’s hithero un-archived 2000 interview, “The other side of Nightfall” (RT 37, p29), with Margaret and fellow actor Ian Scott, also appears in the November edition of Profiler. It’s a wonderfully incisive account of the nature and complexity of acting in general and in response to Joanna Murray-Smith’s play Nightfall, Jenny Kemp’s direction and Elizabeth Drake’s score.

In Nightfall, Margaret and Ian play a middle-class couple, Emily and Edward whose daughter Cora (Victoria Longley) disappeared when she was 16, assumed abducted. But seven years later a go-between, Kate, arrives to negotiate the return of Cora—who is revealed to have left home of her own accord. In most respects Nightfall is a conventional play, well crafted, suspenseful and morally complex, but Cameron, Scott and Kemp made it something more in the perturbing rhythms of the playing. Cameron’s approach brought the same kind of subtle attentiveness to a naturalistic play that she would to an experimental work with powerful results.

Here are two excerpts that tell you something about Margaret and her art.

“The approach to the play for me was a matter of the whole body physically listening. The listening body is like an animal: you can get caught, suspended; you’re hunting the sense and the emotional sense. Jenny Kemp is a very good director for me in that she loves to see that. If you get stranded halfway, held in space, Jenny’s in a state of delight because it’s dangerous. She credits the invisible world. She understands it as present.”

“[Emily’s] emotional/physical world is adrenalin, huge expectation and capping and locking a terrible fear that things might not be all right. It’s a paradox she starts with, an expectation equaled by massive fear. And they’re balancing each other. That’s her place. And she keeps working towards the belief that Cora will come in that door at any moment. She’s sincerely trying to help Kate. And the pressure will shift me around emotionally so that if on a particular evening there might be a point reached in the graph, which is a little bit unexpected or the intensity is less than last night, what happens is that it goes somewhere underneath. It’ll curve around and sort of push you in another sequence. So you’re playing the essentials every night but where they occur is moveable and very volatile. It’s quite frightening to perform.”

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 38

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

Chinese Gardens

Chinese Gardens

Chinese Gardens

ABOUT HALF AN HOUR OUT OF AVOCA ON THE ROAD FROM BALLARAT YOU ENCOUNTER A PARTICULAR TREE-LINED STRETCH SUBTLY DIFFERENT FROM THE USUAL AUSTRALIAN COUNTRY ROAD. DIFFICULT TO IDENTIFY AT FIRST. WHAT MAKES IT SEEM UNCANNY IS THE REGULARITY OF THE TREES, PLANTED CAREFULLY TO MOMENTARILY HEIGHTEN THE PERSPECTIVE OF ROAD TRAVEL. THEY REMINDED ME OF NORTHERN ITALY.

Like the wineries and tiny steep-roofed chapel along the roadside, this intervention marks the agricultural enterprises and aesthetic expectation that continental European settlers brought here. Australian cities celebrate their multicultural heritage, yet too often the diverse cultural influences of rural Australia, of the various populations that have cultivated and re-imagined this land over the years, are subsumed into the homogenising voice of a predominantly English colonial history. There is a history of intertwining landscape aesthetics written into these surroundings that remains under-explored.

Almost entirely absent from Avoca and the surrounding landscape are obvious traces of the tens of thousands of Chinese miners who travelled to Victoria to create a future for themselves in the Gold Rush of the 1850s. Largely shunned by European populations at the time, the Chinese miners had a difficult experience on the gold fields and many returned to China, even posthumously, after the gold rush had run its course. Issues of singular and exploitative economies such as mining, along with the immigration, cultural exchange and xenophobia that accompany them, become questions that are historically specific for Avoca, yet still contentious for many parts of Australia.

Towns of the Victorian goldfields give us a glimpse beyond those heady days of dynamic economic possibility. Avoca was one of five very small towns in Victoria (with populations under 1500) awarded funding under the Small Town Transformations project instigated by Regional Arts Victoria (RAV), funded to commence in May 2013 and to be completed in October 2014. “This project is all about the creative power of art to make place. It invites you to be ambitious in imagining what transformation might mean for your town—now, and into the future” (http://smalltowns.rav.net.au). This project opens up space for an important dialogue about how communities struggling with the after-effects of structural economic change and the dwindling populations that accompany it might imagine their own transformation through art. The provocation by RAV is specifically to explore how art-as-infrastructure might contribute to creating resilience and longevity. In doing so it offers an alternative, and potentially a challenge, to more familiar forms of cultural intervention in rural Australia, such as travelling shows and/or transient or event-based community development projects.

The Garden of Fire and Water is Avoca’s response to this question of transformation. A garden is an interesting spatial model to explore: artistic gardens have a unique historical position as places of pleasure that exist external to requirements of function, embodying opportunities for events and durational inhabitation as well as aesthetic and internal contemplation. “For the garden is both spectacle and stage, existing simultaneously as an artwork in itself and as the site of the representation, conjunction and synthesis of all the other arts.” (Allen S. Weiss “Unnatural Horizons: Paradox and Contradiction in Landscape Architecture”, Princeton Architectural Press, Jan 1998).

For Avoca, the opportunity for evolving curation, such as for Chinese New Year, will be an important aspect of its transformative impact. Due to a garden’s unfinished qualities, requiring constant cultivation and attentiveness, the collaboration with the community also necessarily unfolds into the future. Within the space of the garden itself, the project therefore also invites the community to co-create its future unfolding. In deciding on a Chinese garden, the project throws out a further interesting challenge: to consider questions of identity, aesthetics, belonging and land in Victoria. Lindy Lee, a celebrated contemporary Australian artist, whose work explores questions of identity and authenticity, including her own Chinese-Australian heritage, led the project.

Lee worked on the project with Lyndal Jones (artistic director for the garden and associated events), Mel Ogden (designer and project manager) and Martin Wynne (soil expert) as well as a local residents’ committee led by Jane Howe. Jones, who is Professor of Contemporary Art in the School of Media and Communications at RMIT University, bought the neighbouring Watford House around 10 years ago to create a durational art work The Avoca Project (http://www.avocaproject.org/). As she describes it, the prefabricated house imported from Hamburg in 1850, as were many structures during the Gold Rush, is itself an immigrant. Layer upon layer of intermeshed meaning and reference, as a deliberate blurring of situation and art, characterises her curation of the house; and now the Chinese Garden.

Alongside the launch of the garden, the Avoca Project hosts an exhibition exploring ideas of ‘China’ by a number of Australian artists, as well as serving as a sort of index to the garden project in its inclusion of drawings by Ogden and Jones’ own work inspired by a journey to China in the 1980s. An ongoing collaborator, Ogden has designed courtyard spaces and verdant platforms around Jones’ house that are also anticipated as spaces of unexpected performance and celebration. Wynne has also previously been involved with Jones at the Avoca Project, creating soil cocktails for a project called “XSpecies: Soiree of Earthly Delights.” The entire team seem to share an attitude of duration and careful attention in their own practices: from Lee’s Zen Buddhism, Wynne’s soil cultivation, Ogden’s landscape gardening to Jones’ long term and inhabitable artwork.

The result of their collaboration occupies a simple rectangle of earth on a gentle slope tucked behind the main street and facing the Avoca River. The remnant frames of the old timber sale yard fences enclose it. A small public space along this section of the street connecting the pub down to the river flats was also created in the project. Monthly farmers’ markets are held at this corner, spreading out along the riverside. Trees planted along the edge of Cambridge Street, once they grow taller, will contain the garden visually and provide much needed shade for the public space. Through circular metal garden gates, clear paths lead to a central pavilion: a shaded space to stop and contemplate, as well as framing a view that borrows from the bucolic river flood plain.

Lindy Lee’s scorched metal sheets, that continue her long-term engagement with ideas of the element of fire, provide simple ornamentation to the pavilion structure that is also clearly influenced by the Australian shed. “I think what we’re creating in this garden is a really beautiful and particular kind of Chinese-Australian vernacular” (http://vimeo.com/106165131). The garden’s vegetation too is a combination of borrowed species, such as bamboo and cherry blossom, brought together with natives. Downhill from the pavilion you pass a small pond with water lilies and reeds. In keeping with the frugal sensibilities of a region used to making the most of scarce resources, the pond and tanks perform the double purpose of capturing and filtering storm water from Avoca’s main street. At the very bottom is a stone garden, for which most of the rocks came from local farms. Nestled among them is another of Lee’s contributions—a polished-metal scholar stone. Through its framing and borrowed referents this garden contributes a new layer to the complex and ongoing aesthetic dialogue written into this local context.

Yet the Chinese Garden in Avoca is not as exotic as it may at first appear. Architects and artists who travelled to China at the end of the 17th century returned home to Europe richly inspired by the irregular beauty of Chinese garden design. This exotic influence led to a shift away from the regularity of traditional European gardens marking a larger paradigm shift in the development of European landscape aesthetics, a process at its height when Australia was being first settled. This aesthetic arguably acted as a transformative filter, reflecting the cultural and economic desires of the settlers and inscribing them on the landscape. With their eyes looking for the picturesque interest of the European landscape, Paul Miller identifies regular references to monotony in settlers’ written account of this unfamiliar land. “An utterly monotonous landscape bears no relation to the travellers’ world, to their history or their culture, and that is to say that for a particular landscape to be or not to be a part of culture depends on whether that land is a priori part of the mind that experiences it” (Paul Millar, “Monotony and the Picturesque: Landscape in Three Australian Travel Narratives of the 1830s,” Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 1997).

It is worth pondering how Chinese garden aesthetics, or a straight row of trees along the side of a road, are more familiar to my narrowly trained eye than any signs of Indigenous culture and guardianship of the land. Looking across the river flat, where the new pavilion sits as a garden folly, Lyndal Jones remarks how unexpectedly the Chinese Garden sits far more comfortably in Avoca than at first anticipated.

Regional Arts Victoria, Small Town Transformations, Avoca Chinese Garden, Avoca, Victoria, opened 11 Oct; other projects are The Quarry Ephitheatre, Dookie; The Verj, Natimuk; Neerim Bower: Inspired by Birds, Neerim South; Mallee Up In Lights, Ouyen.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 53

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

Snow, performer Skye Gellmann

Snow, performer Skye Gellmann

Snow, performer Skye Gellmann

A GLIMPSE OF THREE OF THE MORE CROSS-ARTFORM SHOWS AT THIS YEAR’S MELBOURNE FRINGE REVEALED BOTH CHALLENGES AND SUCCESSES IN MERGING GENRES AND TECHNOLOGIES, IMMERSING AUDIENCES AND ATTAINING COHERENCE AT THE EDGES OF CONVENTIONAL DRAMATURGY. OSTENSIBLY DEALING WITH SNOW, FIRE AND SOMETHING CALLED THE “CHRONO-SYNCLASTIC INFUNDIBULUM,” ALL EXPLORED TO DIFFERENT DEGREES THE INTERPLAY OF HUMAN SENSES AND THE AGENCY OF BOTH PERFORMERS AND AUDIENCE.

Infundibular

At the high-tech end, the collaborative work Infundibular brought together three dancers with a team of creators including interactive media artist Mark Pedersen, and a curious inflatable set by Stanislav Roudavski. Developed as a series of scenes during a Fringe residency at Dancehouse, Infundibular, according to Pedersen, was loosely ‘retrofitted’ to the narrative of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1959 sci-fi novel The Sirens of Titan. The work moves from an Earth in revolutionary chaos to the imposed control of a Martian Army; explores symbiotic harmony on Mercury; and ultimately plunges into the all-encompassing world of the “infundibulum,” where time, space and destiny mysteriously coalesce.

At the core of Infundibular is Pedersen’s interactive design, a system in which the movement of dancers triggers light or sound, which in turn the dancers respond to, creating human-technological feedback loops (for more on the technology see RealTime’s review of SoundLabyrinth at ISEA 2013: www.realtimearts.net/feature/ISEA2013/11176). Strong image-and-sound impressions are formed on Earth when a dancer attempts to escape an invisible circle, her movements synaesthetically ‘becoming’ the roar of a rioting crowd; and on Mars when advancing dancers are repelled by harsh, audience-triggered static.

Most successful is the Mercury scene, in which a solo dancer attracts diamond-shaped scraps of light on the floor around her—like Vonnegut’s vibration-attracted beings, called “harmoniums” in the novel. As the dancer moves, the lights follow her like sharp, bright creatures, multiplying as the dance progresses, until finally she backs away and leaves them, a swimming gathering of life left behind on the floor.

The infundibulum itself is a giant, translucent worm, inflating slowly for the final scene, like billowing cloud. Once it’s fully inflated, the dancers are able to play inside and outside of it amid shifting light and darkness; it’s an extended, elating moment in which the physical interaction of bodies with the skin of the worm, the light and the moving air become primary. If only we as audience could play too.

Symphony of Strange

Gareth Hart’s Symphony of Strange took a low-tech approach to body/sound interaction, fusing Hart’s improvised choreography with the clamour, song, crunch and howl of some 50 “non-musical instruments,” played by five musicians. Hart’s intention was, he says, “to create an immersive experience that teetered between the decrepit and the delicate.” The result feels subtly synaesthetic, as sounds like crumbling leaves, tearing fabric, escaping air, drummed gas bottles or a scraping hacksaw seem to both set his body into trembling, recoiling or flailing motion, or to be triggered by the motion itself.

Yet Symphony of Strange doesn’t feel like flowing fusion so much as a ritual of sorts. The cavernous Substation venue, lit peripherally by tea-light candles, is set up with ‘stations’ where different interactions take place—a circle of leaves and twigs; an altar-like central platform; and the “junkyard orchestra” at one end of the space—with the audience free to move from station to station. Composer Edward Willoughby’s jagged layering of sounds evokes the arrhythmic patterning of everyday life, feeling strangely ‘natural’ despite the plastic, metal and glass of many of the ‘instruments.’ At one point, well into the work, the musicians smash light globes into a box, the sound of glass shards shifting the mood suddenly into one of beautiful destruction. On the night I attend, a strong wind brilliantly augments the ‘orchestra,’ adding the metallic clamour of the roof iron to the cacophony of human-played instruments.

Snow—a quiet circus

Skye Gellmann is building a reputation with his stripped-back, participatory circus shows—his previous work Blindside (with Kieran Law) had audience members fumbling in the dark with smartphones, seeking out sounds in gloomy corners in between watching Chinese pole tricks. His new work, Snow—a quiet circus, eschews technology in favour of large quantities of butchers’ paper, more pole tricks and, for much of the show, silence. The audience wears earplugs; not to suppress a loud soundtrack (nor the slash of metal-guitar from the nearby rock venue), but because, as Gellmann tells us at the start, if we pause first and adjust to the silence “the ringing in your ears becomes the soundtrack.”

Snow proceeds with a mix of audience games and circus tricks, focused around a central pole covered in taped layers of paper that are torn down over time. Gellmann, ever keen to get his gear off, it seems, performs naked for much of the show, as in Blindside—though what draws our gaze is his physical power and control, especially in managing to perform on the paper-clad pole, with that inkling of ‘calm fear’ in his focus. In one entrancing sequence, Gellmann repeatedly pirouettes and slips from a rolling ball. A moving Grecian statue, all torque and form and marble skin, he displays playfulness, virtuosity, attempt and failure all at once. From the ‘live-art’ participatory perspective, Snow’s high point is the ‘snowball fight’ that Gellmann orchestrates: the audience balls up paper into rounded clumps and goes for it with the abandon of several dozen primary school kids let loose in their thermals and mittens. Faint giggles, ripping paper and the thud of feet on the polished floor seep through the earplugs.

Infundibular, Snow and Symphony of Strange are all ambitious in their merging of technologies and artforms, opening up sensual, cross-genre and synaesthetic territories that firmly invite further exploration. All three shows might have been stronger with concentrated direction (none credits a director, as such); as an audience member there were moments of wanting to be more involved, or feeling involved but somehow distant, ‘invited in’ and yet still separate. It will be great to see how these artform and body/tech crossings crystallise, either in further iterations of these shows or in the future works by these creators.

2014 Melbourne Fringe Festival: Infundibular, choreography Rachael Heller-Wagner, Ashlee Bye, Moriya Rosenberg, interaction design Mark Pedersen, music Jess Keefe, Camille Robinson, Roger Alsop, visual projection Travis Cox; Dancehouse, 25-28 Sept; Gareth Hart, Symphony of Strange, choreographer, performer Gareth Hart, composer, performer Edward Willoughby, performers Alex Elbery, Alex Gates, Justine Walsh, Stephen Weir; The Substation, 30 Sept-4 Oct;Skye Gellmann, Snow—a quiet circus, artist Skye Gellman; The Melba Spiegeltent, Melbourne, 1–5 October

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 19

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

TimePlaceSpace

TimePlaceSpace

TimePlaceSpace

FROM 26 SEPTEMBER TO 12 OCTOBER, THE TIME_PLACE_SPACE LABORATORY TRAVELLED FROM SYDNEY TO KANDOS, GANGUDDY/DUNN’S SWAMP, CANBERRA, NARRANDERA AND BACK TO SYDNEY. EVERYONE INVOLVED, AND INDEED EVERYONE WHO CAME INTO CONTACT WITH THIS TRAVELING EXPERIMENTAL ART LABORATORY AROUND REGIONAL NSW WAS UNANIMOUS IN ADVOCATING THE WONDERFUL VALUE OF THE PROJECT.

Despite numerous debriefings with participating artists in the weeks since, however, there’s a difficulty in articulating what the experience means.

By virtue of the democratic structure and Open Space philosophy that governed our time together, the lab possessed a genuine responsiveness that allowed everything to be adaptable according to the desires of the 20 diverse artists present, as well as the facilitators and provocateurs. This included everything from how and where we lived together, to how we should work together, and on what exactly we should work. Working time (there was an incredibly vocational attitude taken by all involved) was split between collaborative making between artists within the specificity of the locale and situation, and artists running workshops.

Workshops were not about teaching per se, but about sharing and responding, about seeing how different practices and outlooks speak to your own, and how yours speak back. The true value of the trip can perhaps be located within this conviviality, in the self-reflexivity the time provoked in us as individuals and as a temporary community. Away from normality and everyday lives (including the internet, which was sadly a significant factor), we were away from a knowingness of our methodologies. In this space we were able to shine light on the unknown unknowns of our own and others’ practices.

These unknown unknowns began to become transparent in an exercise early in the laboratory with provocateur Karen Therese. Karen’s exercise was itself a throwback to the very first Time_Place_Space that she participated in as an artist in 2002. We shared with each other our individual artistic manifestos and then commenced quick-fire performed manifestations of these there in the bush with each other. How was the work we were making out here different and how was it the same? What does this work reveal and not reveal about us as artists, and about the world today? How do we decide what to do and what not to do?

What we were doing was symbolically epitomized a few nights later when artist Megan Cope undertook a “toponymic intervention,” projecting the Indigenous name for the land on a rockface of the Cudgegong River, Ganguddy. It was inspiring, not just in terms of reclaiming Australia’s geographical places, but also in terms of what this trip was about. We were not traveling to colonise, but to decolonise. We were decolonising our own practices. We were peeling back layers of methodology and understanding established over time.

Time_Place_Space: Nomad was about having a look at what it is we really do, with all known frameworks stripped away. We were decolonising time, place, space and the act of thinking for each other, and were doing so through our work. We were also doing this for the members of the public we encountered on the trip, through sharing and collaboration on what we were up to. A Xanadu Swamp processional-art-rave at Ganguddy/Dunn’s Swamp was followed by a number of events and exchanges in and around the Narrandera showgrounds the following week.

It feels fair to say that this process created a degree of doubt in all who participated—the sort of doubt that takes place before the self-examination that leads to transformation. A safe space to raise such doubts and such self-examination is certainly a good thing, even if it is a struggle to articulate what that good thing actually is. No wonder then that it has been difficult to articulate the outcomes, for the outcomes are incredibly personal and shifting revelations of personal traits and dispositions.

Performer and video, sound and installation artist Zoe Scoglio wrote of “a shifting of my axis, a broadening of my points of reference, an exciting newness that I’m eager to see unfold in my practice…re-affirming the importance of aligning one’s way of living with one’s artistic ideology.” Artist Mish Grigor (performer and member of post) found a similar fascination in “the way that the lines between art and life became increasingly blurry” across the laboratory, noting “by the end we were a nebulous cult society, where every meal had a conceptual framework.” These meals included Fluxus “Identical Lunches” by TPS provocateur Song-Ming Ang (a Singaporean live artist/ musician) and a dinner led by cross-disciplinary artist Tessa Zettel made entirely of food bartered for, foraged and found. Mish too wrote of an enthusiasm for the more concrete outcomes of the lab, without knowing what or when they might be: “[TPS] required serious consideration of every moment’s possibilities. It will be interesting to see what repercussions it has for the structures, communities and artworks that we operate within over the next couple of years.”

Weeds advocate, forager and artist Diego Bonetto offered a spirited provocation towards realising the outcomes of the lab: “Fuck manifestos! Fuck channelled visions, however well-meaning and educated they might be. Fuck defined, preconceived and goal-oriented efforts. Humanity needs to be much more fluid than that, adapting and fast moving, unpredictable and crafty, ever changing, finding communal visions and driven by constant questioning.”

It was this constant questioning that drove our decolonising. It drove our composting and sambal, our drones and rock sundials, our tyvek bubbleheads and twilight choreographies, our evacuation procedures and boguing, our hammock time and bird watching, our mobius spiralling and silent walks, our wombat poo necklaces and shadow play, our nature dying and heavy drinking. It was our constant questioning that drove more questions to arise—about climate change and how we live, as much as any about artistic practice.

A communal vision was found in Time_Place_Space: Nomad that exemplified the connections and culture that can be made in a relatively short amount of time when privileging process, which doesn’t happen this way in metropolitan contexts. We realized this decolonised vision together, as artists, researchers, zealots and playful children. Special mention must be made of co-curators Bec Dean and Angharad Wynne-Jones for making it happen. In the end, we all drank the kool aid together and returned to our respective versions of the ‘real world.’ Changed, somehow. Nascent projects and processes latent for action. The answers to most questions are still TBA, possibly forever. Not least for me: What do you really mean when you use the word ‘amazing’? And, how exactly do you find an ending?

http://time-place-space.tumblr.com

Time_Place_Space: Nomad is an Australia Council initiative to invigorate interdisciplinary and experimental arts practice in Australia, with an emphasis on collaborative performance-making, site-specificity and artistic resilience. The first six laboratories were managed by Performance Space, 2002-09.
Australia Council for the Arts, Time_Place_Space: Nomad, co-production Performance Space, Sydney, Arts House, Melbourne, participating artists Connie Anthes, Diego Bonetto, Megan Cope, Mish Grigor, Sophea Lerner, Jamie Lewis, Jessica Miley, Fee Plumley, Greg Pritchard, Bhenji Ra, Zoe Scoglio, Ria Soemardjo, Latai Taumoepeau, Nathan Thompson, Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, Malcolm Whittaker, Tessa Zettel, Julia Carr, Joshua Jackson, Helen Yung; provocateurs Song-Ming Ang, Lee-Ann Buckskin, Karen Therese, Lee Wilson; facilitators Bec Dean, Angharad Wynne-Jones, Richard Manner, Michael Petchkovsky, Sophie Kitson, Kate Brown, 26 Sept-12 Oct

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 39

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

Kate McMillan, from Moment of Disappearance installation

Kate McMillan, from Moment of Disappearance installation

Kate McMillan, from Moment of Disappearance installation

PERFORMANCE SPACE’S BURUWAN SEASON, FOCUSED ON CULTURAL FORGETTING AND RECALL, INCLUDES MAJOR WORKS BY LONDON-BASED WEST AUSTRALIAN KATE MCMILLAN AND CAIRNS-BASED TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER KEN THAIDAY. INTERVIEWS WITH THESE ARTISTS AND IMAGES OF THEIR WORKS CAN BE SEEN ONLINE IN REALTIME PROFILER 7.

Kate McMillan’s The Moment of Disappearance elegiacally conjures islands on multiple screens and cardboard rocks in an installation funereally draped with veil-like curtains. These places are ‘isles of the dead,’ where Aboriginal Australians were imprisoned, perished and forgotten—Rottnest Island (Wadjemup) and Tasmania (Lutruwita), Port Arthur in particular. McMillan also invokes a third island, Pontikonisi, alleged to be the Isle of the Dead featured in Arnold Bocklin’s famous 1880s paintings of that name. Here she stages one man’s representative flight into madness, his isolation, his ferocious grappling with nature and his ghostly fading. In her interview, McMillan describes the making of the work and her feelings about these islands and their forgotten or repressed histories.

Ken Thaiday Snr. Hammerhead shark (beizam) headdress 2001

Ken Thaiday Snr. Hammerhead shark (beizam) headdress 2001

Ken Thaiday Snr. Hammerhead shark (beizam) headdress 2001

Ken Thaiday’s impressive array of Dhari headdresses—his “dance machines”—are exhibited in the Carriageworks’ foyer. Meant to be worn for ritual dancing, they embody the power of Torres Strait Island totem animals—the shark and the frigate bird. Thaiday, a keen innovator, has integrated modern materials (including recycled waste) into their construction, which include moving parts—wire, fishing line, clips and hinges. A giant, three-metre tall Dhari, designed to frame a performance, dominates the space.

Thaiday sustains Torres Strait Island culture with his Dhari and other sculptural works (which include a magnificent, meticulously crafted lobster). In our interview, Thaiday speaks of the purpose of his work, his materials and his fervent commitment to Jesus, who provides him with the inspiration to preserve his traditional culture.

These two shows bring home the power of art as active remembering and reinvention and politics as denial or calculated forgetting.

Interviews, Profiler 7

Carriageworks & Performance Space, Ken Thaiday; Performance Space, Buruwan: Kate McMillan, Moment of Disappearance, curator Bec Dean; Carriageworks, Sydney, 2 Oct-23 Nov

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 54

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

Tarryn Ruukel, The Queue

Tarryn Ruukel, The Queue

Tarryn Ruukel, The Queue

HELD AT THE FREMANTLE ARTS CENTRE, THE WARREN-LIKE STRUCTURE OF SANDSTONE, COURTYARDS AND GARDENS OF A RE-PURPOSED MENTAL ASYLUM, THIS YEAR’S PROXIMITY FESTIVAL MICRO-PERFORMANCES TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OF THE VENUE’S HISTORY, QUIRKS AND HIDDEN CORNERS. PERFORMANCES HAVE BEEN THEMATICALLY CURATED INTO GROUPS OF FOUR EACH FOR PROGRAMS A, B AND C, EASILY FOUND WITH THE AID OF THE UNIQUE GUIDING PROGRAM FOR EACH PARTICIPANT, COMPLETE WITH A MARKED VENUE MAP, AND THE STRATEGICALLY LOCATED, HELPFUL USHERS. TIMEKEEPING IS ENFORCED BY A SYSTEM OF HANDBELLS, RUNG PRECISELY ACROSS THE SITE TO SIGNAL THE START AND END TIMES OF EACH PIECE.

Program A is the top pick for anyone unfamiliar with one-on-one performance. It’s full of new experiences, providing plenty of interesting moments to share afterwards—learning to twerk, teaching someone to drive, crafting a clitoris out of sweets and undergoing an interview for the right to stay in Australia. Each of these presentations delivers more than its basic premise, but the standout work is Toyi-Toyi Theatre’s The Queue where you are reduced to just another item on the list of tasks for the presenter to process, the emotional challenge amplified by its contrast with the friendly interactions with other presenters in the program.

By the door is a stack of clipboards, with pens. On the bell, I obediently fill in a government-style form, only to be interrupted by the door opening and an impatient Tarryn Runkel telling me to skip through it but to pay attention to the last page and sign my acceptance of the condition that to fail this Right to Stay interview will result in deportation to my “home country” without the right to see my friends or family here again. I sign. I am tested on my knowledge of Australian history, slang and how to pass in Aussie Rules football. Physical tests include arbitrary complexion and hair inspection, the piece climaxing with a modern version of the notorious dictation test before the inevitable stamping with “DEPORTED” and brisk removal out the door. The personal and political merge, my sensation of helplessness and outraged reaction exacerbated when I realised that the relief I felt at having failed stemmed from racist assumptions.

Program B is the choice for the thoughtful participant, open to new ideas and challenges to engage in mindful activities. Experiences encompass a workout session completed while sharing a specially designed suit with the trainer, an invitation to embark on an emotional fast, a dialogue in the language of flowers and an intimate experiment in generating oxytocin. Each piece requires full engagement to be effective, and each continues to provide food for thought long after the final bell.

Of this program, Tetherweight (for Adrian Howells) stands out as the most challenging work, an antithesis of traditional performance in its demands for an introspective response from each audience member, and yet perfectly executed in this celebration of one-on-one performance. The initial knocking at the door, the soothing music selection, James Berlyn’s gentle voice in the darkness and a heaped pile of clocks all create a waking dream. The carefully scripted text, with its references to “the swing,” makes it natural to move onto the tilted gym equipment, which is set in motion in pitch blackness. The swing, unobtrusively evoking emotional states with its movement, creates a sensation of weightlessness while simultaneously combining the comfort of a cradle and the thrill of a rollercoaster. Moving to a quiet space to write, I accept the invitation to record what triggers strong positive and negative emotions in me and to place it in an envelope as a gift to my future self. Accepting Berlyn’s proposal to commence an emotional fast, I leave with an anklet gently offered to mark its beginning. I am feeling incredibly refreshed and a little dream-laden, as after deep meditation.

Program C has most to offer to those accustomed to one-on-one performance, happy to dive deep into its potential for surrealism. All pieces play on sensation and perception, with a bar offering tastings of air from different eras, a physical challenge to attempt tasks while deprived of selected evolutionary advantages, wafts of scent unfolding an unsolved mystery and a bombardment of words travelling through time before the entry of a surprise dance partner.

Dance with Me

Dance with Me

Dance with Me

Each of Program C’s presenters show mastery of the intimacy and mind manipulation possible with a single audience member, but Dance with Me amazes on two fronts. Sylvia Rimat creates an intimate experience without being physically present, and then shocks me by introducing a dancing wolf.

I enter a sparsely furnished room, dismissing the disembodied voice that greets me on entry as a recording, until it describes my physical appearance. Following the voice’s instructions, I find myself performing innocuous tasks such as sitting at a table, adjusting a light and pouring water. Pressing ‘play’ on a cassette recorder introduces overlapping voices: instructions together with descriptions of people from bygone times in an increasingly dense and hallucinatory auditory experience. As I obediently feel the texture of a wall and read a note about hot shrimp from a pile of crumpled pages, suddenly the measured voice of a man is twinned with the order to pick up a glass and break it over his head. More voices crowd in, filling the empty room lit only by a table lamp, before a blast of music and flare of light from hitherto unnoticed stage lights. A side door opens and a slim figure, bearing the head and neck of a wolf, lightly dances its way in front of the lights before standing by me, inviting me to dance. We take simple steps, gradually moving into an old fashioned waltz, the bulging plastic eyes of the mask looking deeply into my eyes with an odd sense of intimacy.

The music ends, the wolf bows and leaves, the lights fade and a bell rings… I leave the room and its whispers to return to the calm ushers and excited participants mingling in the corridors.

Proximity Festival 2014, co-curator, producer Sarah Rowbottam, co-curator Kelli Mccluskey, artists James Berlyn, Caroline Garcia, Jen Jamieson, Cat Jones, Loren Kronemyer, Tanya Lee, Emily Parsons-Lord, Sylvia Rimat, Hallie Shellam, Ian Sinclair, Alina Tang and Toyi-Toyi Theatre; Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle, 22 Oct-2 Nov

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 20

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

Imagining O

Imagining O

Imagining O

THE MEETING POINT FOR REHEARSALS FOR RICHARD SCHECHNER’S PERFORMANCE WORK, IMAGINING O, BASED ON PAULINE RÉAGE’S CHARACTER O FROM HER CONTROVERSIAL 1954 NOVEL, STORY OF O (WHICH SCHECHNER DESCRIBES AS A LOVE POEM) AND HAMLET’S OPHELIA—WITH A FEW ADDITIONS FROM SOME OF SHAKESPEARE’S OTHER FEMALE CHARACTERS—WAS THE DIRECTOR’S OFFICE AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY.

Adorned with ancient masks, photos and thousands of books from his many years as Founder and Professor of Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, the office is the nerve centre of The Drama Review and the home of the brain behind the birth of the Wooster Group/Performance Group in the 1960s and is crammed with an eager cast from around the globe. Fourteen women and one man are all ready to dive into an intense six weeks (six days a week) working on Imagining O. All set for an investigation of sexuality, abjection and power and one of those ensemble experiences where people respect each other’s work and where you are given freedom to exercise your creative imagination. How often does that happen in life?

Richard greets me with a warm hug. We had last seen each other the previous year in Brisbane where my company, Tashmadada, had invited him to conduct a four-day Rasabox master class at the World Theatre Festival. Schechner devised the Rasabox training in the 1980s-90s, based on the Natyasastra, an ancient Indian text on stagecraft. It’s a training methodology to give performers concrete physical tools to access, control and communicate eight key emotions for performance. It was an essential part of the rehearsal process: when working on scenes, Richard would prompt us with a specific ‘rasa’ to explain an emotion he was searching for—or a phrase of dialogue. Some chunks of text had a different ‘rasa’ for each sentence—or even within one sentence.

I jumped right in—straight onto the floor and working physically. And straight into the transgressive subject matter of O—a character whose sexual fantasies involve unusual “alterations” of the body. No room for puritans in O’s cupboard. Not that this particular ensemble needed much prompting, everyone displayed great ease with their bodies. Richard, at the epicentre, created an environment in which trust, bravery and a feeling of ‘I can do anything’ existed. inhibitions dissolved quickly.

Each day for the next six weeks started with yoga—a specific form that Schechner has been practicing daily since the 1970s—and he is testament to its effectiveness. At age 80 the mind is sharp and the body still flexible—he often sits in lotus position. It’s a yoga series given to him by his Indian teacher and is invigorating without being too strenuous. As well as physical poses, the yoga includes vocal work and a very particular breathing series, which required tissues at hand.

After the daily trip to the Alexander Kasser Theater in Montclair, where the rehearsals took place (necessary for this site-specific promenade work) and the performances were to be staged and hosted by Peak Performance Festival, we were fuelled by caffeine and a passion for the new found material. Lunch was sporadic and dinner at 10 pm after coming back to Manhattan—who cared as the days were full of stimulation.

One of the daily theatre exercises included crossing from one side of a defined space to the other but infused with specific instructions. The exercise was a template for exploring all sorts of ideas—such as Schechner’s interest in slow motion as a tool to train the body, focus the mind and to create intense relationships between members of the ensemble. One variation saw us crossing the space as slowly as we possibly could (with Richard side coaching us to go even slower) and, on meeting each other, slowly swapping clothes. After the clothes swap we could continue our extremely slow walk. If not all clothes were swapped we had to be totally still until the exercise was over. It took at least an hour to cross the small space and it engaged every muscle in my Suzuki trained body, tested my focus and challenged my tenacity—all of which, until then, I had felt were strong.

United by the training regime and collective film shoots around Manhattan—including filming some of us performing movement sequences as we plunged into the waters off Coney Island, and on an early morning train in our ‘dressed to kill’ clothes—the ensemble forces grew stronger and the groundwork was laid for us to devise our own material. At one stage, in the final performance, the audience needs to perform tasks in a carnival scene before being allowed to progress to the next stage of the show. I ended up on my back on a specially made see-saw exhorting members of the public to feed me real flowers—they weren’t shy and I often had a number of them at once stuffing as many into my mouth as they possibly could (that image ended up accompanying the glowing reviewof the production in the New York Times, 12 September).

We were charged with devising solo pieces, our ‘dispersals,’ to explore whatever interested us in relation to the themes of Story of O. I was more than ready to abandon myself to whatever boundaries were to be transgressed. Thematically, I was particularly interested in the physical and emotional decomposition of both the O and Ophelia and their ultimate demises. My piece involved an atmospherically lit bathroom (thanks to lighting and set designer Chris Muller), hanging flowers, dripping liquid, a soundscape, a naked body (slightly faulty) and instructions for the audience to draw on my skin. I won’t say more as I am developing this into a durational piece.

Six weeks living and breathing with a power ensemble of gorgeous and talented women, of immersion in the art of Richard Schechner, one of the fathers of avant garde theatre (he is a grandfather now) with his lively, curious, razor sharp mind and endless energy, has breathed such life into my own being that I will treasure the experience for a long, long time to come. The sold-out shows for Imagining O have provided great external recognition but nothing compared to the internal emotions and sensations still resonating in my body.

Peak Performances: Imagining O, rehearsals commenced 4 Aug; season, Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair State University, New Jersey, 10-14 Sept

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 40

© Deborah Lieser-Moore; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Kinesphere

Kinesphere

Kinesphere

OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, ERIN COATES AND HER TEAM HAVE BEEN CLIMBING THE PUBLIC ART AROUND PERTH AS WELL AS APARTMENT BLOCKS, HIGHWAY RETAINING WALLS AND SUPERMARKET BUILDINGS. HER EXHIBITION KINESPHERE IS THE CULMINATION OF ALL THIS EFFORT, SHOWING OFF BODIES AS THEY LUNGE AND TENSE FROM ONE HOLD TO ANOTHER. A VIDEO OF THEIR CLIMBS, AND SOME PARKOUR TOO, IS PLACED INSIDE A SEVEN-METRE BLACK MONOLITH THAT RISES IN THE CENTRE OF THE GALLERY. IT IS A MONUMENT TO THOSE MONUMENTS AROUND THE CITY THAT COATES HAS REPURPOSED.

The best video footage is of the climber at risk, when Coates herself is suspended underneath a ridiculously ugly public sculpture, swinging from side to side, hanging precariously for our viewing pleasure. At such transcendent moments the point of Kinesphere comes to the fore, as physical performance confronts the legacies of modern art, the ecstatic affects of the body in motion bringing the dead spaces of our civilization to life. In watching performances like this our neurones enact the same pathways as the climbers themselves, and their pleasure becomes our own.

There is another video here too, a brilliant little film called The last climber alive must keep herself fit and ready, in which a pint-sized performer climbs walls and exercises high on the rooftops of a miniature model city. She lives in a world without people, a single body lost amid the concrete. The last climber… is an intimate contrast to the massive ambition of the central installation, with its towering geometries and bodies at their limit.

The most innovative part of the show, in which art and climbing comes together most evocatively, is in a series of bouldering walls tucked into one of the gallery spaces. The room is decorated with colourful handholds and lines drawn between them, geometries of colour and line tying the body and the eye together. Here the art really is climbable, and during the exhibition many children clambered over each other in a wonderful array of splayed little bodies. At last, I thought, PICA have coincided their exhibition program with Perth’s Awesome Arts festival for children, which always lives up to its name with a packed program of quality installations and performances that impress kids and adults alike.

Alas, the young invigilators were unhappy with this proliferation of fun and joy in the gallery, and prevented the youngest from climbing, telling their parents the installation was not for children! Coates’ installation proved once more that art galleries are failing to do what they are designed for, to affirm what we all share as human beings, to poke and prod at the ways in which we have been embodied in the world, to celebrate life and its vicissitudes. Such aims are better achieved outside the gallery, aloft and clinging with a climber’s nimble hands, or even on the internet, where videos of such performances abound.

Erin Coates, Kinesphere, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth, 13 Sep-2 Nov

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 55

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

Saburo Teshigawara, Rihoko Sato, Broken Lights

Saburo Teshigawara, Rihoko Sato, Broken Lights

Saburo Teshigawara, Rihoko Sato, Broken Lights

CARRIAGEWORKS GROWS AND GROWS, VERY EFFECTIVELY INHABITING THE ADDITIONAL SPACE IT’S BOLDLY TAKEN ON AND ENLARGING ITS PROGRAM ANNUALLY INTO WHAT INCREASINGLY FEELS LIKE A YEAR-ROUND CONTEMPORARY ARTS FESTIVAL. ABOVE ALL, THROUGH ITS OWN INITIATIVES AND THOSE CO-INSTIGATED WITH AN EXPANDING NUMBER OF PARTNERS, ITS PROGRAM IS UNDERPINNED BY LONG-TERM CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT, NURTURING NEW WORKS AND EXHIBITIONS ACROSS TWO TO THREE YEARS FOR FUTURE ANNUAL PROGRAMS. AN OTHERWISE EXUBERANT LISA HAVILAH, GUIDING ME THROUGH HER FOURTH PROGRAM, MODESTLY DECLARES, “I THINK WE’RE GETTING MORE GROWN UP AS WE GO ALONG. MATURING SLOWLY.”

24 Frames per Second

Central to the year is a program of screen-based works “at the nexus of dance, film and visual arts” by 18 Australian and six overseas artists. Principally supported by the Australia Council it’s titled 24 Frames per Second and has been three years in the making. The list of participants represents a striking cross-section of adventurous Australian art making: Tony Albert and Stephen Page, Alison Currie, Nat Cursio and Daniel Crooks, Brian Fuata, Antony Hamilton and Byron Perry, Vicki Van Hout, Sophie Hyde and Restless Dance Theatre, Angelica Mesiti, Kate Murphy, James Newitt, David Rosetzky, S Shakthidharan, Aimee Smith, Latai Taumoepeau, Christian Thompson, Lizzie Thomson, Branch Nebula (Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters) and Khaled Sabsabi. The international artists are Siobhan Davies and David Hinton (UK), François Chaignaud (France), Ho Tzu Nyen (Singapore), Sriwhana Spong (NZ) and leading international choreographer Saburo Teshigawara (Japan).

Havilah tells me, “The screen-based work we’ve commissioned from Teshigawara is based on Broken Lights, the work he presented at the 2014 Ruhrtriennale” for which he made a large shallow internally lit box full of broken glass on which the dancer performs with the choreographer’s trademark ecstatic slowness.

Havilah is emphatic, “24 Frames per Second is delivering the Australia Council [$300,000] Screen Dance Initiative. I hope that it really talks about all that’s happening (in dance on screen) which has changed so much. I hope this program will challenge some of those who see visual arts as co-opting dance” (see “Was there dancing?” RT123, p29). 24 Frames per Second will also feature live performances at the opening of the show which will be exhibited over three months and doubtless attract a large audience well beyond dance fanciers and visual arts lovers.

Superposition, Ryoji Ikeda

Superposition, Ryoji Ikeda

Superposition, Ryoji Ikeda

Ryoji Ikeda

“We’re really excited,” says Havilah, “to be bringing Ryoji Ikeda back for his first-ever live performance, Superposition (see p3), an Australian premiere in partnership with Adelaide’s OzAsia festival. You’ll enter a one and a half hour live performance in the huge Bay 17 with two performers onstage who do the live video mixing for, I think, about 40 screens with text, sound and Ryoji Ikeda ‘things.’ That’s in September.” Carriageworks presented Ikeda’s datamatics [ver 2.0] as part of ISEA2013 (go to ISEA2013 on the Features pages of www.realtimearts.net) drawing a huge audience onto the magnificent projected grid that mutated magically beneath their feet.

Ho Tzu Nyen, Ten Thousand Tigers

“We’ve partnered with The Esplanade in Singapore, the Asian Art Centre in Guangzhou and Vienna’s Wiener Festwochen,” says Havilah, “to bring this amazing new work, Ten Thousand Tigers, by Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen to Australia. He’s created large-scale video works for the Venice Biennale and has also been in the Auckland Triennale, but this is a one-hour live work with performers, many screens and objects. “An ensemble of automated objects come to life and recount the tale of the Malayan Tiger’s numerous deaths and returns across a thousand years” (press release).

Zhang Huan, Sydney Buddha

Further connecting us with Asian culture, Carriageworks begins the year with Sydney Buddha, a work by Chinese artist Zhang Huan showing as part of the 2015 Sydney Festival. “It’s been shown in only three other places around the world,” says Havilah, “and continues our commitment to mounting large-scale visual art works. In the past we’ve hosted Brook Andrew, Song Dong and Christian Boltanski. Zhang Huan hasn’t had a major installation like this in Sydney. He just had a big survey show at Storm King Art Centre in the US, which was incredible.”

Michael Tuffery & The Royal Samoan Police Band

This new work, Siamani Samoa, is by Michael Tuffery a New Zealand-based printmaker, painter and sculptor of Samoan, Rarotongan and Tahitian heritage whom Havilah had worked with at Campbelltown Arts Centre. The work continues her commitment to bringing the art of the South Pacific to Australia, as she has done with the three productions of dance works by Lemi Ponifasio’s Mau over as many years. “Tuffery is collaborating with the Royal Samoan Police Band who we’re bringing to Sydney on their first-ever international tour. The work will be a fully immersive projection installation work in Bay 17 and includes a series of four live performances by the band. ‘Siamani’ means ‘German’ and it’s about the centenary of the end of the German occupation of Samoa. Every day the police band marches down the main street of Apia playing traditional German music—so the German influence is still very strong. In Samoa it’s a very positive story of colonisation.”

Carriageworks residents

One of Carriageworks’ great strengths is its resident organisations—Performance Space, Erth, Force Majeure, Marrugeku and Stalker—now joined by Sydney Chamber Opera, Felix Media and the Aboriginal theatre company Moogahlin Performing Arts. Havilah says, “There’s more and more collaboration between Carriageworks and the resident companies in terms of commissioning new work and co-investing in major works, which you’ll see throughout the 2015 program. The amazing Sydney Chamber Opera will present with us the world premiere of an opera by composer Elliott Gyger and librettist Pierce Wilcox based on David Malouf’s classic novel Fly Away Peter, with Imara Savage directing.”

Force Majeure, Nothing to Lose

Force Majeure, Nothing to Lose

Force Majeure, Nothing to Lose

Force Majeure, Nothing to Lose

Havilah is proud to have co-commissioned with Sydney Festival Nothing to Lose, the final work for Force Majeure by artistic director Kate Champion. “We’ve been supporting this work through all of its development right up to presentation. I think it will be a festival highlight.” In a society preoccupied with ideal body shape, anorexia and obesity, there’s little room for a nuanced response to the stereotyping of ‘fat’ bodies as obese and ugly. Champion has collaborated with artist and “fat activist” Kelli Jean Drinkwater “to celebrate the sculptural splendour of the large dancing body.”

Performance Space

Carriageworks’ partnership with Performance Space continues with the co-commissioning of a Jonathan Jones installation and presentation of the performance event Day for Night in collaboration with the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. “The first one last year was very successful. A new range of artists will be in the 2015 incarnation—Matthew Day, White Drummer Nell, Emma May, Técha Noble from the Kingpins and Bhenji Ra—curated by Jeff Khan and Emma Price.” Performance Space will soon launch its own 2015 program (see RT125).

Faithful to Redfern

With Redfern still a hub for Aboriginal culture, despite impinging development, Havilah is resolute: “We’ve tried to stay as true as possible to the whole vision that we started with in terms of reflecting the social and cultural demographic of the place in which we’re located, Redfern. We’re investing more in our Aboriginal arts strategy and in new contemporary Indigenous work. With Moogahlin we’ll present the second Yellamundie National Aboriginal Playwriting Festival, continue our three-year relationship with NAISDA and present Stephen Page’s re-imagining of Ochres (1995) for Bangarra on the work’s 21st anniversary as well as Jonathan Jones’ new installation. This will be the first time we’ve worked with Bangarra. Each year we sponsor an Aboriginal artist at our Park Road Studios in Alexandria. This year it’s dancer Ghenoa Gela. And next year it will be Microwave Jenny and the year after, Tony Albert.”

New Music

Louis Garrick, formerly of Sydney Chamber Opera, is Carriageworks’ new music curator. Havilah says, “He’s established a relationship with Brisbane-based Lawrence English’s Room 40. For their 15th anniversary, we’ll be presenting Open Frame, a two-day program” featuring potent composer-musician-visual artists Grouper (Liz Harris & Paul Clipson,(US) and William Basinski (US) plus fellow looper and installation artist Austin Bucket (AUS).

Branch Nebula, Wade Marynowsky, Xavier le Roy

Havilah is pleased that Artwork commissioned by Carriageworks for Sydney performance company Branch Nebula is coming to fruition: “This is a really experimental work, employing people who have never been onstage before performing a series of tasks directed by Branch Nebula. There’s also the premiere of Prehistoric Aquarium, a new work from Erth and of Wade Marynowsky’s Robot Opera, which has been developed with Branch Nebula from the artist’s Nostalgia for Obsolete Futures. As well Carriageworks will have its first collaboration with Kaldor Public Art Projects, presenting French choreographer Xavier Le Roy’s Self Unfinished.”

In-Development 2015-16

Carriageworks’ In-Development 2015-16 program includes commissions for a major work by American artist Nick Cave, a dance work with Kristina Chan, composer James Brown and designer Clare Britton; a project about the history of the Redfern Block [for 2017] with commissioned artists Vernon Ah Kee, Kev Carmody, Romaine Moreton and Warwick Thornton; and we’re partnering Marrugeku’s Cut the Sky and supporting Milk Crate Theatre on the creation of a new work. We’re also a partner in the new Art and the Moving Image Commission, between Adelaide Film Festival, Samstag Museum and University of Western Australia with the first new media work [currently being filmed in Iran] by Hossein Valamanesh. The producer is Brigid Ikin of Felix Media, one of our new resident companies.”

Disability Arts Strategy

We conclude our meeting with Havilah telling me about the importance of Carriageworks’ Disability Arts Strategy coming into play in 2015: “We have a mission to commission 10 new works over five years from the Disability Arts sector. The first will be a new piece by Rosie Dennis called A Simple Infinity and then Phillip Channels from Dance Integrated Australia will create a new work with Force Majeure. It’s about having a structured program that provides pathways for artists with a disability into contemporary practice.”

Carriageworks has radically increased its audiences over several years and staged commercial events (Fashion Week, Sydney Contemporary) which financially benefit the overall program while not being culturally removed from the organisation’s ethos. It feels that maturation is coming fast, underpinned by a cogent vision, partnerships and collaborations that address a wide spectrum of contemporary art practices and, not least, needs—for artists and audiences who deserve the best. All praise to Lisa Havilah and her dedicated staff.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 21

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

Yalin Ozucelik, Richard Roxburgh in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac

Yalin Ozucelik, Richard Roxburgh in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac

Yalin Ozucelik, Richard Roxburgh in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac

IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THREE PRODUCTIONS IN SYDNEY IN RECENT WEEKS—TWO OF THEM OF NEW AUSTRALIAN PLAYS BY WOMEN ABOUT WOMEN AND ONE A CLASSIC BY A MALE ABOUT A MALE—SHARED A REVEALING FOCUS ON PERFORMANCE. CYRANO DE BERGERAC, A FEMALE STAND-UP COMEDIAN AND A FAMOUS NOVELIST, PATRICIA HIGHSMITH, ALL BECOME EMOTIONALLY UNSTUCK WHILE ATTEMPTING TO SUSTAIN PERSONAE THAT MASK VULNERABILITIES.

STC, Cyrano de Bergerac

A man of enormous pride and charisma, a popular poet and accomplished swordsman, Cyrano de Bergerac nonetheless dooms himself to misery in the belief that he is unloveably ugly. Richard Roxburgh as Cyrano delivers the requisite crowd-pleasing bravado with panache and deals his enemies just the right degree of cruelty, verbal and physical. But, deftly and incisively, Roxburgh reveals the cracks early on—a palpable fragility, sentences that come unstuck when Cyrano’s not on show—preparing us for a darker, less melodramatic demise than usually anticipated: a tragedy imbued with a touch of the manic depressive.

Eryn Jean Norvill’s Roxane appearing at first a delicate flower is soon shown to be intelligent, forthright and physically robust—an ideal partner for Cyrano, if only… Chris Ryan’s Christian is a charming innocent, played with a kind of engaging Ocker ease. Josh McConville’s Guiche is convincingly both scary and comic. The mobile 17th century stage within the Sydney Theatre’s large open space presents numerous opportunities for lively staging and amplifies the sense of performance that is Cyrano’s outer world; the inner one he cannot enact. Sharp-eyed, witty direction and economic adaptation (Andrew Upton), fine period design (Alice Babbage), an immersive sound world (Paul Charlier), characterful casting and a superb Roxburgh all made for a seriously memorable Cyrano de Bergerac.

Cast: Fiona Press, Madeleine Benson, Susan Prior, Nat Randall, Genevieve Guiffre, Is this thing on?, Belvoir Downstairs

Cast: Fiona Press, Madeleine Benson, Susan Prior, Nat Randall, Genevieve Guiffre, Is this thing on?, Belvoir Downstairs

Cast: Fiona Press, Madeleine Benson, Susan Prior, Nat Randall, Genevieve Guiffre, Is this thing on?, Belvoir Downstairs

Belvoir, Is This Thing On?

The very title of Zoe Coombs Marr’s Is this Thing On?, a riotous depiction of the life of a female stand-up comedian, Brianna—played by five actors across her life—is telling. If the mike is not on, what next? Or what if you stand before it and you can’t speak—that’s the very first and very young Brianna (Madelaine Benson) we see. The stage is then seized by an MC (Susan Prior) who treats us as comedy club innocents, spitting out bad jokes, letting us know she also works the bar, gossiping about fellow comedians.

The script loops back to a younger Brianna, Genevieve Giuffre, finding her way in stand-up, studying veterinary science, and then another, Nat Randall, more confident, dropping out of university, coming out and unleashing a string of crudely funny, discomfiting fisting jokes. An older Brianna (Fiona Press), back in the business after a breakdown, is relaxed, cynical, the jokes grosser, still working the bar, prone to anger, violence even against a male comedian friend who left her show stranded.

It’s Susan Prior’s Brianna who cracks—she’s unstoppably frantic, barely leaving space for laughs in case there’s silence, bullying her audience, relentlessly on the move, no longer able to veil the anxieties breaking through an already unstable comic persona. It’s an unnerving performance, loud and rarely funny in a conventional sense.

Zoe Coombs Marr writes in her program note, “Since we first met, comedy has been like a charismatic but occasionally abusive lover that I haven’t quite been able to turn away from.” A member of post and a solo performer, Coombs Marr started out in stand-up when she was 15. Is This Thing On? is a grimly articulate account of engaging with your craft, its limits, dangers and a little of the joy of connecting with your audience, and it achieves this by doing it—making us witness how stand-up does and does not work and the pressures that build behind confident facades. There’s little detail in the show about life beyond stand-up, like family or love—save the charismatic abuser mentioned above, comedy itself—but fragile self-love and the courage to perform to make an audience love you, these are revealingly and depressingly on display.

Sarah Peirse and Eamon Farren in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Switzerland

Sarah Peirse and Eamon Farren in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Switzerland

Sarah Peirse and Eamon Farren in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Switzerland

STC, Switzerland

Actors and stand-up comedians are public performers, writers are deemed private if increasingly having to front their audiences at writers’ weeks and in the media to ensure book sales. The great American crime writer Patricia Highsmith, self-exiled to France and then Switzerland after having felt underappreciated at home and finding herself much admired in Europe, did her fair share of interviews, but not always agreeably. She was even less amicable socially as she grew older and irascible in private. For all her many friends, numerous female lovers and several sustained if fragile relationships, Highsmith seems to have been a loner of a kind with her racial prejudices and fetishes, including a love of snails, fascinated as she was with their sex lives, keeping them in a pocket or leaving them about her house. The oddities of her Texan upbringing, the eternal tensions between herself and her mother, her New York youth and early career (as a well-paid comic book writer during world War II), a promiscuous life in the lesbian community and the failure to break through into the pages of The New Yorker, all combined to create a distinctive personality, bristling with contradictions (Jewish good friends, flirtations with men) which yielded an acute alertness to moral ambiguity with insights into double lives, jealousy and criminal desire—principally realised in the form of her male characters.

Joanna Murray-Smith conjures up Highsmith’s final days in a Swiss mountain ‘bunker,’ alone, bitter and alcoholic, dealing with a young publisher’s representative determined to coax her into writing another Ripley novel. The previous envoy suffered a breakdown, believing that Highsmith had threatened him in his bed with a knife. The new arrival appears to be destined for the same, or worse (he wakes with a nick on his neck). For all his naivety—he can’t handle Highsmith’s caustic wit and relentless abuse—he is oddly determined, eventually finding his way to break through, largely through discovering a shared blokey interest in guns and then urging the writer to improvise the opening scenario for a new Ripley novel, which she does, but imposing on him the responsibility of deciding how the murder is committed—a decision she will regret since it will play some part in the young man’s transformation—a very Highsmith one.

Switzerland is an entertaining and suspenseful two-hander. Sarah Pierse is an ideal casting choice as Patricia, not only having something of the look of Highsmith about her, but with her slight drawl, her staggered walk and a pained stoop she conveys both old age and something predatory. It’s a shock when, alone, she dances falteringly to a beloved show tune (one of the real Highsmith’s pleasures). Eamon Farren’s young man, Edward, has the indeterminant demeanour of a Ripley, his persona mutating across the play’s three acts—innocent, then manipulatively probing and then… Like Ripley, he’s a performer. In Act One we believe him, his American clichés failing to cut though Patricia’s well-established obstinacies and prejudices. In Act Two, he’s a touch smarter, doubt creeps in.

The three-act structure is not perfect. Act Two, instead of following up on the cut the young man finds on his neck in the morning and entwining it suspensefully with what follows, moves rather expositionally on to everything we need to know about Highsmith, with a consequent slackening of pace and suspense if interesting in itself (her obsessions, paranoias, her objections to America etc) and providing some fuel for the young man’s machinations (guns, vulnerabilities). Act Three begins strikingly, some of the audience laughing with surprise at something as simple and so telling, plot-wise, as a costume change.

If you buy the conceit that Highsmith finds herself trapped in a plot very much like the ones she wrote, then you’ll be satisfied with Switzerland, but you wouldn’t want to think about it too much. A long-term Highsmith fan, I greatly enjoyed Switzerland, despite Act Two’s slackening and Act Three’s less than inventive ending; the performances are engrossing and there are moments when Murray Smith captures Highsmith’s creepily crystalline way of describing the world and her capacity to throw us into moral confusion.

Unfortunately, the inner-dramaturg on automatic, I thought too much about Switzerland and had to ask some difficult questions. Is Patricia Highsmith, who has told us so much about criminal minds and readers’ perverse desires (for Ripley to ‘get away with it,’ or “the complete corruption of the reader,” as Patricia puts it) and who was cruel but never herself a criminal, due the punishment Murray Smith deals her? What kind of wish fulfilment is going on here? Secondly, why run with the obvious Highsmith formula—why not replace Edward with a young woman who might re-ignite a spark of sexual desire in the dying Patricia and make more pivotal and more ambiguous the “You excite me!” passage in Act Three.

Highsmith kept her writing about women discrete from her crime writing in the non-crime novels and in Carol, her ‘lesbian’ novel, but here’s an opportunity to bring the two worlds together that co-habited the writer’s psyche. When Patricia, who obstinately lives in the past, asks Edward to speak to her of New York diners and the young women who lunch there, he informs her that there are very few diners anymore—and that young women have changed “Don’t do that!,” she snaps, upset. Patricia lives in the past—in my Switzerland she would be confronted by the present as it was in 1995, the year Highsmith died. Different play, different writer, but questions worth asking and which tell us something about the conservative nature of Murray Smith’s otherwise admirable venture.

Few crime novels are perfect, onstage crime plays even fewer, but fans, as with most genre writing, are forgiving. Also Switzerland is pleasantly not unlike seeing a movie in a cinema: it’s wisely interval-less, the soundtrack like a moody film score (initially a distant, piano and lush strings, later dramatic big guitar and continental mandolin) and it has a low ceilinged ‘widescreen’ ultra-real set—apparently a replication of Highsmith’s final home, replete with the loved portrait of her younger self, thumbs up, in red. Switzerland is a cosy, intelligent entertainment, blessed with an excellent performance partnership in Peirse and Farren directed by Sarah Goodes.

Sydney Theatre Company, Cyrano de Bergerac, writer Edmond Rostand, adaptation, director Andrew Upton, original translation Marion Potts, Sydney Theatre, 11 Nov-20 Dec; Belvoir, Is This Thing On, writer, director Zoe-Coombs Marr, co-director Kit Brookman, design Ralph Myers, Belvoir Downstairs, 2 Oct-2 Nov; Sydney Theatre Company, Switzerland, writer Joanna Murray-Smith, designer Michael Scott Mitchell, composer Steve Francis, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 3 Nov-20 Dec

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 41-42

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

Book: Alex Frayne, Adelaide Noir

From Adelaide’s stylish Wakefield Press comes Adelaide Noir, an evocative large-format photographic account of the city by local artist Alex Frayne. Filmmaker Matthew Bate writes in his introduction, “[Alex has] found a portal into our sleep. He’s able to take snapshots that he can bring back and show us. It sounds like the plot of a bad 80s sci-fi film but these one-frame narratives are cinematically compelling. Long exposures reveal the shimmer of events just missed or about to happen.”
3 copies courtesy of Wakefield Press

DVD: Nick Cave—20,000 Days on Earth


Inventively directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, this fictionalised documentary about a day in the life of the musician and writer offers us a Nick Cave persona to ponder. Get out of bed with him, deal with the kids, go to therapy, to a recording session, perform in a concert and bump into friends, like Kylie Minogue. The UK Guardian described it as “[l]ess of a biography than a widescreen installation with script and music (Cave’s co-writing credit confirms the artifice), this flits between handsome neo-noir pastiche and ripe psychological melodrama” (21 Sept, 2014).
5 copies courtesy of Madman Entertainment.

DVD: The Double

Directed by UK actor Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd, Gadget Man), who also made the acclaimed Submarine, The Double is about a young man who is faced with the frightening arrival of a more confident, identical version of himself at work—no one else notices. Based on Dostoyevsky’s The Double with a touch of Cyrano de Bergerac, this is an intelligent dark comedy with Jesse Eisenberg playing self and other, with Mia Wasikowska as the object of their joint desire.
5 copies courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Please note you can nominate for ONLY ONE GIVEAWAY.

Email us at giveaways@realtimearts.net with your name, postal address and phone number.

Include ‘Giveaway’ and the name of the item in the subject line.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 56

Allora & Calzadilla, Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy, No.1 2008, modified Bechstein, installation View: Gladstone Gallery, New York

Allora & Calzadilla, Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy, No.1 2008, modified Bechstein, installation View: Gladstone Gallery, New York

Allora & Calzadilla, Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy, No.1 2008, modified Bechstein, installation View: Gladstone Gallery, New York

NO BREEZING THROUGH THIS SHOW. YOU’LL NEED HOURS, MAYBE DAYS. IN PERFORMANCE NOW, A COLLECTION OF SIGNIFICANT WORKS WILL BE SIMULTANEOUSLY EXHIBITED ON SCREEN IN THE MUSEUM. THEY COMPRISE VARIOUSLY BRISK, EPISODIC AND DURATIONAL CREATIONS—SERIOUS, WITTY AND PROVOCATIVE—BY PERFORMANCE ARTISTS, VISUAL ARTISTS WITH AN INCLINATION TO PERFORM (OR HAVE OTHERS DO IT FOR THEM) AND FILM, VIDEO, THEATRE AND DANCE MAKERS, EXPANDING OUR SENSE OF WHAT COMPRISES PERFORMANCE TODAY.

While some films and videos document significant performance art works, others are stand-alone exemplars of inventive interplay between performance and video art/filmmaking. Most have been made since 2000. The show is co-organized by Independent Curators International, New York, and Performa, the influential biennial of performance art organized by performance art scholar and curator RoseLee Goldberg. Goldberg, author of Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (1979) is a former director of the Royal College of Art (RCA) Gallery in London, curator at The Kitchen in New York and teaches at New York University. Performance Now is the logical extension of her many years of staging exhibitions and symposia and encouraging extensive archiving. Above all, this widely travelled show is evidence of growing interest in performance art and in new kinds of art performance that overlap with a diversity of live art practices.

Performance Art itself made a comeback in the 2000s, with Marina Abramovic centrestage, training a new generation of artists and wielding commercial clout. A limited edition video of her 1977 work Imponderabilia, with partner Ulay, sold to galleries and private collectors for 180,000 euros a copy at the 2012 Art Basel. Gallerist Sean Kelly promotionally re-staged the work at the narrow entrance to his booth, requiring those entering to squeeze, as in the original, between two still, naked performers.

In Sydney in 2013 The Kaldor Project’s 13 Rooms (RT115, p5-7) excited the public imagination and angered others who felt performance art had been turned into a sideshow with live art entertainments and overly managed durational works. In the same year, Mike Parr in Daydream Island kept his body and its tortured durability centrestage but added a surprising theatricality (RT120, p5). Performance art is mutating—Parr was an early venturer in transmitting his work Malevich online in real time from Artspace where he was performing in 2002 (RT52, p28).

Just where the internet will take performance art has yet to be seen, but it will doubtless be partly judged in the same terms that screen documentation used to be: that it devalues the primacy of the body and the liveness of the performance by favouring the screen itself. Performance Now, with its mix of documentation and works that can only exist as film (like William Kentridge’s animations) will challenge doubters. Of course, as some performances become screenworks, they also become collaborative, with performers relying on the skills of others. The original, highly individualistic impulse of performance art—rejecting the commercialisation of art and the dominance of galleries by turning to the authenticity of the body—is still with us, but the forms it can take have been extended, as has its reach. Tino Sehgal is certainly keeping to the spirit of the pioneers—even as he rakes in the dollars (sales figures not disclosed)—accepting only verbal contracts for his works which are driven by spoken instructions and must not be documented, thus retaining immediacy and still highly-prized ephemerality.

Marina Abramovic performing Joseph Beuys, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965) performance; 7 Easy Pieces, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2005

Marina Abramovic performing Joseph Beuys, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965) performance; 7 Easy Pieces, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2005

Marina Abramovic performing Joseph Beuys, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965) performance; 7 Easy Pieces, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2005

At the centre of Performance Now, certainly in terms of viewing hours as well as influence, is Marina Abramovic, soon to visit Australia again. She appears in the documentation of her Guggenheim Museum seven-day, seven hours per day Seven Easy Pieces (2005) in which she “channelled” performance art greats in classic works: Bruce Nauman (Body Pressure, 1974), Vito Acconci (Seedbed, 1972), Valie Export (Action Pants: Genital Panic, 1969), Gina Pane (The Conditioning, 1973), and Joseph Beuys (How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, 1965). These are shown alongside Entering the Other Side (2005) and Lips of Thomas (1975) in which the ingredients are the artist naked, red wine and honey (to be consumed), flagellation (self-applied), cutting (a pentagram into the stomach) and an ice cross. These works are shown unedited, simultaneously and the screens arranged in a circle—an interesting way to deal with focusing and switching attention with onscreen durational works.

Among video works is the laidback, sitcom-ish (pay attention to the dialogue) activism of Stealing Beauty (2007) by Guy Ben-Ner whose fun critique of consumerism and the nuclear family features the artist, his wife and children illicitly inhabiting IKEA display rooms in various countries. Stealing Beauty resonates nicely with the family in Kevin Wilson’s very funny novel The Family Fang (Picador, 2011) in which children are trapped in their artist parents’ interventions. The Ben-Ner kids however seem fine, but you do wonder.

In Christian Jankowski’s Rooftop Routine (2007), citizens of New York’s Chinatown happily hula-hoop on rooftops—so can you with the hula-hoops provided in the gallery.

In darker territory, choreographer Jérôme Bel’s Véronique Doisneau (2009) features a corp de ballet Paris Opera ballerina who simply talks about her career and the torturous conditions in which she works. In Ryan Trecartin’s acclaimed video A Family Finds Entertainment (2004) “a black-toothed kid named Skippy (played by Trecartin) borrows money from his parents, is filmed by a documentary filmmaker, is hit by a car, then filmed again as he lies in the road…his soul seems to rise from his body when it hears the sounds of a rocking house party” (program note).

William Kentridge, Drawing Lesson 47 (Interview for New York Studio School) 2010, Single-channel video, colour, sound, 4 min., 48 sec.

William Kentridge, Drawing Lesson 47 (Interview for New York Studio School) 2010, Single-channel video, colour, sound, 4 min., 48 sec.

William Kentridge, Drawing Lesson 47 (Interview for New York Studio School) 2010, Single-channel video, colour, sound, 4 min., 48 sec.

Elsewhere in Performance Now, William Kentridge stages an interview between his ‘good’ and ‘bad’ selves in Drawing Lesson 47 (Interview for New York Studio School) (2010) deploying his virtuosic animation skills in which the world constantly reconfigures. Another South African artist, Nandipha Mntambo, reflects darkly on colonial violence by playing a male Mozambiquean bullfighter preparing to fight in an abandoned Portuguese arena in the brief film Ukungenisa (2008).

These are just a few indicative examples of the range of art making involved in Performance Now, a show that demands pilgrimage from across Australia and all the durational immersion you can gladly muster.

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Art Museum, Performance Now, 6 Dec 2014-1 March 2015, Brisbane

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 22-23

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

Nadeena Dixon, Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, The Fox & The Freedom Fighters, Performance Space

Nadeena Dixon, Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, The Fox & The Freedom Fighters, Performance Space

Nadeena Dixon, Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, The Fox & The Freedom Fighters, Performance Space

I’D LIKE ALL PERFORMANCES TO BEGIN WITH SOMETHING LIKE THE INDIGENOUS SMOKING CEREMONY. THE EFFECT IS CALMING AND PREPARES US TO ENTER ANOTHER REALM. SUCH WAS THE FEELING AS WE WERE WELCOMED INTO THE SPACE FOR THE FOX AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS BY UNCLE MAX (MAX DULUMUNMUN HARRISON), A YUIN MAN.

The ‘fox’ refers to Aboriginal activist and social pioneer Charles (Chicka) Dixon (1928-2010). Three years in development, this work has been conceived and co-created by Chicka’s daughter Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor and granddaughter Nadeena Dixon with a team of collaborators including co-writer and dramaturg Alan Valentine and director Liza-Mare Syron.

Three components of the design (Nadeena Dixon, Clare Britton) combine to reflect the work’s structure: a large central screen for film sequences (and doubling for an ASIO document); a small platform with a microphone for sung segments; and a spare living room set-up where mother and daughter casually exchange memories of the man who radically affected their lives. The spare design is enveloping and incorporates a set of striking woven sculptures by Nadeena Dixon, which grace the walls and cast enigmatic shadows. As they converse, Rhonda separates raffia threads while Nadeena weaves the circular forms of a new piece.

The performative style aims to be laidback but at times the demands of conventional theatrical dialogue appear to hinder the rapport we sense between mother and daughter. The powerful film segments (Amanda King, Fabio Cavadini) are more effective with the women appearing to be unscripted and more spontaneous. Generous archival footage provides insight into the important work of Chicka Dixon-—his involvement in historical events such as the 1967 Referendum, the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the Aboriginal Arts Board and a visit to China in 1972. All this is woven together with the quietly intense statements on the impact of this activism on family life delivered individually to camera by Rhonda and Nadeena.

Most engaging in this work is the opportunity it offers us to meet two very interesting women and to share with them the unravelling of an intimate and difficult truth. “Don’t you for a minute think that there isn’t a cost to every single moment of this fight for freedom,” says Rhonda. And we don’t. As they reveal with passion and humour the highs and lows of life with an admired patriarch—his many absences, the alcoholism, which he eventually overcame but which clearly affected their early lives and manifest in stress and abuse in subsequent relationships—we experience the recovery of intimacy with their father and grandfather along with their own unfolding activism, all woven into the complex issues of everyday life.

The Fox & The Freedom Fighters, concept, creation, performers Rhonda Dixon Grovenor, Nadeena Dixon; Performance Space, Carriageworks, Sydney, 13-22 Nov

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 43

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

I TELL DAVID SEFTON THAT I THINK HIS 2015 ADELAIDE FESTIVAL PROGRAM HAS MORE THAN A TOUCH OF THE LATERAL ABOUT IT, INCLUDING OSAKA’S OPERATIC NOISE, STRINGS, PIANOS AND VOCALS BAND VAMPILLIA. HE LAUGHS, “I THINK I’VE GOT ALL POINTS COVERED THIS YEAR.”

Chevalvert, 2Roqs, Splank & Polygraphik, Murmur, BLINC

Chevalvert, 2Roqs, Splank & Polygraphik, Murmur, BLINC

Chevalvert, 2Roqs, Splank & Polygraphik, Murmur, BLINC

Blinc

“Actually, you took the words right out of my mouth! Blinc, for example, is a massive, free, digital art expo we’re doing on the river and surrounding areas. It’s not just ephemera or ‘look at the shiny lights;’ this is a curated exhibition, an A-list of digital artists that just happens to be outdoors. It’s like a survey show of the latest in digital art—artists like Tony Oursler, who’s just had a major gallery show in London and whose work will be on Pinky Flat next to the Adelaide Oval here. It will be on free every night of the festival alongside the broadest ever showing in Australia of the work of Bill Viola, arguably the world’s greatest video artist.” Including Oursler, the Blinc contingent numbers 20 artists from Europe, the USA and Japan with works that range from laser projection to intimate interactives. Although Australian artists, so strong in this field, are strangely, and disappointingly, absent, it’s good to see electronic arts centre-stage in an arts festival.

Bill Viola

In contrast with last year’s epics—John Zorn and The Roman Tragedies—Sefton declares, “we’ve taken a different definition of ‘spectacular,’” as programming Blinc indicates. Bill Viola will be showing in three spaces: “in a gallery, in the cathedral and in a theatre space—because it was the only venue with a ceiling tall enough to fit the nine-metre high video screens. I’ve just seen his latest work in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Because spirituality is so much a part of what he does, churches tend to be good places to see the work. I’m doing a platform discussion with Viola over the opening weekend.”

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

On the dance front, Sefton has focused on one company with two large-scale programs. “Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet from New York is an extraordinary entity insofar as they are a fully funded American dance company. That’s almost a contradiction now in that culture. They have one patron who enables them to cherry pick the best dancers in America and the world’s greatest choreographers as well. They’re a company I’d worked with in the US and we’ve been in discussion for a couple of years. They’re quite a young company in the scheme of things. We’re doing two major projects with them: one is a triple-bill with Jiri Kylian, Crystal Pite and Hofesh Shechter works made for the company. The other project is a whole evening’s work made for them by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. So it’s a huge commitment from us to one company in their first and exclusive Australian appearance.”

Gavin Bryars

Music is one of David Sefton’s great passions. I ask him where it’s taken him for his 2015 program. After the magnificent John Zorn tribute in 2014 (RT120, p20), Sefton has this time secured the presence of another great artist—UK bassist, improviser and post-minimalist composer Gavin Bryars—in a sizeable program of his works. “It’s not that he’s never been to Australia before but his ensemble hasn’t and the breadth of his work has never really been seen and heard here. He’ll be a kind of composer-in-residence for the festival. The symphonic Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet is obviously a signature work with Bryars conducting the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

“His ensemble will do a concert on their own and then one with guests including Song Company from Sydney, whom he’s worked with before—he’s a big fan. That concert will feature for the first time in Australia the suite of Tom Waits’ songs Bryars arranged at Waits’ invitation. We’ll also stage one of his operas—Marilyn Forever—another important aspect of Bryars’ work. It’s a chamber opera based on the life of Marilyn Monroe that’s only ever been seen in Canada where it was commissioned. Again, these works will be staged across a range of venues—the Town Hall, Elder Hall for his Ensemble concerts and ABC Studio 520 for the opera.

Unsound Adelaide

A challenging but popular dimension of Sefton’s Adelaide Festivals has been the international Unsound music program. Sefton says, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I do like to change the look of the festival but in this case it’s such a rich seam of places to go with the electronic music world, there’s absolutely no reason not to continue it. Even though I was inordinately happy with the first two I feel like this is the strongest one. The program includes Forest Swords (UK), Shackleton (UK), Lawrence English (AUS), Vatican Shadow (US) and a work from Robin Fox (AUS) and Atom™ (Germany), which is a commission between us and the Polish branch of Unsound. We were able to get Fushitsusha (JAPAN) to come, led by rock experimentalist Keiji Heino—that’s a huge deal in the new music world. And there’s The Bug from the UK. We’ve ventured more into slightly clubbier territory for the first time. Basically the best way to describe a group like Model 500 is Detroit Kraftwerk.”

Tommy

Oddly for an international arts festival, there are two musicals, of a kind, in the 2015 program. Sefton admits, “I’m on record as saying I’m not a person that likes musicals and now, ironically I end up with two in the festival.” One is the re-imagining of The Who’s Tommy with producer Hal Willner at the helm—the other is Fela!, the concert version of the Broadway show featuring the work of Afrobeat master Fela Kuti. “The conversation about programming Tommy has been going on for something like six years. Eric Mingus came to me when I was still in Los Angeles and said, ‘Look, I wasn’t quite sure where to take this idea so I thought I’d come to you.’ Turns out for the best part of the previous decade he had been in communication with Pete Townshend about creating his version of Tommy. It seemed such an unlikely proposition but Pete Townshend has been 100% behind the idea from the start and has been working on it with Eric remotely. It never happened in Los Angeles and we got lucky because it is the 50th anniversary of The Who next year.

“It’s along the lines of an elaborate semi-staged concert with multiple guests. Hal Willner is known for that—the Leonard Cohen Came So Far For Beauty concert and so on. Eric is a much under-rated composer and arranger in his own right. He’s completely re-scoring Tommy for a jazz band—but with quite unconventional forces. He’s the musical director of the project. He’ll also take some of the singing roles because he’s got a fantastic voice. And, like his father [the great jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus], his instrument is the bass. So he’ll be performing, arranging and singing. There are about half a dozen guest-singers.”

Kid Koala, Nufonia Must Fall

Kid Koala, Nufonia Must Fall

Kid Koala, Nufonia Must Fall

Kid Koala, Nufonia Must Fall

Fans of Montreal’s Kid Koala will be ecstatic; the virtuoso scratch DJ, music producer and graphic comic book artist will be presenting an onstage version of his book Nufonia Must Fall. Sefton tells me, “There’ll be a dozen small puppetry stages projected onto a large screen over the artists and performed to a score—played by Kid Koala and the Alfara String Quartet—which I’ve heard and which is beautiful. He’s on the road as a turntablist in Australia in the month before the festival.” The production is directed by KK Barrett, the designer for Spike Jonze’s feature film Her (RT120, p28).

Silvia Gallerano, La Merda

Silvia Gallerano, La Merda

Silvia Gallerano, La Merda

La Merda

A work on the 2015 program I’d not heard of was La Merda. I ask Sefton where he found it. “I saw the show in Edinburgh three years ago and it completely knocked me sideways. Silvia Gallerano tours the world with it and has won a string of awards. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” I ask if it’s a confessional monologue. “Its like somebody allowing you to take the top of her head off to get a glimpse of a terrifying mind.”

Other monologues include the State Theatre Company’s Beckett Triptych (Footfalls with Pamela Rabe, Eh Joe with Paul Blackwell, Krapp’s Last Tape with Peter Carroll), Riverrun, from Ireland, which features the writing of James Joyce and Big Mouth’s SmallWaR (Belgium) about the nature of war, in a live/digital mix. “At the other end of the spectrum,” says Sefton, “we have Dylan Thomas—Return Journey(UK), another extraordinary performance. It’s the official Dylan Thomas centenary show remounted at the request of the estate. So the program’s ended up exploring the range of things that can be monologue.”

David Chisholm’s The Experiment

Australian composer David Chisholm’s The Experiment to a script by UK playwright Mark Ravenhill is a Major Festivals co-commission with the Sydney Festival and a work, Sefton thinks, “the Unsound audience should really come to.” There’s an electric guitarist—Chilean Mauricio Carrasco—centre-stage, performers, images by Emmanuel Berndoux and media art by Australian Matthew Gingold: “It’s very much a cohesive multimedia piece, and unsettling. It’s unquestionably a total theatre piece.” The work asks if we’d experiment on a child at the risk of their life if we thought it would save thousands more.

Chiara Guidi & collaborators, Jack & the Beanstalk

Chiara Guidi & collaborators, Jack & the Beanstalk

Chiara Guidi & collaborators, Jack & the Beanstalk

Chiara Guidi, Jack and the Beanstalk

In another work involving Australians in an international collaboration, Chiara Guidi of Italy’s Societas Raffaello Sanzio has created Jack and the Beanstalk with Australia’s Jeff Stein, Erth Visual and Physical Theatre and Insite Arts from a commission by Campbelltown Arts Centre and Adelaide Festival. This vivid work for and about children, who participate directly in it, visit the ogre’s incredible, towering cardboard home, encounter “slinky worm creatures,” a golden goose and the ogre himself—“a chilling apparition shrieking the kind of blackness you just might find in nightmares.” Bryoni Trezise concluded her appreciative review with the observation that “The children in the room…seem[ed] unnervingly content with this bleak but complex image of themselves” (RT 122, p42).

There’s a final recommendation from David Sefton: “When I got this job I did tell the powers that be here that there wasn’t any way I saw myself putting on anything in the Entertainment Centre because that’s not what I do. And then Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton appeared on my radar and I thought well, never say never. The composer will be conducting but he also actually sings. Not many shows can claim that. There aren’t many things I’d consider cool enough to put into a 6,000-seat venue but I think in this case I’m prepared to make an exception.”

Adelaide Festival, 2015, 27 Feb-15 March

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 24-25

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

Adriane Daff in Falling Through Clouds

Adriane Daff in Falling Through Clouds

Adriane Daff in Falling Through Clouds

SPECTACULAR PUPPETRY, INNOVATIVE VIDEO AND HAUNTING MUSIC IN THE LAST GREAT HUNT’S FALLING THROUGH CLOUDS CONVEY A TALE OF IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS. ONE HUNDRED YEARS AFTER BIRDS HAVE DISAPPEARED, DR MARY MILLER HAS FOUND A WAY TO BRING THEM BACK AND HAS BEEN GIVEN A YEAR TO HAVE THEM FLYING. FROM HER OPENING DREAM OF FLIGHT, THE DEVOTED DOCTOR’S DELIGHT GRADUALLY TURNS TO STRESS AND OBSESSION.

In a dream-infused narrative, a research facility is established, eggs are fertilised, incubated and hatched. Mary monitors the growth and development of Henry and Jenny as they grow into their long necks, bills and legs. Teaching them to fly is frustrating, but the joys of interacting with Henry’s mischief and Jenny’s affection seem worth the worry, until deadline day. In a nightmarish sequence, Jenny is taken to the top of a cliff and sent over the edge—she panics, twitches her wings and plummets to her death. Mary’s instructions to end the failed project include specific directions to destroy all biological specimens herself, leading to a memorable chase scene with Henry and a beautiful sequence leading to the titular notion of Falling Through Clouds.

Adriane Daff (Dr Mary Miller) is a joy to watch. Her face conveys emotion intensely, amplified by combined techniques of theatre and hand-held camera working to produce a sense of real-time documentary. She rises to the acting challenges presented by film and stage, simultaneously, particularly in her dream sequences and also at the magical moment featuring a bird’s eye view of her from the interior of an eggshell breaking open.

As with previous works by this team, truly wonderful puppetry emerges, even when using balls of shredded paper. From the first tiny hatchling wing shivers to the clack clack of the feet of growing birds and their inquisitive and mischievous head and neck movements, close behavioural observation and dedicated puppetry technique bring birds to life with as much excitement as if they really were the first avian life in a century.

The set constantly changes, a particular highlight being the creation of the research facility using sheets of paper. It features a micro set of the island on the dark expanse of the stage, with hot air balloons flying above, changing our perspective, and fans that create the winds also clearing the ‘set’ once done. This sequence epitomises the careful simplicity sustained through the performance.

Thoughtful technical work sees simple projection used with low-tech ‘screens’ to create dreams of flying birds and a beautiful night sky. Use of simultaneous projection with the hand-held camera is particularly effective in Jenny’s failed flight attempt and wonderful when tracking Henry’s curious roaming around the closing facility. Classic puppetry provides elegant presentations of flight and weightlessness, contrasting with the chillingly creepy use of a moulded mask of Daff’s sleeping face. Henry’s escape is a beautiful collection of visual techniques, smoothly transitioning from live video streaming to a theatrical depiction of overhead lights, a simple exterior shot and then a sweet animation clearly telling his tale without any text distracting from the scene’s magical whimsy.

Integral to the performance, the sparse use of text is made possible by Ash Gibson Greig’s sound design and song selection, featuring poignantly weighted lyrical timing.

A visually beautiful work, accompanied by beguiling sound design and a mesmerisingly sweet narrative, Falling Through Clouds celebrates the considerable talents and achievements of its creative partnership.

Falling Through Clouds features in the 2015 Sydney Festival’s About an Hour program; Seymour Centre 16-18 Jan

PICA & The Last Great Hunt, Falling Through Clouds, initiating artist, co-creator, performer Tim Watts, co-creator, performer Adriane Daff, co-creator, performer Arielle Gray, co-creator, performer Chris Isaacs, composition, sound design Ash Gibson Greig, PICA, Perth Cultural Centre 22 Sept–11 Oct

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 45

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

Inside There Falls

Inside There Falls

Inside There Falls

BY WAY OF EXPLAINING THE SOUND/UNSOUND COMPONENT OF HIS 2015 SYDNEY FESTIVAL AT CARRIAGEWORKS, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR LIEVEN BERTELS FILLS ME IN ON HIS BACKGROUND IN AND PASSION FOR MUSIC AND SOUND ART, WHICH IS EVIDENT IN OTHER WORKS IN THE PROGRAM: THE KITCHEN, PUNCTURE, ATOMIC BOMB, ON THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF TOBACCO AND DARKNESS AND LIGHT. BUT IT’S MORE THAN MUSIC: IT’S MUSIC IN THE MIX OF INSTALLATION, THEATRE, SCREEN AND DANCE.

Bertels comes from a background of classical music and sound art, having trained in the late 80s, early 90s as a musicologist and composer at the University of Durham where there was a state of the art electro-acoustic studio at the time of the transition from analogue to digital. After graduating with his second master’s degree in 1994 he abandoned the notion of pursuing a career in composition, “but it gave me insight into sound art and a love of the manual labour, the craftsmanship of composing.” The same period was rich with postmodern diversity, opening Bertels’ listening, confirmed and expanded by the invention of “the democratising MP3”—often surprising himself with things he has stored and plays randomly.

Sound/On Sound

Bertels kindly offers me a copy of Recovery/Discovery, 40 Years of Surround Electronic Music in the UK (2008), a CD he conceived and produced featuring composers Jonathan Harvey, Harrison Birtwistle, Javier Alvarez and Mira Calix. Calix is a key guest in the 2015 Sydney Festival with an installation at Carriageworks as part of Bertels’ Sound/On Sound program. He notes, “It’s not the first time it’s happened but the convergence between theatre, installation art, music making in its concert form and electronic music consumption is significant. There are people in the visual arts who essentially make sound art installations, like Janet Cardiff. Others come from DJing and hip hop.”

Mira Calix

“Mira Calix started as a sound artist musician on WARP,” says Bertels, “a very important label in the early 90s in electronica and still the label for people like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. She was the only woman on that label. I got to know her when I was at the Brugge Concertgebouw and I co-commissioned a work which combined the music of Steve Reich and Phillip Glass with Squarepusher, Aphex Twin and Mira Calix—real name Chantal Passamonte—who did a piece for the string players of London Sinfonietta and 100 live crickets, which we had to source—nice challenge! So we had a terrarium full of crickets and we needed to give her control over it because she knew the crickets would sing at a different speed depending on the temperature. She could then orchestrate the sound of the crickets and the speed of their ‘beating’ (or whatever you call it) to the music, which was beautiful.” It was then that Bertels invited Calix to be part of Recovery/Discovery and, subsequently, she expressed an interest in coming to Australia to do an installation, having been taken with a novella by Australian journalist and editor Brett Clegg—“a kind of stream-of-consciousness text called Inside There Falls. Clegg listens to a lot of electronic music and is a fan of Mira Calix and had managed to trace her email and sent her this text. She was fascinated by it, and wrote to him asking ‘what do you want me to do with this because I love it? Can we do something together?’ Then it was a matter of what they wanted—a big space to build an installation that would research these boundaries of concert performance, dance, installation and sound art. It is, of course, a leap of faith. This is the kind of risk you want to take in a festival.” Calix also wanted a live physical dimension for the installation so she approached Rafael Bonachela, inspired by what he had done in the Kaldor Project’s 13 Rooms.

“There’s an antechamber where you wait until there’s a group of about 20 and then enter as a group into Bay 17—the big space which will be transformed into a giant paper labyrinth you wander through, discovering elements of sound and text as well as encountering dance interventions.” Access to the work is free and there’s a tactile tour for the blind on 17 January.

Tamara Saulwick, Endings

There are two other commissions. Endings, commissioned by Sydney Festival, Arts House and Performance Space, is Melbourne performer Tamara Saulwick’s new work. By way of background Bertels recalls that when Edison patented the phonograph he didn’t foresee its future as delivering music: “The first two uses he listed were to record the words of famous people and of dying people as mementos. And now, 125 years later, how many people would feel comfortable about [recording] their dying relatives? It’s very confronting because the voice is way more personal than an image. It’s fascinating because at the same time it’s intangible. Sound memory is not very precise. If I try and remember the voice of my father it’s very hard. I can recognise it, just like a smell, but you can’t bring it back, you can’t recreate it. So that’s what Tamara Saulwick is working with—all kinds of sound recordings that have to do with endings. She’s cutting her own acetates and pressing the LPs she will use onstage in quite a ritualistic, theatrical kind of way.”

Mauricio Carrasco, The Experiment

Mauricio Carrasco, The Experiment

Mauricio Carrasco, The Experiment

David Chisholm, The Experiment

The other commission—from Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne Festivals through the Major Festivals Initiative—is The Experiment by Melbourne composer David Chisholm, founder and director of the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music. Bertels says, “He’s a composer who’s very dear to me and should be heard way more often. I tried to get him to the Holland Festival before I came here. He’s a 21st century version of an Australian larrikin: witty, funny, outspoken. He’s also got an amazing sense for drama. The subject matter in The Experiment is essentially ethical: if you were close to solving a massive medical issue but you knew you had to kill a child, would you do it? He’s chosen a 19th century musical theatre form called monodrama—essentially spoken word and instrumental music. A guitarist performs in an installation with electronic sound. It’s a performative work with a beginning and an end but inside an installation as if we were part of the experiment.”

Greg Barrett, SpongeBob SquareTimes

“This is a very funny little work, also quite melancholic and very beautiful. It’s a bit of an experiment.” It’s the work of well-known Australian dance photographer Greg Barrett who lives between Melbourne, Palm Beach in Sydney and New York where “he had a fancy new camera which caught on video one of those sad buskers, like those who impersonate Disney characters. This was a SpongeBob character—and not engaging at all successfully. And that’s what he filmed for 48 minutes—a guy unsuccessfully trying to make some money until finally a family engages with him and gives him a few dollars. When Greg saw this footage he said he felt this was something he wanted to present as an installation with music that reflects loneliness for him—one of the seminal minimalist music pieces from Europe, Canto Ostinato by Simeon ten Holt, a piece for anything from two to eight pianos. So Greg chose to present it as two player pianos, two pianolas, to reflect that loneliness. I’ve just received from the Simeon ten Holt estate a MIDI version played for us by two people to be programmed onto massive Yamaha Disklaviers, the modern player pianos. The installation will be two lonely pianos playing with the video.”

Bernard Foccroulle, Lynette Wallworth, Darkness and Light

Darkness and Light, another work connecting Australian and European artists (and commissioning partners), is a double projection screen work by Lynette Wallworth with music by Sofia Gubaidalina (the show’s title comes from a work of the composer who proudly describes her self as half-Tartar, half-Slav”), Bach, Buxtehude, Messiaen and rising star Toshio Hosokawa played by Belgian organ virtuoso, Bernard Foccroulle, the director of the Aix en Provence Opera Festival. “In this collaboration,” says Bertels, “the challenge has been to balance music and video because “your brain needs 85% of its capacity to decode the image [which means] you’re not listening any more. The artists presented the work for the re-inauguration of the organ at Royal Festival Hall in London and then took it to Brussels.” Wallworth’s expansive projections, drawing on the Australian landscape and NASA astronomical film footage, will doubtless resonate powerfully, if subtly, with the Sydney Town Hall organ.

Theatre Des Bouffes du Nord, On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco

Another of Bertels’ other music-oriented recommendations is Theatre Des Bouffes du Nord (the Peter Brook company) with its On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco, adapted from the Chekhov story to music by Bach, Tchaikovsky and Luciano Berio. It’s smaller than previous festival works Semele Walk (2012) and Dido and Aeneas (2014), says Bertels, but in line with his commitment to blending live music with theatre. “This is a good example because it’s part Chekhov monologue and part concert on a very high level and there is a very funny, classy actor in it, Michel Robin, who is 83 years old who, in daily life, walks with a walking frame but onstage suddenly shakes off 20 years.” I ask how the music is integrated with the monologue. “As little interventions by three schoolgirls in ornate 19th century frocks designed by Christian Lacroix. They sing, they play piano and violin and interact with the man.” Chekov’s subject should be delivering a talk to us about the evils of tobacco but finds himself ranting about his domestic situation.

Atomic Bomb, The Music of William Onyeabor

“Another show with music we’re very proud of is Atomic Bomb,” says Bertels. “On his record label Luaka Bop, David Byrne released a compilation of the surviving albums of a really enigmatic and slightly odd Nigerian musician from the 80s called William Onyeabor. He’s still alive, a newborn Christian now, and doesn’t necessarily want to perform his own music any more. But Byrne did, with NY-based African musician Sinkane, Onyeabor’s original backing vocalists and guests. It transferred to London where Byrne’s MC role was taken by Damon Albarn from Gorillaz. We wondered who would be right in Australia and we approached Gotye, who is between albums and working on new material and was very keen to perform.”

Vicki Van Hout, Long Grass

A likely highlight in this year’s About an Hour program at the Seymour Centre will be Indigenous choreographer Vicki Van Hout’s Long Grass. An idiosyncratic artist who draws on Aboriginal and modern dance traditions and has an acute theatrical sensibility and design eye, Van Hout engages in this new work with the lives and culture of Indigenous people who live on the streets and in the parks of a modern city, Darwin, where they are perceived to be homeless, without character and are labelled “Long Grassers.” Bertels says, “the work looked very promising from the first workshop version. At the end of this festival, [we’ll have presented] 30 new Australian works over these three years—as presenting partners, or commissioning or co-commissioning. We didn’t commission Long Grass but it’s a very important work for us because of its Indigenous elements but also that kind of small-scale experimental dance doesn’t have a lot of outlets.”

More in About an Hour

Other shows in About an Hour include the hyper-physical theatre work The Long Pigs (RT120, p42; from Melbourne), featuring a trio of nasty clowns in search of a lost nose with bloody consequences; Perth-based The Last Great Hunt’s Falling Through Clouds; and shows from the USA—Adrienne Truscott’s Asking for It, a scathing exploration of rape language in the everyday and especially in comedy—and from Ireland, Have I No Mouth, in which a family and their real-life therapist deal with a death.

Also on at the Seymour Centre will be Australian Theatre Forum, curated by David Williams, featuring conversations and provocations on the role theatre has in shaping our culture.

Force Majeure, Nothing to Lose

Force Majeure, Nothing to Lose

Force Majeure, Nothing to Lose

Force Majeure, Nothing to Lose

Another Australian dance work is Force Majeure’s Nothing to Lose—a Carriageworks and Sydney Festival co-commission and the last of the exiting artistic director Kate Champion’s productions for her company. It focuses on body weight, body aesthetics and dance. Local artist and “fat activist” Kelli Jean Drinkwater is Champion’s collaborator and Torres Strait Islander dancer Ghenoa Gela is providing additional choreography. Bertels tells me, “Champion workshopped with a number of people with very large bodies and explored all the language around being fat—‘obese,’ ‘oversize’ etc—and the work taps into the meanings quite beautifully. Kate’s strength is she’s good at making ensemble dance pieces that also tell important stories.” Like Long Grass, Nothing to Lose should be a ‘must see.’

Legs on the Wall, FORM and VOX Choir: Puncture

Puncture is set on a dance floor—in the broadest sense—as the site for masked ball, tango, fox trot, mosh pit, classical and pop dancing—on a monumental scale with 12 dancers (led by Kristina Chan and Joshua Thomson to choreography by Kathryn Puie) with the Sydney Philharmonia Vox Youth Choir and percussionist Bree van Reyk performing a score composed and arranged by Stefan Gregory that ranges from Monteverdi to Madonna. As well, there’ll be the physical theatre you’d expect from Legs, electronics by Bob Scott and video by Mic Gruchy. Pina Bausch’s dance-hall Kontaktoff it won’t be but a work with something to say on its own terms about the social and ritualistic nature of dance, dramatically puncturing formal dancing with the styles that have constantly challenged and sometimes corrupted it.

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

Roysten Abel, The Kitchen

In the footsteps of the sold-out The Manganiya Seduction in 2010 with its wall of Indian musicians comes The Kitchen. “Again, it’s a work with a simple dramaturgical arc,” says Bertels, “building energy through music. What’s new here is that there’s a story. A couple are cooking a temple sweet from Kerala, the region where Roysten Abel, the director, comes from, which will be served to the audience at the end. The idea is that you need to be ‘cooked’ to get ready for life. The aromas of the cooking will waft out over the audience as it takes in wonderful music from 12 drummers.” Also in the festival’s 2015 program is ancient Kandyan dance from Sri Lanka in Dancing for the Gods.

Michael & Samira, Bankstown Live

Michael & Samira, Bankstown Live

Michael & Samira, Bankstown Live

Urban Theatre Projects, Bankstown

For Campbelltown Arts Centre and the 2011 Sydney Festival Rosie Dennis created MINTO:LIVE (RT101, p16) in suburban outer Sydney. In 2014 Karen Therese created FUNPARK (RT119, p15) in Bidwell, Western Sydney. These works effectively brought together local and visiting artists and communities. For the 2015 festival, Dennis, now artistic director of Urban Theatre Projects, presents Bankstown: Live, a four-hour, four-day event featuring nine new works created in collaboration with local residents who have offered their homes as the sites for performance, screen and audio works or the telling of their own family histories.

Alwin Reamillo and locals will build a bamboo house that will be carried through the streets “in homage to Bayanihan, a Filipino tradition of the community helping to re-locate people from one village to another” (press release). Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s novel The Tribe about three generations of a local refugee Lebanese Muslim sect and their difficult place in the community has been adapted for performance by Janice Muller. Rosie Dennis’ documentary film Bre & Back focuses on Indigenous motherhood and cultural leadership. Emma Saunders is leading The Bankstown Dancing Project, working weekly with locals to prepare for dancing publicly on Northam Street and singer Sofia Brous and some great UK musicians will perform an array of local lullabies in Lullaby Movement. And there’s much more in what will doubtless be a revealing and embracing event.

As this mere sampling of a huge program indicates, Lieven Bertels’ third Sydney Festival is rich in cultural diversity and experiments in form and collaboration where adventurous Australian artists figure prominently.

Sydney Festival 2015, 8-26 Jan

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 26-27

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

Uncle Murray Harrison

Uncle Murray Harrison

Uncle Murray Harrison

WITH THE SLASHING OF SENIOR CITIZEN ENTITLEMENTS AS PART OF THE BUDGET RELEASED EARLIER THIS YEAR AND SEVERE CHANGES TO ACCESSING UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE, REBEL ELDERS, A COMMUNITY-BASED ART PROJECT FOCUSING ON THE PAIRING OF ELDERLY PERFORMERS WITH YOUNG MUSICIANS COULD HAVE BEEN A DARK AND SOMBRE AFFAIR.

Instead, musician and community facilitator Rose Turtle Ertler conceived a work where the audience experienced a mischievous interruption to the looming social welfare cuts. Inspired by the Australian Human Rights Commission’s “Facts or Fiction: Stereotypes of Older Australians” (2013), Ertler gives us a refreshing and heart-warming celebration of diverse intergenerational storytelling through interview recordings, music and performance.

It’s fitting too, that this project takes place in Ballarat, known for its historical uprisings. In the theatre space of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Rebel Elders takes a more personal road when addressing civil disobedience. Seated on a line of hard backed chairs, the elderly performers face the audience and listen intently to the introductory sound fragments of their newly remembered stories, then one by one move forward to elaborate physically. It’s a silent interaction—with each other, alone and occasionally engaging with props, adding dimension to the recordings we hear.

Ertler’s process is an inclusive one; eight Ballarat elders were interviewed about rebellion in their lives. These stories became the departure points for young local musicians to produce radically different works to accompany them. We hear hip hop, ballad and guitar rock soundtracks alongside micro stories of rodeo and radio, a soldier going AWOL, secrets being divulged, Violet Crumble thievery, youthful runaways and a boxer not wanting to be boxed. Always with gems of elderly wisdom attached: “There’s always an upstager wherever you go, there’s always a knocker.” The emotional significance of these connections between old and new holds weight. Rebel Elders lends us an empathetic ear, stitching up the tear in our society and reaffirming the similarities between generations.

The random pieces of the sound design mimic the way we retrieve events in our lives and how these change subtly with time and location. They’re also episodic, encoding both mind and body: the bold act of a 14-year-old girl to wear fashion not fit for the 50s and the dramatic parental response — to “cut the skirt up, break the heels of my shoes”—is the catalyst for a runaway. The surprising twist to this guitar riffing tale was that in the simple act of not giving her name to police the narrator was placed in a convent for bad girls for over five years. These stories speak to us about the double-sided nature of defiance, dislodging the usual stereotypes of the elderly while also highlighting the need to find a place in the world.

The music was as varied as the stories. An elderly man decked out in an old military jacket and flying goggles with which to navigate the stage, spins circles in his wheelchair and plays air guitar with unflinching bravado. His tale slows to describe siphoning petrol while the beatbox soundtrack uses mouth and guttural utterance to amplify our sense of the experience.

CJ Ellis

CJ Ellis

CJ Ellis

With direction and choreography by Michelle Heaven, there is an impressive renovation of memory. Contrasting and complementing the recorded dialogue between the ages, Heaven picks up these rebel yarns and knits us a curious fabric of embodiment: a meshwork of repetitive gestures, thumping hearts and chance happenings. She relocates our perception with a simple use of movement evocative of the honesty in the words we hear. The choreography generates a place where the storytellers re-enact their very own characters, as if co-starring with their younger selves.

There’s a constant shift between literal representation and movement cycles that are more ephemeral in nature. Lighting by Bluebottle delivered simplicity, with occasional moments of visual trickery—larger than life shadows thrown on the backstage wall, the flickering of mismatched lamps highlighting the range of characters emerging. The performers do well to create cohesion in their storytelling, the errors in their movement real and endearing, serving to express how the elderly are misrepresented in mainstream media. Then we drift into a ballroom sequence evoking love and it’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful.

Rebel Elders reveals the importance of voice, where mining the mind is a personal act of rebellion within itself, a quiet protest. When it’s filtered through a combined 635 years of life there is resonance in the air, signifying that small choices can create huge change. The performance itself was the most interesting act of rebellion and the incredible people within it defied all labelling. They were real.

Rebel Elders, concept, sound design Rose Turtle Ertler, director, choreographer Michelle Heaven, lighting Bluebottle, Elders: CJ Ellis, Helen Gower, Uncle Murray Harrison, Victor Linane, Sue Morse, Kath Morton, Tom Rush, Trevor Williams; Young Musicians: Beatboxbo, Joint Beatz, Jake Dunmill, Rhiannon Howard, Reece Kelly, Jessica Moller, Kate Moran, Tabitha Rickard, Tobi Sam-Morris, Jennifer Rose Smith; City of Ballarat and Victorian Seniors Festival; M.A.D.E. (Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka), Ballarat, 31 Oct, 1 Nov

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 44

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

Ryoji Ikeda, Superposition, courtesy Kyoto Experiment

Ryoji Ikeda, Superposition, courtesy Kyoto Experiment

Ryoji Ikeda, Superposition, courtesy Kyoto Experiment

Great to see media art playing centrestage on its own terms and in a host of interdisciplinary manifestations in exhibitions and festivals across Australia.

Already underway and showing until 22 Feb is Experimenta’s Recharge, an opportunity to re-estimate your relationship with media art at Melbourne’s RMIT before the biennial show goes on tour 2015-16, admission free. Artistic director Jonathan Parsons tells Darren Tofts that gaming, 3D-printed sculpture and animation—including a rising sea levels work from Japan, aptly designed to run for 100 years—are just a few of the attractions.

Adelaide Festival’s Blinc features free access to 22 international media artworks on the banks of the River Torrens, ranging from intimate interactives to large-scale wonders. As well, there’s a three-venue showing of major works by Bill Viola, who’ll be in town for the festival.

Sydney Festival’s Sound/Unsound program includes Mira Calix’s Inside There Falls in which you enter an immersive world of paper, text, voice and dance (again, free). Also in the festival program is media artist Lynette Wallworth’s collaboration with French organist Bernard Froccoulle, Darkness and Light, and WA company The Last Great Hunt’s Falling Through Clouds (reviewed in this edition), a synthesis of puppetry, animation, music and live video.

Now open and playing to 1 March is QUT Art Museum’s Performance Now, 20 intriguing videos featuring prominent artists and curated by a leading expert on performance art, New Yorker RoseLee Goldberg. The videos aren’t simply documentation; they reveal visual and performance artists inventively engaging with the camera. Only showing in Brisbane, Performance Now will be an obligatory holiday hotspot for performers, artists and lovers of the provocative and the ineffable.

Carriageworks’ 2015 program includes the welcome return of Ryoji Ikeda, this time with a 90-minute large screen work mixed live by two performers, and 24 Frames per Second, a three-month exhibition of commissioned screen works focused around dance and surprising cross-artform collaborations.

Thanks to our readers, writers and clients for your wonderful support in 2015. Have a great art time over the summer. But to our friends at the ABC, including those who produce New Music Up Late, you are victims of ideological assault. We send our condolences. Artists will need to be brave in 2015.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 3

The Package

The Package

The Package

FOR OVER A DECADE NOW THE ALICE SPRINGS DESERT FESTIVAL HAS GATHERED ARTISTS AND PERFORMERS FROM AUSTRALIA AND ABROAD FOR A FIVE-DAY SHOWCASE IN THE RED CENTRE. IT’S A SMALL AND INTIMATE AFFAIR WITH A LOT OF INTERACTION BETWEEN PERFORMERS AND THEIR AUDIENCES. IT IS ALSO A CHANCE FOR NEW AND LOCAL ARTISTS TO PRESENT WORK ALONGSIDE MORE ESTABLISHED ACTS.

As with a lot of art from this part of the world the desert landscape played a role in some of this year’s offerings and one performance in particular explored the human interaction with the dry river that runs through town.

Out Hear in Alice Springs

For thousands of years the Todd River and its underground aquifers have given life to the various people and animals that inhabit Central Australia. For most of the year, however, the Todd is a dry sandy riverbed, devoid of surface water. It is a silent but often neglected reminder of how life in this part of the world is inextricably linked to this precious resource. In a series of performances called Out Hear in Alice, artist-musician Dale Gorfinkel and performer Fina Po used the dry river as both a stage and a medium to create an audio and visual experience that evoked the gurgling and bubbling soundscape of water and of the indifferent human interactions with the river.

Audiences walk along the river on a wordless tour of a series of sound and performance stations. At some of these stations Gorfinkel has assembled a scrappy looking collection of rubber hoses, bits of wire and empty bottles to create a water-themed soundscape. We listen to the bubbling sounds of ping-pong balls bouncing up and down inside discarded plastic bottles with tiny electric motors attached to them. The gentle bubbling and humming mesh beautifully with the melodic pulsing of the birds in the trees above. At another station we find Po walking frantically in a tight circle as she mesmerically recites a series of simple phone conversations. While this mindless melodrama unfolds Gorfinkel uses a simple foot pump to push sound through a kind of pipe organ he has buried in the sand. The rubber hoses capped with tin horns and empty wine bottles at first emit a grating, choking sound but as Gorfinkel adjusts the valves he transforms the cacophony into a deep and resonant pulse that drowns out the actor with the phone.

Walking between stations Gorfinkel keeps up a steady gurgling hum by blowing sound out through a brass horn that he has attached to an extended rubber nozzle. Approaching the penultimate station we watch Po’s character talk herself to death in a shallow grave and Gorfinkel literally burying her with sound by using the end of his horn to cover her body in sand. The Saturday performance of Out Hear ended with a wonderfully unplanned exchange as Gorfinkel’s soft sounds were drowned out by an aggressive white cockatoo who screeched from a tree in his part of the river.

The Package

Part of the Desert Festival’s mission is to showcase local talent. This year audiences were treated to a touching tribute to life and memory with the premiere of The Package. This hybrid of mask work and puppetry is the creation of Alice Springs artist Katlend Griffin, the 2014 recipient of the Arts Incubator Award, a grant designed especially to foster the work of local artists for presentation at the festival.

Through music, dance and puppetry The Package illuminates the final moments and the lifetime of memories of a dying woman. The action starts with the sorrowful sounds of an accordion as a frail elderly woman lifts herself onto a hospital bed at the centre of the stage. After a seemingly grim diagnosis from her doctor a puppet bird arrives and urges the dying woman to open up one of the cardboard boxes that have started to pile up around her bed.

From the first box the woman removes a doll and her demeanour begins to brighten. A red-haired girl puppet appears, plays with the doll and grows older in a series of memory-vignettes staged by two performers alternating roles as actor and puppeteer. At one point the girl emerges from the box with a young man beside her. They are naked and both display ridiculously large genitalia. In the old woman’s mind features like these seem to bear enormous significance; later when the puppet of the pregnant young woman gives birth to a ridiculously large baby we witness a similar effect in the memory’s ability to distort. In the end, the elderly lady lifts an old and nearly lifeless puppet from the boxes—she is holding herself and is ready to say goodbye.

Griffin’s The Package is a both sorrowful and playful musing on life’s transitions and the retention and manipulation of memory. Its positive reception affirms the value of fostering such homegrown productions and sets a standard for similar projects in years to come.

Alice Springs Desert Festival: The Package, creator Katlend Griffin, Red Hot Arts Incubator Program, Totem Theatre, 11 Sept; Out Hear in Alice Springs, artist, musician Dale Gorfinkel, performer Fina Po, Alice Springs, 13, 14 Sept

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 28

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

cast of The Dad Show

cast of The Dad Show

cast of The Dad Show

BRON BATTEN GETS AROUND. TESTING OUT NEW PERFORMANCE (MELBOURNE’S LAST TUESDAY SOCIETY), EMBODYING THE POWER OF HYPNOSIS (USE YOUR ILLUSION, RT123, P37), AND HERE SHE IS IN REGIONAL VICTORIA, WELCOMING US INTO THE BEAUTIFUL BLUESTONE OF ST MARY’S IN KYNETON—HALF WAY BETWEEN THE CULTURAL EPICENTRES OF MELBOURNE AND CASTLEMAINE—SEATING US WITH LOCAL FAMILIES KEEN TO SEE THEIR FATHERS’ FIGHT OR FLIGHT RESPONSES LIVE ON STAGE. AS SPEAKERS BLARE ROLLING STONES (TO INFURIATE PUNTERS AFTER THE BAND’S CANCELLATION AT NEARBY HANGING ROCK), WE’RE READY NOW FOR THE DAD SHOW.

Bron (this show calls for first names) introduces herself and her dad James via slide show and poorly executed jokes (hers and his). For a previous show Sweet Child of Mine (2011) she tells us having spent a number of years on stage dressed as a humpback whale, she went around with a video camera to her parents’ home to ask them, “What do you think I do for a living?” Soon realising they had no idea, she decided to help by bringing them on stage. Here, she continues the theme, asking various father-and-son/daughter combos to perform their roles, variety style.

After a ‘real live dad’ hands out hot, weak Milo (the taste of camping), Sarah and Robert read their relationship through email, exploring what memory looks like (plasticine), how hard it is to say you don’t believe in God (when your father does) and how excruciating it is sitting in the front row watching The Vagina Monologues (when your daughter’s starring in it). The dynamic between seasoned performer and novice is negotiated carefully (and this continues through all the acts): as Sarah projects, Robert reads shyly from his notes. It is his reticence that draws my attention. So too with Bob Snelling, who takes his son Wes on a sketchy fishing expedition—ritual for the modern male—a love/hate affair. As fish-out-of-water Wes turns the radio up loud and refuses to touch worms; Bob gently coaxes him into using the rod and pats his shoulder uncertainly when tears come; salt of the earth meets high camp.

Hal and Michael (guitarists and singer-songwriters, 20 years apart) play each other’s songs for the first time together. One hipster-shaggy, the other baby-boomer-cool, they share a stance and straight-legged jeans, and as their shadows merge into one behind them, their acoustics throw off awkwardness and find comfort in convergence. The son’s face becomes joy. Henry Vyhnal’s face becomes grief as he plays his father’s violin and revisits Antonin Dvorak’s “Humoresque,” a piece of music he played at his father’s funeral. While father and son may share the language of music and moody phrasing, this act explores what’s left when one of you is gone. Hannah and Bernie share a storytelling language too but their words don’t quite relate. As Hannah reads from her journal about slowly starving to death, her father sings “Your looks are laughable, un-photographable” and dances in the moonlight; a tug-of-war between who most wants to be centre-stage.

While a loose framework of variety-hour connects the acts, The Dad Show doesn’t quite hang together. Bron’s patter before and after each performance doesn’t add to the overall cohesion, but she does make you feel like you’re hanging out with that try-hard relative who makes you cringe and want to escape the kiddies’ table. A New-Faces-Frank-Sinatra duet with her dad, where he sings “Something Stupid” and she brings in contemporary dance, is a good place to end. But what’s missing, given the show’s family focus and the building we’re sitting in, is a sense of Kyneton. I wish Bron’s dad had done a snapshot history, a male-jokey narrative of the place and its people and how the dads of the show fit into it.

The most powerful dad moment of the night comes via video. Literally lost in translation, Christian is interviewing his father Barnabus and asks him to tell a joke. While father and son arrived from Hungary in 1980, Barnabus is now in a residential care facility with Parkinson’s disease. On camera and up in bed drinking with a straw that occasionally sneaks up his nose (not an intended joke but funny nonetheless), Barnabus tries with difficulty to pull words and concepts together — running priest, minister, nurse—sometimes in English, mostly Hungarian, while the humour (tears stream down my face) comes from our imagining what the joke might be and exquisite if unintended timing. The punchline is irrelevant. When Christian asks his dad, Do you love me?” he answers, “I love you and all the other kids too.” Off the side of the stage, Christian (tears stream down his face too) explains that before he made the video, he hadn’t seen his father smiling or laughing for seven years. It took a dad joke to do it.

The Dad Show was developed and presented as part of Punctum’s Seedpod Amplified extended residency program, encouraging performers to make new work in regional settings.

The Dad Show, Punctum Inc and The Last Tuesday Society, performer, curator Bron Batten, featuring Christian and Barnabus Bagin, James Batten, Hannah and Bernie Monagle, Hal and Michael Langley, Peter and Sarah Lockwood, Wes and Bob Snelling, Antonin and Henry Vynhal, St Mary’s Hall, Kyneton, Victoria, 7-8 November.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 46

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

Christy Dena, Magister Ludi, 2014, in collaboration with Marigold Barlett, Trevor Dikes, Cameron Owen

Christy Dena, Magister Ludi, 2014, in collaboration with Marigold Barlett, Trevor Dikes, Cameron Owen

JONATHAN PARSONS, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL ISEA2013, WAS SUBSEQUENTLY APPOINTED TO THE SAME ROLE FOR MELBOURNE-BASED EXPERIMENTA. DARREN TOFTS SPOKE WITH PARSONS ABOUT HIS PROGRAM FOR THE ORGANISATION’S 2014-15 BIENNIAL, RECHARGE.

Experimenta’s last biennial Speak to Me was topical in terms of its theme of intimacy. This year’s Recharge seems much more reflective about Experimenta itself, media art and the notion of a bienniale: what’s your thinking on these issues?

It’s both. The theme emerged in response to researching current and recent work from media artists here and internationally. This investigation process coincided with having just joined the Experimenta team in the newly created role of Artistic Director. It’s perhaps not surprising that the 6th International Biennial reflects some broader thinking about the meaning of the organisation’s name and the role of biennials in general.

What do you mean?

Biennials by their very nature, in repeating presentation formats, are always in part a survey of current practice. As a curator of these types of visual arts ‘festivals’ you have an opportunity to not only document what’s happening in the present but to also act as a catalyst to foment future developments and directions within the artistic community. Through the presentation of the works and their associated public programs you hope to stimulate conversations and networks that act as a ‘recharge,’ inspiring artists to take the next steps in their practice, find new collaborative partners and for audiences to become more curious and adventurous.

This will be my first biennial since I took on the position, so it’s timely to reflect on where Experimenta has been and where it may go, particularly as it approaches its 30th year of operation in 2016. Not only have I been thinking a lot about what it means to be working in one of Australia’s key media arts organisations, but also the name ‘Experimenta’ itself. While the exhibition title refers to some of the great work happening now it also looks forward to consider what role experimentation plays in culture as it can transform the way we look at the world and recharge our views.

Raymond Zada, Acknowledged (2014) video

Raymond Zada, Acknowledged (2014) video

Raymond Zada, Acknowledged (2014) video

In thinking about this biennial’s theme, along with my associate curators, Elise Routledge and Lubi Thomas, we wanted to focus attention on artists whose work is inspired by and entangled with the past. Arguably all artists look to the past in creating their work but we were particularly interested in asking the questions: does knowledge change when it is presented in different technological forms and cultural contexts? Through processes of experimentation and by producing unconventional perspectives, can artists illuminate existing knowledge for new generations? The artists in the biennial are alert to both the intimate and the broader cultural contexts through which they move and live. By listening, watching, thinking and making, they recharge knowledge and meaning systems, reinvigorating these systems or radically transforming them.

Experimenta has really broadened the scope of the Biennial in that the exhibition’s touring component has become such a strong part of getting the work to a broader public. Where is it touring after its Melbourne installation?

Experimenta produces the only biennial in Australia that travels nationally. It was very clear as we set up the tour after the exhibition opens in Melbourne that we could have continued touring it well beyond the middle of 2016 from the number of requests we have had to present the exhibition elsewhere. This is a real testament to the work of my predecessors who established this model in 2003 and have toured every biennial since then. Through this Experimenta has been instrumental in developing audiences for media artwork across Australia. We plan to tour Experimenta Recharge throughout 2015 until the middle of 2016 and will visit Mildura, Newcastle, Brisbane, Cairns, Warrnambool, Albury and Morwell.

Tell me about the EMARE initiative. This is really exciting in that it consolidates the profile of the biennial as an event involving international partnerships.

The EMARE initiative is a clear indication of Experimenta’s standing internationally. When the European Media Art Network was looking to follow on from their successful residency exchange program with Mexico in 2011-12, they decided they would like to broaden the exchange to involve two countries outside of Europe, choosing Canada and Australia. Having decided on Australia as one of the participating countries it was Peter Zorn, from the Werkleitz Centre for Media Arts in Halle, Germany, who came to Australia to research potential partners and led the application to the European Union. Experimenta was already on his list before he came because of its profile internationally.

Multi-channel sound installation by Abel Korinsky, Experimenta: Recharge

Multi-channel sound installation by Abel Korinsky, Experimenta: Recharge

Multi-channel sound installation by Abel Korinsky, Experimenta: Recharge

The two other Australian partners in this two-year residency exchange program are The Cube at Queensland University of Technology led by Senior Curator of Digital Media Lubi Thomas and Andrew Johnson, Co-Director of the Creativity and Cognition Studios at the University of Technology Sydney. Two of the European artists participating in this exchange program will be featured in the Biennial. Experimenta is hosting Abel Korinsky as part of the three-member artist group Korinsky, who are all brothers, in Melbourne with support from RMIT’s International Artist in Residence Program and the Goethe Institute. He will create a new work for the Biennial entitled Big Bang, an immersive sound installation inspired by the recent announcement by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre that they have documented soundwaves from soon after the birth of the universe. Korinsky’s work asks, ‘What would it sound like to hear all the sounds of the past and present? How would it change our perceptions of time and of death?’

The other artist to feature in the Biennial through the EMARE initiative is Anaisa Franco, a German/Brazilian artist currently in residence at UTS. Three of her interactive sculptures will be presented from her Psychosomatic series, two existing works and a newly created piece. These works will react to the presence of audiences and embody different human emotions. This will be the first time these artists have been presented in Australia and indeed, with the exception of Maitha Demithan from the United Arab Emirates (see cover image), the four other international artists represented in the Biennial will be introduced to Australian audiences for the first time. The culmination of the EMARE initiative will be a group exhibition of all of the participating artists in Halle, Germany in October 2015. This will feature four Australian artists including Matthew Gingold who has previously exhibited with Experimenta.

There are many critical views about the end of media art, or assertions that it should simply be part of the art world generally. What’s your response to this, especially in relation to the work in this year’s Biennial?

I certainly think that it is maturing. Gone are the days when the incorporation of digital media into an artwork automatically made it cutting edge or experimental. With that a certain youthful energy and dynamism has dissipated. This is felt primarily by those who remember the heady days of the 80s and 90s when we saw the invention and proliferation of the personal computer that gave birth to the sector. At the same time, audiences for this work have greatly expanded. I’d say there are larger audiences who on average are having richer experiences. You had to be a pretty dedicated audience member for this work in the early days—so often you would see exhibits not actually working, so by default the work often had to be viewed as conceptual art. As the artists and presenters in this field became more familiar with the technological tools the works have become less about the wow factor of new technology and arguably for audiences the engagement has become richer.

Cake Industries, (Jesse Stevens and Dean Paterson) Simulacrum (detail) 2014-2016, 3D modeled plastic portraits, installation, performance.

Cake Industries, (Jesse Stevens and Dean Paterson) Simulacrum (detail) 2014-2016, 3D modeled plastic portraits, installation, performance.

Cake Industries, (Jesse Stevens and Dean Paterson) Simulacrum (detail) 2014-2016, 3D modeled plastic portraits, installation, performance.

Having said that technology is still rapidly evolving. There is a new generation of technologies that, as they become more affordable, are being picked up by artists as the early adopters. Such examples in the Biennial include Cake Industries’ Simulacrum, a re-invention of classical portraiture through the use of 3D printing. So it’s not that the ‘new’ has completely disappeared from media arts, it’s simply that now we have a richer and more diverse range of tools and practices. I expect in the next few years we will see more artists using lightweight virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift that have been made for immersive gaming.

And perhaps a few spoilers…

In this year’s Biennial you see all of these forces at work. There are exhibits drawing on photography, sculpture and installation, electronic sculpture, sound art, robotics, live art, biotechnology, film and video. There are artists who have come from computer programming while others are from traditional art schools; artists engaged in gaming, who sit on the edges of current definitions of art, such as Christy Dena. Her interactive game Magister Ludi, was especially commissioned for the Biennial. TeamLab’s 100 Years Sea refreshes traditional Japanese screen painting through animation and explores the impact of rising sea levels predicted in 2009 by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. Commenced in the same year, this animation will run for a period of 100 years. So media art now occupies both the mainstream and the edges of aesthetic practices engaged with technology. I hope the diversity of artists participating in this year’s Biennial is a reflection of the thriving and dynamic culture that is media art.

Featured on our cover this issue is the 24-year old Emirati artist Maitha Demithan. Demithan takes photographs of her family in everyday traditional dress and uses a small flatbed A4 scanner to fragment and recompose the images in order to digitally enhance them, especially the colours, as well as playing with two-dimensionality. She writes “the pose, body language and particular scan quality also include an emotional moment.” (sarasist.org). Demithan’s scenographies feature in RECHARGE: Experimenta 6th Biennal of Media Art.

Recharge, 6th International Biennial of Media Art, RMIT Gallery, Melbourne, 28 Nov, 2014-21 Feb, 2015; touring to 2016; http://experimenta.org/recharge/

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 5

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

Stalker Theatre projection creature

Stalker Theatre projection creature

Stalker Theatre projection creature

“IMAGINE YOUR SOUL, THEN, AS TIMBER; YOUR MIND META-MORPHOSED TO MYRTLE; YOUR LIFE A FOREST OF THESIS AND CHANT. WALKING HERE, AMONG ELDERS, MAKES A GARDEN OF ME; I AM CURATED, TENDED AND CONSERVED.”

These words from poet Mark Tredinnick capture the essence of this year’s Siteworks at Bundanon, and are displayed in the Singleman’s Hut by artist Janet Laurence as part of her long-term major project Treelines Track. The work is a new commission in partnership with Landcare Australia that “tells stories” through the planting of trees (once there, but no longer) in a new conversation with their native surrounds.

Reflecting on Tredinnick’s thought meditation, I see it as one response to activist Naomi Klein’s request that “we need to think differently, radically differently” if we are to effect some kind of change in the face of a worsening, potentially irrecuperable environmental crisis. For Klein it is necessary to address the failings of capitalism; for the scientists, ecologists and artists that gathered in the kangaroo and wombat-clad hills of beautiful Bundanon, the need is to look to imagination, our capacity for empathy toward earth and other species and the evocation of deeper perceptual structures, where we watch, listen and feel differently.

From curated discussions, disciplinary exchanges, creative collaborations in situ and immersive bush and river walks, the weekend’s cliffhanger for me was the dilemma of individually ‘knowing how’ to change, but ‘not knowing how’ to change collectively, as a global community. Both science and everyday experience evidence a heating planet, rising sea levels, natural disasters and loss of biodiversity. We are at a point where, as climate change ecologist Brendan Mackey soberly announced, “all the numbers have been crunched.” Whether we believe in some variation of the ‘holocene’ age where humanity and its damaging effects are understood as a ‘mere blip’ in this particular epoch of earth’s history (it’s only a matter of time until the land asks us to leave), or we invest in the virtues of the ‘anthropocene’ where human impact is all pervading, entailing responsibility, the promise of solutions, and more sinisterly, control, the commitment to change comes not from defending a position, but from allowing ourselves to feel, think and reflect differently. Siteworks continues to be a unique forum that gently reminds the most converted of us to do so.

Art is a way to blur conceptual boundaries. Rosemary Laing’s The Paper (exhibited as stills) reflects both epochal views in her carpeting of the bush floor with “truckloads” of newspaper pulp: human impact is everywhere and effaced by bush regeneration.

The Earth Law conference co-convened by Michelle Maloney and Jules Livingstone of Australian Earth Law Alliance, Tess De Quincey and Tom Rivard took place on Friday. The brainstorming session involved experts from the fields of science, arts, the law, education and finance who distilled topics for Siteworks attendees (1,100 registered for 2014) to discuss in small rotating groups during Saturday’s main conversation “Finding our Place in the Anthropocene”, hosted with wit by science journalist Robyn Williams. The main panel with Dr Shane Norrish (Landcare Australia), Michelle Maloney and Mindjingbal man Clarence Slockee (Education Officer, Sydney Botanic Gardens, who appears on Gardening Australia) was lively and informative. Each reflected on what a “sense of place” means to them, localising recognition and the effects of the anthropocene and the reimagining of our laws to support a deeper connectivity with the plants, animals and land through “earth jurisprudence.”

On the performance trail we first gather under the hovering drone used in Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starrs’ site-specific work Dancing with Drones. Performer Alison Plevey reproduces, with slight delay, the movement we see projected onto a screen, shot overhead by the same drone in various locations at Bundanon. The footage is composited as a split image, juxtaposed with black and white footage of Plevey taken from a human standpoint. Here, the colour footage taken by the craft sensitively records nuanced movements of the dancer in a vertical duet, reconstituting the role of the drone as filmmaker, rather than as an instrument surveilling a target.

De Quincey Co’s Mountain and Water draws us to the banks of the pond between Henry’s Bridge and the Jetty. A hunched, squatting figure (Victoria Hunt) emerges from the inky black heaped in a robe of colours, intensifying the beginnings of vertical ascension and layering of ancestors. From within the cacophony of frogs, we hear Amanda Stewart’s voice, a word here a phrase there and sound from musicians Jim Denley and Dale Garfinkel. I think of the absurd logics of consumption: an ugly mountain of incoherency. The slamming of words together provokes normative thoughts: how should we live? From across the water, a leaking angel (Peter Fraser) floats towards us arcing and flooded with light. Boundaries, borders and membranes are transcended.

From the banks we return to the homestead to the projected 3D-structural drawings of Creature (Stalker Theatre and UTS Creativity & Cognition Studios). Water birds, wombats and sugar gliders swell and swirl into being, dissolving from their edges. Fixated we anticipate emerging forms in gasps of delight. A live dancer disturbs the particles with large sweeping extensions. Creatures disappear. Audience are invited to interact, make their impact; the anthropocene felt.

Black Nectar (Keith Armstrong, Lawrence English, Luke Lickfold) asks us to deepen our perceptual listening and seeing in the darkness of Bundanon’s Amphitheatre. Minimising the thick, noisy content of everyday experience, our attentiveness to the life of the bush is sharpened. In procession we are led to await the appearance of fibre optic lights in a subtle choreography drawing on the complex flowering patterns of the Eucalypt nectar that affects the migratory trails of the Grey Headed Flying Bat (mapped by Peggy Eby). Sonically the sounds of the bush are thickened. Only to the local ear, or one who listens carefully, can the layering of amplified and introduced birdcalls and insects be detected in vibratory channels of momentary electronic noise. Black Nectar exposes the perceptual tunnels we seek comfort in and with which we veil our ignorance.

The evening ends with Nigel Kellaway on piano viewed through the window of the homestead (15 Short Scenes on the Dichterliebe) and swaying with red wine in plastic cups to the convivial tunes of Olive and Concetta (Annette Tesoriero and Cathie Travers) under a marquee. Then it’s off to the Biopod for one lucky person who floats the night away in Nigel Helyer’s “micro-architectural structure.” Tiny spaces have an interesting effect on the senses: expanding, shrinking, amplifying or confusing. Helyer emphasises the aural experience in this “overnight acoustic vigil for a single person” who adds their narrative to the “capsule’s log” in a digital archive. Here the imaginary re-flavours reality: Who are we? Where are we?

Sunday culminates with a number of Bioblitz walks, activities focused on Citizen Science whereby amateurs collectively look, find and record an array of flora and fauna local to the property, adding this documentation to the Atlas of Living Australia. By Sunday afternoon with the city’s grip on my senses loosened, I was able to listen intently and capture the unique movement and colour of feathery creatures bouncing from tree to tree; and closely inspect, taste, touch and learn of the historical and cultural uses of plants, flowers and fruits with Clive Freeman on the Indigenous Plant Use Walk.

Siteworks is an event where one can imagine the soul as timber, and feel sensuously engaged with the surroundings within an expertly framed conversation. If only all Australians could be given the opportunity to reprioritise their energies and be opened by such experiences, we might begin to sustain the earth in return.

Siteworks 2014, Bundanon Homestead and Grounds, NSW, 26-28 Sept

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 29

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

Lucas Stibbard and Tim Dashwood

Lucas Stibbard and Tim Dashwood

Lucas Stibbard and Tim Dashwood

JUST AS TRAVEL CAN BE ENLIGHTENING AND TRANSFORMATIVE, SO TOO CAN THEATRE. BOTH HAVE POTENTIAL TO CHANGE THE WAY WE SEE THE WORLD, AND OURSELVES IN IT. PACKED, A CO-PRODUCTION STAGED IN ALBURY-WODONGA BETWEEN HOTHOUSE THEATRE, BRISBANE’S METRO ARTS AND THEATRE GROUP THE ESCAPISTS, PUTS TRAVEL AND TRAVELLERS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE IN A DYNAMIC PIECE OF THEATRE.

It was clear from the outset that Packed was going to do things differently. The B52’s classic travel anthem “Roam” played as the audience took their seats, while Timothy Dashwood—beer in hand—left the stage and wandered around the theatre striking up easy conversations with patrons about their travels.

Packed tells the story of two characters, simply referred to as He and She, who represent the extremes of travel personalities. He (Dashwood) in his beer logo singlet, is the likable, loutish Aussie bloke who has swapped his 9-5 responsibilities for a life of travel, ticking off his travel experiences with an equal love of drinking and selfies. She (Neridah Waters) in her sensible walking boots, cargo pants and scarf, is the hard-working anthropologist, writing about and observing the world at one remove. They collide, literally and hilariously, in an unnamed foreign land, where despite the vast gulf of their differences, they fall in love.

Lucas Stibbard (Book) cleverly plays both He’s travel guidebook and She’s anthropology manuscript. By personifying these two books, as vastly different as their owners, Stibbard’s character adds a whole other riotous dimension to the plot and themes.

He has his beer; She has her notebook. He unashamedly wants to suck the marrow out of his experiences, “I’m a tourist, we touch everything.” She is above the consumerist tourist mentality. Eventually though, She realises she is merely “hiding in a study of the world that doesn’t have me in it.”

The script (co-written by Matthew Ryan and Stibbard) is fast and tight; a hilarious swirl of anthropological theory, observation and travel stories. Even random German words are explained in formal lecture style. The cast give standout performances throughout the, at times, manic scenes—lots of climbing, running and leaping. A sense of movement is also conveyed with small, careful effects like She’s wiggling her ponytail on the back of a motorbike.

The deceptively simple set, consisting of a section of white carpet and three carpeted cubes, was used to maximum effect, creating everything from towers to planes and motorbikes. The large screen on stage added a more complex layer to the story constantly transforming the stage to keep pace with the busy script. Animations (by Pete Foley) were a clever addition to the text-heavy story, transporting the audience to a whimsical faraway land of flying ‘sky yaks.’

There were funny asides about Pluto no longer being a planet and cats having supernatural powers. The audience hit giant balloons around the theatre and the typed pages of the anthropology manuscript floated down on the stage. Like the very best travel adventures, Packed was full of laughter, wisdom and quirky, unexpected delights.

Hothouse Productions, Metro Arts & The Escapists: Packed, co-creators: Keith Clark, Jonathon Oxlade, Matthew Ryan, Lucas Stibbard, writers Matthew Ryan, Lucas Stibbard, design Jonathon Oxlade, lighting Keith Clark, composer Chris Perren, AV design Pete Foley, The Butter Factory Theatre, Wodonga, Oct 23-Nov 1

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 47

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

Deluge

Deluge

Deluge

MARTIN AMIS SAYS THAT EXPERIENCE IS THE CURRENCY OF OUR AGE AND THIS APPETITE FOR BIOGRAPHY AND LIVED EXPERIENCES WAS BORNE OUT ONSTAGE IN THE PROGRAMMING OF THE 2014 BRISBANE FESTIVAL. BUILT AROUND PHILLIP GLASS’ LATEST ‘PORTRAIT’ OPERA THE PERFECT AMERICAN, ABOUT WALT DISNEY, THE PROGRAM INCLUDED INTIMATE WORKS LIKE TODD MACDONALD’S HEART-WRENCHING ACCOUNT OF HIS DAUGHTER’S ILLNESS IN THE BUTTON EFFECT AT QTC AND THE ELLIPTICAL AND STATELY PHYSICAL THEATRE WORK ABOUT THE BRISBANE FLOODS, DELUGE, BY MOTHERBOARD PRODUCTIONS.

The Perfect American

This was outgoing Artistic Director Noel Staunton’s last hurrah and The Perfect American was a tour-de-force collaboration between local companies Opera Queensland, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, QPAC and Expressions Dance Theatre to bring the work commissioned by the English National Opera (ENO) with the impossibly stellar creative team of Glass composing, Phelim McDermott from Improbable Theatre directing and Dan Potra designing, for an exclusive Australian season in Brisbane.

The work retains most of the debut cast, with the thunderous bass baritone of Christopher Purves as Disney anchoring the opera, his voice soaring and vibrating in each of the 12 self-contained episodes that chart the final days of Disney and confabulate fact with fiction, action with hallucination.

The loose structure is held together largely by Don Potra’s design. A giant gantry looms over the stage with two vast revolving arms that spin constantly like a death star, releasing delicate paper screens filled with moving animations, monochromous and ominous, which flutter to the ground like burnt moths. Even the rectilinear aesthetic of Glass’s most celebrated visual collaborator, Robert Wilson, still holds to the 19th century aesthetic of stage backdrop. Potra brings the heavy industrialism of contemporary performance spectacle into opera with undeniable bravery. Indeed, while the work has met with mixed reviews in London and Madrid, Potra’s design has been praised. For a Brisbane audience, unaccustomed to regular debuts of this scale and calibre it was breathtaking to watch the singers and dancers duck and weave as the gantry spun and shed like a living image machine.

Below the gantry was a simple circular revolve, which signified train tracks, a hospital room, a film set and Disney’s office and home. This circularity was not just functional, but echoed Potra’s whirling gantry and was mirrored by Glass’ score, which, although built around his trademark minimalism was a pulsating, driving and addictive experience. Imagine the sound of an old fashioned train on a circular track, the click of castanets and the surge of horns with the sweetness of a classical chorus that somehow sounds like Lou Reed in 1979. The score is marked by sudden shifts, abrupt changes of instruments and long, heavy drone-like sequences. Indeed, the score was criticised overseas for not having more romantic and operatic sequences, like the opening and closing scenes set in Disney’s hometown of Marceline. However, this seemed to me to embody the politic of the work: the mid-Western, right wing America of Disney being simultaneously feted and exorcised by the liberal New York avante-garde; pop culture and high culture colliding in a sometimes uncomfortable mix.

The libretto had a similar mashing of almost bruisingly trite language and what Potra described as “restrained poetry.” “You were only a moderately successful CEO” sings Disney’s imagined nemesis, the disgruntled employee Dantine, an immigrant worker fired for attempting to start a union. “Everything belongs to me,” sings Disney plaintively as his life is slipping from his grasp. Sadly, despite these genuinely bold and arresting elements, The Perfect American did not lift into that total theatre experience that Glass is renowned for making with Wilson: you could feel the audience resisting journeying into the rabbit hole of meditative reception. Somehow it all existed too much in a literal world, filled with sad and agonised characters, the industrial ghosts of Disney’s pencil drawings. Neither fish nor flesh, the opera refused the lures of sentimentality and melodrama but also the pleasures of abstraction.

Deluge

What was both flesh and fish was Motherboard Production’s Deluge, born out of the agony of the floods in Brisbane in 2011 and the follow-up to the Brisbane Festival smash Underground. Motherboard is a vibrant local company, one of a handful that carry the Brisbane traditions of physical theatre, ensemble training and engagement with Asian theatre forms into the next generation. Deluge sits in that canon very clearly, with large-cast spectacle, slow durational form and a mix of Korean and Australian performers. The show opens with an elaborately casual tea ceremony, with performers in civvies handing the audience the warming beverage on a napkin printed with a Judith Wright poem translated into Korean. Who could ask for more?

While many looked bored, I relished the off-handed pageantry of graceful performers inviting their audience slowly into the dripping cave stage world of Deluge. The often cavernous Visy was shortened by an acoustic wall behind most of the seating bank, which gave Dane Alexander’s mesmerising score added power, particularly when it lifted into throbbing techno at key moments in the show. The work built slowly, as delicate glass containers were lifted into and then out of the space, clinking like seagull cries. Classic Suzuki motifs ensued, like slow walls of bodies moving forward. their tiny gestures charged with intensity. The stately bodies grew slowly more and more fevered, as the imagined water came closer; suddenly, an explosion, with bodies running across stage, hitting each other, falling and running again and the impending doom of the ticking clock. The whole stage was rent with green laser light and bodies rippled and drowned. The delicate set was swept away in the deluge till all that remained was the harsh and beautiful cement wall at the back of the theatre.

Time passed with a mournful traditional Korean song, then the show climaxed with the majestic arrival of Niedeck, the director/choreographer and central performer, slowly gliding into the theatre bare-chested with a train of rubbish behind him. A garbage water god, a symbol of wreckage and renewal all at once. There were long sequences that felt extraneous, or lacked tightness or unison—these physical performance forms are unforgiving, they demand such precision and simplicity—but the intensity of Deluge was undeniable, particularly in the final sections.

The Button Event

The Button Event is an intimate one-man piece about devisor and performer Todd MacDonald’s daughter Lola and her struggles with a rare and debilitating form of childhood epilepsy, Tuberous Sclerosis. However, it shares with Deluge a similar delicacy of form and requirement to navigate the work through the frame of personal experience.

The Button Event begins with an almost empty stage, a tennis ball machine and MacDonald reading us a letter he had written, just in case God existed, to thank Mary MacKillop for the novenas that had been offered up to her to try and help his daughter during the pivotal surgery that would eventually save her life. Indeed, this is the organising principle of the show, the before and afters of Lola’s illness—MacDonald’s life and work and marriage before Lola’s illness and then the chaos and struggle to survive after.

MacDonald is a consummate performer, he has that quality of likeability; you always wish him well and because the story is unashamedly personal, in many respects watching it is like hearing a story at a party from a friend. The various tasks undertaken onstage, many of them connected to the tennis balls, only underscore this sense of ordinary exchange, of being told a story over a garden fence. As Lola’s situation deteriorates and Todd’s anxiety rises the design becomes more and more complex: ladders and boxes and strings have to be arranged, the disclosures sail closer and closer to intimate confessions of weakness or despair. A children’s book is read about a grumpy turtle losing its temper and being abandoned. A sweeping train of tennis balls transforms into a whirling cape, the hunchback Richard in agony. There is such deftness in the choices made here by MacDonald and his director and co-deviser Bagryana Popov and designers Kevin O’Brien and Sam Paxton: the ubiquitous tennis ball, so ordinary, but also capable of such luminous beauty when arranged in constellation or when released from the ceiling to fall like redemptive rain.

I think my only sense of unease about the work came from this very success. The world presented was so relatable, so much ours that I did not question any of it—the authenticity of the personal account left no room to challenge or to even interpret. I suspect this is the danger of lived experience as theatre, that you impose on it the polite protocols of a dinner party exchange. Yet both The Perfect American and Deluge demonstrate some of the difficulties in the opposite approach, where confabulation or aestheticisation does not quite do justice to the experience of problematic genius or the ruinous transcendence of natural disaster.

2014 Brisbane Festival: The Perfect American, composer Phillip Glass, librettist Rudolph Wurlitzer, Concert Hall, QPAC, 15-20 Sept; Deluge, director Jeremy Neideck, sound Dane Alexander, designer Sarah Winter, producer Dave Sleswick/Motherboard Productions, devisor-performers Hoyoung Tak, Younghee Park, Youngho Kwon, Katrina Cornwell, Sammie Williams, Jeremy Neideck, Amy Wollstein, Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse,18-20 Sept; QTC, The Button Event, devisor Todd MacDonald with director Bagryana Popov, design Kevin O’Brien, Sam Paxton, lighting Ben Hughes, composer Guy Webster, QTC, Brisbane, 18-27 Sept

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 6

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

Zhang Lei at home, film still from China’s 3 Dreams

Zhang Lei at home, film still from China’s 3 Dreams

CHINA: FAVOURED DESTINATION OF TRADE DELEGATIONS, THE FOCUS OF OUR HARDEST FOUGHT FREE TRADE DEAL AND THE BEDROCK OF THE ASIAN CENTURY. THE CLICHÉS GO ON. YET FOR ALL THE POLITICAL RHETORIC AND ACRES OF PRINT PRODUCED ABOUT THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC, IT’S CLEAR THAT MOST AUSTRALIANS—OUR POLITICIANS INCLUDED—KNOW VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE PLACE, ITS HISTORY OR ITS CULTURE. AND WITH ONE EXCEPTION, NO AUSTRALIAN DOCUMENTARY MAKER HAS PRODUCED A SUSTAINED BODY OF WORK FOCUSED ON CHINA. THAT EXCEPTION IS NICK TORRENS.

Torrens’ fourth and latest China-focused work, China’s 3 Dreams, is also his most ambitious, adopting a deep-focus historical take on the country’s contemporary situation. The main thread follows the attempts of Zhang Lei, a troubled young café owner and single mother in Chongqing, central China, to unravel her family’s traumatic history. Her tale is contrasted with another Chongqing couple as they struggle to buy an apartment and achieve their material ambitions on minimal wages.

For anyone who has spent time in China, the vacuum of historical knowledge among the younger generations is striking. At one level history is everywhere, as the state trumpets “5,000 years of civilisation” on a daily basis and Japanese wartime atrocities are replayed nightly on television. But ask anyone under 40 what happened during Mao’s reign or in the 1980s, and you’re unlikely to receive more than the sketchiest of answers.

“I wondered what the impact of that lack of historical knowledge might be on the future for all of us, not just China,” muses Torrens. “What effect will that have on China and on the West when the current generation become leaders?”

A millennium-old community in Chongqing known as Ciqikou seemed to offer the possibility of finding a way into answering these questions, but it took Torrens two years to find a local who could help with his quest. It took the same time again to gain her trust. “Zhang Lei wasn’t going to open up right at the beginning,” explains the director. “She felt different from her contemporaries. She felt alone, unhappy, and thought love had been devalued by contemporary developments. The story became her gradually understanding that the way she felt was based on the problems of China’s past—the Anti-Rightist Movement of the 1950s that put her Grandfather away for 22 years, and the Cultural Revolution that was responsible for the ‘bad parenting,’ as she put it, that she experienced. Then she realised the whole of China has this story. So maybe it’s a national problem.”

Although several independent Chinese documentaries have delved into similar issues, it’s rare for a film by an outsider to tackle the complex historical questions posed by China’s 3 Dreams. The film could perhaps have benefitted from more time unpicking Zhang Lei’s story and less time on the parallel tale of the house-seeking young couple. The rather superficial treatment of the couple’s dreams makes them appear somewhat facile next to Zhang’s troubled ruminations, which is possibly a disservice to their struggles and aspirations.

Nonetheless, Torrens’ film is far more nuanced and complex than much of the simplistic documentary work on China produced in the West—a result of the many years Torrens spent on the project, and the three China-related films he made before this one.

Hong Kong as a bridgehead

“It was Hong Kong that started my interest in China,” explains Torrens, recalling his first film made in what was then a British colony in 1984. “I was learning every second of every day about a whole new culture,” he says of his first weeks there. “Then I couldn’t leave it alone.”

Torrens’ initial time in Hong Kong produced Running From the Ghost, an observational work about poor Chinese struggling in the cracks of the colony’s burgeoning economy of the 1980s. Viewed today, the film provides a fascinating snapshot of a time when sprawling shantytowns occupied land on Hong Kong Island now worth millions. The film is also a reminder that many of the urbanisation problems presently being experienced on the mainland were evident in British Hong Kong during earlier decades.

Torrens’ friendship with a local Hong Kong businessman, Vincent Lee, provided the focus of his next film, and a bridge into the vast land over Hong Kong’s border. As the territory approached its handover to China in 1997, Lee and his Canadian business partner Mart Bakal began looking for ways to grab a piece of the Chinese economy, already in the midst of a boom. Torrens traced their efforts across two films, the hour-long To Get Rich is Glorious (1998) and the feature-length The Men Who Would Conquer China (2004).

Through Vincent Lee, these documentaries provide a rare glimpse into the inner workings of one of the mega-rich families that dominate Hong Kong, and the often contradictory ways in which they view mainland China. Even more eye-opening for a Western audience is the naivety of Mart Bakal, a North American businessman who seems to regard it as his mission to bend China to Western capitalism. The lack of reflection underlying Bakal’s actions and comments in the films is breathtaking, but it’s a testament to Torrens’ skill that he got these businessmen to open up so unselfconsciously for his camera.

The end of a documentary tradition?

Torrens’ work, in both its style and prolonged attention on a particular place, sits in a tradition of independent Australian documentary making established by directors like Dennis O’Rourke and the partnership of Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson in the 1970s and 80s. Across a series of films, these filmmakers probed the cultures of our neighbours in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific and the complexities of our relationship with these societies. Despite this illustrious heritage, and the fact that China’s 3 Dreams is Torrens’ strongest and most insightful China work, it’s also the film that he has had most difficulty getting to audiences.

“I went too long past the time television wanted these films,” Torrens comments ruefully. “When I started on this project [in the late 1990s] these kinds of films were very viable, but broadcasters no longer want open-ended, layered documentaries. They want factual entertainment with a formula and narrator.”

Although the two premiere screenings of China’s 3 Dreams at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival sold out within days, no local broadcaster has purchased the film. Torrens claims that current commissioning and purchasing practises at the ABC and SBS mean a whole tradition of Australian documentary making is in danger of being strangled—or at least being cut off from much of its audience. “With the public broadcasters’ embrace of commercial imperatives, a whole approach to open-minded filmmaking is really forever lost,” he claims.

If we are serious about so-called “Asian literacy,” then films like China’s 3 Dream should be the mainstay of Australian television documentary. At the very least, films like this provide welcome relief from the endless cooking programs that now pass for serious engagement with other cultures on SBS. More importantly for our local documentary sector, committed filmmakers like Nick Torrens should be recognised and supported as the leading cultural figures they are. Unfortunately, they are more often made to feel like pallbearers for our incredibly rich independent documentary tradition.

China’s 3 Dreams, director, producer, writer Nick Torrens; 2014; www.nicktorrensfilms.com.au

The Men Who Would Conquer China can be viewed at TheAge.tv: www.theage.com.au/tv/Documentary/The-Men-Who-Would-Conquer-China-4280103.html

To Get Rich is Glorious can be viewed at CultureUnplugged.com: www.cultureunplugged.com/play/297/To-Get-Rich-is-Glorious—Deng-Xiaoping

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 30

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

Ashton Malcolm and David Williams, Quiet Faith

Ashton Malcolm and David Williams, Quiet Faith

Ashton Malcolm and David Williams, Quiet Faith

A SELF-CONSCIOUS REJOINDER TO THE NOISINESS OF THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT ON THE ONE HAND AND THE SO-CALLED ‘NEW ATHEISTS’ ON THE OTHER, DAVID WILLIAMS’ QUIET FAITH WEAVES ITS MEEK PRESENCE FROM THE REAL LIFE THREADS OF THE FAITHFUL ORDINARY AND A BURGEONING CHRISTIAN ACTIVISM AS EMBLEMATISED BY THE ‘LOVE MAKES A WAY’ PROTEST MOVEMENT.

In his familiar manner, Williams recorded interviews with 20 Australian Christians of varying ages and denominations in preparation for the work and it’s their words, replicated verbatim down to every last, drawn-out “um” and “ah”, that constitute Quiet Faith’s text. The conversations Williams held with interviewees emerged from three questions: “How would you describe your journey of faith? How does faith manifest itself in your everyday life? And what do you think is, or should be, the relationship between religion and politics?”

Reviewing Williams’ program notes now, I’m put in mind of George Pell’s terse response to David Marr’s recent Quarterly Essay, The Prince: “Marr has no idea what motivates a believing Christian.” In that case, Pell was shutting the door on the possibility of a non-believer grasping such a thing; in Quiet Faith, it is Williams’ avowed intent to open it, to let a little light and air into the largely internalised beliefs of Christianity’s silent majority. It is, seemingly, a project that has been conceived with atheists and agnostics in mind, those who, like both Marr and myself, are more at home critiquing the Christian religion’s institutional failings and archly conservative social activist agenda than engaging with the views and lived experiences of everyday believers.

Williams is joined onstage by just one other performer, the significantly younger Ashton Malcolm, whose performance style provides a sometimes-jarring contrast with Williams whose approach is mimetic, soft-voiced and poker-faced, shot through with, no doubt, many of the same false starts and fillers he has detected in the responses of his interview subjects. Malcolm’s, conversely, is more embroidered, less attentive to the faltering rhythms of ordinary speech; a clear persona emerges that is warm, amused and defiantly daggy. Williams’ performance, moreso than Malcolm’s, seems calculated to drive home the dissimilarity between grassroots Christianity’s quiet emphasis on the pursuit of good works and the evangelistic social conservatism of high-profile Christian politicians like Cory Bernardi and Bob Day. Bernardi, Day and their ilk—and this, of course, is the point—seem worlds apart from the reflective, softly-spoken small-l liberals on whose words Quiet Faith is built.

“I would have said probably 10 years ago,” one of Williams’ interviewees told him, “it would have been unthinkable for a Christian in the conservative churches to not vote Liberal.” Now, such people are not only not voting Liberal in significant numbers, but are staging sit-ins at the offices of ministers on both sides of politics in protest at Australia’s continued, bipartisan policy of offshore detention of refugees.

In addition to providing a useful sketch of this shift in the relationship between religion and politics in Tony Abbott’s Australia, Quiet Faith also foregrounds the minutiae—the hymns and prayers, the church services and greetings of peace—with which the faithful daily ritualise their beliefs. Set designer Jonathan Oxlade’s rings of wooden pews, gorgeously lit by Chris Petridis’ suspended halo of lights, establish a tone halfway between intimacy and ethereality that is subtly redolent of places of worship. The performers move among, sit beside and address their dialogue directly to audience members as candles flicker here and there. At times we are called upon to stand and sing or recite—“Amazing Grace,” The Lord’s Prayer—while at other times Bob Scott’s immersive sound design, incorporating sacred organ and choir music and ringing bells, surges and then drains away. We hear, too, whispering voices: muted, indistinguishable waves of human speech that might be prayers or verses of scripture.

Finally, Malcolm and Williams embody two ministers as they debate the baptism of a stillborn baby, an act expressly forbidden by their doctrine. It is the only palpably dramatic moment of the evening and serves, inadvertently, to point up the insipidness of the preceding hour. There is no doubting the production’s elegant visual and aural design or the appeal of its careful, convincing restatement of progressive Christian values, but in its quest to achieve a meditative atmosphere Quiet Faith tends towards the simply soporific. More forgiving were the audience members who, judging by their post-performance responses, had had a Christian schooling or upbringing. Over them, at least, the work seemed to leave a pall of happy nostalgia—a mark of the successfulness of its verisimilitude, if not its ability to fully engage the uninitiated.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 47

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

Helen Christinson and Hugh Parker, A Doll’s House

Helen Christinson and Hugh Parker, A Doll’s House

Helen Christinson and Hugh Parker, A Doll’s House

THERE CAN BE LITTLE DEBATING THE ASSERTION THAT AUSTRALIAN THEATRE IS CURRENTLY IN AN ADAPTO-MANIA BOOM CYCLE—ARGUABLY NOW JUST ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CREST OF A WAVE THAT PEAKED IN SYDNEY THIS YEAR WITH RALPH MYERS’ BELVOIR SEASON WHERE SEVEN OUT OF THE 11 SHOWS, BY MY RECKONING, WERE RESTAGED EUROPEAN CLASSICS OR ADAPTATIONS OF CANONICAL UR TEXTS.

The current surge in activity seems to have had its genesis in Melbourne’s independent theatre sector over the past decade or so, with the centre of gravity occurring at the Malthouse Theatre under Michael Kantor’s stewardship (2003-2010). Indeed, this year’s Brisbane Festival—Noel Staunton’s last—sees a new version of King Lear (The Shadow King) co-created and directed by Kantor. It is joined by Melbourne playwright Lally Katz’ new version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and Melbourne-based indie company The Rabble’s reimagined stage version of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando. Interestingly, none of these three productions’ presenters use the word ‘adaptation’ in their programs or on festival websites. Indeed, in the case of The Shadow King neither Shakespeare nor Lear is mentioned at all; Katz’ text is named as a “new version” of the Ibsen original; and The Rabble’s take on Orlando is described as “a hallucinatory reworking of Virginia Woolf’s classic gender-bending parable.”

A Doll’s House

Of the three adaptions, in some ways Katz’ version of A Doll’s House is the most reverent to the parent text. The playwright’s voice is subtle—and Katz’ voice can quite literally intrude into the text of her plays. There are no overt attempts to Australianise the dialogue, for example, or to place the mise en scène in an idiosyncratic local setting. The most radical intervention the audience witnesses here is with Steven Mitchell Wright’s directorial signature, which sees Nora and the other characters (an excellent ensemble cast led by Helena Christenson as Nora, with Chris Beckey, Damien Cassidy, Cienda McNamara and Hugh Parker as Krogstad, Dr Rank, Kristine and Torvald, respectively) animated as clockwork dummies or music box figurines.

For all but the final moments of the three-act play, the actors avoid eye contact with each other and move in rigid, mechanical trajectories across the stage. We are invited to read the characters as wind-up toys trapped in the eponymous doll’s house that sees wives as properties of convention and their husbands’ estates and reputations. There was a risk the performative trope would become irritating over the play’s three hour running time, but in fact it worked well. The tension was meted out expertly and married beautifully to colour-coded period costume design (by Nathalie Ryner) and musical score (Dane Alexander) that combined to put me in mind of the Vulgarian palace scenes in the children’s film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (and I say that as a good thing!). This was the most disciplined directorial hand I have seen from Wright. He did an excellent job to marry themes and aesthetics together in a rich, compelling interpretation of Katz’ text. As Nora peels herself out of period dress in the play’s famous climax, she transforms into the ‘modern woman’ before our eyes—having sung key moments of subtext that express her psychological entrapment up until now—and the famous door that slams shut on the institution of 19th century marriage re-echoes so loudly here that audience members around me actually screamed as Nora exited.

The Shadow King

Tom E Lewis and Michael Kantor localise Lear dramatically in The Shadow King, resituating the parent text so that it speaks directly to an Australian Aboriginal political constituency, alluding strongly to the fraught issue in Northern Australia of private Indigenous home ownership in communal lands. As in the original text, an ageing, ailing Lear (Lewis) is deciding to which of his three daughters he should leave his property. Firebrand Cordelia (Rarriwuy Hick) doesn’t want anything to do with the ‘blood money’—private ownership of community lands acquired through mining company royalties—so Lear gives the property to Goneral (Jada Alberts) and Regan (Natasha Wanganeen), whose greed and self-interest see them destroy each other. It is left for the Fool (Kamahi Djordon King) to announce at play’s end that “You can’t divide up the land…This land is you.”

It’s a daring, dynamic and delightfully aggressive reinterpretation of King Lear. The politics are raw and piercingly insightful. I could write a page on Paul Jackson, David Miller and Kantor’s set design—a gigantic earthmoving piece of mining equipment that converts into both elevated tropical houses and rusty prison cell. And Natasha Gadd, Rhys Graham and Murray Lui’s videography evokes such wonderful domestic detail of North Australian bush households—rusty fridges on the back patio, dirty eskies, wandering camp dogs. It was a brilliant night’s theatre for me on so many levels, and as close to a game changer in contemporary Indigenous theatrical collaboration and revisionism (of the European canon) as I can think of.

Orlando

The Rabble’s stage adaptation of Woolf’s most challenging of novels is another bold theatrical experiment, and one which reviewers in this magazine have lauded (see RT112, p15). It is a looser, more episodic reinterpretation of its European parent text than the other two plays discussed here. Woolf’s novel itself is, of course, a modernist experiment in structure and form and her spirit of radical gender play is honoured here.

Certain scenes were more theatrically compelling than others for me, with some stock post-dramatic techniques (the reading of lists as text, in this case synonyms for vaginas, for example) more effective for the audience member that hasn’t seen them rendered similarly elsewhere before. But the daring performances in this stark white, sterile set (Kate Davis designs) succeed in transporting us to the Great Frost of 1709 as effectively as to the anachronistic domestic interior of Orlando’s bored housefrau watching an electric jug boil. Its residence in the festival’s curated Theatre Republic ‘sideshow’ season was a fitting showcase for this interesting independent company’s introduction to Brisbane audiences.

A capital city’s arts festival is designed to bring the best of local, national and international work together and place it in regional conversation, and as a trifecta, these three stage adaptations are examples of best practice in many ways. But has the glut of adaptomania reached its zenith, and is it tipping into surfeit? Four out of six mainstage plays in La Boite incoming Artistic Director Chris Kohn’s inaugural 2015 season are restaged classics (of beloved children’s novels, Shakespeare and Euripides) so, in Brisbane at least, the Melbournesque surge continues for a while longer.

2014 Brisbane Festival: La Boite, A Doll’s House, writer Henrik Ibsen, new version by Lally Katz, director Steven Mitchell Wright, La Boite, Roundhouse Theatre, 6-27 Sept; Malthouse, The Shadow King, creators Michael Kantor, Tom E. Lewis, director Michael Kantor; Orlando, creators Emma Valente, Kate Davis, QUT The Loft, Brisbane, 16-20 Sept

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 8

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

Perfume, Love Japan Night, National Stadium Tokyo, 29 May, TB broadcast 10 Aug

Perfume, Love Japan Night, National Stadium Tokyo, 29 May, TB broadcast 10 Aug

ZAHA HADID ARCHITECTS’ NEW NATIONAL STADIUM FOR THE 2020 TOKYO OLYMPICS IS DECLARED TO BE “A PIECE OF THE CITY’S FABRIC, AND URBAN CONNECTOR WHICH ENHANCES AND MODULATES PEOPLE MOVING THROUGH THE SITE FROM DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS AND POINTS OF ACCESS.” TOKYOITES ARE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT THE BULLDOZING OF ONE OF JAPAN’S MOST IMPORTANT PSYCHO-CULTURAL EDIFICES OF THE POST-WAR RECONSTRUCTION.

The original National Stadium is the ground zero of Japan’s rebirth for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It’s where Katsuhiro Otomo sites Neo-Tokyo 31 years after the Third Nuclear War in his anime allegory for Japan’s mid-Showa era of advanced industrialisation, Akira (serialised 1982-1990). He famously compared the stadium’s concave black hole to a convex white detonation, suggesting that Bubble-era Japan was doomed to karmic cycles of decimation.

In this sense, the National Stadium is a sacred site. ZHA’s New National Stadium misses this point: instead of accepting negative space as form, it negates space to construct form. It tolls the bell for a diminishing spatial respect for which Japan is renowned. A wake of sorts was held at the original National Stadium. But it wasn’t organised by city planners or architects, or even sports people. Over two days and nights, a stellar array of Japanese pop and rock artists staged a festival to honour one of the major venues for live music in Japan. Broadcast by BS-SPTV and NHK World, the stand-out performance was by Perfume: a trio of Idol singers from Hiroshima who in the later 2000s became Japan’s most successful ‘Techno-Pop’ band, crossing over from being a pure Idol invention into a group produced by Yasutaka Nakata (originally from one of the key Shibuya Pop groups of the late 90s, Capsule). For Love Japan Night, Perfume performed a selection of their hits in modified presentation from their earlier tours, which cannily resonated with the significance of the event and its site.

Prior to the band’s entrance, three giant screens stand spread across the stage. On the side screens, a circle is drawn in phosphorescent lines. It quickly becomes a pair of cross-hairs, rotating and tilting, transforming into a portal from which a teeming waterfall of light shoots upwards. Typical of anime physics, everything is reversed, as a zillion particles form an energy beam which distorts gravity. From this reconstructed zone, six stiletto shoes appear. The audience screams in delight; Perfume are in the house. Neither live nor living just yet, they’re being invented and constructed before our ears and eyes. In a vertically rising reverse strip-tease, the stilettos grow feet, calves, thighs. The light intensifies, as does the cheering crowd. At crotch-height, a cloud of blinding light particles rises, then morphs into the glowing upper-body silhouettes of the three members of Perfume: Nocchi, Kashiyuka and A~chan. There they now stand, thin waifs of vaporous wire-frame form, each with hair resembling a perfect wig: short, medium, long. Molecular transporting in Star Trek was never this erotic.

The glow of the three formed bodies is reduced as they stand, silent and faceless. They’re transparent cellular creatures from fathomless oceanic digitalia, born of light, now rendered as exo-shapes. Then, a red heart beats in each of them, recalling the red beating orb of Neo-Tokyo in Akira. In perfect synch to their joint pulse, a battalion of glow-sticks in the audience throbs red (itself an amazing technical feat of wireless convergence). Everything glows red for flashing seconds with each heart beat. This isn’t just Perfume as a band: this is symbolic of life being created, stimulating the audience as part of the ritual. Their life forms fade into black, leaving only the three red hearts.

After a second of silence, the side screens blast us with giant close-ups of the faces of Perfume. Head and shoulders like an ad for hair conditioner. Faces bleached and glowing white like the creation of the fake Maria in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1925). In vocoded tones they chime: “Welcome To The New Arrival.” The audience knows the track well: “Edge” from their 2009 album Triangle. It was claimed to be their 80s- inspired album, but like all such projects, it’s completely of its own era. A phalanx of bass-synths percolating in a mix of pseudo-analogue warbling and sharp digital grunting straddles three decades of synth programming in a recombinant DNA effect of what in Japan is called “Techno Pop.”

To this instrumental opening, the three screens create a wide panorama of tilting neon-tubes, like a Dan Flavin exhibition shot through a kaleidoscope. This is Perfume’s music visualised appropriately as a network of patterns—interlaced, braided, convolved, matrixed. It sounds like Kraftwerk put through an aural kaleidoscope. Then in the centre stage, three six-metre tall light boxes are pushed out from the centre screen. They each show a life-size video image of Nocchi, Kashiyuka and A~chan, beautiful cyborgs striking a sassy but casual pose with arms folded. The music continues its dramatic ascent as their bodies slowly rise upwards, engulfed in a series of pulsing halos, again referencing Metropolis. From within these boxes, the three girls of Perfume emerge from rising platforms, perfectly synched to their projected images. The virtual becomes real; Perfume is now in the house. They launch into their Autotuned vocals with low-key synchronised movement, somewhere between calisthenics, synchronised swimming, postmodern anti-dance and plain preening in front of the mirror. Indeed, it’s the hybrid of these forms of movement which constitutes Perfume’s choreographed charm. And they pull it off effortlessly, like glacial catwalk models liquefied into a series of poses as if they’re waiting to be served at a department store.

Beyonce’s amazing projection-mapped performance of Run The World at the 2011 Billboard Awards is a landmark for this type of integrated body-staging. The prowess of her integrated corporeality defines her stage presence as she literally controls the screenic space. Conversely, Perfume are ciphers, vessels, figurines that meld with the screenic space. They become indistinguishable from it. While Beyonce quotes military multiplication and self-empowerment, Perfume quote figurative phantasm and self-sublimation. Throughout their set, their physical bodies are treated as miniature figurines engulfed by their own supra-images and meta-forms. At one point, they even sit on the floor with their backs to the audience and sing along with their giant projected faces. Calmly, they ponder their own existence within the vortex of simulated data all around them. It’s like they’re not even there. Within the context of a celebratory mourning of a site about to be destroyed, they become sacrificial maidens offering up their audiovisual selves to the sacred site of the National Stadium. I hope their spirits haunt the New National Stadium.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 31

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

Harry Reuben, Rachael Maza, Beautiful One Day (2012)

Harry Reuben, Rachael Maza, Beautiful One Day (2012)

Harry Reuben, Rachael Maza, Beautiful One Day (2012)

RACHAEL MAZA IS THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF ILBIJERRI, VICTORIA’S ONLY PROFESSIONAL INDIGENOUS THEATRE COMPANY AND, TOGETHER WITH WESTERN AUSTRALIA’S YIRRA YAAKIN, ONE OF ONLY TWO SUCH COMPANIES IN AUSTRALIA. SHE HAS JUST RETURNED FROM DUBLIN WHERE THE COMPANY’S PRODUCTION OF JACK CHARLES V THE CROWN PLAYED AT THE SAMUEL BECKETT THEATRE AS PART OF THE DUBLIN THEATRE FESTIVAL. ASKED ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE SHE IS ECSTATIC, “OH MY GOD, JUST BRILLIANT. THE WORK ITSELF …IT STANDS UP AT AN INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL.”

While not a woman’s story, Jack Charles’ was one that Rachael believed needed to be told and this remains her major consideration when selecting a work. “The thing that really fires me up is the politics…a carry-on from the generation before me and my forefathers.”

Rachael’s father Bob Maza founded, with Jack Charles, Australia’s first Aboriginal theatre company, Nindethana, in Melbourne in 1972 and produced a version of The Cherry Pickers by Kevin Gilbert, considered to be the first Aboriginal play. Later the same year Maza moved to Sydney where he was actively involved with Redfern’s National Black Theatre. Rachael remembers these as “high energy times” with “the men very loud and public,” so much so that they caught the eye of the media to the virtual exclusion of many incredible women.

Given this background it’s perhaps not surprising that Rachael became an actor, although there was a time when she was determined to find a different career. Her first love was music, playing bass guitar in bands. However, while working at a community school in Woolloomooloo she found herself thinking, “Maybe I’d like to do acting.” A work colleague mentioned a course in Lismore that offered acting and dancing classes and she decided to give it a try. Lyndon Terracini, now Artistic Director of Opera Australia, was her acting teacher and she credits him with influencing her to do a ‘proper’ acting course. This College of Advanced Education course had provided her with the stepping stone she needed to enable her to complete a three year acting degree at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).

As Rachael explains, coming to acting via a circuitous route meant self doubt has always been an issue for her: “I’ve taken nudges, required people to bolster my confidence because it wasn’t there innately.” She has never seen herself as ambitious or driven and has tended to take a year-at-a-time outlook on her career: “It’s like I’ll see how it goes; if it’s going all right I’ll keep going…otherwise I’ll do something different.” In her current role she is aware that she often tends to step back, handing the credit to all the other creatives involved. “You know you’re good at what you do…but I grapple with this inbuilt uncertainty that kicks in at all points.” Asked how she deals with this her answer is simple, “I don’t know. I just power along.”

Rachael Maza’s way of working is intuitive and collaborative. “I listen from my gut and through that am able to navigate my way creatively through the space. Often I find myself sitting back in the room and letting the creatives put their input in and then tend to come in and feel like I’m steering it…that’s how I cope, that’s how I work best.” She also works best when she manages to strike a balance between work and family life—an ongoing struggle.

The challenges inherent in her current role are many and varied. One of the biggest is the shortage of Indigenous arts workers at every level of the creative process: actors, writers, directors, designers, production managers, producers, you name it. There is a mass of talent within the community but for some reason not many have gone on to pursue professional careers in the arts. llbijerri does its best to nurture and develop talent but no one theatre company can do everything. Indigenous artists need to have other opportunities to develop their skills and gain experience over the longer term, to have viable career paths.

Rachael does not believe there is a male/female imbalance within the Indigenous arts community, but she does find that the women tend to be less inclined to “talk themselves up.” In contrast men come across as far more confident in who they are, what they have to offer and where they see themselves in the future. “I am very aware of concerns from the community that we need more women’s stories.” This is probably why Ilbijerri has three women’s stories (by Katie Beckett, Tammy Anderson and Wilma Reading and Jane Bodie) currently in development.

The reality of limited funding is always challenging; development/rehearsal time is limited and “we have to be very vigilant to ensure Indigenous protocols are followed.” Without exception, when developing a new project at Ilbijerri, the protocols involved can mean a very lengthy process of talking to and working with everyone impacted by and involved in that story. The budget is never enough to research, develop and rehearse a work as much as one would like which puts added pressure on all concerned. “Jack Charles v The Crown was one of those blessed experiences, despite the limited budget, because we had the right team in the room and because that story was determined to be told—we got there! Four years later it’s still touring. Beautiful One Day [with version 1.0] was another exception to the rule because it was backed by Sydney’s Belvoir, giving us the luxury of five or six weeks’ development followed by five weeks’ rehearsal.“

Despite all the challenges Rachael Maza is optimistic about current opportunities for Indigenous arts and artists. “It’s a fantastic time to be in the arts; it’s a struggle, but there is massive room for growth…a real opening up for Indigenous story-telling. I think a crack’s happening in the veneer. There’s been a long history of not wanting to go there because it’s so ugly, painful, raw. I think something’s cracked, there’s a want to hear these stories…I think that some time in the future we’ll be able to celebrate because this is what makes us unique in this country, something really special, something we can all learn from.”

Rachael Maza’s fIlm and TV roles include the AFI award winner Radiance (1998), Cosi (1996), Lillian’s Story (1996) and My Year Without Sex (2009). She’s also worked as a TV presenter, narrator and Indigenous Liaison Advisor on films such as Rabbit Proof Fence (2002). In 2012, she worked as dramaturg on the production of Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country. As performer she’s appeared in the Belvoir production of The Sapphires (2005) and Bell Shakespeare’s The Tempest. She won a Sydney Theatre Critics Award for her role in Radiance (1994) and a Green Room Award for Holy Day (2002). Her directing credits include Stolen (1992) for Ilbijerri Theatre Company, Sisters of Gelam (2009), Jack Charles Vs The Crown (2010), Foley (2011) and Beautiful One Day (2012).

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 48

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

Roslyn Oades Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday

Roslyn Oades Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday

Roslyn Oades Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday

WE BORROW ON NERVOUS TERMS. EVEN BEYOND THE LEGAL AND MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF ARTISTIC QUOTATION, THE VERY UTILITY OR FUTILITY OF PASTICHE, HOMAGE, PARODY AND REVISION HAS BEEN ENDLESSLY DEBATED AND THE POLITICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL COMPLEXITIES CONTINUE TO ANIMATE BRITTLE AND APPREHENSIVE DISCUSSIONS.

It’s the kind of situation that leads to the limp toing-and-froing about ‘adaptations versus originals’ that regularly crops up in Australia, or that causes brows to furrow when a work is described as ‘after’ so-and-so. It was hugely rewarding, then, to see a suite of new works at this year’s Melbourne Festival taking on the specific problem of translation between forms with great confidence and sophistication.

These included a poem transformed into a nightmarish multimedia landscape, audio documentary rendered as magnificent ‘verbatim theatre,’ a Shakespeare play as nomadic live art and true crime tale reimagined in a lyrical, almost musical manner.

The Trouble With Harry

The Trouble With Harry is the only one of these to even gesture to the problematic status of artistic debt, through the occasional moment that recognises the epistemological impossibility of ever faithfully recreating a ‘true’ story on stage. The work is inspired by the life of Harry Crawford, a woman whose life as a man in early 20th century Sydney included marriage and parenthood. She came to national attention after a murder that resulted in her eventual outing, and playwright Lachlan Philpott and director Alyson Campbell rightly acknowledge that there are questions that must be faced regarding their responsibilities in addressing such a complex subject. But, just as interestingly, they acknowledge that these are far from the only questions that deserve asking here.

The work is stylistically daring in subtle ways. It employs two narrators dressed in understated contemporary garb, as opposed to the diegetic characters in period costume. Dialogue and narration overlap and at times the lyrical language employed and the tight choreography of movement almost transform the work into a kind of music theatre. At odds with music theatre’s sense of grand community however is the oddly disconnected viewing experience of The Trouble With Harry where audience members are fitted with chunky headphones that afford them access to the intimate discussions of the folk on stage along with an accomplished sound design by Chris Wenn. It’s easy to lose the sense of being in a crowd, given these circumstances, and the work rather lends itself to a kind of voyeuristic sense that is all the more interesting given the events that unfold.

The Trouble With Harry never dips into sensationalism, though it does play with the way its subject was met with prurient or lurid fascination across history. The fear of being discovered forms the background to the piece, rarely made explicit but always simmering beneath scenes. The roles of Crawford’s children are a little overplayed in the way that most kid roles for adults often are, but the performances of Maude Davey as the titular Harry and Caroline Lee as his wife Annie are so finely detailed as to provide one of the most credible on stage relationships I can recall. The play itself doesn’t pathologise anyone involved—rather, there is a wealth that is unspoken here but gently conveyed by these two actors, allowing audiences only the briefest of access to the untold business that exists between lovers.

My Lover’s Bones

Brown Cab Productions’ My Lover’s Bones takes a more explicitly horrifying look at the vicissitudes of the heart. It follows an unnamed Aboriginal man’s quest to track and slay a bunyip in the hope it will win him his love, but the hunt itself becomes a metaphor for his own descent into obsessive madness. The monster may be in his head; this ‘lover’ may be a rapist and murderer; or perhaps he is the victim of a larger system that has entrapped him. If all of this sounds ambiguous, the production is not. It fuses a hard, physical and at times hypnotic performance by Kirk Page, thoughtful design including striking set pieces, well-executed projection and arresting sound design, and text that produces evocative imagery without detracting from the concrete aspects of the work.

At the performance’s end the person next to me sighed, “it was like a poem,” and this was exactly the thought I’d had myself. It’s some marker of success that the work is adapted from a poem by Cameron Costello, but is far more than a presentation of the original with some extra trimmings. Rather, it makes material the spirit of Costello’s text, which is an eerie fusion of Quandamooka legend and Poe-like gothicism. It’s a short, sharp and memorable work.

Since I Suppose

Since I Suppose

Since I Suppose

Since I Suppose

I wouldn’t describe Since I Suppose as short nor sharp, but it certainly featured several sequences that left a lasting impression. Live art collective, one step at a time like this’ last work was en route, a city-roaming audio tour in which urban flanerie was complemented by fragments of spoken word drawing upon thinkers and poets as sources. It has travelled the world extensively and successfully, so it’s easy to see why the group has expanded upon the model with this new outing. It’s a two-to-three hour experience for two people traversing a city, mostly unaccompanied and directed by a mobile device that provides video and audio. Unlike en route, it injects the additional element of narrative.

In this case it’s Shakespeare’s notorious ‘problem play’ Measure for Measure. The original’s concerns afford a neat excuse to take participants to the seats of political and religious power as well as less salubrious sites of intrigue. There’s sometimes a sense of the ghost-hunt to it, as scenes from the past play out on the mobile screen in the same location as the participants now stand. There’s also the chance to put yourself in potentially uncomfortable situations, though it’s by no means a necessarily confronting work.

If it lacks something that en route had, it’s likely simply the aspect of novelty that can’t be repeated. Newcomers to the company’s work will probably find that here in spades. A politically problematic narrative is a tough replacement for the sense of wonder I found in the earlier work, however, and it was only after the work had ended that I felt it held together as a translation of Shakespeare’s play that conveyed both its story and internal tensions without being beholden to form or structure.

Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday

On paper, Roslyn Oades’ Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday might seem the least ambitious of these translations—even closer to mimicry than anything else. It consists of a style of practice she has been developing for some years in which audio interviews are played live in the ears of actors who then incarnate these speakers in real time (see The Power of Listening, Caroline Wake’s interview with Oades in our Women + Performance series, RT123, p33). So, impressions, basically? The result is anything but.

The raw material here is drawn from the words of a disparate group of 18-year-olds and people in their 80s or older. The sheer number of interview hours Oades must have conducted is staggering, given how much of this is rich with character and anecdotal originality. Then again, perhaps it is the constantly engaging energy produced when the live audio feed allows every stutter or hiccup or stumble or giggle to be rendered in a way that would seem artificial in regular theatre but has an absolute authenticity here.

Also key is the way the actors, whose ages must surely span at least 40 or more years themselves, are given the opportunity to play across generations as well as gender and race. Performers with greying hair produce impeccable portraits of awkward adolescents, while those barely out of their teens themselves seem perfectly cast as people whose bodies or minds are beginning to fade. That these are stories without a conventional sense of the dramatic to them doesn’t matter. They are infused with a terrific sense of life rarely felt in a theatre.

2014 Melbourne International Arts Festival: MKA Theatre of New Writing and Darebin Arts Speakeasy, The Trouble With Harry, writer Lachlan Philpott, director Alyson Campbell, design Eugyeene Teh, lighting Rob Sowinski, sound Chris Wenn, Northcote Town Hall, 17 Oct-9 Nov; Brown Cab Productions, My Lover’s Bones, producer John Harvey, design Alison Ross, lighting Lisa Mibus, composer, performer, projection Anna Liebzeit, choreographer, performer Kirk Page, choreographer Alexandra Harrison, video Ainsley Kerr, Footscray Community Arts Centre, 14-18 Oct; one step at a time like this, Since I Suppose, creators Suzanne Kersten, Clair Korobacz, Paul Moir, Julian Rickert, developed through Arts House CultureLAB, 15-26 Oct; Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday, director Roslyn Oades, movement Nat Cursio, sound Bob Scott, Russell Goldsmith, lighting Paul Jackson, design Christina Hayes, audio-script editing Roslyn Oades, script dramaturg Raimondo Cortese, Malthouse, Melbourne, 9-26 Oct

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 10-11

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

Elma Kris

Elma Kris

Elma Kris

ELMA KRIS WAS RAISED ON THURSDAY ISLAND AND IS A DESCENDENT OF THE PEOPLE OF THE WESTERN AND CENTRAL ISLANDS OF THE TORRES STRAIT. SHE IS ONE OF BANGARRA DANCE THEATRE’S LONGEST SERVING PERFORMERS AND CHOREOGRAPHERS. KRIS’ LEADING ROLE IN MATHINNA (2008, 2010) GAINED HER SIGNIFICANT RECOGNITION AS A PERFORMER, MARKING A PIVOTAL SHIFT IN HER CAREER.

The company, under the leadership of Stephen Page, has been responsible for the development of many Indigenous performers and choreographers. Page recognised Elma Kris’ capacity and empowered her to make the transition from performer to choreographer.

When we talked in April 2014, Kris provided a deeper insight into the relationship between culture and dance from a Torres Strait Islander perspective. Her use of language to describe the importance of story and closeness to country in this relationship is simple but evocative and poetic. We discussed her training as a dancer, her second choreographic work for Bangarra, About (2011), and a current project that she is still in the process of developing.

Kris is grateful for her five years of training at the National Aboriginal Islander Skill Development Association Dance College (NAISDA), which provided vital stepping stones to her career with Bangarra. This training provided her with opportunities to “grab onto” cultural knowledge and traditional teachings of dance through cultural tutors who are drawn from specific communities around Australia and who engage the dance students in immersive workshops. Her experience with NAISDA allowed Kris to “nurture myself for my culture.”

Growing up, Kris only ever observed cultural events such as song and dance being performed by her parents or elders of neighbouring islands as she was not called upon to participate. Through the cultural tutors, NAISDA enabled Kris to experience the diversity of the Torres Strait dances and their link with musical patterns and rhythms through the study of both music and dance. “I think coming to NAISDA and seeing similar dances performed… [I was] able to connect with our culture… not only that, it was my first time to actually pick up an instrument and learn how to play it,” she says. Among these instruments were the Warup drum and Kulap rattle, which are both used to accompany dance in the Torres Strait Islands.

Kris is a powerful dancer who is able to evoke strong emotions directly through movement. In About, the first segment of Bangarra’s 2011 production Belong, Kris recreated the visceral experience of the four Torres Strait winds named Zey, Kuki, Naygay and Sager. This was inspired by her parents’ perspective: “This is what mum and dad used to talk about—the winds… their moods, what they do and how we respond and how they paint the sky and land, and how they can make the sea very calm.” She describes how the foam on the beach indicates the violence of the wind and “how the wind will rattle the sea a little bit to make different type of winds.” As a choreographer, coming directly from the rich heritage of Thursday Island, Kris is able to combine her deep cultural knowledge with contemporary artistic expression to create evocative dance theatre in the Bangarra style.

She explains that her choreography is inspired “by something way back home,” which usually emerges from stories passed down to her as a child. “A lot of stories are told that constantly remind us about the spirituality of land, the sea and the sky… and how we’re connected with the environment. They can’t speak but they can show signs and colours, whether it’s aggressive weather or whether it’s good weather.”

In About, there is a profound spiritual resonance in the way Kris is able to recreate the feeling of the Torres Strait winds embodied in the dancers’ movements and supported by David Page’s score. She enacts an extension of traditional cultural transmission by engaging with Indigenous knowledge and customs through the mode of contemporary dance theatre. Kris’ stories invite spectators to engage with and understand the value systems of Indigenous Australian cultures that are presented in ways both evocative and direct. She hopes this gives Indigenous Australians the inspiration to connect back to their culture. At the same time, there is a large emphasis on the importance for non-indigenous Australians “to understand as well… because they’re in darkness without any way of knowing how to connect.” So, Kris’ work reflects Bangarra’s vision to preserve culture through sharing it.

Mathinna, Elma Kris and the Women’s Ensemble, Bangarra Dance Theatre

Mathinna, Elma Kris and the Women’s Ensemble, Bangarra Dance Theatre

Mathinna, Elma Kris and the Women’s Ensemble, Bangarra Dance Theatre

In 2012, Kris was given the opportunity to affirm this vision when she was invited to become a part of the “Engaging Objects: Indigenous Communities, Museum Collections and the representation of Indigenous Histories” project. Consequently she has been involved in extensive research over several years which will culminate in an exhibition in 2015, part of the Encounters project, a collaboration between ANU and the British Museum. Kris will be one of the Australian National University ‘fellows’ who have been asked to engage with key objects from the British Museum’s Australian Indigenous Collection dating back to the 1800s. The resulting contemporary responses and experiences will be a part of the final exhibition. Kris is the sole Torres Strait Islander performing artist working on the project and sees her role as an opportunity to use dance as a vehicle to re-awaken these objects.

At the foundation of the deep spirituality of Elma Kris’ life and creative work is her ability to connect past with present—in Engaging Objects, she tells people about significant objects that have appeared in dreams: “Do you know when you dream and something comes to you in another way and it actually wakens you and it awakens itself to you… and then you ask: What was that? What was I woken by? What was its purpose? Why? So it’s this spiritual thing that comes through your dream and it gives you the ability to waken these other [objects].”

Nonetheless, Kris acknowledges the necessary restrictions of culture, such that only people of a culture are able to access specific knowledge: “there are certain things that we are allowed to awaken or we can’t awaken unless we have gathered protocol[s] to be able to tell it in the deep ways of it… [and] there are things you don’t want to exploit. It’s more about engaging with it and being able to tell a story.” This has prompted Kris to focus on the “awaken[ing] of things that are intrinsic to the woman…” throughout the life of the project. “I wanted to actually engage with a lot of the women’s stuff: to actually express how in our society it’s so important to be able to engage with these objects that have been taken away and how we can preserve them and bring them back… So that way, we are still able to practise things such as weaving baskets because we still need to [continue these] practices.”

Elma Kris has chosen four culturally significant objects that hold intrinsic feminine importance to traditional Torres Strait Islander practice from the British Museum collection. Her contemporary narrative response to these objects will be expressed in a short film featuring Bangarra dancers in an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, November 2015.

For more about Elma Kris visit: http://bangarra.com.au/people/dancers/elma-kris.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 32

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

Hit Parade

Hit Parade

Hit Parade

OPENING THE LIQUID ARCHITECTURE 2014 FESTIVAL BOOKLET FOR THE FIRST TIME WAS A DISCONCERTING EXPERIENCE, AS LOOSE PAGES FELL TO THE UNSUSPECTING READER’S FEET. THE PAGES FEATURED ARTISTIC STATEMENTS, QUOTES FROM FRENCH THEORY, ROCK LYRICS, BUT NO PAGE NUMBERS. WHERE WERE THE FESTIVAL DATES? WHO WAS PLAYING WHERE? WHAT ORDER DID THE PAGES GO IN? THE FESTIVAL WEBSITE WAS SIMILARLY DISORIENTATING.

New festival Artistic Directors Joel Stern and Danni Zuvela had warned us that audiences this year would be confused, angry and divided. The festival booklet’s fluid hierarchy and lack of easy answers augured this challenge. With the theme “The Ear Is A Brain,” Liquid Architecture 2014 encouraged audiences to listen and think critically. They proved sturdy enough to accept the challenge with gusto, selling out the majority of events on the Melbourne leg of the festival and on more than one occasion becoming participants in performances (both voluntarily and unwittingly).

It was clear from the moment the audience entered the Meat Market for the opening night concert that things were not going to be made easy. As the crowd of 500-plus filed in, they gradually became aware of an irregular knocking coming from the PA. Melbourne artist, Helen Grogan, was crawling around the perimeter of the space, tracing its edges with a live microphone. Grogan’s Concrete Room, performed previously in much smaller gallery spaces, was executed with a single-minded intensity that emphasised the work’s ritualistic nature. Grogan’s microphone negotiated carpet, skirting boards, bluestone and at times the feet of audience members. The long microphone cord tailing behind her forced the audience to physically negotiate the performance by stepping over it.

Most of the capacity opening night crowd had come for Robin Fox’s headlining RGB Laser performance. This was expertly staged as a large partitioned wall opened to reveal a spacious extra wing of the venue, with Fox’s smoke, laser beams and jagged electronic tones spilling out. The crowd strode into the smoke like entranced cultists for a truly immersive sound and light experience, with Fox presiding over it all from a raised platform like a new Wizard of Oz.

Yet the most interesting performance of the night was Christof Migone’s Mixer. The first of several works by the Canadian artist on the festival program, Mixer was performed by a group of volunteers briefed shortly before the concert. The work took place on the main stage in between the more ‘official’ performances with the participants enacting a series of simple, repetitive actions, mostly involving microphones. These included repeating your age for an equal number of minutes, and giving other participants backrubs with a live microphone. These unheralded episodes were largely ignored by the large crowd, whose own sound world of reverberating pub chatter created a distinctly odd juxtaposition against Mixer. The audience’s dogged ignorance became part of the performance.

The following evening’s Stutterances program at the National Gallery of Victoria attracted a more attentive crowd. Most of it took place in a lecture theatre setting with speech/text-based performances from touring and local artists. Some artists ‘detourned’ various visual communications technologies: from overhead transparencies (Kusum Normoyle) to crappy PowerPoint presentations (New Waver). Johannes Kreidler’s taxonomy of heavy metal with short accompanying audio examples (black metal, power metal, poser metal, true metal…) was a highlight, as was Alessandro Bosetti’s circular spoken text and its interaction with a pre-recorded female voice that could have been that of a lover or a phantom ‘voice in my head.’ Local conceptual/parody project New Waver’s overdue return to live performance was a winner, coaxing the ponderous audience to sing and clap along to that ode to real estate and gentrification, “We Built This City on Indie Pop.”

Both the opening night and Stutterances event featured performances that, if not exactly spectacular, were provocative in the concepts they explored and the tropes challenged. Yet some acts struggled to rise above middling in their conceptual depth. The Friday night program in the Trench under Federation Square had its moments, but for the most part performances lacked a dynamic arc or failed to convey the complexity that artists such as Migone and Kriedler had done so elegantly. The Donkey’s Tail performance of noise ensemble with soprano was beautifully staged from a platform overlooking the audience situated below in the subterranean industrial cavity of the Trench, but other acts wavered between extreme obscurity and the plainly undergraduate.

The success of various lectures and workshops prior to and throughout the festival also varied, with James Parker’s “The Jurisprudence of Sonic Warfare” standing out as the most accomplished. The festival’s gamut was ambitious; the fact that not every act was a resounding success shouldn’t be construed as marks against it. Experimental arts practice needs room for failure, and opportunities for formal discussion of sound practice are all too rare in Australia and should be encouraged.

Migone’s mass participant piece, Hit Parade, was an undoubted success. The closing event of the Melbourne program, it pulled many of the festival’s ideas together through the primal act of banging a microphone on the ground. Migone gathered 50 volunteers of all ages to the National Gallery of Victoria’s Great Hall and armed each with a microphone and guitar amplifier. Fifty bodies lay face down bashing their microphone into the floor at their own chosen pace and intensity, one thousand times each. Sonically, Hit Parade differed depending on whether you walked around the prone performers in the hall itself (like being in a room with dozens of people knocking on the walls around you) or listening to the racket distantly from the nearby galleries. The visual aspect of the performance in concert with the sound was the most arresting aspect. Hit Parade looked like an act of mass civil disobedience; a peaceful yet doggedly single-minded protest where the only violence was sonic (and to the poor microphones). As each participant gradually reached their one thousand hits, Hit Parade lessened in density until fewer and fewer hits were sounded. All participants remained facedown; their action complete, silent but present.

The sublime bookending between Grogan’s ritualistic inauguration and Migone’s mass microphone action conceptually framed the festival’s various themes, including sound as power/violence, mass participation in performance and authorship, and voice/text as music. Liquid Architecture 2014 was always going to flirt with the danger of deconstructing until all that remained was a conceptual gruel of no real interest to anyone, but happily the festival managed to dance around this intellectual precipice without irrevocably stumbling in. Liquid Architecture pushed the boundaries of not only what could be considered music, but what constitutes sound performance. Many of us are looking forward to the challenges offered next by this reinvigorated Liquid Architecture.

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 49

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

Mossoux-Bonte, The Coffee Drinkers

Mossoux-Bonte, The Coffee Drinkers

Mossoux-Bonte, The Coffee Drinkers

IN THE LAST MOMENTS OF LINDA LUKE’S STILL POINT TURNING, LUKE, LIKE A PENDULUM FINALLY ARRESTED, HOLDS HERSELF MOTIONLESS BEFORE THE AUDIENCE. FOR WHAT SEEMS LIKES MINUTES SHE WATCHES US, SWEAT TRICKLING DOWN HER CHEEKS WHILE A TERMINALLY SLOWING HEARTBEAT FORESHADOWS THE INEVITABLE LIGHTS-OUT.

The closing work in Melbourne Festival’s curated dance season, Dance Territories, Still Point Turning’s end-point set up a reverberating final resonance within two double-bill programs that rippled and shimmered together in a remarkable interplay of difference and harmony, touching, as their titles suggest, upon the sacred, the profane, rituals and the notion of ‘now.’

Tony Yap, Yumi Umiumare and Matthew Gingold’s Zero Zero and Belgian company Mossoux-Bonté’s The Coffee Drinkers comprised Program One, The Sacred and the Profane. But while Zero Zero has its sacred elements and The Coffee Drinkers its profane, the pairing was anything but ‘one of each.’

In Zero Zero, Yap and Umiumare perform in apparent opposition, at either end of a long, white strip; by the end they are both lying on the floor, united, ‘sole to sole.’ They are each ‘channels’ of a kind: Yap seems to draw from the chthonic, at times uttering strained half-words or curled foetally on the floor, while Umiumare pays close attention to the everyday—a bowl of water, then a clock radio with chopping, changing stations. Yap’s dance strongly echoes traditional Asian forms; at one point he rises on the balls of his feet in a delicate, ritualised walk, hands tilted upward, watching his arms as pulses of life tremble through them. Sometimes he twists inhumanly, fingers spasmed. He seems to both absorb spiritual forces and control them, like a shaman both undergoing and understanding his possession.

Umiumare, in her quotidian world, seems fascinated by the radio blurting out its banal communications. She tilts her head like an animal, thinking but not-quite-thinking. She mimes cleaning her teeth; the gesture morphs into a controlled frenzy of shoulder-tensing, near-robotic movement. The feeling of ‘possession’ escalates—a possession by forces cultural, technological and other-worldly alike. In a sequence hinting at everything from butoh to ballet she moves like a crazed praying mantis, arms paddling the air; then caught in some invisible wind she begins to saw and flail, breaking into impossibly flowing flings, supplicant one second and dervish the next, ballerina and automaton at once. Throughout the piece, Matthew Gingold’s sound design unites the two dancers like a third body that breathes, gasps and sighs with them, incorporating natural and synthetic sounds from rippling water to tinnitis-inducing high tones or pummelling rumblings. Like the dance, the sound binds the profane and the sacred, which merge and are parsed by turns.

Like Zero Zero, Mossoux-Bonté’s The Coffee Drinkers (Belgium; concept, direction Patrick Bonté, choreography Nicole Mossoux and Patrick Bonté) evinces an uncanny leakage of the chthonic into the banal, though in a quite bizarre setting. Two (eventually three) identically dressed and bewigged women make, pour and consume their coffee at café tables, in gradually unravelling symmetry. To a part-melodic, part-robotic soundtrack befitting their doll-like characters, they pour, stir and sip, discarding pieces of clothing over time in exaggerated, burlesque moves, comically seductive. Their salacious routine increasingly hints at chaos—a serviette wipes a thick brown smear from an armpit, like menstrual discharge; coffee spills and spreads slowly on a table. As the piece evolves, a third dancer joins them, coming to life in a Frankenstein-like creation scene and initiated into the cloned world of the others. The narrative takes odd turnings: at one point the performers pose curiously in half-naked tableaux vivants redolent of cheap lesbian soft-porn, like three strange ‘Graces,’ or (who knows?) ‘Furies.’ Not only does The Coffee Drinkers conjure the ‘other side’—uncanny, dark, disruptive and sexual—it could also be read as either a feminism-inspired refusal of gendered stereotyping or a troubling conflation of woman/nature.

Opening Program Two, Rituals of Now, French choreographer Eléonore Didier’s Solides, Lisboa is an attempt “to stop dance” (program notes). It almost excruciatingly achieves its aim, creating a potent space for emotional affect. Once again ‘the everyday’ provides the work’s jumping-off point: Didier, attired in corporate skirt and jacket, like Mossoux-Bonté’s coffee drinkers, crawls and crab-walks around a bare stage to a soundtrack of city traffic and passing trams, seemingly trapped by her occupation. She appears to cope with the mundane through her deliberate movements; though at times, too, to be pushed and pulled by invisible hands.

In a second scene Didier moves around two props: a large table and a man, passive, who mostly sits at the table with his back to the audience. The light is bright. Didier is naked. She seems to try things out for their own sake: she slowly balls herself up on a chair, moves into a headstand, tilts her legs sideways to rest on the table, and suspends herself beneath it, gripping with hands and feet. Her face shows the stress of repeated attempt, but there’s a chasm between her emotiveness and her body, which she controls like an object, positioned seemingly without meaning. Eventually she places herself on the man’s lap. He gets up and walks as she clings to his upper torso until, unable to keep hanging on, she slides off.

Minimal and painfully paced, Didier’s choreography seems at times almost Dada; uninterpretable. And yet it intensifies something, creating a sequence of ‘stuck’ emotions in one’s own body which resist definition. Not an enjoyable work to watch, but it left a lingering ‘felt’ experience that became comprehensible as an emotional poetics of attempt, vulnerability, diligence and tenacity.

Finally, Linda Luke’s Still Point Turning: a series of collaged scenes, lyrical and strung together by suggestions of both mundane time and the grand cycles of life and death. Luke totters in rocky, uneven shoes like chunks of meteorite, cable-tied to her feet stepping back and forth mechanically to the sound of a voice reflecting on time and stillness. Her costume is part-Baroque and part steam-punk, coat tails and knickerbockers, elegantly ragged. A large pendulum swings back and forth across the stage, its continuity juxtaposed with Luke’s ever-changing movement. Over time, a rear screen delivers moving black bars, lushly opening buds and dying blooms or fuzzy, static ‘snow.’ Shoes discarded, Luke becomes freer, sometimes reminiscent of a curious insect, flower or animal. She turns her coattails out to become bright red petals. Frog-like sounds suggest primordial swamp and seem to subsume her; the pendulum continues to swing.

Ultimately Luke seems to be played by the sounds, natural and unnatural, ticking and spoken alike; she’s strangely expressionistic, jerking like a silent film character. Still Point Turning is theatrical, romantic, full of both play and decay—“for tomorrow we die”? It’s a lush response to the relentless tick of the clock and, equally, to the finite heart beating—the final minutes stunning, as Linda Luke watches us and sweats; reduced to one living body whose time is slowed right down to nil.

Melbourne International Arts Festival & Dancehouse, Dance Territories: The Sacred and the Profane: Zero, Zero, Yumi Umiumare, Tony Yap; Mossoux-Bonté, The Coffee Drinkers (Belgium), 14-15 Oct; Rituals of Now: Eléonore Didier (France), Solides, Lisboa; Linda Luke, Still Point Turning, choreographer, performer Linda Luke, composer Vic McEwan, video Martin Fox, lighting Clytie Smith, costume Justine Shih Pearson, Dancehouse, Melbourne, 17–18 October

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 12

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

Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue

SIX DANCERS, NATIONS AND CULTURAL STORIES STAND SIDE BY SIDE DOWNSTAGE, LOOKING AT US, US LOOKING AT THEM. WE SEE THEIR WORLDS OF DIFFERENCE. SPACE HELD EQUIDISTANT BETWEEN. THE FRIEZE IS A STRIKING EMBLEM, MARKING CHOREOGRAPHER ANNALOUISE PAUL’S COLLABORATIVE APPROACH TO INTERCULTURAL DANCE, MUSIC AND ART MAKING.

Tellingly from this first image (returned to in the closing moments) the individual cultures, dances and rhythms are authentically retained. As intercultural dance goes, this approach is in ‘collision’ with new forms, not a blurring or leaking inbetweeness or hybridity—though Western training is clearly in these bodies too. Paul is well defined in her aim. The questions are what and where are these “new futures” she sees emerging as “world cultures collide”? Are they choreographic, or more deeply human? Are their “sacred geometries,” as Paul puts it, universals that transcend uncompromised cultural specificities?

Pivoting at right angles, each dancer breaks free of the line. Clapping begins. Bodies as percussive instruments: skin on skin, thudding, slapping, cupping air in palms, scraping, pausing, sonic codes of communication. Many tongues speak at once, sometimes listening, sometimes responding and initiating. The structure and nuance of clapping is as varied as the body and intentions of the person who claps. Played hard and soft in relative degrees we see how dialogue of any nature might be possible.

A chequered grid is projected centre stage in ‘Atari’ neon green, drawn over in chalk then mysteriously numbered. Costumed in same fabric and styled to suggest their traditional dress, dancers Andrea Adidi, Geraldine Balcazar, Aletta Fauzi, Patrick ‘Lucky’ Lartey, Gregory Lorenzutti and Govind Pillai assume positions in the grid, taking turns to posit or provoke a gesture, spin or leap. Like jazz musicians they solo, challenge for space and movement intensity in competitive jams or move together in isolable, individuated frames—a spectacular aviary of limbs flicking, pounding, arching, reaching and bobbing.

Kinetically, Mother Tongue is a sculpture park of rich, exotic forms coming from Torres Strait, Chile, Indonesia, West Africa, Brazil and India. A distinct difference between genders exists in the dancers’ use of space, weight, gesture and focus. The relationship of pelvis to the ground: shifting high and low for the men, contained and horizontal for the women. All styles sprout an ornamental display of head, arms and legs floating or flung from a chest buoyant and open toward nature and the heavens, face alive, engaged for interaction.

Clapping with vocal percussion becomes a careful conversation. Sitting in a semi-circle, flesh and floor become prime surfaces for polyrhythmic play forming on tongues, deeply in throats and on hands. Percussionist Tim Foley roams the globe to join the assorted chatter of nation leaders articulating their individuated timbre, tempo and tone in a united score.

With indubitable enjoyment we share in the exciting motion, shapes, forces and textures of these places embodied by these dancers. Since Paul does not innovate from appropriation, strict fusion or exploding traditions, and maintains the integrity of colliding cultural forms, her seeking “new choreographic futures” for intercultural dance proves an admirable challenge. There are moments in Mother Tongue when movement and gesture founded on the primordial geometries of collective motion and sound sublimely commune towards a unique horizon.

Mother Tongue, choreographer Annalouise Paul, performers Andrea Adidi, Geraldine Balcazar, Aletta Fauzi, Lucky Lartey, Gregory Lorenzutti, Govind Pillai, music Tim Foley, Greg Sheehan, lighting Toby Knyvett, costumes Tobhiyah Feller, Art Saranjit Bird, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney, 3-5 Sept

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 33

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

Members of Decibel perform Michaela Davies' Goldfish Variation, After Julia concert

Members of Decibel perform Michaela Davies’ Goldfish Variation, After Julia concert

Members of Decibel perform Michaela Davies’ Goldfish Variation, After Julia concert

“THE REACTION TO MY BEING THE FIRST FEMALE PRIME MINISTER DOES NOT EXPLAIN EVERYTHING ABOUT MY PRIME MINISTERSHIP, NOR DOES IT EXPLAIN NOTHING.” JULIA GILLARD

Live concert events are theatrical, in that the kinetic presence of performers always invites some degree of visceral engagement from an audience. Whereas what we expect to see and hear from performance ensembles can be disrupted by the addition or subtraction of instruments, electronica per se also brings in invisible elements which can charge and redefine what we experience in new ways.

After Julia, works by women composers commissioned by the artistic director of the Decibel acoustic and electronica ensemble, Cat Hope, centres on the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard and the discrimination to which she was subjected. Hope offered seven composers the opportunity to ‘give voice’ to their responses to this aspect of her term in office. Here, the parallels and interplay between visible and invisible, spoken and unspoken or muted forces at play, both politically and musically, were appropriately matched.

Gail Priest takes as starting point Gillard’s “everything and nothing” speech, turning the letters of her statement into a melodic line via simple MIDI transcription. Alto flute opens with a phrase of simple stepped notes, the piece becoming an imitative fugue first on clarinet, then strings. Cello and violin lengthen the first note of the phrase, allowing flute and clarinet to return—like some of Gillard’s detractors—with petty, trill undercuttings. The vibraphone builds turbulence until the overall melodic contour reaches a distressed high ‘b.’ The piece comes to a sudden stop: as in politics, endings can be short and sharp.

Thembi Soddell’s Your Sickness is Felt in my Body is inspired by studies published in 1995 on the physical and psychiatric effects of sexism on the female body. A scratchy ‘ill wind’ blows through flute and clarinet bores. Tonalities begin to widen between instruments; interventions from electronica prompt clarinet protests and squeals. A wire brush scrapes and irritates the bass drum; when assertive white mallets begin to strike, we finally see an overt source of pressure that builds and builds.

A crescendo peak falls back into a thin, tight, scraping. What caused this neurotic interlude? Who was responsible? It is perhaps in Soddell’s piece that the power of the ‘invisible forces’ of sexism—what Gillard calls “the small things that all add up”—is given strongest illustration.

Cat Hope’s Tough It Out begins in a sonic charting of the popularity ratings of national leaders over the past 20 years. String glissandi illustrate the rise and fall of polled ratings. Via headphones, the composer directs ‘interruptions’ inciting disruptions to the performance. The clarinettist coughs, splutters, shifts and stands; the violinist dislocates the cellist’s score; the clarinettist plays the back-end of his own bore. The piece ends with whispers ‘in a corridor.’ Who was in charge anyway? Gillard, a guest of the evening, quipped in a mid-concert interview, “I hope they are still talking to each other.”

Cathy Milliken’s Schifrorl opens with flute signalling a standard ‘homing cadence’ of V (dominant) rising to 1 (tonic) in a plaintive and slightly melancholic song. The flute fans open to a fugue with clarinet until a surprise mallet drops onto the kettle drum. Then, more ambiguous and disrupted cadences follow. Hammered piano chords are countered by slides on the cello. This is unstable ground.

Milliken’s piece is the least programmatic overall. Its textural contrasts—rattles, rolls, chips and gliss that thicken and thin—insinuate rather than illustrate a ‘court of intrigue.’ Which of the instruments—or who, or what—really holds power? Its closing stage brings a hint of ‘ill wind’ in its almost hurdy-gurdy sounds. Three harmonicas rasp and etch against a single piano bass note, and finish with an invisible yet audible and unnerving electronic thrum.

The presence of a goldfish in Michaela Davies’ Variation was a refreshing device but incompletely realised. Two musicians sit facing each other, a bowled goldfish placed on a plinth between them. What follows is an earnest, if timid, rendition-in-voice of the fish’s movement ‘score’. When the fish gets sleepy, vocalisations wane, until the whole is enlivened when a pinch of fish-food is dropped into the bowl.

While fish and bowl serve as a nice metaphor for the politician exposed to constant scrutiny of her every move, the piece would have benefited from more stringent dramaturgy. There is room for a much more dynamic engagement between fish, voice and singers’ bodies to amplify the absurdity of relentless scrutiny, small-minded commentary (small voices) and the hyperbole to which public lives are subject. The space per se, pared back to two + fish performers, cried out for this degree of theatricality. For instance I would have loved an extended extempore ‘melisma of the tail.’

Kate Moore provides an oracular poem to accompany her piece Oil Drums. Cross rhythms between piano and violin suggest tribal antagonisms. I picture battles in vast desert landscapes, shattered horizons, the incendiary threat to a vulnerable oil commodity. There is more than a hint of global economic, political and climactic pressures impinging on local concerns.

I’ve never heard a high ostinato before but the keyboards play it, high-flying sand blinding the air. This is a contemporary Apocalypse Now, both reminiscence and foreboding, wondering at the place of non-partisan decision-making that perhaps makes it Moore’s statement rather than one Gillard would have made.

The sound balance is unsatisfying, therefore it is quite hard to distinguish the interweaving of electronic against acoustic tonalities. It was an ‘I-could-have-heard-but-didn’t’ event. The final phrases, however, do seem to express the heroic in the career path of those ‘called to serve.’

Andree Greenwell’s Arrows I and II show the composer’s passionate belief in harnessing the expressive power of music to highlight both noble and mean-minded sentiments and reveal moral pressure points. Six young women, dressed in black, enter and line up behind microphones. There is a soloist and choir of three citing Gillard’s Prime Ministerial acceptance speech in a melodic sprechgesang, while the youngest two bark aggressive invectives such as those levelled at Gillard during her incumbency (‘bitch,’ ‘cow,’ ‘liar’). It is powerful to have the invectives delivered by the young. How conscious or unconscious is misogyny? Bowed vibes provide a high sharp note, leaving an ironic question hanging in the air: Why?

Arrows II is composed to a poem by playwright Hilary Bell. Greenwell provides sweet melodic anchors to counterpoint these sharp ethical questions, echoing Bell’s lyrics about ‘little arrows with poison tips,’ hinting at slow death by invisible forces. The ire and fire of politics. From the mouths of babes.

After Julia, Decibel New Music Ensemble [Cat Hope, Lindsey Vickery, Stuart James, Tristen Parr, Aaron Wyatt, Louise Devenish], vocals Helen Grimely, Sonya Holowell, Poppy Duwenbeck, Helen Hughson, Nicola James, Minna McLure; ABC Classic FM, Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Ultimo Centre, Sydney, Nov 8

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 50

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

Trisha Brown Dance Company, Newark (Pure Dance Program)

Trisha Brown Dance Company, Newark (Pure Dance Program)

Trisha Brown Dance Company, Newark (Pure Dance Program)

A FIELD OF DANCE, SUCH AS POSTMODERN DANCE, IS AN ECOSYSTEM. IT EXISTS IN THE EVERYDAY LIVES OF ITS DANCERS, IN THE BODY OF THE CHOREOGRAPHER, IN THE STUDIO SPACES IN WHICH IT IS ARTICULATED AND KEPT ALIVE, AND IN THE CULTURAL AND SOCIAL MILIEU IN WHICH IT THRIVES. IT IS NOT SOMETHING THAT CAN SIMPLY BE PRESERVED BY FIAT. THIS IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DANCE AND THE VISUAL ARTS. DANCE STAYS ALIVE IN THE BODY OF THE DANCER. THIS MAKES THE HISTORICAL RECONSTRUCTION OF WORK A KIND OF PROBLEM, FOR THE DANCER AND FOR THE AUDIENCE, ESPECIALLY IF THERE HAS BEEN A BREAK IN THE CONTINUITY OF ITS TRANSMISSION.

The Trisha Brown Dance Company has been making and showing work since the 1970s. Although Brown has herself recently retired, the company continues to show work and maintain its repertoire. A certain lineage has been preserved from Brown, the choreographer, through her key dancers and towards the current company line-up. The question of transmission, from body to body, is a rich and complex process however. It’s not just a question of learning the steps. Something also changes in the passage of time. This was quite evident in the performance of Trisha Brown’s signature solo, Watermotor (1978). Although we must rely on archival footage of early performances by Brown, there was a looseness in her hips and a fluidity in her spine that was not so palpable in Neal Beasley’s dancing. Perhaps it was there but didn’t translate in the proscenium arch context of the Victorian Arts Centre, as distinct from its earlier studio incarnations. The performative intimacy of early postmodern dance fosters a greater kinaesthetic empathy on the part of the spectator.

Early Works

This was presumably why the company chose to show its Early Works program in the North Melbourne Meat Market. This was a good idea. There were no fixed seats. The audience was free to roam. We could stand close by, organise our own bodies in relation to the work and find our own solution to the shifting location of the pieces. Many of these short works were puzzles, calling for corporeal solutions. For example, a number of dances involved long sticks which formed an inflexible meeting point and contrast with the body’s softness and mobility. Dancers had to mould their bodies, maintain contact through the wood, balance and transport the sticks. They had to keep their bodies in play, utterly mobile according to the changing demands of the situation. One of the features of these stick dances was the possibility of failure; through loss of contact with the wood or dropping the stick. The visibility of failure, explicitly acknowledged by the performers, opened up a sense of the real time task of the dancing, of the task itself as producing a new kind of virtuosity and visibility. We see the thinking, the puzzle-solving decisions made in the flux of time, new modes of (kin)aesthetic value that emerged from this period of experimentation and innovation.

Pure Movement

The Pure Movement program, performed at the Victorian Arts Centre, was a different kind of animal: visceral, sensual, rhythmically complex, physically demanding though equally gratifying. The Melbourne audience loved these works and rightly so. The dancing was strong and soft in turns, requiring the force to raise a leg, yet also to achieve softness in the torso. The qualitative shift between muscularity and release requires a certain kind of virtuosity, one which can manage differences in the body in quick succession.

Trisha Brown Dance Company, Son of Gone Fishin' (Pure Movement program)

Trisha Brown Dance Company, Son of Gone Fishin’ (Pure Movement program)

Trisha Brown Dance Company, Son of Gone Fishin’ (Pure Movement program)

Brown also has a distinctive way of crossing space, without any show of effort, eating space in the blink of an eye, yielding to fall with gravity, pick up the fall and reorient it. Son of Gone Fishin’ (1981) had all these qualities. The Grecian folds of its Lurex costumes harmonised with pulsating waves running through the spine. Brown seems to have worked out when to use strength and when to release, how to access muscles and bones so as to play with gravitational force, building on that to create movement sequences embodying a wide range of kinaesthetic qualities.

Her work is relationally complex, playing with time, space, rhythm and the group itself. She also works the perceptual gestalt of the whole space of the stage, including its edges. Newark (1987) implies movement on and offstage. Action is never fully contained within the space; it flickers on the edges, is initiated offstage, producing entrances already in full flight. Les Yeux et l’âme (2011) was surprisingly lyrical, a partner to Jean-Philippe Rameau’s mythic opera. Although romantic and flowing, its rolling, counter-balances, swings, falls and lifts gave an untimely inflexion to the Baroque tenor of the music. The collective transformations of the group produced a range of life forms, inhuman collectivities, at odds with the aristocratic social order of the time, yet somehow harmonious, working new aesthetic configurations out of the old.

Trisha Brown Company has been in existence for over 40 years. Brown has been making work throughout this period, experimenting, creating, collaborating and, above all, dancing. The transmission of her rich legacy is maintained by her key dancers, Carolyn Lucas and Dianne Madden (Associate Artistic Directors), who understand her work through their bodies. The Trisha Brown Company dancers are young. They hail from a different kinaesthetic milieu than existed when Brown created many of these works. This makes for a certain kind of shift in the quality of the dancing, inevitably so. Perhaps this is why theorist Peggy Phelan claims that performance is ephemeral. The performative nature of choreography means that what we see varies according to the dancers whose bodies are themselves the work of time and place. Yet the history of the body is that which gives depth to the work. Trisha Brown created history through finding new ways to elicit movement qualities, to play and produce, compose and deconstruct. It was a great pleasure to see, at last, so many works from such a significant and beautiful choreographer.

Melbourne International Arts Festival: Trisha Brown Dance Company, Trisha Brown, From All Angles: Early Works, North Melbourne Meat Market, 22, 26 Oct; Pure Movement, Melbourne Arts Centre, 23, 25, 26 Oct

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 14

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

TWO RECENT PERTH PRODUCTIONS HIGHLIGHT CONTRASTING WAYS IN WHICH DANCE CAN CROSS AND PROBLEMATISE THE BORDERS OF COMPREHENSION. AIMEE SMITH AND BEN TAAFE’S FORAY INTO BORDERLINE OUTLINES THE STARK CONTOURS OF COMMUNICATION THROUGH MOVEMENT AND SOUND, WHILE DANIELLE MICICH (DIRECTOR) AND SUZI MILLER’S (WRITER/CO-DEVISOR) CONCEPTION OF OVEREXPOSED, WITH DRAMATURGY BY KATE CHAMPION, SHATTERS THE CERTAINTY OF UNDERSTANDING. BOTH BRING INTO QUESTION THE LIMITS OF PERFORMANCE: NEITHER GIVES DEFINITIVE ANSWERS.

Borderline, Aimee Smith

Borderline, Aimee Smith

Borderline, Aimee Smith

Borderline

Aimee Smith is a wizard at constructing penetrating images whose barbed irony agitates and/or needles into matters of environmental concern. Borderline continues to explore this crafting although, on this occasion, the movement pictures and their reverberations are locked in a pervasive sense of doom. Even the dancers’ sometimes astounding wrestling with the demons of this age of herd obeisance, excessive waste and purported individualism bows to a bleak evaluation of human destiny. If the work is an anguished protest against the insanity of our behaviour in and for the planet, as I am sure it is, the cry is harsh and unremitting, seemingly devoid of any hope of rebirth. The gold glitter and hysteria-whipped bodies of the final image, indeed, act like incisive punctuation marking the withering of human imagination.

In three sections, the work begins with a weighty social organism lurching “Into the Fold.” Random impulses for freedom and/or escape conveyed through individual dancer’s unleashed limbs and torsos are crushed as the herd mentality re-ingests the errant body back within its turgid vortex. Choreographically impressive as it is, the tenacious grip of this community is born of containment not of support.

Hints of wasted social relationships become literal in “No Man’s Land” as Laura Boynes tentatively advances across an empty space only to be submitted to a barrage of fabricated rubbish and dumped bodies hurtling around her. The debris amasses, leaving her poised like the Statue of Liberty or the feminine symbol of justice garlanded in a glut of grime and senselessness. It’s a haunting image of silenced freedom and equity. The anti-visionary triptych concludes with “Trans Form,” flipping the herd anxiety of the opening into a cult of individuals blindly chasing the glowing capitalist shrine of fulfilment. Even given the tongue-in-cheek voice-over of Ben Taafe’s soundtrack, I couldn’t dismiss the association of a trail of ever-smiling and vaporous ‘selfies’ supplanting their human originators. Pointedly, perhaps, the dancers only showed their backs as they advanced and recircled towards the edge of the illuminated madness. Was Smith and Taafe’s message to turn around and face the terms of our own self-destruction?

Overexposed, Danielle Micich

Overexposed, Danielle Micich

Overexposed, Danielle Micich

Overexposed

Surveillance in theatre enters into a double-bind or conundrum as the audiences of Overexposed watch, record and judge what transpires before them, for the most part, from the anonymity of darkness. However, if the topic of the performance is framed and bound to policing human behaviour, its secrecies, disorientations and lies are curiously turned back onto its audiences, who might find their normal privileged role eroded. Danielle Micich’s Overexposed does not take this approach directly but the nett effect of its structure unmoors spectators from familiar logic and lands them in an alien territory of evaporated rights.

The promotional material indicates that the protagonist, Marisa, is inexplicably detained on her arrival into the home airport after a trip. What happens after this Kafkaesque premise occurs in two rooms. Obviously, surveillance is involved, which is playfully reinforced by a security check on spectators’ arrival for the performance. For inexplicable reasons, some members are stamped red in this process, while others are given official clearance in spite of the tell-tale bleep signals at the metal detector archway. It turns out that the stamping is a lottery determining to which viewing room the spectator will be allocated, neither of which tells the complete story, if in fact a complete story is ever to be told.

With this strategy, Overexposed becomes underexposed. Whatever the source of the surveillance, you become aware that exposure to the work is but a semblance of truth, couched in fear and a weird logic which reduces the complexity of human behaviour to ciphers of blame. The filtered communication is further complicated by isolating the movement and text, commonly associated with a dance theatre format, into two halves, one to each viewing space. Text delivered by performer Humphrey Bower, so I later gathered, dominated one space, while movement permeated the near silence of my room, where performer Micich, chased by a roving spotlight, emerges from the audience and is led into the stage’s imprisoning landscape of metallic towers. Her body, initially compliant, is soon subjected to invasive and unexplained interrogation procedures. The physical disintegration is painful and, till this point, eloquent in its delivery.

Time then stretches like a taut membrane over meaning, where both Micich’s and my interpretation become wired into some sort of psychic realm in which her body appears to spin repressed dreams of agency. There were possible narrative hooks via projected text but from my vantage point—and corresponding with the production’s logic—sight was obstructed by the towers. Left to my own devices in the alien interpretative space, I had to trust in a corporeal storytelling, in the performer’s internal fantasies given some semblance of form. Pleasures of puzzling through Micich’s sudden switch to expansive almost abandoned movement mixed with tensions of mis-readings. Had her disorientation pushed her over the edge? Is insanity the ultimate objective that surveillance inflicts on both of us?

I was still floundering when Micich exited and Bower, full-voiced with accusations, entered. The act provoked a powerful bewilderment, exacerbated when the back wall opened to reveal the other room where Micich, but more so the other audience, watch the watching. Bower’s words, which now seem to admit guilt for accusations of infanticide fired at the accused, have less impact than being exposed to the watching of the watchers be they audiences, performers or the state. Inconclusive as this response may be, Overexposed conveyed a disquieting message, if always veiled and inconclusive, about surveillance’s propensity to unhinge identity.

Borderline, devisors Aimee Smith, Ben Taafe in collaboration with dancers Laura Boynes, Bernadette Lewis, Storme Helmore, Jenni Large, Tyrone Robinson, Tony Curie, Isabell Stone, Ella-Rose Trew, music Mental Powers, Phil Stroud, Beppu, costumes Holly Boyton, lighting Trent Suidgeest, State Theatre Centre, 1-4 Oct; Overexposed, director, performer, co-devisor Danielle Micich, performer Humphrey Bower, writer, co-devisor Suzi Miller, dramaturgy Kate Champion, sound Kinsley Reeve, lighting Chris Donnelly, costumes Colleen Sutherland, State Theatre Centre, Perth 22 Oct-Nov 1

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 34

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

Aviva Endean in Half Light

Aviva Endean in Half Light

Aviva Endean in Half Light

NO INSTRUMENT HAS BEEN WRENCHED FROM OBSCURITY AND THRUST INTO THE SPOTLIGHT BY CONTEMPORARY MUSIC LIKE THE BASS CLARINET. THE INSTRUMENT HAS INSPIRED AN IMMEDIATELY IDENTIFIABLE REPERTOIRE OF EXTENDED TECHNIQUES INCLUDING SHOCKINGLY-PERCUSSIVE TONGUE SLAPS, GUTTURAL GROANS AND FEROCIOUS, MULTIPHONIC ‘DINOSAUR NOISES.’

But the bass clarinet is also a gentle giant capable of enveloping the listener in a glowing aura of sound. It is this latter quality of the instrument that Australia’s most versatile clarinettist, Aviva Endean, explored in the resonant Norla Dome.

The dome is set inside Melbourne’s best kept secret, The Mission to Seafarers building. Built between 1916 and 1919, the Mission continues to provide lodging and services for seamen, as well as offering five different performance spaces ranging from the grandiose main hall to an enclosed courtyard. Most striking of all is the dome, which was once festooned with rigging for sailors to climb while on shore. It features a completely disorienting acoustic, with a focal point in the middle of the room where you can hear your words repeated back to you dozens of times. When the room was used as a boxing ring, being punched in that spot would have been a remarkable experience.

For In the Half Light, Aviva has teamed up with lighting designer Danny Pettingill and set designer Romanie Harper to create an immersive experience. The audience sits on cushions in cardboard pods around the space. On one side of the dome is a brooding pile of brown paper resembling a giant wasp nest. In the centre a pedestal displays a dish of water. A soft electronic tone (operated by Sam Dunscombe) emanates from the nest as light fades up inside. A clarinet begins to play against the tone, altering its tuning to produce strong beats. Endean emerges from the nest (through a side entrance; we are spared a ‘birthing’) and walks around the space, the mellow tone of the clarinet bending slightly as she moves.

The show is also full of charming site-specific details. From small holes in the nest, rays of light shoot onto the domed ceiling. Even the traffic on the nearby freeway and the crying of seagulls is somehow sublimated into something enchanted within the space. This effect is enhanced by Pettingill and Harper’s Gondry-esque crafted reproductions of the mundane, such as the small mobiles of mirrors that, when spun, shoot rays around the dome like passing car lights.

Within the frame of electroacoustic music, instruments are usually stationary sound-sources and speaker systems provide the means to diffuse the instruments’ sound throughout a space. In this work, Endean is mobile and the electronics are fixed. The dome, furthermore, throws Endean’s sound seemingly independently of her own movements. Sometimes it comes from behind you, or whispers in your ear. I cannot imagine a better space in which to explore this concert’s repertoire—including works by Endean, Sciarrino, Lucier, Grisey and Ambrosini—than the sound-microscope of the Norla Dome. But given the saturation of Australian contemporary music programs with whispering works on the very edge of hearing, I am beginning to look forward to the return of the dinosaurs.

Aviva Endean, In the Half Light, Norla Dome, Mission to Seafarers, Melbourne 14 Sept

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 51

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

Chunky Move, Complexity Of Belonging

Chunky Move, Complexity Of Belonging

Chunky Move, Complexity Of Belonging

VISUAL AND CHOREOGRAPHIC WIT PLAY OFF AGAINST VERBAL EFFUSION IN THE COMPLEXITY OF BELONGING, A VISION OF FRUSTRATED INTIMACY IN A DIGITAL WORLD. THIS IS THE FIFTH COLLABORATION BETWEEN GERMAN PLAYWRIGHT AND DIRECTOR FALK RICHTER AND DUTCH CHOREOGRAPHER ANOUK VAN DIJK, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF CHUNKY MOVE.

A panoramic horizon of dappled grey clouds over outback scrub spans the back of the stage. Onstage are a blank billboard, cameras and microphones, a desk, whiteboard and a scattering of airport chairs. The ‘story’ begins in an international transit lounge, where daily allegiances and coordinates of identity are dissolved. A young woman (Eloise Mignon) observes in these conditions of globalisation a crisis of identity and intimacy. So she launches an investigation, propelling us through a storm of encounters among nine performers: these are enabled by mobile phones and Skype, often projected live onto the billboard. They are also interspersed with, accompanied by and sometimes embodied in, a volatile dance language.

Using their actual names, the five dancers and four actors perform a fiction woven together by Richter from personal stories they offered him. That we cannot trace these seams doesn’t matter; boundaries are fluid (actors dance and dancers act), in favour of a collective maelstrom, a mood of confession, restlessness and stress.

We see the struggles of a romance conducted long distance: its crisis peaks in a meltdown that is lost in a scrambled Skype connection. One dancer (Joel Bray) is probed about his Aboriginality and finds himself either falling short or feeling fake. Another two (and Tara Soh) reflect on their Asian-ness in Australia. And a same-sex couple (Josh Price and Joel Bray) meets all the milestones of romance by phone, leading to a parenting proposal that is delivered (with anxious tenderness) as a Power Point presentation.

There is a shadow to all this, of a zoo-like, United Colours of Benneton effect, of voyeurism or a sentimental notion of the global or urban tribe. But we are referred back to a profusion of particulars, often back to the body. “I need to feel your body,” someone bawls at their lover at one point on Skype. With sometimes grotesque intensity, the confessional rants propel themselves, building to shrillness, then are severed with a trivial quip and dropped, unresolved, into bathos.

Romantic themes recur above all (the question becoming, to whom do I belong?). Lauren Langlois’ monologue on the ‘perfect man’ shows the obscene demands we thrust on the single figure of partner-as-saviour-and-soulmate. As it crescendos, doll-like manipulations are enacted on her by another dancer, turning to drollery. These ironic, playful moments abound throughout. But the enveloping movement in the work as a whole reflects transience, with its temporary clusters that fracture and dissipate, the dancers breaking away as free fragments again and again. (The set and props undergo parallel treatment.)

These ailments of globalisation are in the end addressed with a level gaze, with a suggestion of freedom and reinvention prevailing over stress. And as for digital media, in all its stage presence it exudes paradox, as both a cause and a remedy, an uneasy medium for modern intimacy in itself.

Melbourne International Arts Festival: Melbourne Theatre Company and Chunky Move, Complexity of Belonging, script, direction Falk Richter, choreography, direction Anouk Van Dijk, Southbank Theatre, Melbourne, 6-25 Oct

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 16

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

Jesse Rochow and Jianna Georgiou

Jesse Rochow and Jianna Georgiou

Jesse Rochow and Jianna Georgiou

IF THE DANCE FLOOR IS A DEMOCRACY THEN RESTLESS DANCE THEATRE’S IN THE BALANCE REMINDS US THAT ITS BORDERS ARE FRAUGHT WITH, IN THE WORDS DIRECTOR MICHELLE RYAN USED TO INITIATE THIS NEW WORK WITH THE COMPANY’S YOUTH ENSEMBLE, “FLIRTATION, REJECTION, INCLUSION AND EXCLUSION.” WHILE MEMBERS OF THE ENSEMBLE TAKE TO THE FLOOR IN CHOREOGRAPHIES OF ONES AND TWOS, THE REST HOVER ON THE PERIPHERY, HERE A FURTIVE EXCHANGE OF GLANCES, THERE AN INTRODUCTION MADE AWKWARD BY LOUD MUSIC OR A LACK OF CONFIDENCE.

The anxieties only dissipate, replaced by exhibitionism or exuberance or a muscular masculinity, as the performers in turn peel off from the throng and become the focus. Each brings with them a fiercely individualised energy informed by their physical capabilities, their dynamic within the group and their relationship with the space: at ease, listless, assertive. And the space itself? A glittering state of decay, designed by Gaelle Mellis and Meg Wilson that, with its fallen, shattered mirror ball and messy assemblages of hanging ropes, tinfoil and paper lanterns, recalls the apocalyptic/hedonistic bifurcation of Prince’s 1980s heyday: “Everybody’s got a bomb/ We could all die here today/ But before I’ll let that happen/ I’ll dance my life away.”

The breadth of the stylistic diversity between the vignettes and the vim with which they are performed maintains interest, even as the production’s conceptual slightness is revealed. Chris Dyke’s lurching, sexually charged athleticism provides a fine contrast, by way of an example, with Kathryn Evans’ tender, curiously touching solo routine with an exercise ball. Intermittent group work, such as when the performers chaotically transport two sets of chairs from one side of the stage to the other, provides an additional, if still inadequate, layer of complexity. The production ultimately circles round on itself, having travelled nowhere in particular, its constituent parts diverting but disconnected. There is an elusive metaphorical quality to Ryan’s direction that remains unresolved, and only tritely treated in the program notes: “We stumble, bounce and back flip on the awkward journeys we make to become who we are.” I would have been more convinced had Ryan managed to embed something of the shape of this transformation in the work’s overall contour.

More successful are Geoff Cobham’s characteristically sinuous lighting design and The Audrey’s rootsy soundtrack, equal parts alt-country languor and T Rex-ish stomp. The Adelaide band’s 2008 single “Paradise City” makes for a fitting, if unexpected, accompaniment to Dana Nance’s introspective, yearning solo: “In this town we all bear our own load,” moans singer Taasha Coates over Tristan Goodall’s plaintive guitar, “‘cause we know what’s waiting at the end of the road.” As though stirred into action by these ill-boding words, the Ensemble subsequently unites again and In the Balance concludes as it began, with a jubilant, freewheeling group choreography.

Ryan’s darker purpose, however, remains unexpressed as the audience enthusiastically applauds each member through a final, brief solo before they bounce from the stage. If only they had begun the journey that led them there from a deeper, darker place, I might have felt like I was clapping for more than just an ending already seen, a destination arrived at rather than one never left.

Restless Dance Theatre, In the Balance, director Michelle Ryan, performers Josh Compton, Darcy Carpenter, Felicity Doolette, Chris Dyke, Kathryn Evans, Jianna Georgiou, Michael Hodyl, Lorcan Hopper, Nigel Major-Henderson, Caitie Moloney, Dana Nance, Jesse Rochow, Tara Stewart, lighting designer Geoff Cobham, designer Gaelle Mellis, Meg Wilson, music the Audreys; Odeon Theatre, Adelaide, 16–25 Oct

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 36

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

TO CELEBRATE ITS 15TH YEAR, THE MARAIS PROJECT—ITS AIM IS TO PLAY “ALL THE WORKS OF MARIN MARAIS (1656-1728) AND OTHER SIMILAR MUSIC FOR THE VIOLS”—MOUNTED AN INTRIGUING CONCERT TO PLACE THE MASTER’S FAVOURED INSTRUMENT, THE VIOLA DA GAMBA, IN A 21ST CENTURY CONTEXT.

First up was Marais un-re-imagined—a mellow E minor Suite from 1725 in which the viola de gamba seemed a little uneasy tonally and rhythmically, but after which the playing was immediately more confident. Three of four movements of saxophonist Paul Cutlan’s engaging Spinning Forth were presented, viola da gamba and harpsichord in dialogue, reaching atypically sweet heights and dark depths while retaining a Baroque feel, the viola da gamba at times harp- and even koto-like.

Pianist and composer Matt McMahon was looking for “an approach that takes the viola da gamba out of its traditional setting” (program note) in “At Carna,” an attractively melodic, folk-ish evocation of Ireland, for piano and a melancholy seven-string fretted electric version of the instrument, with its sometimes steely sound. Siebe Pogson’s “Dark Dreaming,” for bass and viola da gamba, both electric, and inspired by Jaco Pastorius, was song-like, layering the melody with a variety of techniques including plucked bass and seemingly extempore wordless vocals that headed in the direction of rock with nightmare intensity—the instruments becoming one disturbed voice.

McMahon’s “For Thomas Wyatt,” the 16th century innovative English lyrical poet, courtier and lover of Anne Boleyn, is eloquently elegiac, its melody Celtic, its tone dark; electric viola da gamba, piano and bass guitar in melancholy embrace. In jazz bassist Steve Hunter’s Three Rivers, as arranged by McMahon, viol and bass build the melody and are fluently joined by tenor saxophone (Cutlan) on its way to a full-bodied compelling solo, rising with feeling over the jazzy warmth of the ensemble. As ever, McMahon’s rich pianism produced beautiful, unexpected resonances. Finally, his arrangement of Guy Strazz’s Zawi (Ode to Joe Zawinul) paid tribute to the great Weather Report pianist in a performance that suggested both sadness and soaring liberation.

Re-Imaginings certainly conjured other ways of being for the viola da gamba, especially in its electric incarnation—releasing a greater range of sound: double bass and cello-like, firm but warm—in Jenny Eriksson’s more than able hands.

The Marais Project, Re-Imaginings, Sydney Conservatorium, 26 Oct

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 51

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

Artist Kate McMillan discusses her work The Moment of Disappearance, an immersive landscape of sound and video that traces legacies of the Enlightenment to their colonial manifestation in Australia.

Presented by Performance Space, Sydney, Thursday 6 – Saturday 29 November 2014.

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014

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

Renowned Torres Strait Islander artist Ken Thaiday talks with Keith Gallasch about his major exhibition, which showcases a range of his works, traversing dance, installation and kinetic sculpture.

Presented by Carriageworks and Performance Space, Friday 3 Oct – Sunday 23 November 2014.

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014

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

Angus Cerini, Resplendence

Angus Cerini, Resplendence

Angus Cerini, Resplendence

Angus Cerini, Resplendence

Angus Cerini was supposed to have an audition the day before we spoke recently, but turned down the part after realising who he was being asked to play. “I always get asked to audition for thugs and it’s just not me,” he says. “Don’t send me for drug dealer parts. It’s not what I’m good at… I did ballet for 10 years and I’m in my body. Give me shit that’s big because I’m a performer. There’s no point trying for these silly roles because other actors can do that and they’re good at it and we’re going to waste everyone’s time.”

It’s not hard to see why casting agents would make such errors. For the better part of two decades Cerini’s theatrical practice has presented viscerally confronting takes on masculinity, abuse and the relationships between violence and power. To reduce to the status of ‘thug’ any of the characters he has so scarily embodied is itself a bit harsh, but he knows he’s not going to be offered a romantic lead on the strength of his stage output, either.

For those who have followed Cerini throughout his career, it’s tempting to see it as the sort of continuous oeuvre quite rare in Australian theatre, in which the same questions and concerns run through every work, and each of his tortured torturers offers another aspect of a kind of ur-male that can never be fully represented.

“I reckon everything I’ve done has really been a meditation,” he agrees. “I feel like I’ve always been looking at why men do this, why this happens. There’s this really bad person, this young man. It’s been more about philosophy. And also about worship or prayer or somewhere to have power. Much bigger, in my own mind, than just putting on a show.”

Cerini’s monstrous young male was most recently incarnated in the form of the bomber-jacketed entity at the centre of Resplendence, a bundle of nerves at first attempting to punch the universe but eventually battered down by existence itself; earlier, he found a fascinating voice in the two-hander Wretch (2009), and can be traced back to the cryptic figures of Saving Henry (2003), Detest (2007) and Puppy Love (2006).

I’m surprised when Cerini even traces a thread back to a work in which we both performed close to 20 years ago, a university production of Clive Barker’s The History of the Devil. No prizes for guessing who Cerini played. “I was a bit mad at the time but I sort of summoned the fucking devil. Every night before the show I’d shave my head and I’d draw the pentagram on the mirror and fucking ask that fucker to fill me. We all started in the auditorium and at the very first show I was sitting there in a chair in that St Martin’s Theatre and I felt a fucking presence in the back right corner of that theatre, like a big massive bloaty fat flabby thing, and I turned around and there was this energy.”

His performance was certainly memorable, and much more committed than the usual uni theatre outing. “Anyway, after the show had finished I was back at Mum’s house in Vermont and I was out the back telling the devil to fuck off, like that’s enough,” he continues. “And no shit, this massive storm of crows, probably a hundred of them turned up. The backyard was full of crows. Yeah, I was a little bit mad.”

Cerini knows that the story is over-the-top, but the places he wants audiences to go require that bold leap into darkness. I don’t know that he ever did completely rid himself of the devil, since every one of his subsequent works has the quality of an exorcism. “Yeah,” he says. “Let’s go in there together but let’s go as dark as we can, let’s bring the fucking evil out, then once we’ve brought it to life let’s fucking put it to death. Let’s sic the fucking animal on it. Then what happens if the devil kills the animal that you’ve got to protect you? What have you got left? It’s going to the darkest places in order to work out how to defeat them.”

His efforts in recent years have drawn much recognition. Wretch earned him the Patrick White Playwrights Award, Save for Crying won two Green Room Awards and an RE Ross Trust Award, and most recently his script The Bleeding Tree won the Griffin Award. It’s testament to the quality of Angus Cherini’s practice that such a physical, embodied performer can also sculpt language that carries as much energy on the page. “It’s interesting because I reckon Wretch and Save for Crying and probably Resplendence, the later stuff, I don’t think you can approach them as an actor. You have to approach them almost as spoken word or poetry. Rather than working out what you’re trying to say… We need to just say it and let the lines speak. It’s about the bigger journey.”

Selected articles

Intuiting change
John Bailey: Angus Cerini, This Thousand Years I Shall Not Weep
RealTime issue #71 Feb-March 2006 pg. 29

poplectic apocalypto
Tony Reck: Angus Cerini, Chapters from the Pandemic
RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 38

no room for psycho-realism
John Bailey:P Angus Cerini, Wretch
RealTime issue #90 April-May 2009 pg. 40

reworking language for the theatre
John Bailey: Angus Cerini, Save for crying
RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. 33

an exchange: acting, reality & (dis)ability
Angus Cerini & John Bailey, correspondence
RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. 26

Braving the limits of the monologue
John Bailey: Angus Cerini, Resplendence
RealTime issue #122 Aug-Sept 2014 pg. 46

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. online

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

Julian Day, Chrissie Cotter Gallery, 2012

Julian Day, Chrissie Cotter Gallery, 2012

Julian Day, Chrissie Cotter Gallery, 2012

Julian Day is an artist, composer, writer and broadcaster based in Sydney, though compiling this profile involved chasing him as he presented work around the world. Beside his busy schedule as a visual artist, Day performs as An Infinity Room, co-directs participatory performances under the name Super Critical Mass and is perhaps best known to Australian audiences as the regular host of ABC Classic FM’s New Music Up Late.

Day’s installations explore the interaction of architecture and sound using simple and visually striking sculptures. In Lovers, which I recently saw at the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, four wood-veneer Casio keyboards are pinned to the floor and ceiling with metal poles. The poles hold down keys across the entire range of the keyboards, sending chords of layered sevenths and ninths humming through the space. The gently beating harmonic rainbow shimmers and shifts as you move about the space, a sonic sculpture in itself. It is also a clever sculptural representation of an inversion, with the pole pressing the highest note on one keyboard also pressing the lowest note on its twin. Day finds enduring fascination in this form, which he has developed in over a dozen iterations. As he explained via email, the sculptures produce “a spatial interplay between the static physical objects, their continually expanding drones and the spectator’s compliance within this field. The constantly emanating sound activates the so-called ‘negative space’ of the room, occupying the site with subtle yet persistent energy—what critic and essayist Steven Connor designates “spatiofugal and spatiopetal space.”

Beyond formal experiment, the installations explore a variety of themes and poetic connotations. The history of the materials forms a layer of meaning unto itself. When Day first began using 1970s/80s electronic keyboards in the installations, it was as a statement about cheap consumer electronics and the “fetishization of musical objects,” in particular when there is a steep price tag attached. The original intention was to work with a “museum of unloved objects,” the sort that are usually sold cheaply or given away in garage sales. Now, his vintage Casio keyboards are collectors’ items, implying “an additional museological arc” to the installation.

Other motivations are more personal. Day hears the installation as “a conceptual endgame: twins forced into constant relationship through separation, mute objects brought into life through puncture, sound as a perpetual death cry.” The installations also provide a way of coming to terms with personal failure and “the many seemingly lost years I spent trying to learn the piano, all the while at an insurmountable professional disadvantage of starting at the unbearably late age of 12 and only obtaining a piano at 15 (finally I didn’t have to beg neighbours or recede into music shops on weekends). Here I am finally occupying spaces and situations as if I’d become a professional pianist but with the dumbest means possible.”

Julian Day, twinversion: Lovers (detail), 2012, dimensions variable

Julian Day, twinversion: Lovers (detail), 2012, dimensions variable

Julian Day, twinversion: Lovers (detail), 2012, dimensions variable

Lovers is another example of Day’s career-long interest (stretching back to early minimalist installations with his collaborator Luke Jaaniste) in “making the invisible visible.” Day borrows the maxim from Alvin Lucier, with whom he has studied. This interest comes to the fore in perhaps the most developed version of Lovers, entitled Requiem, exhibited at the Chatswood Concourse in Sydney. “The Chatswood work was an iteration of Requiem in which I very discreetly positioned two pairs of matching small synthesizers within the entranceway to a busy arts centre. One pair of brown keyboards was positioned between two parallel brown window frames and one pair of white keyboards was positioned between two parallel white walls between a staircase and a wall. In both instances the instruments were either somewhat camouflaged or completely out of sight unless you craned your neck to look. The sound floated through the space but was quite soft and so hovered around the bass noise floor. Combined with the constant footfall, opening of doors and speech the sound field was almost more felt or unconsciously registered than fully heard. Nonetheless, as the two pairs of keyboards used slightly different chords you could still distinguish different affects as you moved throughout the space and you could differentiate where the two keyboards were, almost like a treasure hunt for the ears.”

Julian Day is still making the invisible visible in his most recent works, including a series of installations at the Stederlijk Museum, Amsterdam. In this series, Day “[brings] hidden phenomena to surface—a slowly descending glissando sine tone suddenly triggering a lone snare drum in the middle of a room, for example, or the strange beating patterns (like an invisible dissonant being) when an instrumental septet play against an undifferentiated held electronic tone.”

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. online

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

“135th Meridian-East” installation view

“135th Meridian-East” installation view

The 135th meridian of longitude bisects the Australian continent and can be seen metaphorically as a connecting thread running through the Northern Territory and South Australia. In fact, from 1863 to 1911, the Northern Territory and South Australia formed a single colonial entity.

André Lawrence, the recipient of the 2014 Australian Experimental Art Foundation’s Emerging Curator Fellowship, has assembled a major exhibition of artwork by 14 NT and SA artists in which he addresses the art of Central Australia and the relationships between its many communities. He states in the exhibition catalogue, “135th Meridian—East is a proposition for an ongoing relatedness across Country that remains rich in zones of contact, exchange and history… As sites of discovery and experience, the conversations evoked in this project highlight these ecologies within a geographical area so rich in culture and history it defies delineation.”

At the exhibition opening, local Kaurna people welcomed all communities and particularly artists from the Indigenous communities of the north. The ceremony acknowledged the breadth and length of the region bordering the meridian, and the exhibition itself welcomed viewers to the unique cultures of the region. Before the large audience and including the playing of the Yidaki, this welcoming was a powerful performance promoting mutual recognition and respect the length of the country.

Born in the Territory, Lawrence lived in France from age eight to 20, and on his return to Australia studied art at Charles Darwin University and the University of SA. He lives in Adelaide but frequently visits NT and maintains close relationships with communities there. Influenced by his father’s political engagement and involvement with Indigenous communities, Lawrence sees himself primarily as an artist but came to curating through his concern for cross-cultural collaboration.

He has been a tour guide, taking tourists along the 2,800km Stuart Highway, connecting Adelaide and Darwin, that runs almost parallel with the meridian and which acts as a cultural spine. The exhibition itself unfolds as a journey and the first work viewers encounter is a ceiling-high drawing of an Adelaide CBD streetscape by Adelaide artist Thom Buchanan. The final work is a montage of videos of Indigenous ceremonies assembled by Wukun Wanambi, and viewers encounter a range of artworks along the way. 135th Meridian-East is thus a journey not just from south to north but from an emblematic site of modern western culture to traditional culture.

There is an extraordinary range of approaches to art in this survey exhibition. Ali Gumillya Baker’s video Ahoy! Nungas re-enacting white patriots re-enacting their murderous invasion of the Lucky Country (Part 1) addresses the issue of Indigenous sovereignty [see Bound and Unbound, for more on Baker’s work]. Dutch-born Maarten Daudeij’s work explores the Flinders Ranges and Northern SA, using rusty, barbed fencing wire to form lettering that spells out “Not my will but thy will.” Sue Kneebone’s compelling installation Hearing loss (Volume III) comprises a 19th century desk connected by a telegraph wire to an original pine telegraph pole; on the desk sits a candelabrum of kangaroo skulls, her work highlighting early colonisation through the establishment of the telegraph and the destruction of wildlife through farming. “Lots of works play on the gap between the colonial and the post-colonial,” says Lawrence. James Tylor’s Postcards from the Frontier (An Anthropological Study) comprises a series of photos recording aspects of the region to critique the anthropological viewpoint.

Naturally, many of the Indigenous artists’ works are about place and post-colonial ideas of place. Pungkai’s painting Longa Longa Time, I bin Mine My Business, Now Everyone Cummin Mine My Business depicts a desert landscape with tyre marks over it; attached to it are plastic toys representing road works, mining camps and other commercial interventions. Another James Tylor work, A Nautical Journey of Country, is a wall-mounted assemblage of sticks and shells forming a rough map showing the regions in which he has lived, from western Victoria through SA, NT and the Kimberley, with the Stuart Highway shown. Tylor is of Aboriginal, Maori and English origin and the form and materials of this work refer to Polynesian seafaring charts. Sera Water’s Fritz and the rose garden is like an aerial view of a garden—made from woven felt, calico, string and cotton; hung like a painting, it refers to the rose garden her immigrant German grandfather maintained in the arid area of SA where he settled. And the husband and wife team of Lena Yarinkura and Bob Burrumul show two Wyarra Spirits, traditional totemic figures representing bush spirits.

In explaining why the exhibition was set out as a journey, Lawrence states, “I wanted people to feel immersed in the landscape—they can see the horizon but must negotiate obstacles and landmarks to get there.” Importantly, the final work is Wukun Wanambi’s montage of videos, from the archives of the Mulka Project at Yirrkala. The Mulka Project is a media production house and library which collects material depicting Yolgnu culture with the intention of reinvigorating its traditions while acknowledging Yolngu law and governance, a project in which Yolgnu people are retaking ownership of their culture and its dissemination.

Lawrence says he is encouraged when people from diverse backgrounds come together and connect, and prior to mounting this exhibition he had been wanting to bring NT artists to Adelaide to recreate or reveal their cultural interconnections. In 2013, he curated an exhibition at Adelaide’s Nexus Multicultural Arts Centre in which he explored cultural hybridity. He has previously shown the work of NT artist Frank Gohier at the AEAF and has shown SA artists in a corresponding space at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art (formerly 24 Hour Art) in Darwin. For example, James Dodd is based in SA but works extensively in the Territory and has developed a strong appreciation of it. Dodd contributed three paintings to 135th Meridian—East: two show abandoned cars in the desert, symbolising the country’s impenetrability to modern machinery. The third shows a police van in the desert, acknowledging the tension between law enforcement and the central Australian population—there is graffiti over the surface of this painting as if the painting, an emblem of western culture and authority, has itself been vandalised.

Lawrence is interested in how artists respond to locale and to circumstances, and worked with the selected artists, many of whom created new pieces for this exhibition. His detailed exhibition catalogue provides a sensitive, nuanced and critical view of the country and of the significance of the works. In it, he orders each work thematically under its own heading: Binary Landscapes (Buchanan), Sovereign Voice (Baker), Familial Histories (Waters), The Highway (Dodd), Pushing North (Kneebone), Spaces of Contention (Pungkai) and Culture Alive (the Mulka Project). Significantly, he does not privilege any particular culture or community over another, but honours the presence of all, providing a forum for dialogue between communities.

135th Meridian East, Australian Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, 5 Sept-4 Oct, 2014

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. online

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

Making art is more than a job and it’s more than a life-style choice—for many, it’s an all-encompassing way of being. This can make living with an artist a difficult feat, unless both are of like constitution. So it’s not surprising that in the art world there are many couples who share both their lives and their art.

RealTime is run by such a couple, Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter, who, before their foray into publishing, also produced a large number of contemporary performances as Open City, often drawing on personal experiences and their relationship or, as Apartners, working as consultants for other artists.

Of course it’s not all smooth sailing—one’s partner is often one’s harshest critic, but perhaps this is a key to the conceptual rigor often illustrated in the creative manifestations of couples. To get to the bottom of this, in Profiler 6 and 7, we asked a number of art couples about their collaborative practices. We thank them for their generosity and their honesty.
Gail Priest, Online Producer

Clare Britton & Matt Prest | Vincent Crowley & Ingrid Weisfelt (Torque Show) | Sonia Leber & David Chesworth

Clare Britton

Clare Britton

Clare Britton

Clare Britton & Matt Prest

Clare: Matt has supported my practice in so many ways—with humour, intelligence and kindness. So many projects I have worked on were made possible by Matt caring for our little boy and having the generosity, at the end of a long day, to still be interested.

We have made a lot of work together but it still feels like we are only just starting. Every now and then I see him out of the corner of my eye and it really makes me laugh. We had a pretty crappy winter—the wheels were just falling off.. Our car stopped working and it was the one we brought our son home from hospital in. Matt did this work at Alaska Projects. He was dancing with our broken Corolla and our crappy heater in front of a seating bank full of sceptics (he won them over as the performance went on, but this was early days) and he was just—I don’t know—brave and honest. It was so beautiful – the view I had of him. I have no idea where this is all going.

I want to see what Matt’s going to do, what I’m going to do and what we are going to do together. We have a residency next year at the Watermill Centre (Robert Wilson’s performance laboratory in New York) where we are going to work on separate projects side by side—I can’t wait to see what comes out of that.

Matt Prest, Whelping Box Film Shoot

Matt Prest, Whelping Box Film Shoot

Matt Prest, Whelping Box Film Shoot

Matt: Our life and work crosses over in a sort of haphazard, unplanned way. It’s like we do one thing and then another thing that balances the first one out. Our son Les has started to be a bit involved with our work. And he has started to involve us in his. For his school Halloween thing he began designing a costume in January and employed the services of Clare to help make it happen. As it neared completion, Les came forward with a new business proposition, Les and Clare Industries, and he immediately began to talk money (a promising sign for struggling artist parents). A few days later he came back suggesting 80% of profits go to the Siberian Tigers.

Clare makes beautiful things. This feeds our life together and with our son. She seems to be constantly working her butt off and is always in demand for her skill and talent. This year Clare has been studying visual arts and I’m excited to see her follow her ideas and intuition and see where that takes her and us. We are still growing up together, learning more about ourselves and each other. It feels like we’re both very much at the beginning of things.

Ingrid Weisfelt and Vincent Crowley in Malmö, Adelaide Festival 2012

Ingrid Weisfelt and Vincent Crowley in Malmö, Adelaide Festival 2012

Ingrid Weisfelt and Vincent Crowley in Malmö, Adelaide Festival 2012

Vincent Crowley & Ingrid Weisfelt (Torque Show)

Vincent: Ing and I met while we were dancing with Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre. We were colleagues for a year before we became partners.

I think that basically we work together because we’d like to be the other person creatively. We value the skills and talents that the other possesses more than our own. I guess that makes us creatively complementary in a slightly envious way. We also share a long history of performing, making and watching shows that shapes and influences the types of performances we are interested in making ourselves.

We’ve worked together as dancers in other people’s work (in multiple companies and projects), as performers in each other’s and as collaborators creating work together. Each of these configurations has its own dynamic and its own up side and not so upside. By far the easiest working relationship is when we dance together, in our own work or someone else’s. There seems to be a pleasure and ease and lack of complication in this physical conversation that we struggle to achieve in our other creative endeavours together.

We’ve found through trial and error that when we’re creating our own work things seem to work better if one or other of us takes the overall responsibility for the work. Two heads are better than one in our case as long as there’s one head that gets the final say in unsolvable arguments, points of contention and matters of taste.

We don’t work exclusively with each other either. We each have projects that involve other artists. Partly this is because we’re independent artists and we work where we can, but I also think these projects are important to help us maintain our sense of individual identity which in turn allows us to bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to our work together.

We also have the extra complication of adding a third non-partner to our partner-art collaboration. Ross Ganf is the other member of Torque Show. He gets to be the odd man in. He brings another set of skills, talents and energy to the creative process. I suppose this three-way unit dilutes the pure partner-art-ness of much of Ing and my collaborative work. This third voice in the Torque Show creative conversation does make negotiating the difference between our personal and professional relationship much clearer and straightforward. The three-headed relationship we have at work is a different beast to the two-headed one we have at home. There might be times when Ross feels like this is not the case and he’s stuck at home with us. But that would be a different article: “Partner plus one.”

Torque Show’s next work, Madame, will be premiering in April next year as part of the State Theatre Company of South Australia’s 2015 Season.

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth with Olga Kalashnikova

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth with Olga Kalashnikova

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth with Olga Kalashnikova

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth

Right now we are working on a video project in Melbourne’s western suburb of St Albans, where Maltese immigrants maintain the tradition of Spirtu Pront (or “quick wit”), a singing style that developed in a peculiar way on the Mediterranean island of Malta. Part singing, part public argument, part entertainment and part public psychotherapy, these finely executed song duels emanate from working class bars on the island. Our project presents an anachronistic form where ritualised argument can be a positive social force, providing a public platform for the resolution of conflict.

Many of our works emerge from specific sites or social situations, often involving real world participants and different types of performers. These settings introduce varying degrees of unpredictability into the practice, as we try to negotiate our way towards making an artwork without controlling all the variables.

When we are outside the studio we are often in unfamiliar territory, filming in a particular location or cajoling all types of people to participate in a project. It’s a good thing that our projects are so outwardly social, as our work as a collaborative duo pretty much dominates our lives. We are good travellers and our practice really benefits from the challenge of research-based residencies. Last year we spent three months working intensively in a rarely-visited Russian city for our project Zaum Tractor, where we relied most heavily on each other’s personal resources.

Back home, most of our work revolves around researching and planning, perhaps editing sound and video, and we recognise that we both need long periods of solo focused work each day. We have separate studio spaces at each end of the house, keep in touch via WIFI messages and typically meet up for an hour in the middle of each day for more detailed discussion. We often take a walk to discuss things or visit each other’s spaces; all of our moments of personal contact are opportunities to discuss various aspects of the work-in-progress.

Our projects are built up over time through research, discussion, recording and editing, often in short bursts and often in different sequential order. We like to think that we are ‘makers’ who collaborate as much as possible, and together we try to cover all the skill-sets so we don’t need to pay outside crew. It’s a great thing to have flexibly and confidence in the dialoguing process, it generally serves to lift the spirits rather than create conflict.

www.waxsm.com.au
Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Zaum Tractor, 2013, 2 channel HD video (Video still)

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Zaum Tractor, 2013, 2 channel HD video (Video still)

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Zaum Tractor, 2013, 2 channel HD video (Video still)

See part 1 of Partner Art in RT Profiler #6, 17 September 2014

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. online

If the Grain of Wheat Does Not Die, closing performance Odin Teatret, 50th Anniversary

If the Grain of Wheat Does Not Die, closing performance Odin Teatret, 50th Anniversary

If the Grain of Wheat Does Not Die, closing performance Odin Teatret, 50th Anniversary

Odin Teatret’s 9th triennial Holstebro Festuge, a large-scale, public performance event, invited groups of international artists from diverse backgrounds to stage community collaborations, performances and cultural interventions in the Danish municipality of Holstebro and its surrounding villages.

In keeping with the theme Faces of the Future, Ghosts and Fictions, the festival’s artists were predominantly groups of young people trained in distinct performance styles. Facilitated by Odin Teatret and Odin’s emerging artist associates, international groups collaborated with local youth, staging actions that materialised as apparitions across the towns, in multiple shifting locations. The works wove formal aspects of performative and everyday life together to transform public life in the towns for the nine days and nights of the festival.

My perspective on the festival is framed by my role as participant, observer and, in the month preceding the festival, as an intern at Odin Teatret. My experience reflects the creative and pedagogical opportunities the festival offered its participants. It also attests to the festival’s disorienting nature, which the company’s director Eugenio Barba assured me on arrival would be an important part of the process, and through it I would find my own thread. The thread I found ultimately led me to a reflection on Odin’s examination of theatrical language over its 50 years as well as the language that it has developed itself, a unique material dialogue with the fictions embedded in performance and everyday life.

Over the festival I was primarily involved with two projects, Altamira Laboratory’s (Italy) collaboration with Wagnerhus Kindergarten (Denmark) and Isadora Pei’s and The Jasonites’ (Italy, Spain, Brazil) Living Island, two examples of the festival’s multiple collaborations with schools (of which there were five in the festival) on one hand, and the festival as a stage for exchanges between participants (Odin artists, international colleagues, emerging associate artists, local and international youth) on the other.

Altamira workshopped with children aged three to five over three months at Wagnerhus preceding the festival, composing dance and movement sequences using large pieces of coloured cloth. In the final performance children moved to live and recorded music, dancing in different cultural styles around the cloths, on top of them, hiding beneath them, and chasing them through a field. The movement scores had a kaleidoscopic quality suggesting the vital relationship between bodies, sounds and materials. The piece was presented as a performance exchange, first with the The Koinonia Children’s Team (from Nairobi’s periphery, trained in acrobatics by Father Kizito as an alternative to street life) and then with the local Taekwondo club. It had a marked effect on the kindergarten, teachers commenting children had become more outgoing over the collaboration.

Living Island was a floating performance space on rafts built by local Scouts ritually setting fire to ‘the past’ and hosting visiting performance groups. The space, on the town’s central river, was framed by large sail-like patchworks sewn with invented emblems, evoking the cultures of the participating groups. The island was surrounded by an installation of ‘relics,’ an auto-ethnographic museum of everyday life.

The 9th Holstebro Festuge, Faces of the Future, Ghosts and Fictions; Odin Teatret 50th Anniversary

The 9th Holstebro Festuge, Faces of the Future, Ghosts and Fictions; Odin Teatret 50th Anniversary

Each day of the performance, Scouts sailed a new raft up the river, joining it to the others and hosting a different combination of performance events. The week began with a single raft and lone dancer from the Balinese Sanggar Seni Tri Suari school, accompanied by fire and instrumental music played on the bridge. Across the week performances included Odin actors Roberta Carerri, Jan Faslav and Tage Larsen, the Mercurial Family (Odin’s Julia Varley, associates Deborah Hunt, Carolina Pizzaro and Francesca Palombo), Lle Omolu Orixa dancers (Brazil), a local clown group and the Scouts themselves. The island was ushered and managed by Pei’s team of zombie Scouts (of which I was one). The work functioned as a parade of otherworldly, comic, archetypical and intercultural performance images that emerged from the Scouts’ fire. Their burning of ‘the past’ was a means of transforming and transcending everyday life. The piece climaxed with a final bonfire, after which the space was emptied completely, leaving participants haunted by the interactions that had taken place.

As with the other events at the festival Living Island was remarkably well attended, audiences returning daily to follow its progression over the week. In all, audiences paid avid attention to the festival program and were skilled in navigating its culturally diverse practices. Artistic literacy across the festival was a visible result of Odin’s half-century collaboration with Holstebro Municipality, where cultural awareness has developed through working with locals, as well as through the works presented at the theatre’s laboratorium.

The festival’s closing performance, If The Grain of Wheat Does Not Die, attracted hundreds of spectators. Staged in the town’s main park it ended with letters spelling Odin 50 in flames on the lake. Barba curated fragments of performance from across the festival for this final piece, arranging them to create a dialogue between performance styles. Junior Banda de Spina (Italy) marched through the centre of the cloth where Dynamis Teatro (Italy) were fighting: a sharp crease in a chaotic field. Kenyan acrobats exchanged their grass skirts for tutus, forming a conga line with the ballerinas. Paolo Comentale (of Casa di Pulcinella, Italy) and Kai Bredholt’s (Odin) polar bear, Otto, fed spaghetti to the young Balinese soloist while Mr Peanuts (Julia Varley’s skeleton in a tux) sang Peking Opera in conversation with an accordion, violin and instruments from the Barong.

The montage became a frame for the performance fragment featuring Odin’s parade of characters: Roberta Carreri’s Geronimo, a mistral clown with duck whistle, Julia Varley’s Mr Peanuts, Jan Ferlev’s Doggy (a dog skeleton in a suit playing the guitar), Tage Larsen’s Munken (a robed and masked monk), Kai Bredholt’s Otto and Iben Rasmussen’s half masked Trickster, each of the figures composed of a montage of performance images and materials. Working between performance archetypes to open up a new, rejuvenating space they function as curios or ambassadors of a still unknown tradition. They are emblematic of Odin’s work, founded on and yet creating openings within performance codes. Their fragmented singing of “We Are the World” presented an ironically anachronistic image of youth working between codes, stepping into the unknown—a youthfulness paradoxically derived from 50 years of dedicated work.

Clear Enigma, an outdoor retrospective following the festival, celebrating the company’s anniversary, exhumed material from the Odin Teatret oeuvre from Ornithofille (1965) on. The performance of these fragments, enacted first on a fortress made of dirt and then aboard the ship Talabot, blurred the distinction between bodies that enacted past performances and the physicality of past performances that animated the bodies of the actors now. The work concluded with children invading the space and piling Odin’s costumes and props onto a conveyer belt that dropped it all into a large pit which a bulldozer filled. A wooden frame with ropes was installed—a swing above the newly levelled ground.

The Holstebro Festuge and Clear Enigma reflected the importance of tradition and innovation for Odin Teatret. They formed a cyclical, ritual event that provided opportunities for youth as well as creating actions that revived the youthfulness of the theatre itself in a gesture of celebration and negation—or “disorientation” that opened onto a new space of the unknown.

The 9th Holstebro Festuge, Faces of the Future, Ghosts and Fictions; Odin Teatret 50th Anniversary, Holstebro, Denmark, 14-22 June; http://www.odinteatret.dk/events/holstebro-festuge-(festive-week).aspx

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 8

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

Kris Verdonck, Gossip

Kris Verdonck, Gossip

Kris Verdonck, Gossip

In the absence of Sydney Spring Dance (abandoned by Sydney Opera House after the 2013 season on the grounds of cost), Performance Space has done Australian dance proud in its SCORE season with works by Antony Hamilton, Natalie Abbott, Narelle Benjamin, Gail Priest and Jane McKernan, plus an installation by Belgian director Kris Verdonck. Collectively, the works demonstrated the ever-expanding conceptual and theatrical dimensions of what we understand to be contemporary dance.

Kris Verdonck

Kris Verdonck’s installation-performance video Gossip comprises a human-height screen running the length of a wall in one of Carriageworks’ Tracks. Standing in the otherwise empty, dark space we come face to face with a row of people, including the artist, oddly all of the same (digitally engineered) height though of a fascinating range of body types, physiognomies and fashions that are pretty close to our own. Perhaps they are, like us, a first night audience at the theatre or in a gallery. At first glance they appear to each stand alone, if shoulder to shoulder, some smiling, a few disinterested; but small turns of the head and discreet mouthings while staring directly at us suggest they are passing judgement in pairs and then, in trios and larger ripples along the line, gossip. It’s amusingly discomfiting and fun to witness emergent groupings and surprise when the whole gathering performs unanimously. It’s rather like the pleasure of watching Pina Bausch’s parading of her performers—each figure idiosyncratically attractive to our promiscuous gaze but the whole company enticing in itself.

At the New Media Dramaturgies conference opening on the same night, Verdonck spoke of his audience as “projecting onto his work.” Showing us video of his fascinatingly bizarre creations he described his aim as trying “to get actors to be as authentic as objects,” sometimes submitting them to the unpredictable—a Swan Lake passage in which the dancers are suspended such that they cannot properly execute their moves (“an elegant body-machine”). He imagines an equivalent “actor-machine.” While quite genteel next to Verdonck’s other sometimes violent works (focused, he says, on“one state of being, not an image”), Gossip though cleverly machined is open, subtle and certainly performed.

Natalie Abbott, Donny Henderson-Smith, Maximum

Natalie Abbott, Donny Henderson-Smith, Maximum

Natalie Abbott, Donny Henderson-Smith, Maximum

Natalie Abbott, Maximum

Maximum, a work of labour-intensive minimalism, exploits the bodies of a dancer, Natalie Abbott, and a bodybuilder, Donny Henderson-Smith, whose cultural and personal aims in life might be very different but who share capacities for precision, strength and endurance. The pair is presented as a team (black singlets, silver shorts, the latest gym footware), jointly exercising to a strict routine that takes them from the unison pacing out of squares, circles and diagonals to a range of exercises, including lunges and, unusual for a gym workout, dance-like toe-pointing, swimming-like floorwork and barking while on all fours. The increasingly demanding exercises climax with a doomed attempt by Henderson-Smith to support Abbott as she stands, leaning far forward, on his thighs—it’s as much an effort for her as for him, her runners losing traction on his slippery shorts. Even before this series of collapses the strain on both performers has been evident, the bodybuilder less able than the dancer to sustain precise movement and rhythm.

Maximum is by turns calculatedly clinical (observe the routines, the sweat, the amplified breathlessness), fascinating (the contrasting body and skill types), funny (satirical at the expense of gym regimes), frustrating (repetition and failure) and—if you empathically ‘run with it’—rewarding. In RealTime Profiler June 30, Abbott told Gail Priest, “It’s about asking an audience to come up to that same level of intensity as the performers, asking [them] to persist with us and engage in a different way than in a more obviously spectacular dance show…” Maximum nonetheless has its share of striking theatricality: a stark white tarquette and a low-slung stylish lighting grid (the lights symmetrically arranged in the current fashion) comprise a perfect starkly illuminated cube suggestive of both gym and laboratory. Dan Arnott’s live sound likewise heightens our attentiveness, homing in on and treating the sounds of bodies at work.

While a logical extension of Abbott’s impressive Physical Fractals (RT114; identical-looking dancers working in unison and generating the sounds that Arnott treats), Maximum is not so obviously a dance work but it is the creation of a choreographic sensibility. It’s interesting to see that the dramaturg for Maximum is Matthew Day, an exponent of very idiosyncratically shaped works to which no obvious meaning can be attached however suggestive they are moment by moment in the dancer’s intensely vibrating body. Unlike Physical Fractals and the Day trilogy, Abbott’s Maximum makes visual poetry of something which we can recognise—exercise, its banalities, demands and, possibly, revelations.

Lauren Langlois, Benjamin Hancock, Alisdair Macindoe, Keep Everything, Chunky Move

Lauren Langlois, Benjamin Hancock, Alisdair Macindoe, Keep Everything, Chunky Move

Lauren Langlois, Benjamin Hancock, Alisdair Macindoe, Keep Everything, Chunky Move

Chunky Move: Antony Hamilton, Keep Everything

The title of Antony Hamilton’s Keep Everything apparently refers to the choreographer’s desire to use leftover ideas from previous projects in his new work, rather than waste them. That information is incidental but Hamilton does conjure a world in which humans comprise their contemporary condition, their simian ancestry and well-worn fantasies of cyborg selves. We do keep everything, although usually barely aware of it.

As science increasingly details the oscillation between genetic and social forces in our evolution as a species we learn how much of our ancient past is still embodied in us. We keep everything in our DNA and hang onto much of the inherited cultures over which we obsess. We also learned long ago to speculate, thanks to the development of language and the conceptual sharing it allowed. So it’s not surprising that Keep Everything is speculative or that one of the three performers delivers a talk, posing questions about our similarity to other species in terms of social structure, our use of codes, but also pointing to our distinctive preoccupation with meanings and feelings. Elsewhere the performers, computer-like, flawlessly churn out spoken number series or signal eloquently, with human fluidity—but later robotically fast in the exacting dance passage that completes the work. As well, we witness our prancing simian selves, the performers almost but not quite on all fours, and a bizarrely funny dog-man. ‘Everything’ includes not only our past and future but also our affinity with other species.

Steven Mithen in The Singing Neanderthals posits language as having evolved out of gestures, calls and dance. Humans, like some other species, are dancers but we have codified and conceptualised dance and now, more than ever, use it to express ideas of a complex order, well beyond ballet narrative and formalist abstraction. Witness not only Keep Everything but also in the past-present-future vein ADT’s Devolution and Be Your Self and Chunky Move’s Glow and Mortal Engine as well as Hamilton’s post-apocalyptic Black Projects 1 and 2 in which Carl Nilsson-Polias detected an anti-humanist vision (RealTime, Dance Massive, 2013). At the end of Black Projects 1 the two strange graffiti-ists disappear into their art and in part 2 human-like creatures build themselves yet another religion.

Not everything in Keep Everything is dance, which is hardly uncommon these days, but every bit of it is realised by the performers’ virtuosity in dance, movement, speech and song spectacularly framed in a light-sound-sculpture installation. For the opening minutes of the work we stare into a totally familiar landscape on which lie two piles of initially unidentifiable detritus. The enigmatic beauty of the scene is reinforced by waves of smoke and colour shadings that further complicate our vision. After this immersive opening, figures appear, one retrieved from the detritus, and the work’s initial mutability is then amplified over and over as the three humans themselves transform repeatedly in a world that grows more sonically dense (house music, sci-fi-ish massive synth glides and weirder) and barely categorisable, intense comic book colours prompt us to see anew. This is our world made otherworldly, textured simultaneously with popular culture and big questions. But for all the exhilaration engendered by its maker and his dancers and designers, Keep Everything is a closed circuit in which we do not evolve; we simply are—Hamilton expressing a kind of happy fatalism or offering a necessary antidote to the denialism that has sustained humanism’s belief in our species’ superiority and in progress at any cost.

For more about Performance Space’s SCORE see the reviews of Jon Rose’s Ghan Tracks on page 43, Gail Priest and Jane McKernan’s One thing follows another… on page 21 and Narelle Benjamin’s Hiding in Plain Sight above.

Performance Space, SCORE: Gossip, artist Kris Verdonck, 1-10 Aug; Maximum, choreographer, performer Natalie Abbott, performer, collaborator Donny Henderson-Smith, lighting Matthew Adey, sound Dan Arnott, dramaturg Matthew Day, 27-30 Aug; Chunky Move, Keep Everything, director, choreographer Antony Hamilton, performers Benjamin Hancock, Lauren Langlois, Alisdair Macindoe, Mobile lighting Benjamin Cisterne, sound design Julian Hamilton, Kim Moyes, AV design: Robin Fox; Carriageworks, Sydney, 13-16 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 20-22

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

Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, Mantle, My Darling Patricia

Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, Mantle, My Darling Patricia

Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, Mantle, My Darling Patricia

“What am I for?” asks the voice that has been speaking since we were first planted into a sustained, unsparing darkness. This voice has transported us from suburban mayhem—a few too many sherries in the car before forgotten veggies bake to burning, a glimmer of someone sick and dying, eyebrows plucked to vanishing—to the edges of an ominous hole in the road and down into its abyss.

The voice that we hear while we do not see paints us into a stock Australian domesticity. The ‘she’ who speaks in both third and first person is at once inside and outside of her own scene-making. She sounds dry and a bit ocker, as if she is, in part, the voice of nostalgia or even gendered myth itself.

Since the early 1990s when Jenny Kemp first dressed the Australian stage in what has since been called an externalised dynamics of the female psyche, the national theatre has wrestled with the knottedness of female experiences and narratives, myths about them and the limits and possibilities of an increasingly experimental non-narrative stage. In Kemp’s works, it was writing for and at the edge of performance that seemed to land a form that was both implicitly national and explicitly ‘female,’ offering a transformative spatial rendering of those post-structural fractured subjectivities whose ghosts we now know a little too well.

In Mantle, My Darling Patricia reveal a debt to this lineage but also aim to cast their own poetics into the readily twinned spaces of psyche and theatre. We never learn the name of our narrator, but her figure arrives in the shape-shifting movement episodes that visualise the plight of a woman who has been plunged to the centre of the Earth (Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal). On the edge of visibility, her body writhes and twists, twitches gently, throbs and curves to varyingly thudding, sensuous and pulsating sound. In less effective scenes she is clambering against the scrim, acting out entrapment. In others, she seems seductively caught in the sort of ecstasy that might just come with freefalling grief.

If the figure’s movements shift undecidedly between the literal and the abstract, the speaking voice also jumps too neatly between a fictive elsewhere and the metaphor that renders it. Her story, we come to learn, is less about being enclosed in earth than it is about the kind of descent that occurs when the self is cut to its core by despair. As she appears and disappears, the stage invisibly moves around her—its objects also somewhat undecided, hovering ambiguously between symbol and substance. A large fluorescent ice beam appears out of nowhere, and then vanishes. A large black sphere casts a tall shadow of a hole, and then is gone. A cone enshrouds the woman’s body which by then is reaching tremulously towards a surface.

The components, individually, are interesting imaginings: text (Halcyon Macleod) is rhythmic; design (Clare Britton) is stark and vibrant. Both are often outdone by sound (Jack Prest) that radiates in and out of recognisability with moments of lonely jazz, a distorted car horn, a penetratingly dirty electric guitar. And yet, in moving us between the twin realms of this story—inside and out, fictive dream and fictive real—the artists contain us in a kind of pretense that, despite experiments in visual form, feels somewhat narratively closed. Jenny Kemp opened out the stage by playing with non-linear text and its relationship to an abstract and painterly mise-en-scéne. Twenty years later, Mantle doesn’t quite find a meta-theatrical language to sequel Kemp: the kind that could make those of us sitting in the dark alive to our own psychic imaginings, seeing and feeling the theatres in our minds.

My Darling Patricia, Mantle, co-creator, writer, narrator Halcyon Macleod, co-creator and images Clare Britton, lighting Matt Marshall, composition, sound design Jack Prest, performer, choreographer Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, dramaturg, script editor Janice Muller; Campbelltown Arts Centre, 11-13 Sept

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 36

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

Jan Dibbetts, Horizon Sea I-III, 1971

Jan Dibbetts, Horizon Sea I-III, 1971

Jan Dibbetts, Horizon Sea I-III, 1971

When RealTime talked with MAAP Director Kim Machan about the Land Sea Sky exhibition at the end of last year its 2014 international touring schedule looked ambitious—Shanghai, Seoul and Brisbane—particularly as the organisation had just been declined further triennial funding by Arts Queensland (see RT119). Despite this, Sydney has since been added to the list with a slightly smaller manifestation: 13 artists instead of the full complement of 20, exhibited across two floors of the National Art School Gallery.

Machan’s curatorial style grounds contemporary media-based works with the inclusion of a seminal historic work. For MAAP2004 in Singapore, themed Gravity, she used two works by Yves Klein—the magic of the collaged photograph Le Saut dans le vide (Leap into the Void) and the International Yves Klein blue series, presenting a hue similar to the blue channel of the RGB video signal—to re-assert continuity between visual arts history and the media art present (see our MAAP2004 festival feature). For Land Sea Sky she anchors the exhibition with Dutch artist Jan Dibbetts’ 1971 video series Horizon Sea I-III in which the meeting point of sea and sky is rotated in a number of orientations across split screens so that the landscape loses its figurative impact and becomes about line, angles and neat abstract geometries. Dibbets’ work thus reinforces both the land, sea and sky of the exhibition title as well as the sub-titular provocation to revisit “spatiality in video art.”

Positioned next to this work is a more contemporaneous version by Korean artist Kimsooja. For Bottari—Alfa Beach (2001) Kimsooja has filmed a stretch of sea and sky on the Nigerian coast, the place from which slaves were dispatched to the colonies. By splitting the screen horizontally and inverting the image in two ways—placing upturned sky on the bottom, and upside down sea on the top—the artist intends to negate the romantic ideal of a seascape. While the work certainly manifests an aura of gloom, this an instance where the artwork requires the roomsheet notes provided to convey its deeper import.

Derek Kreckler’s Littoral (2014)

Derek Kreckler’s Littoral (2014)

Derek Kreckler’s Littoral (2014)

Also accompanying the Dibbets series is Australian artist Derek Kreckler’s Littoral (2014). Kreckler offers a low-tech approach to expanded video that is playful and effective. Projecting onto a wall-sized screen made from vertical strips, he presents three black and white sequences of wavescapes, each sequence increasing in closeness. Behind the strip-screen is an oscillating fan and the resultant billowing lends a remarkably satisfying three-dimensionality to the image, waves surging out towards the viewer. Kreckler undercuts the implied power and grandeur of the images with his gently comic use of a domestic fan. This, in addition to the strip-curtain allusion and the black and white of the image give Littoral a sense of nostalgia—the seascape often integral to Australian childhood perhaps.

Adding a little land to the watery second level of the exhibition is an understated piece by Shilpa Gupta. The artist asked 100 Indian adults to draw a map of India from memory.100 Hand drawn maps of India (2007-08) is simply what it is and something more. The highly variable outlines are down-projected onto a plinth resulting in a quietly powerful comment on ideas of identity, border and nationalism.

Zhu Jia, It’s Beyond my Control, 2014

Zhu Jia, It’s Beyond my Control, 2014

Zhu Jia, It’s Beyond my Control, 2014

There is a nice resonance between Gupta’s piece and pioneering Chinese artist Zhu Jia’s It’s Beyond my Control (2014). His is also small and intimate, projected onto a small alcove at the top of the gallery’s impressive semi-circular staircase. Jia’s work most directly addresses the manipulation of spatiality in the video medium. It consists of a hand holding a pencil which is outlining the edges of the corner into/onto which it is projected, the joins between walls and floor. Here the virtual attempts to actualise and define, to demarcate the real world. While not quite flawless in execution—the projection is stretched to fit the corner (as the title implies, as part of a touring exhibition it is beyond Jia’s control)—it is still a very neat conceptual conceit.

Positioned near the gallery entrance—which unfortunately washes the vision with excess light—Barbara Campbell’s interactive close, close (2014) also deals figuratively with the Land Sea Sky thematic explored by second floor works. The viewer controls a horizontal image strip which moves up and down the screen according to your proximity. From the furthest distance you are offered a view of the sky and as you walk towards the screen the image moves downward displaying the tops of sails, a grassy sand dune and a strip of beach populated by birds. At the closest point you ‘enter’ the water, the sound implying submersion. Within the short video loop (filmed by Gary Warner who also contributed the sound) there is a strong dynamic that works effectively with the interactivity. When I played with the work at first there were birds on the shore but as I moved the image to the sky the flocks were on the move. As I brought the image back to the beach it was empty and I felt the loss. The very deftly managed visual and sonic interactivity (by John Tonkin) is perfectly integrated into the overall concept of the shifting territories of migratory shorebirds.

In Lauren Brincat’s This Time Tomorrow, Tempelhof (2011) we leave the sea behind to concentrate purely on land and sky—a strip of grey runway leading into a hazy distance. The perfect symmetrical perspective is reinforced by the mounting of the screen on a triangular frame. A figure walks into shot and down the centre of the runway to gradually become a black dot in the landscape. Near the end of the cycle, if you peer hard enough you see two distant figures emerging though we are denied the closure of their arrival. The work’s precise geometry and sense of shifting scale is mesmerising.

Other works on the ground floor offer more oblique though no less intriguing interpretations of the exhibition’s theme, concentrating more perhaps on the idea of spatiality of video and the frame as a landscape—such as Wang Peng’s Feel North Korea (2005) which uses the split screen with one part often blacked out to echo the political situation in this country. His second piece, Beyond (2014), is perhaps the most oblique, featuring three screens depicting subtley moving images of a pair shoes and a head of hair, both in extreme close-up. A shot of a distant aeroplane and vapour trail separates them, the connection to be read in the negative space between the screens. Wang Gonxin’s The Other Rule in Ping Pong (2014) splits the action of a bouncing ball across three screens one of which is embedded in a plinth in the space, implying a spatial and sculptural relation between the surfaces. Both Chinese/Australian artist Paul Bai’s Untitled (Wind charm) (2013) and Italian artist Giovanni Ozzola’s Garage—sometimes you can see much more (2009) use subtle manipulation of video footage to question perception of the image, the depicted space and the architecture of the gallery itself.

Kim Machan’s curatorial combination of figurative and conceptual makes Land Sea Sky a satisfyingly cohesive exhibition, a compelling showcase of Australian and Asian artists—something MAAP has consistently offered for over 15 years. May it continue to do so.

MAAP: Land Sea Sky: revisiting spatiality in video art, National Art School Gallery, Sydney, 21 Aug-11 Oct; http://www.maap.org.au/projects/landseasky-revisting-spatiality-in-video-art-sydney-australia/

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 52

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

Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, In-Habit: Project Another Country, 2014, installation detail, Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia

Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, In-Habit: Project Another Country, 2014, installation detail, Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia

Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, In-Habit: Project Another Country, 2014, installation detail, Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia

Adelaide’s annual OzAsia Festival, which began in 2007 as a cultural bridge to Asia, spotlights the cultures of the disparate nations of the region. Elements include the family-oriented Moon Lantern Festival, symposia on cultural exchange and politics, a film festival, crafts, cuisine, workshops and traditional and contemporary theatre, dance, music and visual art. Such a wide-ranging and illuminating exposition also sows developmental seeds.

Visual Art

The Samstag Museum is hosting two contrasting exhibitions highlighting postcolonial South East Asia and extending the perennial consideration of the nature of art: Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan’s In-Habit: Project Another Country, and Berlin-based art dealer Matthias Arndt’s Mooi Indie—Beautiful Indies. ‘Mooi Indie’ refers to the early 20th century Indonesian art movement that used Western forms to depict sanitised, beautiful images of the Dutch colony. The term is now used ironically, as the artists parody colonial, Western culture. Jumaldi Alfi’s Rereading Landscape—Mooi Indie (I know where I am going) is a painting of an unframed Mooi Indie painting. He reframes and thus reconsiders the traditional Mooi Indie landscape subject. Wedhar Riyadi makes enlarged copies of found historical photographs of people posing in Western outfits, and then overlays them with vividly contrasting cartoon graphics, questioning the culture that spawned the photos and the imported values they represent.

Riyadi Wedhar, Keributan, 2011, Mooi Indie

Riyadi Wedhar, Keributan, 2011, Mooi Indie

Riyadi Wedhar, Keributan, 2011, Mooi Indie

Eko Nugroho’s sculpture Under Pillow Ideology is a mannequin in a traditional Javanese mask hiding under a quilt and cushions, suggesting a traditional performer obscured by contemporary interior decoration. His La Rue Parle #9, made in France, is a tableau of images rendered in machine-embroidery that speak of urban European life, clashing the concept of urban culture with the mechanised form of a traditional handicraft. The Tromarama collective’s Ons Aller Belang is a set of dinner plates, printed with urban rather than decorative scenes, displayed together with a projected animation of the urban scenes. The reality of urban life thus displaces the typical decoration in these household goods, and animation displaces the static image. Arndt states, “If we observe the journey of Indonesian art from the colonial era to its present development, we can conclude that modern Indonesian art is a reflection of the struggle of local artists to achieve freedom, not only from colonialism, but also from Western domination.”

In-Habit: Project Another Country takes a very different approach. In this touring work, the Aquilizans build and rebuild a series of massive cardboard honeycombed structures representing ramshackle housing. The structure grows organically, like biological life enveloping the planet, and refers to the housing of the Badjao community of the Philippines. The Badjao are traditionally semi-nomadic, living on boats on the coast, but have been obliged to make more permanent homes. Built from whatever materials they can find, their houses sit on stilts over the water’s edge. Their culture is being rapidly overtaken.

Mounted within the cardboard structure are video screens showing Badjao life, including children giving rap performances for which they earn a little money. Embedding the videos in the cardboard structure metaphorises the invasion of contemporary technology. Rap is becoming a universal modus operandi of those affirming identity, and the Badjao children are thus synthesising a new culture. In creating the cardboard structures, the Aquilizans work with school groups in cities where they exhibit—again, it will be children who carry forward this new cultural awareness.

At CACSA, Cao Fei’s exhibition of videos is an excellent introduction to her compelling oeuvre, in which she analyses contemporary Chinese society through a range of cinematic devices from realism to animation and virtual reality. Her beautifully crafted video Haze and Fog shows the tedious, battery-hen existence of zombie-like people who are alive but whose souls are dead, an outcome of rural migration into high-rise urban life. Whose Utopia shows the desolate lives of factory workers, with dancers surreally appearing on the factory floor. Her animation RMB City Opera is evidently influenced by the propaganda plays of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, with their roots in traditional Chinese opera, and relates to her RMB City project, which is based in the VR Second Life. Her animation People’s Limbo shows a philosophical debate between Mao, Lao Tze, Karl Marx and a Lehman Brothers banker, and her Cos Players video documents people acting out role-playing fantasies, equating role-playing with real life. Cao Fei shows how the human spirit challenges the orderly but sterile high-rise life.

Music

Legendary Australian percussion ensemble Synergy joined with Korean five-piece Noreum Machi for a memorable concert that opened and closed with the two groups performing together. In between, they performed separately, and in the first half of the concert, Synergy gave us some classics of modern percussion—John Cage’s Third Construction, Nigel Westlake’s Omphalo Centric Lecture and a work by Synergy leader Timothy Constable.

Noreum Machi, performing traditional Korean music known as samulnori, opened the concert’s second half with a processional entrance, Gilsori, from the back of the auditorium. Based on traditional forms—percussion, dance and singing—but redesigned for contemporary audiences, Noreum Machi’s music attracts those interested in Korean traditions. It’s high-energy and fun. The complex rhythms have an infectiously jazzy feel, building up to fast, intense crescendi. During this performance, we were invited to participate in a voice percussion work but the performers soon left us behind. Noreum Machi also use reed instruments, the low-pitched piri and the wailing higher-pitched taepyongso, which sound like declamatory human voices. Kim Yong-jun’s taepyongso solo, East Wind, was hypnotic.

For the riotously joyous concert finale, Noreum Machi and Synergy joined forces, Constable blowing a conch shell to match Kim’s taepyongso. This is a dialogue between cultures and between the ancient and contemporary. The two ensembles expound their own traditions as well as working together, offering three genres of challenging but totally engaging music.

In a concert combining art with music, Japanese calligrapher Hiroko Watanabe made work on stage to the accompaniment of jazz-rock-taiko fusion band Above the Clouds, her action projected on a screen above the stage. Following an introduction that reminded us of the origins of calligraphic ideograms, she responded to the music by rapidly executing dozens of large-scale gestural works in heavy black ink on paper mounted on fold-out cardboard boxes that she then stacked around the stage until she was surrounded by a forest of images. Afterwards, ensemble members autographed giveaway CDs. With screaming guitar and energetic taiko drumming, this is theatrical entertainment, but it extends the appreciation of calligraphy and taiko through reinvention and popularisation. Watanabe’s calligraphy emphasises the spontaneity characteristic of such art. Her work is displayed at the Art Gallery of SA alongside traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean calligraphy, some of which is centuries old.

The Western domination of which Matthias Arndt speaks is not only economic or political and is not confined to visual art—cultural appreciation and criticism are frequently Western-centric. OzAsia Festivals bring us traditional culture, hybrid, modernised culture and cultural and political critique that press us to re-consider our own perspectives. In celebrating cultural diversity and cross-fertilisation, festivals such as OzAsia precipitate and encourage artistic development, and the emerging forms develop their own trajectories and aesthetics, accelerating cultural evolution.

8th OzAsia Festival 2014: Mooi Indie—Beautiful Indies, Indonesian Art Now, curator Matthias Arndt, and In-Habit: Project Another Country, Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan, Samstag Museum of Art, 1 Aug-3 Oct; Cao Fei’s Theatrical Mirror: living in-between the Real and Unreal, Contemporary Art Centre of SA, 12 Sept-19 Oct; Synergy Percussion Meets Noreum Machi, Space Theatre, 12 Sept; Hiroko Watanabe and Above the Clouds, Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide, 13 Sept; http://www.adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au/ozasia-festival/

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 4

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

Sara Black, Kristina Chan, Hiding in Plain Sight

Sara Black, Kristina Chan, Hiding in Plain Sight

Sara Black, Kristina Chan, Hiding in Plain Sight

Hiding in Plain Sight asks for conceptual engagement. Narelle Benjamin draws upon Mircea Eliade who participates in a philosophical tradition that marches toward a holistic return to a self that is fragmented, alienated, empty and without home. Home is more than bricks and mortar; it is being at home with oneself. When this home becomes hearth for others, a re-balancing of the fundamental order of the heart occurs [ordo amoris]. But can we ever be home?

Two cross-legged figures sit facing each other on either side of a doorframe without door. The stage is divided, lasered in half by a white beam, symmetrically left and right, back, front, East, West, dark, light, appearance, reality—all depending upon where one sits in the saddle. The traverse staging sets up an immediate desire to change sides, but only in serving the logic of ‘getting the whole thing at once,’ a suggestion that this is not possible in the condition to which I’m constrained. Window frames without windows hang opposite each other further negating the space with emptiness and filling it with possibility. Doors and windows insist on being opened, closed or left ajar. Without door or window they become mysterious portholes to something else.

Dancers, Kristina Chan and Sara Black nuzzle their necks in a unified nape space, soft, exploratory. Emergent heads cock on a lateral plane in a metronomic beat: 1, 2, 3. This staccato motion posits an underscore of subtle and considered deliberation. We hear voices in a busy market place. Huey Benjamin’s score eclectically rolls out noises of impact: material, poking through a wall of static haze. These weighted sounds curl together then release like the dancers’ spines: tail to head, with the auditory ‘thwack’ of fans: 1, 2, 3. Musically we ratchet from trough to peak in a concertina arrangement cranked between earth and the ethereal.

The identity limit of a form is met vigorously in the dancers’ distal sweeping and wrapping up of limbs: foot pulled to buttock, head arcing to meet points that flip the whole body in transition. Synchronously, they reach with outer tips, taut, then softening, both yielding to the visceral patterns that underlie the beauty of the choreographer’s famed “Nellie’s knots.” This quality of effortless movement is extended through the versatility of the costumes: bodies covered but never lost. Together they deliver other patterns through dancing with fans: the art of not revealing. No longer birds of paradise, they spar, punching and blocking with even touch upon a thin line of separation. Apart, the dancers motor in their spatial halves in idiosyncratic ways. Black sharply accents through torso, arms, fingertips with a bolt of force that propels and slices through the silky contemplative movement that Chan often inhabits—arms behind, tentacles worm with proboscis hands anointing the space. There is an inner/outer dynamic. Sensorial motivations buoy, explode and haunt the choreographic form along its pathway—what lies beneath now in plain sight.

Floating like clouds, Sam James’ black and white floor projections are a cosmological meditation on scale: patterned surfaces magnified, universes miniaturized; a tree grows. The hypnotic motility of these visual symbols gathers all the elements of the dance and brings it almost home.

Performance Space, SCORE: Hiding in Plain Sight, choreographer Narelle Benjamin, performers: Kristina Chan, Sara Black, video Samuel James, music Huey Benjamin, lighting Karen Norris, costumes Justine Shih Pearson, fan designs Victoria Brown; Carriageworks, Sydney 22-30 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 22

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

Escape Room Melbourne.

Escape Room Melbourne.

Escape Room Melbourne.

You’re in a bungalow at the back of a garden in suburban Melbourne. The game runner, who met you at the door and explained the experience you were about to have, locks the door behind you and the room is dim. You have torches and an hour to work out how to get out.

Escape Rooms are a new form of interactive entertainment in which participants are locked inside a room and must complete a series of puzzles and challenges in order to escape. Inspired by the digital Escape the Room games designed in 2005 by Toshimitsu Takagi, such as Crimson Room, real life versions of the game began to appear around 2007 including Takao Kato’s room in Japan and Kazuya Iwata’s room in the USA.

Escape Room Melbourne, run by Dr Ali Cheetham and Dr Owen Spear, was the first to open in Australia and since then new rooms have opened in Sydney, Perth and a second in Melbourne. Cheetham and Spear first encountered Escape Rooms in Budapest, where the form is so popular that over a hundred rooms have opened. Spear recalls, “Some of the rooms had an interesting, old nostalgic feel; others would be a little bit creepy and run down. It felt to me like being a kid again, exploring a room, trying to find a hidden object.”

Each Escape Room tends to be unique, expressing itself through the aesthetic choices of the designer, the kinds of challenges and the depth of narrative. The active puzzle-solving and teamwork elements can lend themselves to less nuanced purposing of the experience, of course, and there are many versions that lean heavily on genre—there’s no shortage of zombies and safe crackers in these rooms, be assured. The experience can also be lyrical, suspenseful and magical.

Escape Room Melbourne, for two-four people in a 70-minute session in a medium size room, has a quality of haunted suburban mystery to it. There is a sense that something urgent once occurred in this room. A letter gives the room its fictional context, laying out just enough exposition to give a narrative explanation for your presence in the room. Each puzzle and challenge has antiquity: the furniture, the objects, the clues, all come from a Melbourne long past. It’s a little like discovering that your grandparents were Cold War spies.

In this way the environment is made to perform around you. The sense of significance gradually focuses the longer you play. As you work out how the puzzles have been constructed around you, a grid of narrative meaning is layered over your physical experience. At the end it’s possible to trace your own experience through the room by following the path of solved puzzles.

Spear describes the participant experience of their Escape Room, saying “most people start off a little uneasy, and then really get into it once they’re in. There’s huge variety in the way people interact with the room. No team seems the same, and they range from speaking very little, and acting quite seriously, to screaming and laughing.”

A crucial aspect of Escape Room is the feedback mechanism that helps players move through the tasks. This varies from live in-character performances to no feedback at all. In the case of Escape Room Melbourne it’s a simple voice over. The Game Runner who let you into the room is also monitoring your progress as you play. If you need a clue you can ask for one. If the runner sees that you are very off-track or running out of time they will sometimes offer advice. Spear says, “I think they interrupt it slightly, but it’s sort of a necessity, otherwise the puzzles would have to be made too easy. We’re thinking of having a note system set up in the next one, where hints are sitting round the room in envelopes.”

Players are able to listen to the prompts in an ‘out of game’ framework which keeps the mechanics of the game very apparent without impacting on the immersive nature of the experience and lends it a sense of security. Other escape rooms are much more immersive, designing all their interactions as ‘In Game,’ which heightens the potential for immersion but demands more commitment to performing over playing.

Escape Rooms are part of the growing trend towards immersive and participatory experiences that includes work as diverse as that of Blast Theory, Punchdrunk, Slingshot and Coney (see my articles in RT115, and RT117). As Frank Lantz, director of the NYU Games Center, told CNBC, “Games used to be a form of experience. The thing that got left out of that equation was human bodies and face-to-face interaction. I think we’re seeing a return to those qualities.”

Escape Room Melbourne, book online: www.escaperoom.com.au

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 36

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

Faye Rosas Blanch, It's so Hip to be BLAK, 2014

Faye Rosas Blanch, It’s so Hip to be BLAK, 2014

Faye Rosas Blanch, It’s so Hip to be BLAK, 2014

Above Adelaide’s Fontanelle Gallery is a banner saying, “Occupied and Enjoyed.” The gallery is being occupied by a group of artists staging Bound and Unbound: Sovereign Acts—decolonising methodologies of the lived and spoken. As we arrive at the exhibition, attendants in lab coats ask us to sign a register—we are now under surveillance.

Bound and Unbound is a group exhibition of videos, texts, a ceiling-high stack of books, a field of red sand representing desert country, family photos and a representation of a traditional bush camp. But the key elements are the performances and the key issue is the exhibition’s agenda.

Performers Ali Gumillya Baker, Simone Ulalka Tur, Faye Rosas Blanche and Natalie Harkin are lecturers at Flinders University’s Yunggorendi First Nations Centre for Higher Education and Research, which provides support for Indigenous students at the university, engages in Indigenous research and education and is involved in communities of practice.

Bound and Unbound curator Baker also has her studio at Fontanelle. In the exhibition press release, she writes, “This experimental work aims to explore complex ideas of being both bound and free; what we are bound to historically and, as sovereign people, what we choose to (un)bind ourselves to and from, both now and into the future. The core themes include: interrogations of State colonial archives; notions of ethical practice and responsibility; enacting memory and storytelling; and sovereign identity and (re)representation.”

The performances are powerful and eloquent: Baker announces the exhibition’s aims; Yunggorendi Director Simone Ulalka Tur sings, accompanied by her niece Katie Inawantji Morrison on violin, and reads her mother’s poetry. Poet Natalie Harkin pastes up a text on the wall that reads, “Attention record keepers of the State we have you under surveillance!” referring to the surveillance of Indigenous people during South Australia’s colonial history and the retention of records of Indigenous communities held in the State Archives. Baker tells me that she needed written permission to access her family’s records, having had to sign a confidentiality agreement, and that Indigenous South Australians still feel under surveillance as if outside the community. Her video Archive Fever Paradox, of a performance by Harkin, also addresses the issue of the Archives, and her video of Tur and Blanche’s My Pen is My Weapon announces the group’s philosophy.

The family photographs recall and honour ancestors. The books in the stack are anthropological texts concerning the habits and nature of Indigenous people and their history. Baker declares these books racist; the artists’ intention is to address what has been written about Indigenous people in order to reclaim their history, change the way in which Indigenous people are understood and to re-present themselves. She cites Judith Butler’s concept of subjection and the process of becoming a subject of power as indicative of the colonial past and notes that Indigenous people are still defined racially. Their artwork is about how representations of Indigenous people still shape the lives of these people and our perceptions of them.

This is activist, community art. When viewers at the exhibition register on entry, they will subconsciously identify as Indigenous or otherwise and implicitly are asked whether they are in solidarity. The group demands decolonisation, reclaims Indigenous sovereignty and seeks mutual respect, inclusion and understanding. Indigenous people in SA lived under the Aborigines Act and this exhibition represents a symbolic emergence from it — to become unbound.

Baker and Tur tell me they are undertaking an educative process that is intended to complement their roles as lecturers at Yunggorendi. They teach Indigenous culture to non-indigenous university students and the artistic material they have developed will be used in their teaching. Using Fontanelle for the exhibition allows them to step outside their university roles and to develop their art in a space that supports experimental and interdisciplinary artwork. They use the space to promote dialogue between cultures and across art forms—theatre, installation, video, poetry—and they are interested in how experimental art might be used, citing as influences Richard Bell and the proppaNOW collective. It is a transforming experience for the artists themselves—they are undertaking PhDs and will use this experience in thinking through their research.

Bound and Unbound is described as Act 1 in a project that is planned to continue into 2015 with the production of further videos and possibly street art in key locations. It forms part of a broader project including the Tall Ships performance (recorded on video by Baker) at the opening of the Historia group exhibition, Adelaide Town Hall, earlier this year, which reconsidered Adelaide’s history.

Bound and Unbound: Sovereign Acts—decolonising methodologies of the lived and spoken, Ali Gumillya Baker (curator), Simone Ulalka Tur, Faye Rosas Blanch, Natalie Harkin, Fontanelle Gallery, Adelaide, 24 Aug-21 Sept

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 53

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

DVD: Locke

A man in a car. Alone. For a whole film. Even more alone than Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer on his existential slippery slope in David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel Cosmopolis. Tom Hardy’s Ivan Locke is a businessman. One phone call undoes him. He drives and drives, he phones, he talks, as career, family and psyche unravel. Acclaimed for direction, concept, camera work, sound design and above all performances—it was filmed in 10 days with Hardy working to iPad cues hidden from view and improvising—this is one of the most highly regarded British films of recent times after Jonathan Glazer’s rivetting Under the Skin.
8 copies courtesy of Madman Entertainment

DVD: Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl

This four-part series is engrossing and enlightening and should be aired on commercial TV networks in prime time—it’s that important at a time when most Australians have little understanding of Middle Eastern cultures, or their manifestation in Australia. The series traces Lebanese settlement in southwest suburban Sydney from the 1970s to the present, interviewing families, police officers, community leaders, former drug addicts and criminals and sociologist Andrew Jakubowicz. Along with its precursor Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta (2012), Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl is another important step towards understanding Australian culture of the 21st century. There are more steps to take.
5 copies courtesy of Madman Entertainment.

Please note you can nominate for ONLY ONE GIVEAWAY.
Email us at giveaways@realtimearts.net with your name, postal address and phone number.
Include ‘Giveaway’ and the name of the item in the subject line.

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 56

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

Angela Goh, Lizzie Thomson, Jane McKernan, One thing follows another

Angela Goh, Lizzie Thomson, Jane McKernan, One thing follows another

Angela Goh, Lizzie Thomson, Jane McKernan, One thing follows another

It may not be a stretch to regard the performing arts today as gladiatorially pitted against the hyperreal X-Factor, The Voice and their like, contests which blur into one, hell-bent on delivering battle after battle of virtuosic talents while needlessly magnifying nondescript personalities.

One thing follows another offers a quieter alternative, taking its inspiration from the humble intermedia explorations of Fluxus, a movement which yielded works that eschewed bombastic expression, some of them sardonically catalogued by composer Gail Priest and choreographer Jane McKernan. Aided by fellow devisors Angela Goh and Lizzie Thomson, competition manifests below the surface, as the artists examine their own performance-making practices driven here by games of chance that trigger improvisation.

As the audience approach their seats in the arena, each member is given a brown paper bag containing spartan surprises: a Mintie and a handcrafted zine of reading matter which quotes seminal texts, instructions and provocations that speak to the conceptual forebears of the artists. We walk past the performers seated at a card table in the middle of the performance space as if in a miniature boxing ring, engrossed in a craft-making working bee, a mental warm up for the Big Game.

Lest we get too comfortable with the sporting metaphors, the group delivers Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto‚ aimed at reducing dance to its essential elements, thus muting our desire to read this endeavour as a deliberate exercise in gimmickry and interactivity. Regardless, it is impossible to ignore the three prominent video monitors above the performers, which are assigned the role of ominous timepieces, always reminding us of how much further we travel into the show’s allocated 56 minutes. Each of the 14 sections unfolds in minor increments of duration, making us aware of the finite nature of the offerings which alternate between movement, text and live sound-mixing, lulling us into an almost predictable rhythm of form and order.

But the music consciously refuses to intertwine with the action, creating Cagean disruption of notions of accompaniment and causality. Priest loops, distorts and mixes pre-recorded sounds and her own live utterances from a neat electronic sound table while the others carve up the space.

Halfway through, a muted game of handball is played alongside a sequence that could only be described as ‘mathematical notation charades‚’ involving two dancers flitting around and, with great commitment, taking instruction from simulated ticker-tape displaying mathematical symbols—fed manually as close-ups through a live video feed from a smartphone. The result is both whimsical and engrossing.

When the performers reunite around the table, a convivial game of Snap starts with little fanfare, characterised by aggressive table-slapping percussion—arousing the familiar sensation of palms flinching. Here the nostalgic audience is at one with the players.

Towards the end, the performers expand the number of proverbial plate spinnings simultaneously, including inviting volunteers to re-enact Tomas Schmit’s act of transferring water between glass bottles to the point of complete evaporation, conjuring the most overt reference to the Fluxus canon with regard to the measuring of a fluid time and ephemerality of action and matter.

Soon after, McKernan prepares and subsequently microwaves a packet mix cake, an olfactory awakening but then a backhanded treat when offered to the audience by way of a lottery. Having spent the better part of the 56 minutes inviting us to meditate and luxuriate in an expanded sense of time, it is a very apt coda to the evening. We are reminded that, beyond the theatre, where we may find ourselves in the land of the time-poor, you can speed things up in life, but nothing beats a real cake made from scratch and patiently baked in a real oven.

We are reminded that ‘time is a container,’ that we, the audience, determine those parameters within which we choose to engage with live performance. We conventionally ask of the live moment that it help suspend our sense of time as we encounter a plethora of purposefully prescribed sounds, images and emotions. In this endeavour, the opposite has been true, the show activating familiar anxieties that come from obsessively measuring time.

The assemblage of events in One thing follows another adds up to a disciplined ‘Flux-off,’ a refreshing mind-map of the movement’s spirit in celebrating the unassuming and the mundane, while inverting the brash aesthetic that has accompanied popular culture’s own obsession with the disposable.

Performance Space, SCORE: One thing follows another, co-creators Jane McKernan (choreographer), Gail Priest (composer), performer-devisors Angela Goh, Jane McKernan, Gail Priest, Lizzie Thomson, video consultant Samuel James, lighting design Clytie Smith, Carriageworks, Sydney, 20-23 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 23

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

Use Your Illusion, Bron Batten

Use Your Illusion, Bron Batten

Use Your Illusion, Bron Batten

Co-Curator of Melbourne’s eclectic Last Tuesday Society, Bron Batten, invited audiences into the dingily appropriate Collingwood Masonic Lodge in late August for her esoteric exploration of the art of hypnosis, Use Your Illusion. Supplied with voyeuristic pleasures, audience participation, cheese cubes and sliced kabana, spectators were drawn into a world of swinging pendulums and optical illusions; and equally, seduced by the mesmeric art of performance itself.

The venue’s somewhat clandestine side entry promises its own mysteries; entering the dimly-lit hall, three raised stages are apparent, the audience placed between them. We’re seated at large round tables dotted with tea-light candles and provisioned with the aforementioned snacks. A portrait of the young Queen Elizabeth II, muted to sepia over decades and too high for dusting, presides watchfully from the Lodge’s rear wall. On a side stage, Batten appears in a chicken suit, bathed in the light of a swirling, hypnotic spiral.

In a perhaps trance-inducing tone over spooky, meditative music, Batten gently, firmly and repeatedly issues her instructions: “You are going to enjoy the show immensely;” “Breathe deeply…let it all go;” “You will love me, you will love my show.” Her work done, the chicken exits. Next, there’s projected video of Batten on a couch, sobbing inconsolably, with a male (therapist’s?) voice crooning, “Take your time, Bron. We can wait till you’re ready.” But before we can become confused, it’s show time: pumping music, smoke and dancing laser-light draw us to the main stage where a now lamé-clad Batten reappears to introduce us to our ‘host’: professional hypnotist Charles Mercier.

Use Your Illusion, Charles Mercier

Use Your Illusion, Charles Mercier

Use Your Illusion, Charles Mercier

The ensuing lengthy (and very funny) demonstration of auto-suggestive techniques—which Mercier tells us are really just permission to release one’s inhibitions—uncovers rich territories of voyeurism and vulnerability, blurring the real and unreal. Mercier delivers his explanations like a serious professional while gesturing like a cheesy showman. After bringing 10 audience volunteers onstage alongside Batten, he hypnotises his subjects, inducing them to perform simple scenarios. They respond in varying degrees to requests to ‘walk down stairs,’ ‘be in a tropical resort,’ ‘walk the catwalk’ and so on. In watching, we, of course, are mesmerised too, enslaved to a fascination that’s tinged with the discomfort of our own laughter, as we watch people just like us doing slightly embarrassing things for our amusement.

It’s all rather silly—some of the volunteers themselves slip out of ‘trance’ to giggle as Mercier ups the ante with increasingly awkward requests. Gradually the ‘least receptive’ volunteers are culled, and those remaining ‘perform’ each new action in a state that may or may not be actual, but is riveting to watch because it is so free. Mercier uses his showman’s commentary to implant deeper ideas: at one point he describes these uninhibited behaviours in terms of the power and love that we all have in our bodies. I forget myself completely in the pleasure of watching a middle-aged ‘hypnotee’ dance for us, radiant and projecting joy like a woman in love. It’s magical, and a privilege to watch, regardless of what has unlocked her freedom.

Finally, only Batten is left on the stage. Mercier presents a final challenge, inducing her to perform a particularly physically uncomfortable task. Watching, the audience becomes complicit in a vulnerability that none of us moves to prevent, exposing the flipside of the ‘hypnosis’ created by the stage/audience divide.

The rest of Use Your Illusion leaps from the heartfelt to the wacky to the arcane to the self-helpy, without ever allowing the audience the safety of knowing what’s truth and what’s playful deception. There are self-critical confessions and positive affirmations, another chicken in a suit and a further scene of hypnosis that leaves far behind the showman’s piercing eyes and flashy tux.

Throughout the show, and around the long, central ‘demonstration,’ Bron Batten manages to juggle disparate scenes and styles, held together by our collective attention. Cohesion seems secondary to exploration: the ‘devised’ nature of the work is writ large, and ideas float free with all the plurality and contradiction of the things in life that are just a bit mysterious. One minute the feeling is ‘Be who you are!’ and the next, I know we’ve been duped. And in the next, I find myself reflecting on performing and watching: on who we are, who we think we are, how we ‘perform ourselves’ and who we might be if we really just relaxed.

And then I also think: what if that chicken at the start actually DID hypnotise us into loving the show? How would we know?

Bron Batten, Use Your Illusion, performers/devisers Bron Batten, Charles Purcell, Ben Liston, Beth Sometimes, composer Edward Gould; Collingwood Masonic Lodge, Melbourne, 21–24 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 37

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

Ibsen In One Take

Ibsen In One Take

Ibsen In One Take

The focus of the 8th OzAsia Festival is on China’s Shandong Province, famed birthplace of Confucius and home to around 100 million people. A meeting place of ancient and modern trade routes and the location of culturally significant sites for Taoists, Buddhists and Confucians, Shandong’s historical legacy and agriculture- and natural resource-derived affluence are obliquely reflected in this year’s marquee productions Red Sorghum and Dream of the Ghost Story, by the Shandong-based companies Qingdao Song and Dance Theatre and Shandong Acrobatic Troupe, respectively.

Both are conservative, visually lavish works, seemingly model companions for the chatter about soft diplomacy and measurable cross-cultural benefit that inevitably orbits the festival. To the contrary, Mayu Kanamori’s ascetic docudrama Yasukichi Murakami—Through a Distant Lens strove for verisimilitude in its unsentimental summoning of early 20th century Japanese-Australian ghosts, and Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental’s flawed but enterprising glance at Ibsen’s oeuvre, Ibsen in One Take, provided food for thought.

Red Sorghum

Adapted from the 1987 Chinese language novel of the same name, the balletic Red Sorghum is a vast undertaking—around 50 dancers under the direction of Ge Wang and Rui Xu propel Mo Yan’s complex, generation-spanning family saga towards its bloody climax set during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). There are unpleasantly nationalistic overtones by the time this point is reached, Japanese ‘devils’ bayoneting their way across the stage without the leavening effect of the novel’s viewpoints from both sides of the conflict. But there is no doubting the vitality and precision of the preceding two hours. Especially impressive in this regard are the lusty, though strictly gender-segregated, distillery and harvest set pieces that take in the novel’s central metaphor—the versatile sorghum grass—and the masterfully sinuous love duets between lead dancers Meng Ning and Fubo Sun. Yuan Cheng’s recorded score is more of a mixed bag, most successful when least bombastic (I wasn’t surprised to learn it had been taken to Hollywood for mixing and production). A suona horn, a Chinese folk instrument with a distinctive high pitch, is a lovely addition to the otherwise predominately Western musical palette that, like the production more generally, ends up a somewhat over-rich concoction.

Dream of the Ghost Story

Shandong Acrobatic Troupe’s Dream of the Ghost Story is similarly predicated on spectacle but is also driven by it rather than by narrative—its use of a Qing Dynasty fable about demonic intervention in a love affair between a fox fairy (Zhang Xu) and a human scholar (Guo Qinglong) is nominal, a lightweight scaffold for the 55-year-old company’s well-honed legerdemain. Liu Kedong’s set design consists of a series of telescoping, parchment-like archways that hint at Dream of the Ghost Story’s folkloric origins but leave most of the vast Festival Centre stage open for the ensuing, virtually unstopping acrobatic displays: hoop and aerial work, plate spinning, juggling with hands and feet, Chinese yo-yoing, gymnastics, contortion and balancing. It’s heady stuff—there are no safety nets, and Guo Sida and Du Weis’ full-bodied, rock-accented soundtrack ups the show’s winningly deceptive uninhibitedness, most memorably during the second half’s descent into the spirit world when massed, incandescent skeletons judder, twitch and stomp à la Michael Jackson’s Thriller. A shamelessly entertaining fusion of ancient Chinese variety art and contemporary Western excess.

Arisa Yura, Yasukichi Murakami—Through a Distant Lens

Arisa Yura, Yasukichi Murakami—Through a Distant Lens

Arisa Yura, Yasukichi Murakami—Through a Distant Lens

Yasukichi Murakami—Through a Distant Lens

The supernatural is also present in Yasukichi Murakami—Through a Distant Lens, a lean documentary performance work that quietly seeks to rehabilitate the memory of Japanese-Australian businessman and photographer Yasukichi Murakami who died in a Victorian internment camp in 1944. Murakami (Kuni Hashimoto) appears as a ghost to Mayu (Arisa Yura), playwright Mayu Kanamori’s analogue within the play. Their relationship begins with him softly rebuking her for taking photographs without, as Kanamori phrases it in her program notes, “taking notice, making an effort to hold space in reverence, trusting and responding in humility.”

The chronological rift between Murakami and Mayu only becomes clear when, by way of demonstration, Murakami sets up his box camera and photographs unseen members of his young family in Broome. Beautiful, high-resolution projections of Murakami’s actual photographs of fellow Japanese immigrants and pearling crews appear throughout the production but the play makes it plain that a shadow remains over his career—many images it is thought he is responsible for, some of which today reside in the National Archives and grace the covers of notable works of history, remain uncredited to him.

Director Malcolm Blaylock and visual designer Mic Gruchy imbue what is in essence a love letter to an unjustly overlooked life with the same reverence for space and attentiveness to detail Murakami demands of Mayu’s photographs. To say that Blaylock employs naturalistic performance, film, projection and a live score (composed and performed by Terumi Narushima, and which employs both traditional Japanese and esoteric instruments) makes the work sound cluttered but it is, rather, a dramaturgically crystalline—and ultimately moving—meditation on place, photography and the politics of recognition. (See also page 6.)

Ibsen in One Take

Henrik Ibsen’s problem plays have long exerted a significant influence on the course of modern theatre in China. Indeed, it took a conference on the playwright’s work in the 1920s for a Chinese word to be coined to distinguish spoken word drama from that which was, traditionally, sung. Ibsen in One Take, written by Oda Fiskum and directed by Wang Chong, feels like both an expression of and a reaction against the country’s longstanding fascination with A Doll’s House, The Master Builder and Hedda Gabler. There are close echoes of and occasionally exactly duplicated dialogue from each of these plays. The lugubrious plot centres on four iterations of the same man, called simply Him: as a child (Yang Boxiong), a young man, an adult (both Li Jialong) and an old man (Tan Zongyuan) who, nearing the end of his life, is confined to a hospital bed and reduced to pondering his past to assuage the boredom. Brief, intimate scenes flavoured with Ibsen’s familiar high-tension domesticity are arrived at through flashbacks.

The scenes are filmed by an onstage two-man camera crew whose vision appears on a large screen overhanging the space (the screen also displays English translations of the Chinese language dialogue). There are big problems, not the least of which is the conceit of filming the live actors ‘in a single take.’ Without a clear rationale, the footage feels extraneous; I felt no compulsion to watch the screen except for the surtitles. It is strange, too, that opportunities for enriching the production through the filming are often either mishandled or missed altogether. For example, a potentially delightful moment when a spray bottle is used to simulate rain falling on two actors is squandered because the water doesn’t show up on the screen. The camera usually lingers in close proximity to the actors’ faces, its gaze failing to either explicate or surprise, and the elusiveness of Fiskum’s script—a dour, slightly rudderless construction which strays too far from Ibsen’s psychological insights to prove affecting—remains largely unalleviated by its presence.

8th OzAsia Festival 2014: Qingdao Song and Dance Theatre, Red Sorghum, Festival Theatre, 3 Sept; Shandong Acrobatic Troupe, Dream of the Ghost Story, Festival Theatre, 5-6 Sept; Yasukichi Murakami—Through a Distant Lens, performers Arisa Yura, Kuni Hashimoto, Yumi Umiumare, Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, 9-10 Sept; Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental, Ibsen in One Take, Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, 16-17 Sept

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 5

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

Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher

Improvisation is an established performance methodology that emerged from the American Postmodern rupture in dance more than 50 years ago. One proponent, choreographer William Forsythe, has activated several generations of dancer-collaborators to produce what could be considered a ‘Forsythe lineage’ of dance artists experimenting with improvisational methodologies. One key artist is USA-born Michael Schumacher.

Schumacher has danced with and produced award-winning choreography for many major companies including the Frankfurt Ballet, Twyla Tharp Dance, Pretty Ugly Dance Company, Netherlands Dance Theatre III, Jirí Kylián and the Dutch National Ballet to name a few. I spoke by phone with the amiable and erudite Schumacher ahead of his visit to Perth to perform with cellist Alex Waterman as well as conduct masterclasses for the MoveMe Improvisation Festival in November.

William Forsythe

A brief overview of Forsythe’s work is important to contextualise Michael Schumacher’s current practice. Forsythe forged his choreographic aesthetic by deconstructing the ballet vocabulary while director of Ballet Frankfurt (1985-2004). He also generated multiple ways to visualise and archive dance ideas, including documenting his ‘improvisation technologies’ (available as a CD-ROM), devising methods for visualising the information in One Flat Thing Reproduced (2006) (http://synchronousobjects.osu.edu) and collaborating on the shared archival platform www.motionbank.org. As director of the Forsythe Company (2005-2015), he extended his exploration of improvisational methodologies by facilitating dancer-collaborators to self-compose within ensemble parameters and devised interactive installations to mobilise audience-participants.

Postmodern pioneers

While Schumacher belongs to Forsythe’s balletic lineage, he also shares several concerns of postmodern improvising pioneers such as Anna Halprin, Steve Paxton, Simone Forti, Lisa Nelson and Deborah Hay who first started working with a Western (as opposed to an African or Classical Indian) approach to improvisation in the USA around the middle of the 20th century. Schumacher is part of an interesting generation of dance artists because the boundaries between previously divergent dance lineages now bleed freely. Classical or codified forms have been deconstructed and radicalised, while improvising performers consolidate techniques, producing a richer and more complex array of ‘intra-disciplinary’ creative choices.

The Schumacher perspective

I asked Schumacher what he loved most about improvisation. He explained that primarily his fascination stems from the fact that improvisation resists codification and delights in the fact that everyone does it differently. In his practice he prefers not to create rules around improvising, for example, “if you’re not going deep enough it’s not authentic. I say ‘authentic to whom?’ In my experience, rules are not important.” He suggests that his open approach is a result of his practice of the Alexander Technique in which he, “releases tension patterns and with that comes the release of ideas about how things should be done.”

While at Ballet Frankfurt Schumacher worked extensively with tasks but he favours the non-delineated approach of “finding the score organically and then recognising it” as this method produces a different quality of attention he prefers. He says of composing in real time that, “it’s been extremely valuable to me to know how to not ramble on in aimless pursuit of new information. In five minutes you have enough material to build a 15-minute composition. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it does take a certain amount of attention.” He explained that he arrived at this insight through ongoing practice. “When I first entered into it, it was more of an automatic, intuitive flow which relied heavily on my kinaesthetic experiences. Then, I found that the rest of my sensory body was not aware of what was going on around me. In performance, I was not totally present and I missed a lot of potential interactions. That’s what led me back to sensory perception and conscious presence.”

What Schumacher terms ‘conscious presence’ utilises the multidimensional facilities of the human instrument which he describes as “the ultimate technology on the planet.” Conscious presence accesses another level of consciousness through the senses. He says, “the sensation has a huge impact on the execution. It’s a sensory experience, not just a kinaesthetic experience.” He describes the methodology of conscious presence as to “experience without associating” while listening and observing.

Schumacher explains, “The way to describe the experience of listening on the cellular level has a lot to do with not naming, not analysing. It’s not rational at all. It’s simply sensing: listening with my skin, listening with my bones, listening with my organs, listening with my eyes…” Through the practice of conscious presence, Schumacher has developed an appreciation for observation as a creative act. He adds, “So much of the time that we work with improvisation or anything creative, we feel that we must produce something. We have to do something in order to be part of the creative process. I am realising it’s not true. We know through quantum theory and philosophy that observation changes whatever we’re observing. Observation is participation.”

Somatic practices became a major influence for Schumacher after completing his formal training at the Julliard School, when he discovered ‘release’ classes. He says that the Alexander Technique and T’ai Chi Chuan are “the biggest influences on my dance in terms of the technique. I think the funny thing about T’ai Chi is that it actually taught me how to do ballet…and then, when I went to work in Frankfurt, [my classical technique] really grew and developed in a way that I didn’t expect.” He says, “There is a valuable contribution to the experience of moving and to executing something that’s virtuosic when you are also listening to the effect that the movement has on you. This might be in terms of physiology, kinesiology, biology and physics: that you’re really experiencing something more than just creating an image.”

When asked about narrative in his work he says, “Every moment we’re telling ourselves the story of us. In my training as a dancer and in the earlier improvisational experience that I had, there wasn’t much acknowledgement of that. It was always just execution and a virtuosic approach to movement through improvisation. I am interested in broadening that space where it’s not only about the virtuosic, it’s also about the sensing body.”

Michael Schumacher is a compelling addition to a strong line-up at MoveMe Improvisation Festival, which also includes Ros Warby, Rosalind Crisp, Andrew Morrish, Peter Trotman, Jo Pollitt, Paea Leach, Jacob Lehrer and David Corbet.

For more about Michael Schumacher, his works and MoveMe Improvisation Festival visit moveme.org.au; www.strutdance.org.au

STRUT National Choreographic Centre and collaborating organisations: MoveMe Improvisation Festival, Perth, 22-30 Nov; artists Michael Schumacher and Alex Waterman, Rosalind Crisp, Ros Warby, Andrew Morrish, Peter Trottman, Jo Pollitt, Paea Leach, Jacob Lehrer and, David Corbet, Madeleine Flynn & Tim Humphrey; selected works tour to Sydney’s Critical Path, Melbourne’s Dancehouse and Brisbane’s Judith Wright Centre, with Ausdance QLD.

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 24

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

Cowra no Honcho Kaigi/Honchos Meeting in Cowra

Cowra no Honcho Kaigi/Honchos Meeting in Cowra

Cowra no Honcho Kaigi/Honchos Meeting in Cowra

Written and directed by prominent Japanese playwright Yoji Sakate, Honchos Meeting in Cowra sits within a post-WWII ‘small theatre’ tradition influenced by Chekhov and Ibsen as much as by Japanese Noh and Kyogen. The subject of this play is the Cowra breakout of August 1944 when 1,104 Japanese POWs escaped, 231 of whom were killed in the subsequent recapture, along with four Australians. The play’s focus is the redemption of identity and ‘face’ (or omote) by Japanese soldiers shamed by being captured. Hoping to be shot, the escapees possibly sought the means to die honourably by fighting or effectively committing suicide.

The play also looks to the contemporary context where the public in Japan remain misinformed of the effects of the recent Fukushima accident, unable to face the realities of that disaster.

The set represents a hut in the Cowra camp, replicating flimsy, fibro-thin walls (a pitched pine frame, joists exposed) with props such as tatami mats, toothbrushes, cups and forks and the bucket in which illicit sake is brewing. The details are significant, as we come to learn that this is actually a film set, part of an exercise where two contemporary, young Australian film students and their mentors from Australian and Japanese film schools are undertaking an ‘exercise’ to test their hypotheses as to why the POWS took the actions they did.

There are significant cross-cultural tensions, questions of honour and identity, the collective versus the individual, under investigation here. It is not just the POWs who suffer the effects of capture but also their relatives in Japan, who’d be subjected to extreme humiliation if it were known the men were captive. In many ways, this play is an attempt to understand, subvert and overwhelm that imperative. The final scene sees the young Australians urge the POWs to choose a different path from heading into suicide.

In this version of the story, the filmmakers being Australian smacks of Western imperialism, the superior, individualist, outsider view. The Tokyo original had these roles played by 15 young Japanese, which instead makes the questioning an inter-generational provocation. But within both conventions, the capacity to call ‘cut’ and have the final scene achieve a different outcome highlights the human capacity to create and remake different worlds.

Cowra no Honcho Kaigi/Honchos Meeting in Cowra

Cowra no Honcho Kaigi/Honchos Meeting in Cowra

Cowra no Honcho Kaigi/Honchos Meeting in Cowra

The strongest part of the play, however—in both imaginings—is surely when the POWs indulge the students’ wishful thinking but suddenly enact their own ‘cut’ and return to ‘what really happened.’ The men’s sense of shame cannot realistically be changed. So the play’s form is both linear and spiral, winding into the vortex, out into a world of different possibilities and then back in again.

The play passes from rather clunky didactic scenes, which serve to fill in historical detail, to disciplined comedic routines which borrow from their condensed, sharply-realised characterisations rooted in Kyogen (the lads in the barn, passing time), and then to intensely moving final scenes which combine both the refined stillness of Noh drama with the psychological depth of character and soul-searching we associate more with Western theatre, such as when the former group leader Murata, converses with the film producer, thinking she is his ghost. He is unsure who he has become, being incarcerated for so long. The part is beautifully played by Takahiro Onishi, his conscience stirred like turbulence deep within a lake.

Similarly, the ballot scene, where each POW is clearly expected to cast the vote to die rather than choose to live, is finely realised, each approaching the ballot box with an enormous sense of dignity and conscience. One man casts a vote to live. The one who seemed weakest in resolve but votes to die shows the full weight of a society unable to reveal what it feels resting on his shoulders. He is horrified. There is, perhaps, no one to blame. His fabric—the fabric of them all—has been frayed.

The set is lofty rather than claustrophobic, and the lighting its weakest element, too stark to be the dream it seems for re-thinking an historical event. Then again, its sharpness keeps the play from becoming an enactment of ‘forgiving the past, which I think it is not. The physicalisation of the Australian actors (building on a previous exchange between Sakate and NIDA in 2004) emulates the discipline of the Japanese actors but is odd in comparison: not that the Australian cast is weaker, rather their presence does not emerge out of a centuries old, deep-rooted practice where words and hieratic movement have evolved together. The slapstick in earlier scenes is particularly odd, not quite matching the sense of chiselled caricature of the POWs (although Matthew Crosby comes close in his various characterisations).

The intoning of both Japanese and English texts is almost identical from one performance to another, as in a musical score. Perhaps the characters are indeed dreaming each other. In Cowra—perhaps too in Japan—nothing in fact remains of these men apart from their headstones marked with false names. Members of the public—several from Cowra, whom I met both in the Canberra and Sydney showings—seemed deeply touched by a production that reveals hidden worlds in both sides of the experience.

Cowra no Honcho Kaigi/Honchos Meeting in Cowra, writer, director Yoji Sakatem, design Jiro Shima, lighting Isao Takebayashi, sound Takeshi Shima, costume Nobumo Miyamoto, choreography Mikuni Yanaihara; Cowra Civic Centre, Street Theatre, Canberra, NIDA Parade Theatres, Sydney, 1-10 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 38

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

Nothing thrills quite like the recovery of lost art works, radical re-assessments, the outing of forgers or, better, discovering the impressive archive of a hitherto unknown artist. American nanny and private photographer Vivian Maier (1926-2009) only ever sent a small selection of her photographs to gallerists or publishers in France and one to a family she worked for. One hundred thousand negatives of her images of street life, principally in Chicago, were discovered and some printed after her death, to great acclaim.

Not only was Maier an obsessive and very private photographer, she also exhibited eccentric characteristics, another plus for those taken with the curious lives and motivations of artists: “Residents of the Chicago suburb of Highland Park had gotten used to the nanny (taking photographs) along with her French accent, her penchant for wearing men’s coats and boots, and the look and gait that led children to call her ‘bird lady’” (David Zak, Smithsonian Magazine, Nov, 2011).

Maier’s black and white photographs are crisply precise (taken with a medium format Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera) and formally strong, yet blessed with a sense of street-life immediacy and moments of reflection—including images of herself, camera in hand. One gallerist, writes Zak, described her as “having the skill of an inborn melodist.”

Melbourne’s Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) is presenting a selection from Maier’s huge body of work alongside images by a fascinating array of Australian photographers Patrick Pound, David Wadelton, Debra Phillips and visual artists who, like Maier, turn the camera on themselves—Cherine Fahd, Gabriella and Silvana Mangano, Clare Rae, Simone Slee and Kellie Wells.

Maier’s work has now been exhibited internationally and a book, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, has been edited by John Maloof, the real estate agent who ‘discovered’ her by purchasing 30,000 of her images for $400 at an auction, purely out of curiosity. Finding Vivian Maier, a feature-length documentary by Maloof and Charlie Siskel, has been programmed in a multitude of international film festivals and will screen in the Melbourne Festival as a companion piece to Crossing Paths with Vivian Maier before its cinema release.

2014 Melbourne International Arts Festival: Crossing Paths with Vivian Maier, curators Naomi Cass, Louise Neri, Karra Rees, CCP, Melbourne, 3-26 Oct; Finding Vivian Maier, directors John Maloof, Charlie Siskel, ACMI, Melbourne 16, 18, 23 Oct

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 55

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

Niharika Senapati, Tyrone Robinson, Imanuel Dado and Storm Helmore, Precipice

Niharika Senapati, Tyrone Robinson, Imanuel Dado and Storm Helmore, Precipice

Niharika Senapati, Tyrone Robinson, Imanuel Dado and Storm Helmore, Precipice

An axle of light cleaves the silence like a strange attractor in the deep night of space. Bodies balance on this precipice of becoming, staring across infinitude while succumbing to the forces of attraction and repulsion.

Rachel Ogle’s cosmic dance, Precipice, glances gravely into being as an impressively contained universe of matter and motion, of sound and light. It is difficult to determine whether the four dancers are actually distinguishable from the dimensions which they inhabit. They are enigmatic carriers of ceaseless patterns which both bind and confound the senses. In those first moments of approaching, falling away and returning, velocity gathers pace until the dancers’ energy splinters sound and illumination with screams of presence. Then, with a snap, the cry of human loss is cut as the audience is plunged back into the dark and soundless abyss. The cosmos seems to fold human agency and desire into yet other bits of matter circulating into eternity. But, in this work, the dancing and the dancers do still matter.

In earth-bound terms, the dancers’ sporadic encounters often wheel into irregularity. One dancer’s twisting instability is juxtaposed with a horizontal folding of the three others, edged sharply in their carefully composed unison of turning. Vibrational momentum wraps angle and speed unto itself, incipient with form and variation, straining towards thought and communication. There is the cosmos in planes of abstraction, and there is the cosmos of human imagination and interconnection, which demands an emotional response. Both exist, signalling significance, even if the miniscule and the daunting whole do not logically hold.

Here is where I found the precipice in the work, in the sheer drop in which matter on the grand scale turns human, pivoting around vortices towards meaning. Ultimately, the work is a conversation between the human and the cosmos where wonderment and debility collide though not necessarily in negative terms. The dancers’ counterbalancing highlights the logic of human cause and effect, before spinning interdependence back into the limitless space of potentiality. Duos that merge into quartets—intimate ideas about family and community—only to eddy back into prehuman atmospheres. Precipice’s strength lies in its capacity to precipitate this odd convergence of incommensurable understandings.

The lighting (Ben Cisterne) and soundscapes (Luke Smiles) partner the dancers: together they assemble and dissemble form and traverse the space of unknowing to forge ideas, often indistinct but always compelling. Near the end of this abstract space odyssey, there is a stunning moment of disappearance, when the audience is plunged into darkness and hit by a blinding light in a single instant. The assault on sight is a little disturbing until focus returns on the stilled image of Niharika Senapati’s silhouette, black in a curved universe of light, hovering hesitantly on the edge of some unseen chasm. The light recedes, drifting slowly into the distance until only her after-image remains, a ghostly sliver wandering the cosmos. Curiously, at the same time the departure of these effervescent particles evokes the rightful place of an embodied human dancer within the overwhelming thought of cosmic infinitude. Precipice settles the universe within while turning endlessly beyond.

Precipice, choreography Rachel Ogle, performers: Storm Helmore, Tyrone Robinson, Niharika Senapati, Imanuel Dado, visual design Ben Cisterne, composer: Luke Smiles/motion laboratories, costumes Colleen Sutherland; Studio Underground, State Theatre, Perth, 21-24 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 26

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

Hamish Michael, Justine Clarke, Jacqueline Mackenzie, Toby Truslove, Chris Ryan, Children of the Sun,  Sydney Theatre Company

Hamish Michael, Justine Clarke, Jacqueline Mackenzie, Toby Truslove, Chris Ryan, Children of the Sun, Sydney Theatre Company

Hamish Michael, Justine Clarke, Jacqueline Mackenzie, Toby Truslove, Chris Ryan, Children of the Sun, Sydney Theatre Company

In a short period, Sydney Chamber Opera has presented Mayakovsky (p42) and Sydney Theatre Company Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun (1905). A generation older than the poet Mayakovsky, Gorky was at various times harassed and gaoled (he wrote Children of the Sun in prison) for fomenting revolution with his plays. Both poet and playwright became key cultural figures in the Russian Revolution and both were dispirited by Stalinism. Mayakovsky suicided in 1929, Gorky died in 1935 of natural causes at the time Stalin’s Terror was escalating.

Gorky’s playwriting is commonly considered structurally ungainly but rich in social observation and deft characterisations. Belvoir’s 2011 production The Business (RT104, p 18), an updated adaptation by Jonathan Gavin of Gorky’s grimly comic Vassa Zheleznova (1911)—a favourite of Stalin who saw it many times, presumably enjoying the agonies of a bourgeois family in their act of self-destruction (and the enforced changes to the play in 1935 to suit his tastes)—retained the playwright’s essential virtues, not least his strong focus on women. Coming into his stage career in the wake of his friend Anton Chekhov was certainly not an advantage and he was lambasted by left and right for lacking subtlety or political solutions. Subsequently the blend of humour and high drama in his best plays has been recognised indeed as Chekhovian but with political intent and a voice all its own.

Andrew Upton’s adaptation (originally for the Royal National Theatre, London production 2013) and Kip Williams’ direction of Children of the Sun realise the comedy-drama dynamic right to the play’s bitter end, our emotions and allegiances tossed about and our sense of the inevitability of revolution—with a self-preoccupied intelligentsia indifferent to a superstitious and violent peasantry—confirmed. While adhering in good part to Gorky’s dialogue, texturing it lightly with contemporary touches and the odd four letter word (these alarmed the British but are deftly integrated), Upton has very cleverly re-shaped the play. A few minor characters are deleted or merged, providing a tighter sense of community and, more significantly, key exchanges (like the estate owner and chemical scientist Protasov’s admonition of the worker Yegor for beating his wife) are held off in order to more effectively delineate character and control plot momentum.

The largest change, and the most effective, comes in the play’s fourth act, partly making the climax sparer but also re-ordering it and adding a final image, quietly inherent in the original but here writ large—the physical and emotional collapse of Protasov, unable to comprehend the fact and extent of his losses, his property burned by rioters who think he has poisoned them to procure business for the local doctors (whom they execute) and of his wife, the spirited Yelena who yearns for an artist’s life and will leave him. The riot is offstage which means we don’t get to see her shoot a peasant (this scene had a frightened audience scrambling for the exits in the volatile climate of 1906) after trying her best to help the locals manage what is in fact a cholera outbreak. Gun in hand, she heads off with everyone else to do battle while Protasov lingers helplessly, curling into himself, the epitome of the landowning class-cum-intelligentsia blind to its failings. It’s a powerful ending, and certainly an improvement.

The production is mounted on a large revolve on which the house is segmented, so that when rotated we see large rooms and small private spaces but also the construction behind, adding an appropriate sense of fragility as well as an excellent depth of field for witnessing comings and goings and frequent wanted and unwanted encounters. As in Chekhov, entrances and exits in the production are very telling, and here often funny.

Humour is everywhere from the very beginning, with a buzzing, argumentative household, bossy servants, Protasov and Yelena uselessly insisting on quiet. Protasov’s admirer, the wealthy widow Melaniya, courts him disastrously—climaxing in a humiliating egg-throwing scene and a subsequent confession to Yelena. The pompous artist Vageen (who hilariously wields the act of portrait drawing like a weapon) courts Yelena who is in turn grateful for the friendship while he assumes she loves him. Yelena’s frustration deepens, but her dilemma is nowhere as deep as her sister’s. Lisa is a fragile Cassandra. Her gory visions of mob violence, inspired by newspapers and rumour, are more prophetic than paranoid. Everyone cares for her, if not really listening, including the bitterly cynical Boris, the estranged brother of Melaniya who realises to his astonishment that he is in love with her. Lisa’s own like-minded realisation comes too late with tragic consequences. This dark strand is tautly woven with the comic stand-offs, everyday crises (a maid resigns) and revelations (a marriage has run its course).

Kip Williams’ direction is precise, fluent and finely graded, his ensemble performing as one. Toby Truslove’s wonderfully realised Protasov is self-centred, easily distracted and unconsciously funny, his arrogance disguised by his apparent affability and the ease with which he avoids or moves on from clashes—a state of denial which will deal him a pathetic end. Justine Clarke judiciously delineates Yelena’s growing sense of herself, one of the family but moving beyond it. Helen Thomson’s Melaniya is hilariously naïve and subsequently sadly wise, another fine transformation. Jacqueline Mackenzie’s portrayal of Lisa is richly detailed—ailing, analytical but volatile, trapped and tragic, but then resolute. Chris Ryan, Valerie Bader, Hamish Michael, Yuri Govich, Jay Laga’aia and Contessa Treffone all bring subtleties and insights to their roles.

What is truly bracing about Children of the Sun, is that in an era of deracinated adaptations, Gorky’s breadth of vision has been sustained—with all the complexities of class, work, ideas, progress and ignorance and their stressful interplay. The play calls to mind our challenged intelligentsia (as neoliberalism sucks the air out of thought), women still fighting for equality and the widespread validation of ignorance—it’s not peasant ignorance about science that hinders us today, incredibly it’s wealthy, educated climate change denialists and parents refusing their children inoculation thereby putting others as risk. I left Children of the Sun in equal parts exhilarated—by the wit and wisdom of the play and its production—and depressed, mindful of the huge gap opening up between rich and poor in the West to which so many are blind.

Sydney Theatre Company, Children of the Sun, writer Maxim Gorky, adaptation Andrew Upton, director Kip Williams, designer David Fleischer, costumes Renee Mulder, lighting Damien Cooper, composer, sound design Max Lyandvert; Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 12 Sept-25 Oct

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 40

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

Christopher Barnett, courtesy Antenna Documentary Film Festival

Christopher Barnett, courtesy Antenna Documentary Film Festival

In Adelaide and Melbourne in the early 1980s the hard talking, hard living poet Christopher Barnett was a force to be reckoned with—socially, artistically, politically, not that he made these distinctions.

A charismatic public performer, this self-styled “Cultural Bolshevik”—a homage to his hero, Valdimir Mayakovsky (see p42)—and a key collaborator with Nicholas Tsoutas and Peggy Wallach in the All Out Ensemble, Barnett left Adelaide for Fitzroy and then in the mid 80s relocated to Nantes in France where he became notable for co-founding an experimental company, Le Dernier Spectateur, working with the disenfranchised.

The film’s maker Anne Tsoulis writes, “To understand what shaped the artist, we explore his formative years, raised in poverty in a dysfunctional Adelaide family to becoming the teenage poet and enfant terrible. We discover that, at an early age, his Communist ideals helped him to survive his own challenging circumstances.”

The 53-minute documentary includes footage of readings, reunions, a rare homecoming to suburban Adelaide after a 20-year absence and a visit by road in winter to visit Thomas Harlan, a radical documentary maker and translator of Barnett’s Blue Book.

These Heathen Dreams is screening in Sydney’s 2014 Antenna Documentary Film Festival. In The Conversation, 8 Aug 2014, you’ll find Wendy Haslem’s review of the film screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival and in the 29 Nov, 2013 edition you can read Anne Marsh’s appreciation of Barnett, “The greatest Australian poet you’ve never heard of,” on the occasion of the launch of a book of his poetry, titled when they came/ for you: elegies/ of resistance, published by Wakefield Press.

2014 Antenna Documentary Film Festival, These Heathen Dreams, Journey of a Cultural Bolshevik, director Anne Tsoulis, producer, Georgia Wallace-Crabbe, Chauvel Cinema Two, Sydney, 8 Oct, 8pm

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 55

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

Luke George, Not About Face

Luke George, Not About Face

Luke George, Not About Face

The audience is ushered into an empty white gallery and, as with preparations for a kids’ game, we are assisted in putting sheets over our heads. Before long I stand among an assembly of ghosts in hues of pistachio, lilac, blush and fawn. The intention may be anonymity but I feel self consciously recognisable. The friend who has accompanied me is unaccustomed to the independent dance scene, though familiar with the protocols of theatre and the gallery. He chooses to pull his beanie over his bed(sheet) head and takes a series of photos on his iPhone—we are in a gallery after all.

All I can do is fidget, finding ways to wear my shroud: air underneath, shaping from outside, gather in, smooth over, endless methods in an attempt to get comfortable, in order to concentrate on the performance. Some audience members adjust themselves in a similar manner, while a few renegade spirits slouch against the walls. The majority follow the leader leaning into the alabaster ghost in the centre of the gallery.

There is something in the air of Not About Face as Luke George directs us to press harder, feel the vibrations between us and shake with him. Like a corporealist evangelist he passionately intones about bodily fluids, saliva and brain cells, bringing our attention to the aura that is so close “I could be you and you could be me.” I recognise the zeitgeist, a collective choreographic consciousness characterised by throwaway yet earnest detachment between the flesh performing and the bodies watching—through their Casper eyeholes. Still covered in their sheets his audience curls up on the floor ‘spooning’ each other. Unlike George and most of the audience, I don’t want intimacy, collective desire or to vibrate together. Tonight I don’t feel empathy. I feel coerced and I’m not in the mood for post-irony. Nearing the end, George discards his shroud and dances ecstatically in a skimpy lycra wrestling unitard. Like a charismatic preacher George’s dancing does tap into a collective consciousness of bodies and flesh. His moves are an interesting mix of brittleness and assurance. I enjoy the exuberance of the dance. This part of the experience does affect me and I am left in a state of agreeable bemusement.

Coming out from under our hot shrouds we enjoy the relief of the cool night air before shuffling into the Performance Studio for the second work of the evening, Cheerleader of Europe. The lights shine down on the audience. This is one of those theatrical settings where you feel implicated, in quite a different way from the earlier work. You can’t hide under your sheet, nor sit there in the dark, or relax and do nothing.

Daniel Kok, Cheerleader of Europe

Daniel Kok, Cheerleader of Europe

Daniel Kok, Cheerleader of Europe

The compact Daniel Kok, from Singapore, wearing the second lycra wrestling unitard of the evening, charms us with a tragic ‘true’ tale of army cadets and a fatal shooting, followed by a chirpy cheerleading routine. Hand coloured flags and “Song of Joy” set the scene for ruminations on the European Project. Once again there is dancing flesh and a proclamation, “My body is right here in front of you…the organs in between…with toes to live the dream…” Once again hints of the collective choreographic consciousness pervade the half-hearted if entertaining movement vocabulary. The manipulative, smooth, dictatorial tone serves as a complementary accumulation to the evangelical voice of the first work.

An awkward apolitical conversation with an audience member who lives here and is ‘European’ ensues. Banal questions such as “Do you feel Australian?” offer little in the way of enlightenment for this audience as to our position in the world. In between, Kok offers apologetically, “I don’t want to put you on the spot.” My European friend mutters, “Well you did,” and I laugh under the bright light. Other than a short, sketchy, informal introduction where he informs us of the previous context for this work, Daniel Kok hasn’t rethought the purpose of this performance, originally for a European audience, in its recasting for an audience in Greater Western Sydney, Australia.

I look for guidance as to how I should respond to these performances. A list in the Program Notes categorises “4 Levels of Engagement in a Performance” (Kok). I take on the advice, as it appears that I am a “meta-critical,” “critical spectator” “engaged in pluralist and agonistic audienceship!” Both works overtly deal with “the nature of the unseen and unspoken agreements/traditions between performer and audience” (George). While George remonstrates with the audience if they don’t do what he wants, Kok “wishes to marshal the community towards a sense of unity” where “everyone must be happy in the end.”

“Come on, do something. We are from Europe,” Kok cheers. “We are from Europe,” he urges us to chant. I can’t summon up the puff to make any sound but my friend sitting next to me, repeatedly utters in his gravelly Eastern European accent: “We are NOT from Europe, We are NOT from Europe. We are NOT from Europe.” Now, in the end, as confetti falls, Kok gets his wish. I am happy. But I am happy that we are NOT from Europe.

Luke George, Not About Face; Daniel Kok, Cheerleader of Europe; Campbelltown Arts Centre, NSW, 1-2 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 26

© Julie-Anne Long; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Eine Brise, Maurice Kagel

Eine Brise, Maurice Kagel

Eine Brise, Maurice Kagel

The second Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music (BIFEM) took place over a gloriously sunny weekend in the gold mining town of Bendigo. For those who have not visited Bendigo before (it was my first time), it is one of the best-preserved gold-rush towns in Australia with grandiose public buildings and sprawling parks. The Victorian public works somehow perfectly suited Australia’s most intense contemporary music festival.

It is not easy to ‘dip into’ BIFEM, as one is swept along a schedule of back-to-back concerts, panels, workshops and community events over three short days. The effect is ultimately challenging and stimulating, offering new perspectives on music to audiences, performers and composers alike.

Beyond the guest artists, the festival’s main attraction is its program of new and classic works of the 20th century curated by the festival’s Director David Chisholm. Geneva’s Vortex Ensemble brought an important theatrical inflection to the festival. Their first concert was a symbiotic dance of electronics and flesh as they performed naked in front of infra-red cameras in the Bendigo Art Gallery. The ensemble only performs new work, and usually that of ensemble members, so the next day we were treated to a concert of playful pieces by Swiss-based composers. In a valuable contribution to contemporary music theatre in Australia, Vortex staged Salvadorean composer Arturo Corrales’ piece Bug on Saturday night.

The festival was an opportunity to celebrate the dreamy lucidity of Melbourne’s Golden Fur, before they all rush off to California. Cellist Judith Hamann performed a solo recital combining installation art, lighting design and straight-up cello performance. Samuel Dunscombe teamed up with pianist Peter Dumsday to reboot the first ever piece for the Max program, Pluton. The pianist and composer James Rushford had several pieces performed in the festival, as well as performing a solo recital on the organ of the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Together, the group performed a surprisingly diverse and light-hearted program including works by David Chisholm, Anthony Pateras, Ivan Wyschnegradsky and others.

The festival’s house band, the Argonaut Ensemble, tried to inject some string culture and provided audiences with a rare opportunity to hear Grisey’s epic work Vortex Temporum under the baton of the award-winning conductor Maxime Pascal. Pascal’s energy was infectious, especially in Zipangu by the festival’s audience favourite, Claude Vivier.

Elsewhere the French composer Clara Maïda brought her charged electroacoustic atmospheres to the Bendigo Bank Theatre, piano virtuoso Zubin Kanga played a recital to infants and performance workshops were given by international superstar-flautist Eric Lamb and the Perth-based new music virtuoso clarinettist Ashley Smith. For musicology nerds like myself, the presence of Stockhausen’s teaching assistant and wide-ranging musicologist Richard Toop was a thrill. An all-star cast was imported (and retrieved, having flown the Australian coop) for the performance of Stockhausen’s music theatre piece Sirius, namely Nicholas Isherwood, Tristram Williams, Tiffany Du Mouchelle, Richard Haynes, with sound projection by Myles Mumford. Detailed reviews of these concerts can be read on my contemporary music blog Partial Durations.

This year the organisers decided to expand the discursive aspect of the festival with a series of lectures and discussion panels. To begin with, I had misgivings about the old-fashioned themes for the panels. “Duration and Durability” grew out of the performance of Morton Feldman’s six-hour String Quartet no.2 last year. “Wired” was to be yet another exploration of the place of electronics in contemporary music. Both were enormous successes, with the panellists and audience (both were convened more as open discussions than panels) quickly finding the contemporary resonance of the given topics.

After dancing around some different philosophical and musical definitions of duration (including some musing on the “adagio decade” of the 1970s by Toop) it became clear that the panel wasn’t very interested in the experience of extreme duration works, but wanted to know how and why one would compose with duration as a key consideration. David Chisholm saw one-idea pieces as fundamentally didactic, as sensitising the listener to a particular technique. Brett Dean raised the issue that a long piece exploring one idea was less risky because one had longer to find something that worked for any given listener. So much for the why, but how? Thomas Reiner brought up competing notions of “outside-in” and “inside-out” compositional strategies and James Rushford countered that either can fail and that what mattered was the intended effect. I would like to know whether composers have extended parts of scores because the ensuing moment didn’t ‘work’ without a longer preparation, much as certain effects in theatre don’t work before an hour or so has passed. The discussion foregrounded duration effects throughout the festival, making me ask what was being explored, what the intended pay-off was and whether the effect was interesting within the context of the piece.

The “Wired” panel quickly recognised the standardisation of music programming languages and technology today. This has led to a more fluid divide between engineers and composers, even though Clara Maïda pointed out that there are still many pieces with new technology and old art (as we were reminded when we heard Pluton). The panel used notions of technique and technology fairly interchangeably, but it is evident that there is often a lag or plain divide between compositional strategy and available music technology. The contemporaneity of technology and technique became a useful frame for evaluating the electronic contributions to some of the later concerts. The final question for the panel, “What do you want in the future?” dashed any hope of a greater integration of the two, with such technology-fetishist answers as “flying speakers” and “morphing nanotech mallet heads” (though both of those would be cool). At 90 minutes the discussions were just beginning to get interesting and I can only hope that these sessions are given two hours next year.

Two wonderful events took the festival outside of the concert halls and into the community. A performance of Mauricio Kagel’s Eine Brise, a “transient action” for 111 bicycles saw a much smaller peloton circle the Tom Flood velodrome whistling, singing and ringing their bells to the cheers of a few dozen supporters. The colourful and ultimately hilarious sonorous sculptures produced during Dale Gorfinkel’s children’s workshop were opened as an installation on Saturday, allowing adults to navigate a maze of interconnected bellows, balloons and bells.

A duration experience in itself, the marathon of BIFEM induces moments of delirious rapture, but also shortens one’s temper enough to provoke important questions such as, “Is this piece really worth my time?” Thankfully David Chisholm’s curatorial nous rarely leaves one with a negative answer.

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, Bendigo, 5-7 Sept

See Partial Durations for more reviews of BIFEM.

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 41

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

100% Darwin, Rimini Protokoll, Darwin Festival

100% Darwin, Rimini Protokoll, Darwin Festival

100% Darwin, Rimini Protokoll, Darwin Festival

Two productions in the 2014 Darwin Festival reviewed here involve distinctive collaborations between Australian and Asian artists, exploring fusions of traditional and contemporary cultural practices. With Asia as northern Australia’s nearest neighbour and being closer to Darwin than other Australian cities, this kind of exchange is becoming more common, with artists engaging in longer-term and ongoing projects. This creative fusion is reflected in the rich mix of ethnicities in the city’s population, as was evident in 100% Darwin.

100% Darwin

Held in the amphitheatre in Darwin’s tropical Botanic Gardens, 100% Darwin is a surprisingly moving, community-building experience. Germany’s Rimini Protokoll have created 100% cities since 2008 starting with Berlin, then 20 other cities around the world. They work with 100 locals with the aim of “performing the diversity” of each city. Casting director Bec Reid selects the first person; in Darwin it was baby Jordan. Each person then has 24 hours to find the next who must fit a specific criterion so that by the 100th person there is a huge cross-section of Darwin’s population represented—diverse ethnicities, ages, political views, sexualities, professions, interests. Ninety percent of the cast members have never been on stage before.

They come one by one onto the slowly revolving stage, each bringing their own special object (equally diverse, from teddy bears to microscopes, photos, tattoos, art and fishing rods). Each introduces themselves with a short snippet: “my vagina was made in Thailand,” and things they love or odd habits they have: “I always put my left shoe on first.” We get to know them and then the statistics begin. Through a series of questions the performance explores who is who, does what and believes what, with people moving to stand beside the “me” and “not me” signs that are held and sometimes dropped if no-one aligns themselves. The performers are supported and guided throughout by live music from local musicians David Spry and The Moral High Ground. It’s surprising and confronting as questions posed move from the easy: “who lives in Palmerston?” to: “who has tried and failed to save a life?” to: “who believes in the death penalty?” and “who has thought about taking their own life?”

This is reality theatre in which Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel’s direction ensures the two hours never drag by using different modes of posing and answering the questions that form the core of the piece—participants moving to yes/no areas of the stage, dancing, miming their hourly lives, showing coloured cards, asking questions of each other, asking questions of the audience, shining torches in the dark with birds-eye-view cameras showing results on screens at the sides of the stage. They reveal themselves to the audience and, like reality TV, it is totally absorbing.

Some of the revelations about what people felt shocked me. A large number agreed with the death penalty and would kill for their family and their country. Despite this, a feeling of connection between diverse people was generated and a liking for the very people whose opinions I would strongly oppose.

Book of Shadows: Chapter One

Book of Shadows is an NT/Indonesian collaboration incorporating live actors, traditional Balinese and contemporary shadow puppetry and new media. In a festival usually reserved for completed works it was refreshing to participate in a work-in-progress showing with a discussion and feedback session. It shows the vast amount of work that goes into making such a stylistically complex piece. This work is in its infancy. It has beautiful imagery and depth of combined visuals—kaleidoscopic colour film sequences, animations and elegant shadow puppetry —giving it the visual wow factor although the content still needs clarity and purpose.

Book of Shadows has a plethora of elements and is a deliberate mash-up of multiple Greek and Balinese traditional myths in what is an, as yet, unclear and over-complicated story. Beck Adams’ cave-like set with its scrunched and hanging layers of paper lit in ethereal blue was instantly alluring and provided multiple areas for action and projection. The combination of live and recorded sound moving from electronica to simple thumb piano was evocative, echoing the mix of contemporary and traditional visuals. With strong dramaturgical input this piece could be stunning.

Arisa Yura, Yasukichi Murakami—Through a Distant Lens

Arisa Yura, Yasukichi Murakami—Through a Distant Lens

Arisa Yura, Yasukichi Murakami—Through a Distant Lens

Yasukichi Murakami —Through A Distant Lens

Through a Distant Lens is a delicate and beautifully simple evocation of the life of Yasukichi Murakami, photographer, inventor, entrepreneur and part of Darwin’s high society in the 1930s. The performance begins with the whole end wall of Brown’s Mart theatre covered in a projection of trees moving gently in the breeze and the musician at the side of the stage playing traditional Japanese instruments mixed with recorded sound—wind and birdsong.

Writer Mayu Kanamori, a contemporary Japanese-Australian photographer and performance maker, probes Murakami’s colourful past and searches for truths about his life and his photographs—the latter lost when he was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ in Victoria after the bombing of Darwin in 1942. Diverse story-telling techniques are used to unearth secrets and truths which are based on historical research: direct address, acted scenes, projected still images and interactive film of Murakami’s stern traditional mother played by Yumi Umiumare .The character of Murakami appears as a ghost with camera in hand to talk about life and art with young Mayu. They banter, philosophise, dance together, watch projected images of his family and friends and meditate on the nature of photography. The old sepia photographs of Murakami’s Japanese family tell both his personal story and that of many Japanese Australians of the time. We see the formal family weddings, the Japanese pearl divers’ graveyard in Broome, Captain Gregory the flamboyant pearl lugger owner and friend and business associate of Murakami, Tatura internment camp and Murakami’s own portraits of his children. Finally we see images of his funeral. This is a gently moving production with elements seamlessly combined and supported by a haunting soundtrack and live music. The opening night at Brown’s Mart was especially poignant as the two front rows were filled with Murakami’s descendants. (See also p5.)

The Lepidopters

The Lepidopters

The Lepidopters

Lepidopters, A Space Opera, Part Four

Punkasila, Indonesian mystic art music punk band, renowned Australian classical pianist Michael Kieran Harvey, singer-dancer Rachel Saraswati and local Darwin artists and musicians came together to create this behemoth tipped as a “sci-fi-meets-alien-moths-meets-Javanese-mysticism visual/video /musical/installation performance experience.”

An eclectic mix of Gamelan, post-punk, classical/jazz piano and projected illustrations, this space opera is an Australian/Indonesian collaboration that defies definition and challenges audiences—some leaving, some whooping. Silver-suited band Punkasila with big hair and geometric electric guitars (Gary Glitter comes to mind) take centre stage with Harvey on piano and Saraswati combining the traditional and post punk in both her vocals and movement. Divided into movements, this production is a roller coaster of confusion and entertainment, opening with Harvey’s looped jazz piano, followed by the Darwin Gamelan Orchestra and Choir, then a punk band, live piano and flute with traditional Indonesian backing, a guitar and synth duet and even local Indigenous performer June Mills performing a Larrakia welcome to country with acoustic guitar. The projected animations continued throughout all the musical sections with hand-drawn images telling the story of the alien moth invasion, its meaning not clear to all—but that was immaterial as the performers took the willing on a journey and left others to fend for themselves.

Darwin Festival, 100% Darwin, concept, direction, dramaturgy Rimini Protokoll, Darwin, The Amphitheatre, George’s Green, 9 Aug; Book of Shadows: Chapter One, Brown’s Mart Theatre, 10 Aug; Yasukichi Murakami—Through A Distant Lens, writer, creator Mayu Kanamori, dramaturg Jane Bodie, director Malcolm Blaylock, Brown’s Mart Theatre, 19, 20 Aug; Lepidopters, A Space Opera, Part Four, creator, musician Danius Kesminas, visuals Erwan ‘Iwank,’ Hersi Susanto, Terra Bajraghosa, Slave Pianos, The Lighthouse, Darwin, 7-24 August

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 6

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

Timothy Walsh, In, Gavin Webber, Threefold, photo Leigh Turner, Bottlebrush Studio

Timothy Walsh, In, Gavin Webber, Threefold, photo Leigh Turner, Bottlebrush Studio

Threefold brings together three choreographers, each with a distinctly different aesthetic, for a triple bill of short, powerful, contrasting works. Bosco Shaw’s clever lighting design paradoxically enhances both the delineation of each work and the coherence of the trio of creations, reinforced by the same six mind-blowing dancers performing throughout.

The flow from Huang Yi’s minimalist Echo, focussed on pure gesture, light and shadow, to Gavin Webber’s twitchy acid trip In, to Raewyn Hill’s soul-clutching A dance for the forgotten, is the perfect order for presentation. The audience is prepped by wonderment in the first, raised to fever pitch in the second and have their hearts broken in the third.

A collaboration between Dancenorth and Tasdance, Threefold comprises a suite of two independently commissioned works—Gavin Webber for Dancenorth, Dancenorth’s artistic director Raewyn Hill for Tasdance—and one joint commission by Huang Yi from Taiwan, in his premiere work for an Australian audience.

Echo, Huang Yi

Echo, Huang Yi

Echo, Huang Yi

Huang Yi, Echo

Echo played out with unnerving precision to a soundtrack of low, incessant industrial rumble. Confined in intermittent squares or spots of bright light, with no discernible beat or phrases to work to, astonishingly the dancers seemed to synchronise every gesture to apparently random loud metallic clangs, clunks and booms.

The number of dancers seemed to change as they moved into the light pools with their shadows and were then absorbed back into the surrounding darkness. The lights switched off and on, merged, separated, as did the dancers, variously moving solo, in duo or ensemble; embracing, chasing, counterbalancing, dragging and re-placing each other. Gestures hinted one moment at capoeira, another at flamenco or ballet. This was dance quick, slow motion, sharp, fluid, combative or complicit, but always exquisitely precise. Spoiler alert: hidden technology was the key to perfect synchronicity in the absence of countable rhythm: rather than the dancers reacting to the sounds, the noises were activated externally by smartphone in response to the dancers’ movement.

Gavin Webber, In

Gavin Webber’s In ends with a dancer facing the audience to apologise: “Yeah, shit got out of hand, sorry,” a fitting conclusion to a chaotic journey (somewhere between a romp and a nightmare) through themes of conformism, bullying, manipulation, aggression, peer pressure, escapism and exhibitionism. Webber uses a recurring motif from his works as former artistic director at Dancenorth: clothing—worn, removed, exchanged, folded, piled, dumped from above to engulf and slapped on the floor in rhythm to Hendrix-like wailing guitars. Commencing with five dancers in business suits with one standout in casual exercise gear, there’s trouble from the start as she’s harrassed to change. But even as she conforms, the bar keeps changing as fast as the clothes do. These brittle, posturing and confused people indulge in a relentless, highly physical, sometimes almost violent game of sabotage while vying for their moment in the sun. “I’ve got something to say about current issues,” shouts one as he’s thrown around by another, “but it may not be pretty.” We never hear what it is as she weighs him down with layer upon layer of jackets.

The piece builds to a prolonged red-lit guitar trance party of frantic shaking bodies, and after the increasing sense of alienation reaches its pitch, the final apologetic statement is like being slapped out of it.

Raewyn Hill, Forgotten

Raewyn Hill’s A dance for the forgotten is the compressed essence of a 60-minute work made for the Tasmanian festival Ten Days on the Island in 2007. Like its place of conception, Port Arthur, the work contains layers of history and tragedy which, supported by the moving score (Eden Mulholland’s reworking of Pergolesi’s Marian Vespers), gives its themes a timelessness. The set conspires in suggestive simplicity. The space is atmospherically sidelit by vertical lighting set into tall wings, two at one side of the stage, one on the other. The dancers, clad in Alistair Trung designed costumes which defy period classification, surge from side to side through golden shafts of light on the otherwise black stage, the physical expression of the call and response in the gothic chant. They surge back, but someone is left behind. “Erynne!” they scream, reaching for the lost one, and sobbing breaths punctuate the music again and again.
A characteristic of Hill’s work is her ability to have multiple performers move as a single organism, from which dancers disassociate and reattach without losing a sense of connection. This is used to outstanding effect, evoking our common humanity and shared grief over unspeakable tragedy. A final series of lifts, a succession with each dancer moving the next, is interrupted with a plea to “Get down!” but a dancer’s hands fling back in slow motion, his chest recoiling, and it is over.

The physical and emotional diversity of Threefold must tax the dancers to the limit, but the energy never flagged in the commitment of Dancenorth’s Alice Hinde, Erynne Mulholland and Andrew Searle and Tasdance’s Sarah Fiddaman, Brianna Kell and Timothy Walsh.

TasDance/Dancenorth, Threefold, Dancenorth, Townsville 7-10 Aug and toured to Mackay, Cairns, Launceston and Hobart.

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 27

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

Early Warning System, Give us this Day—Five Sonic Adventures

Early Warning System, Give us this Day—Five Sonic Adventures

Early Warning System, Give us this Day—Five Sonic Adventures

Increased exposure to Indian, African and Asian music has made the last 100 years or so pretty good for Euro-Western percussion lovers. Enter Early Warning System with a beautifully programmed selection of recent works—by Erik Griswold, Vanessa Tomlinson, Kate Neal, Anthony Pateras and Michael Askill—that reflect the influence of that exposure on the Western classical tradition.

First up is the premiere of Erik Griswold’s Give us this day. The piece begins stately and processional (more Java than Bali) then moves through sections of quite different sonorities as is common with Griswold’s work. Not all percussive, at one stage Griswold’s much loved melodicas are introduced along with bowed cymbals to develop a beautiful tonespace of slowly overlapping chords. With the percussion the playing is sometimes soft and gentle, allowing the sound of touching skins with hand or beater to dominate the resonant boom of the drum, giving a percussion that is as much about touching and manipulating a surface as it is about dividing time into predictable chunks. Give us this day is very much a work that refines earlier concerns and demonstrates the continuing maturation of Griswold’s distinctive voice.

Vanessa Tomlinson continues exploring the theatre and physicality of sound production in her conceptual soundscape Static. The performers line up along the front of the stage each with a small table of bits and pieces and a bass drum at their feet. Electric static is soft in the air, the performers make soundless gestures—silent playing. Later these same gestures will be harder and faster, whipping sticks in the air, scraping shoe soles on the floor, scribbling with stones on steel bowls to bend and modulate pitch into speechless, gliding voice. Static is a fascinating work that draws attention to the link between gesture and the production of sound using commonplace actions.

Early Warning System, Give us this Day—Five Sonic Adventures

Early Warning System, Give us this Day—Five Sonic Adventures

Early Warning System, Give us this Day—Five Sonic Adventures

Similarly performative is Kate Neal’s What Hath II, a Kraftwerk-does-Beckett piece of music theatre that presents the performers as slaves to the rhythm—moving their heads in rapid and unnatural gesture to the beat of the music or flashing small projectors in an inscrutable machinic code. The body driven by an external mechanism—in this case the tempo—echoes the long history of representing people as dehumanised functional components (Metropolis, The Matrix). Watching the dehumanised performers is unsettling, even a little embarrassing. Why? Drumming is expressed through ballistic control and group synchrony of that control creates solidarity, a sense of group membership arising through shared motor action. And where there is a group there is a leader. People identify leadership with the person who most predicts the behaviour of the group, and in this case the leader is a metronome, a machine.

The performers rigidly moving their heads to the metronomic tempo have no other purpose than to comply with a machine. But there is no coercion, the performers are compliant in their own subjugation. Watching people willingly give up their autonomy like this is embarrassing, upsetting, disturbing. Both here and elsewhere.

Early Warning System: Give us this Day—Five Sonic Adventures, performers Vanessa Tomlinson, Michael Askill, Nozomi Omote, Rebecca-Lloyd Jones, Cameron Kennedy; Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse, 9 July

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 42

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

Scott Miles, Nothing under the sun, courtesy the artist

Scott Miles, Nothing under the sun, courtesy the artist

Stepping into what seems to be a darkened corridor, I wait for my eyes to adjust…but they don’t. There’s just darkness; and in the distance, a small square of dim, glowing light. My hand touches the matt black paint on the wall to my left; the right wall, I think, runs straight ahead. So I feel my way with my hand, and a metre or so along I find a vertical slit; I look through. It reveals a room containing a large image in black and white, of luminous, snow-covered rocks or ice. I guess that if I follow this wall, I will find a break or a corner, will be able to turn left and left again, to access this room.

I keep going, very disoriented, but drawn forward by the touch of my hand on the wall, which sometimes changes texture as if there is a smooth steel edge of a panel, and then another panel. I’m not sure whether perhaps the wall is curving. I continue in this absolute black; surprised, fascinated, apprehensive. As I approach the end, the distant glow turns into a small light box on the wall, and then into a very small painting on reflective copper—an orange sun in a black landscape—and my hand finally reaches a large opening. A long, dim room extends back towards the entrance.

Before even beginning to ‘see’ Scott Miles’ Nothing under the sun, I’ve experienced a really strange sensory place, nearly lightless but for a vague, sun-like impression, far away. While negotiating the dark, I’ve been pursued by weird taps, pitches and clicks that remind me of bat or dolphin sonar; and pale, flange-ing drones like humming hard-drive fans. I’ve glimpsed, teasingly, light reflected off snow.

In the long ‘gallery’, when I reach it, I can see—just. On a video screen, what seems to be snow flurries towards the viewer, apparently caught in the camera’s own light. Further along, there’s a large, round painting—ice and rocks again—in subtle, monochrome bands, tinged faintly pink and greenish. For a moment, I think I’ve found the room behind the slit—I think I can see the slit. I feel along the wall for it, for assurance. But there is no aperture, and that other room remains hidden.

And then I realise the painting is not round at all; its rectangular shape becomes clear in the shadows beyond the circular beam of light that illuminates it. That’s how dark the room is.

Nothing under the sun draws on Scott Miles’ experiences in Greenland’s Upernavik artists’ retreat, during winter, when the sun did not broach the horizon for many weeks. It was so dark, he said, he took photos in order to see his surroundings (West Space artists’ talk, 28 August). The icy ground was treacherous, so getting around was difficult. Over time, he became acutely aware of sound and learned to move carefully so as not to slip or fall. In his paintings he wanted to experiment with “the removal of light,” and equally, “to bring the conditions of that experience into the exhibition environment”—in particular, to create a sense of duration.

Scott Miles, Nothing under the sun, courtesy the artist

Scott Miles, Nothing under the sun, courtesy the artist

The result is an unusual combination of painting—arguably the endangered polar bear of contemporary artforms—and light/sound installation. The gallery illumination is as faint as the starlight Miles became attuned to, consequently the paintings are eclipsed (but not obliterated) by the darkness and the AV-based (yet representational) form of the work as a whole. Their place here feels apt: as precise as photographs, they physically manifest time, contemplation and meticulous observation. Like the polar bear, they know where they are. Around them the soundscape, neither entirely abstract nor identifiable, shifts from speaker to hidden speaker. Combining found sounds and experiments with extreme frequencies, the audio is partly inspired by an Upernavik local’s recordings of radio waves emanating from the auroras: chirping, whistling siren-calls from Earth’s magnetosphere.

The Arctic, understandably, has become a regular muse for environmental laments, and a symbol of disintegration, loss and fragility in the work of many artists. Nothing under the sun is refreshing for not fetishising the melting icebergs and crumbling glaciers, nor asking us to contemplate the demise of the frozen north. Miles’ work lets the Arctic be just what it is: a place that whistles and rolls its hard-to-believe sounds around the ears; that challenges two-legged animals to see or stand up straight, at times; and that fascinates, disorients and unsettles in ways that will always resist the overlay of human meaning.

Scott Miles, Nothing under the sun; West Space, Melbourne, 1–30 Aug

You can read about Urszula Dawkins’ Arctic experience in The Arctic Circle international arts/science collaborative residency, Svalbard, Norway in RealTime 100.

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 54

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

Abigail Boyle and Laura Jones in Satellite

Abigail Boyle and Laura Jones in Satellite

Abigail Boyle and Laura Jones in Satellite

Daniel Belton’s career is a victory over the tyranny of distance. Based in the regional New Zealand town of Dunedin (closer to Antarctica than Hobart is), Belton has turned to producing dance films for international festivals. His most striking works however are difficult-to-tour multimedia dances such as Soundings (2000).

Satellites (2014) is a collaboration with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, enabling Belton to again work on a grand scale, placing multiple live bodies in front of and behind semi-translucent projections and sculptural objects.

The steely, silver and grey visual aesthetic of Satellites evokes planetary metaphors and Modernist visions of outer space. Jac Grenfell’s projected animations sketch Saturnalian arcs traced by small bodies mathematically circling around off-screen behemoths. The audience gazes from above or at a slight angle into these misty discs of interstellar dust, while dancers holding small mirrored rounds create a similar sense of backscatter across the space. The upper quadrant of the proscenium is often occupied by two vast, metalic discs, spinning gently.

The tableau is in this sense powerful and coherent, fusing 1950s dreams of spatial conquest and science fiction, with early Modernist and Futurist precedents from Europe. One could imagine Satellites as a grand early Soviet ballet. Indeed Belton and costume designer Donnine Harrison end the work with the entry of one then two ballerinas clothed in sleek, metallic dresses and tutus which are modelled on Oskar Schlemmer’s designs for the Bauhaus’ Triadic Ballet (1922).

Choreographically, the piece has an overall drag of left to right. Although figures do enter from the right (notably the closing ballerinas), these events act as a counterpoint to the way in which figures enter from the left, coalesce and gesture back from whence they have come, arms held out in forceful lines like Olympic heroes, often with the reflective discs featuring, before they seem to drop off to the right. This larger pulsion of movement echoes the circuits which the projected planetoids take, down the upper arm of curves rolling around left to right. It is as though cosmic tides wash the dancers away into utopian infinity.

As ballet-trained dancers, the performers of the Royal New Zealand Ballet emphasise the clear lines of Belton’s choreography, moving into statuesque combinations and holding the apogee of movements and poses rather than being swept into expressive flow (though this is undercut somewhat by the baggy pants worn by the male dancers). Broadly, the concept of scattering seems to act as a dominant organising principle as dancers break off into varied groupings from larger, unified associations, reassembling at irregular intervals into collectives of two or more.

This loose, open feeling in the choreography, together with elements of pedestrian or relaxed movement, is set against a sense of grandeur and a highly sculptural, material stage design with which the dancers must engage—suggesting Twyla Tharp meets Merce Cunningham (and perhaps a touch of Schlemmer’s contemporary, Leni Riefenstahl).

Scholars debate whether Cunningham’s sculptural complexity and precision made him Modernist (in the sense of Schlemmer) or Postmodernist like Tharp, but Tharp’s lighter touch and generally more gentle framing of the body seems closer to Belton’s approach. Belton’s scenographic framing by contrast presents something closer to Cunningham’s tendency to trawl through the history of Modernism for formal inspiration (such as in Cunningham’s Walkabout Time, featuring a set by Jasper Johns inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, 1923).

Satellite’s unstable positioning with respect to the divide between Modernism and Postmodernism is most evident in the collision of an otherwise utopian, almost spiritual visual palette, as opposed to Jan-Bas Bollen’s music, which owes more to Postmodern themes of communication breakdown. Bollen has previously created notated homages to composer Iannis Xenakis, but here his soundscape is sophisticated glitch-funk such as that popularised by labels like mille plateau and Bip-Hop in the 1990s. Key elements of Bollen’s acoustic palette include the digitally processed sounds of electricity sparking, or the effect of short-circuits upon amplification devices.

While the planets and the dancers move smoothly, the sound does not. Rhythmic pulses are interrupted by our futuristic technology, glitching and becoming embedded within interstellar noise. One can envisage an alternative version of Satellites in which the dance fragments along with the sound—planets careening off their orbits like so much chaotic space debris and the dense static force of Bollen’s sonic bed overwhelming our attempts to reclaim this material from Modernism’s confident utopianism.

Royal New Zealand Ballet, Satellites, part of the Allegro program, choreography, conceptual design Daniel Belton, stage design, sculpture Jim Murphy, costumes Donnine Harrison, animated projection Jac Grenfell, music Jan-Bas Bollen, Regent Theatre, Dunedin, NZ, 23 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 28

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

Mayakovsky, Sydney Chamber Opera

Mayakovsky, Sydney Chamber Opera

Mayakovsky, Sydney Chamber Opera

In an evocation of the life of Vladimir Mayakovsky, composer Michael Smetanin, librettist Alison Croggon and Sydney Chamber Opera splinter the great Russian poet’s psyche into multiple voices (sung and spoken), personae and video images in a multimedia fantasia that belies the simplicity of the poet’s heroic public recitations, if not the complexity of his verse—at once populist and startlingly modernist before Soviet Realism erased every conceivable kind of formalism and many artists’ lives.

The dramatic structure of Michael Smetanin and Alison Croggon’s Mayakovsky is above all, as a fellow audience member quipped, “bio-pic.” It tracks key events of the poet’s life—his fame, a love affair, despair (political and romantic) and suicide, interwoven with appearances by Lenin, Stalin and agitprop revolutionary workers who delineate the narrowing political compass of the Russian Revolution. The chronological narrative is however framed as interplay between present and future, opening with Rorschach Test-like video projections and a grimly realised version of the Phosphorescent Woman from Mayakovsky’s satirical comedy The Bathhouse, in which she’s an emissary from a glorious Communist state a millennium hence. A more immediate future subsequently manifests in the form of the poet’s cynical alter ego, the Author, walking from the audience into Mayakovsky’s presence a century ago. The hectoring Author torments Mayakovsky with the failure of the revolution, the compromising of his art and his sanctification by Stalin as the Poet of the People. Once the latter acclamation would have meant almost everything to a poet, who regarded the practice of his arts as self-sacrifice for the greater good. But as conformism becomes the order of the day, Mayakovsky’s inordinate idealism is collapsing.

Mayakovsky, Sydney Chamber Opera

Mayakovsky, Sydney Chamber Opera

Mayakovsky, Sydney Chamber Opera

The externalisation of the poet’s inner anxieties via an accusatory alter ego is a familiar device, which provides the opera with a certain amount of tension but inclines the Mayakovsky character towards the mono-dimensional, until the weight of his failures overwhelms him—even then it’s a bloody tussle with the Author. Baritone Simon Lobelson is a vocally powerful Mayakovsky—obtuse, strident, grandiose, suffering—but his role as the people’s poet is undercut by having the poems intimately voiced-over by Alex Menglet. It’s interesting to hear the Russian (while straining to read subtitles, right angled to the stage!) but I wanted to see Mayakovsky addressing the masses, with or without microphone or megaphone, in full voice (English would have been fine) and standing tall on the illuminated platform that Lenin and Stalin otherwise occupy. We also hear the voice of the actual Mayakovsky from a 1914 recording (which in extended, treated form is also used to structurally underpin the opera; see the interview with the composer, RealTime Profiler, 2 July).

The splitting of the man—into poet, Author, a Russian reciter and Mayakovsky himself as voice—might heighten our sense of the man’s contradictions and the pain they, the state and lover Lilya Brik (Jessica O’Donoghue) cause him but the fragmentation doesn’t necessarily add up. His character becomes diffuse regardless of Croggon and Smetanin’s considered working of his poems and phrases and images from them into the vocal score.

Mayakovsky’s enduring love for Lilya Brik (initially realised in a ménage a trois with her husband Osip Brik) was as impossible to fulfil as his political idealism and just as destructive. This dimension of the poet’s life is simply told, amusingly with “The Cloud in Trousers” as a courting song and affectingly when Lilya explains to him once more, here in urgent, rising notes that his passion exhausts her. She withdraws from him, as does the state. The combination of incredible neediness on the one hand and aggressive expressiveness on the other is associated with artists, but the suicidal outcome (one of several attempts) is extreme. Both drives demand emotional reciprocity, from a lover and from an audience—where the lover is also audience and the people bestow love. To the end Mayakovsky suffered as much for his love (too vast for a lover) as for his Cultural Bolshevik idealism (too singular, too personal for the state). With its structural mechanics focused on the latter, the opera’s diffusiveness denies us a cogent vision of Mayakovsky, however much his life defies a single view.

Alison Croggon’s libretto is in fine sync with Michael Smetanin’s score; together they capture the urgency of Mayakovsky’s declamatory verse and highlight its ever-surprising imagery. The music for the small but powerful instrumental ensemble with electronics is bracing, from opening monumental brassy thunder to static-challenged fanfare, revolutionary workers’ choruses (almost out of Brecht) and the final cataclysmic roar of radio waves and a lone siren’s lament. There are rarer, scintillating passages of quiet, subtly textured beauty. Early electronic music is evoked and the diverse musical forms that coalesced in the 20s are finely woven through the score without resorting to pastiche. The vocal scoring however was neither as subtle, varied or embracing, feeling less like song than hyper-articulated speech or latter-day recitative, as in much 20th century opera, with the orchestra filling out the lyricism and passion.

Mayakovsky suffered from a superfluity of theatrical and thematic devices, the sheer volume of surtitle reading and Kat Henry’s ultra busy conventional direction (with young opera actors grappling with an awkward mix of naturalistic and stylised moves). Hanna Sandgren’s design (six metre-wide drops suggestive of columns that become Stalin’s wall against art) doubled as a screen for a plethora of visual effects. The sculpture above made little sense—perhaps a nod in the direction of early Modernism or even Constructivism (which might have inspired a more cogent design). The decision to show the surtitles and video on a wall to the hard left of the audience reduced the work’s intelligibility and the impact of the Phosphorescent Woman who, above all, should have been addressing us directly as well as the characters onstage.

With Mayakovsky, Sydney Chamber Opera continues its brave commitment to 20th and 21st century opera. If design and direction are not of the company’s usual high standard, the opera will doubtless benefit from its first outing. It cries out for re-thinking by its creators and a less encumbered production. Smetanin and Croggon’s de-centred Mayakovsky doesn’t have the charisma that could enthral masses of workers. He is denied the introspection that would convey a tragic sense of self presaging the poet’s downfall. Instead, we have pathos rather than tragedy. Yes, the words, music and multimedia dynamics of the opera spell out Mayakovsky’s unresolvable plight with varying degrees of intensity and insight, but no more than that.

I can vividly recall the All Out Ensemble’s Selling Ourselves for Dinner in Jim Sharman’s 1982 Adelaide Festival. Performed in a carpark and scripted by another Cultural Bolshevik, Chris Barnett, it realised Mayakovsky’s spirit with frightening, almost overwhelming vigour and clarity, portraying an artist consumed by his art, politics and love. We soared with Mayakovsky, and we fell with him.

Sydney Chamber Opera & Carriageworks, Mayakovsky, composer Michael Smetanin, librettist Alison Croggon, conductor Jack Symonds, director Kat Henry performers Simon Lobelson, Jessica O’Donoghue, Sarah Toth, Lotte Betts-Dean, Mitchell Riley, Brenton Spiteri, design Hanna Sandgren, lighting Guy Harding, AV design, Davros, Carriageworks, Sydney, 28 July-2 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 42

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

Intérieur, Shizuoka Performing Arts Company/Les Ateliers Contemporains

Intérieur, Shizuoka Performing Arts Company/Les Ateliers Contemporains

Intérieur, Shizuoka Performing Arts Company/Les Ateliers Contemporains

With threatened social welfare cuts, artists and other workers across France went on strike this summer, including on the first day of the 2014 Avignon Festival. With banners across every venue, announcements of solidarity before every show and politicians banned from theatres, a very particular political message framed the audience experience.

Works offering overt political analysis such as Solitaritate from Romania and La imaginación del futuro from Chile brought this context into sharper view. The political framework felt equally strong in Intérieur, directed by French master Claude Régy, despite his presenting no overtly political message. Analysis and action, generational political engagement and the politics of western democracies were among the topics posed at the festival under the new artistic director Olivier Py.

Solitaritate

Solitaritate by Romanian writer-director Gianina Cărbinariu is a series of comic episodes which question the current guiding ideologies of Western democratic capitalism. Performers begin the show debating which audience rows they own—individuals claiming us as their territory. Falling walls are a repeated visual metaphor—from the theatrical fourth wall to a domestic argument which leads to a brick wall falling around a couple and their neoliberal ideals. This recurring motif unites the scenes that show all human experiences and intimacies reduced to commodities. In one scene we attend the funeral of “Eugenia Ionescu”—an homage to Romania’s greatest dramatist Eugene Ionesco. It’s a self-conscious attempt for this new generation of theatre-makers to bury the idols of their past and carve out theatrical space of their own. Cărbinariu places the blatant colonialism of marking out audience territory alongside a monologue from a nanny imported to work for a wealthy European family. A huge glittering Romanian flag—hung upside down—unexpectedly drops to engulf the nanny who struggles, trying to free herself from its oppressive weight.

Cărbinariu states that putting everyday lives in the theatre is a subversive act in Romania and no doubt this is what attracted the programmers. Unfortunately, the work seems somewhat contrived, its tone naive in an international festival where the context is starkly different. In a way the programming of this show for the festival mimics the very questions of consumerist ideologies posed by the company—and the power of their production is diluted as it becomes part of the marketplace it is questioning.

La imaginación del futuro

Further questions of political context are posed in relation to Chilean theatre company La Re-sentida’s La imaginación del futuro which replays the military coup and mysterious death of Salvador Allende on 11 September 1973. The brute force and energy of this young ensemble is undeniable; however, rather than the future implied in the title we are presented with a past reimagined with irreverence and humour. Allende is surrounded by political advisors at every turn trying to enact influence, minimise damage and create spin with the construction of his famous final address filmed and re-filmed. The backdrops, costumes and the speech are manipulated and reconstructed in a live video feed. In a triumphant moment for the advisors, huge banners of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende are unveiled during a dance routine to Latino-American hip-hop group Cypress Hill.

La Re-sentida poses the question of how Chile became a dictatorship after the death of Allende and how the construction of truth and mythology is continually remade. Although these are worthwhile questions, the ensemble’s response suggests cynicism rather than proposing any liberating action. As spectators we embrace the show’s surface and join in mocking the past. However, the present tense cynicism of the production diffuses the possibility of any political action as we realise our own impotence.

While La Re-sentida have power in their analysis, their discourse fails to move on from political rhetoric while drawing a new, less nostalgic view of Allende. La Re-sentida have bravado, enthusiasm and wit, but do not transform their questions into action that results in true political engagement for the spectator.

Intérieur

There is no explicit political analysis in the work of 89-year-old Claude Régy’s Intérieur. Régy first directed Maeterlinck’s 1895 play in France in 1985. So when Shizuoka Performing Arts company invited Régy to direct a play for them, it was this piece he wanted to revisit, in Japanese, with Japanese performers. Intérieur in Régy’s hands focuses on the symbolism of death and transcendence. We are confronted by the rules this director imposes upon us on the way into the theatre. An announcement requests total silence. Maeterlinck desired us to be aware of the laws we are subject to. The writing is pared back to essentials: minimal text which is simple and direct. We look with the townspeople at the silent family inside the house. A small boy is asleep centre stage. His immobile body comes to symbolise death as we hear about the death of his sister in the river.

Every movement and phrase in this work is excruciatingly slow. At this pace, interactions become inhuman and language unrecognisable: all removed from the everyday. Theorist Walter J Ong has stated, “sound only exists as it is going out of existence.” Régy’s theatrical investigation takes this to its extreme. We are acutely aware of each syllable and the silence that surrounds it. With slow motion, we are forced to reconsider what it is to be a spectator and become acutely aware of those around us too—the audience that coughs and wriggles. The stage is covered in noiseless white sand on which the performers almost seem to float. The only defined feature is the delineation between interior and exterior: the subject of the play, marked by low lighting, shifting almost imperceptibly between one colour and the next.

The impact of Intérieur resonates long after the experience—whether one is confronted, enamoured or enraged. In reimagining Maeterlinck’s text, this production awakens the audience to reconsider their position in the act of watching. We are offered no way in which to process this—we are given no referent for the real world. Without this, and by boldly manipulating time and space, Régy manages to break the nexus between consumption and culture for the duration of the play. Intérieur brings us to a new awareness and engagement with the world surrounding us through its theatrical action which resonates as a brave political act.

2014 Avignon Festival: Theatre National Radu Stanca Sibiu, Theatre National Bruxelles (Romania/Belgium), Solitaritate, 19-27 July; La Re-sentida (Chile) La imaginación del futuro, 17-25 July; Shizuoka Performing Arts Company/Les Ateliers Contemporains (Japan/France),, Avignon, France, 15-27 July; http://www.festival-avignon.com/en/

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 10

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

Miranda Wheen, Matt Cornell, Between Two & Zero

Miranda Wheen, Matt Cornell, Between Two & Zero

Miranda Wheen, Matt Cornell, Between Two & Zero

Miranda Wheen’s first work in this FORM triple bill, Safe Hands, is a short, cartoonish satirical take on demagoguery in which the initially suited dancer plays male-politician-as-celebrity—mutating from the crowd stirrer to a man-of-the-people mover (with excruciatingly protracted dancing and twitching to ironically selected rock and pop numbers) and, finally, the sportsman, pushing himself towards limits visibly beyond his reach but nonetheless wrapping (actually masking) himself victoriously in Australian icons (to “We don’t need another hero”).

It’s broadbrush commentary, but a reminder of how Tony Abbott (the suit, the blue tie; the hard hat, the safety vest; the army apparel; the bike, the water and any other challenge) has followed in the footsteps of John Howard (whose guises included the ‘RM Williams’ man on the land). The most striking image in this work has Wheen on all-fours convulsively dropping torso and abdomen floorward (to Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby”), suggesting a masochistic dimension to the narcissistic power figure.

A more impressive work, Between Two and Zero, created in collaboration with co-performer Matt Cornell, is also an exercise in testing limits, this time in an initially delicate but soon assertively physical courtship. Informal party dancing is followed by cautious, almost courtly tracking of each other, her sudden, funny headfirst dash into him (desire as violence?) and a repeated series of tightly intimate face-to-face lifts which appear tortuously close to separating head from neck. This obsessive ritual is hauntingly realised in the dancers’ acuity of movement, physical strength and the dreamlike lighting transitions (Guy Harding) that increasingly close in the space around the pair. Wheen and Cornell reveal substantial choreographic potential, transforming an everyday universal into a very specific vision of the tangle that is coupling.

Sketch, Carl Sciberras (video still)

Sketch, Carl Sciberras (video still)

Carl Sciberras’ Sketch is an adventurous meeting of dance and digital artistry, bringing together a trio of dancers, composer Mitchell Mollison and visual artist Todd Fuller (both onstage), in which the latter alternately leads the dancers with his overhead-projected live sketches of body shapes into which they step, or accompanies them with richly coloured iPad finger swipes of increasing density, daring and complexity. The music is likewise responsive, crisply realised, nicely textured and more than a little evocative of the electronic music I grew up with in the 1960s—hard edged, metallic, static washes, shifting wavelengths and, finally in Sketch, great oceanic waves of sound.

There are several problems with Sketch. First, it is hugely overwrought: the not very interesting matching of sketched bodies and dancers and the much more fascinating digital brush-stroking of screen and the colouring-in of dancers are both far too long. Many good ideas are simply wasted. Second, the choreography, although adroitly and confidently realised, never breaks free of its formality, resulting in an unresolved dialectic between the dancing on the one hand and the freedom of expression of the sound and image collaborators on the other, especially the visual artist whose display of inventiveness appears limitless, eventually upstaging any attempt at dialogue or break-through synthesis. I treasured the few moments when the dancers appeared to take control of the imagery. Sketch is the potential from which a more succinctly powerful work might evolve.

FORM, Dance Bites 2014: Dance Makers’ Collective, Triple Bill: Safe Hands, choreographer, performer Miranda Wheen; Between Two & Zero, choreographers, performers Matt Cornell, Miranda Wheen; Sketch, choreographer Carl Sciberras, visual artist Todd Fuller, live composition Mitchell Mollison, performers Katina Olsen, Carl Sciberras, Rosslyn Wythes; Lennox Theatre, Riverside Parramatta, 11-13 Sept; http://form.org.au

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 28

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

Eugene Ughetti, Claire Edwardes, Ghan Tracks

Eugene Ughetti, Claire Edwardes, Ghan Tracks

Eugene Ughetti, Claire Edwardes, Ghan Tracks

The Old Ghan, the train and the 3,000km of track on which it once ran, is almost mythical. It symbolises the Red Centre which Australia’s white colonists thought to harness and control. Its narrow-gauge tracks were first laid in 1878 and completed in 1929, the full track to Darwin only completed in 2004.

The train’s delivery of goods and passengers between Port August and Alice Springs (a seven day trip at best) fell foul of both the Wet and the Dry, the track regularly drowned in sand and/or water. In the late 1940s, there was a standard joke about when the train might arrive: this month, next month or December. Afghan cameleers not only distributed goods east and west of the track, but also stepped in when the train got bogged.

The train and its journey is a metaphor for white Australia’s long history of struggle to cross borders, join isolated towns and pretend Australians are ‘one people’ with a shared goal—to produce, to provide, to survive and to conquer. Jon Rose’s Ghan Tracks includes footage taken by Rose and Mark Patterson of the huffing, muscle-bound contemporary Pichi Richi Railway (the only part of the Afghan Express still operating) and the Old Ghan rusting in retirement, against archival footage of her heyday when she was a ‘slow silver ribbon’ with polished interior finishes and plush dining-cars.

Rose—an artist who has staged his work on, along or across boundaries such as fences dissecting the Strzelecki Desert, the USA-Mexico border and the Separation Fence in the Israeli Occupied Territories—excavates the romance, the struggles and the ironies of this mythology in a sound/performance/installation work involving seven musicians, a lighting artist, a sound technician and himself—a white-haired, hyper-charged piston engine driving the work through transitions by waving pieces of numbered, coloured paper at his orchestra.

Along with clarinet, tympanum, sousaphone, piccolo and corrugated iron, the ensemble also includes a rain machine harnessed by pedal-power and a canvas draped like pastry over a turning pin, which is wound like an oversized meat-mincer to create the sound of wind. Several times, Jennifer Torrence shovels gravel into a cement mixer, walks behind, turns the mixer, and then tips it out into the pit again. The steady dryness of this action, the brittle grind of the sound and the measure of Torrence’s footsteps is enthralling. This above all else serves as a synecdoche of the desert, of the hopes that people kept pinning on ‘good prospects’ and full crops (which all failed) north of the Goyder line, representing the gap between expansionist dreams and the moisture desperately longed for but which never returned. This dry truth is also echoed in the gap in tuning between the equal- and just-tempered vibraphones, to my eye matched also by the footage of coiffed women with slender fingers pointing to a dream outside the train window that we never get to see. Not quite visible or audible.

What I appreciate most is the delicacy in the use of film, a rhythmic/visual intervention appearing and disappearing in and out of score as do the instruments themselves. There are archival stills of Aboriginal children posed in stiff dresses beside sombre, starched white women, or taken on camel-rides by the Afghans. Another camel carries a pianola strapped to its back; where we might expect romantic keyboard tones, Rose overdubs the camel’s screaming song. A low POV shot, taken from the track itself as the Ghan passes over, is an apt symbol of obsession overrunning reason. Footage of the last run of the Old Ghan, pulling up its own tracks as it passes, like a spider eating its own young, is a sad homage to the folly of its past. As if we too could hoist up our limbs and say goodbye to dreams laid in sand.

Readings from old newspapers performed by Patrick Dickson and Lucy Bell capture the dashed hopes of the early settlers. The only strange element here is the full downlight on them, suggesting human superiority in the telling of this tale while the stage is otherwise discretely lit, spotting the curve of the sousaphone, the bell of the tympanum, the gleaming edge of the vibes.

Rose has been careful to document what the train meant to desert elders. A shot of the engine appearing like a caterpillar around the corner of a fat gravelly mountain is accompanied by a voiceover of Peter Paltharre Wallis telling the story of the black ‘devil dog’ eating up the ground. There follows a beautiful tract of Arrernte language, unmitigated and untranslated, holding its own.

Copious program notes unwind of Rose’s critical politics. Yet Ghan Tracks is a curiously conservative listening experience, its structure built on regular metre (appropriate, perhaps to the rhythmic forces of a train, but certainly not to the Old Ghan’s breakdowns!), albeit full of surprises and textures of which I value the reminder to take heed. The Ghan is less a radical take on the world around us than a reminder of the constancies of the battle between us and the environment, but yes, a cautionary tale (as Rose would have it) on how we may lay tracks into our future.

Ghan Tracks was commissioned by Ensemble Offspring in conjunction with Performance Space and with the support of ABC RN’s Creative Audio Unit.

Performance Space: Jon Rose, Ensemble Offspring, Ghan Tracks, composer, multi-media, texts, conductor Jon Rose, musicians Claire Edwardes, Clayton Thomas, Eugene Ughetti, Jennifer Torrence, Lamorna Nightingale, Jason Noble, Damien Ricketson, Carolyn Johns, actors Lucy Bell, Patrick Dickson, sound Lachlan Vercoe, lighting, AV Aaron Clarke; Carriageworks, Sydney, 7-9 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 43

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

Sarah Rodigari, courtesy the artist

Sarah Rodigari, courtesy the artist

Going Nowhere is not a festival. That’s the first thing Arts House’s creative producer Angharad Wynne-Jones makes clear. She describes the three-day event as more of a “strategy or proposition,” and that proposition is one that gets more and more compelling the deeper you dig into it. Arts organisations have been getting down to the nuts and bolts of sustainability for some years now—theatres sport solar panels, venue bathrooms have reduced water use, programs have gone online—but Going Nowhere takes as its starting point a question. “What’s the trickiest thing that we would least like to do without?” asks Wynne-Jones.

The answer is travel. “For many artists their development is hinged on national and international partnerships, tours, institutional exchange and attending conferences, fairs, workshops and so on. The whole notion of getting on a plane is often critical to making a project happen,” says Wynne-Jones. “Making a collaboration work, being endorsed and surprised and delighted by being somewhere else.”

Going Nowhere challenges its participants to create international work without stepping on a plane. Of course there are modes of artistic production that better lend themselves to such a challenge, but Arts House has deliberately put it to the sort of cutting edge practitioners it regularly programs, often working in fields such as Live Art that crucially depend on the presence of their makers.

“People have been sending scripts and scores around the planet for centuries,” says Wynne-Jones. “It’s not a new thing. In fact, it’s only quite recently that we think of sending entire symphony orchestras from one end of the planet to the other. But it’s exciting that there’s a whole range of practice that has extended beyond the score or the text, and now how does that practice recalibrate itself through some of those old methodologies but still retain its investigative, experimental form?”

The core of the program might be the series of four commissioned works that see local artists collaborating with others in Cambridge, where Going Nowhere will also take place over the same weekend. Sarah Rodigari and UK artist Joshua Sofaer will confront head-on the fear of missing out posed by a situation in which performing artist and audience aren’t available to one another—in this case employing a surprising surrogate. Willoh S Weiland, Julian Crotti and Fritz Hauser are creating a highly theatrical Last Supper-scenario exploring the apocalyptic End Times thinking that accompanies much discourse around climate change, while a collaboration between Melbourne’s one step at a time like this and Bristol’s Helen Cole and Alex Bradley takes place in both Arts House and the audience’s own homes. Dan Koop, Andy Field and Nathan Street’s collaboration is both site-specific and transcendent of that notion, employing the ubiquitous transport loops that are available in almost every modern city—think train subways, monorails or free tram services—that tourists use to go nowhere but see everything.

“The brief that we’ve set is that we are wanting a live experience,” says Wynne-Jones. “We’re committed to that, even though all the digital possibilities exist and apparently make it seem like anything’s possible. There has to be a reason the audience needs to be there. The work can’t be completed without them. That’s potentially limiting, but that’s the discipline of it.”

Another appropriate restriction is that artists are not allowed to create waste. Purchases should be minimal and limited to recycled or recyclable material. “They have an extremely light touch in that way.”

Tanya Beer, Weather Report

Tanya Beer, Weather Report

Tanya Beer, Weather Report

Beyond the international commissions, Going Nowhere features a sizeable suite of events, including a Tipping Point forum, PechaKucha, and several other artworks. Olaf Meyer is creating a new textural projection to transform the face of the North Melbourne Town Hall; Tristam Meecham is bringing together a range of specialists who traverse an unexpectedly wide interpretation of sustainability—from frog experts to storytellers—to create an Everyday Imaginarium on the Town Hall’s balcony garden; and Tanja Beer’s People’s Weather Report is a 24-hour sound work and installation drawing on contributions from around the world.

While it’s one thing to ask artists to rethink their own practices in order to produce a work that can cross borders while they stay put, Going Nowhere’s sheer mass poses a broader dilemma. Specifically, it highlights questions of trust that go beyond the individual maker—“not just between the collaborating artists but between the producers and the presenters,” says Wynne-Jones. “Without their artists being there, we need to be really clear that we’re honouring what we imagine they want as much as what they’re demanding that they need. I also think it involves a level of trust from the audience. We’ve been enculturated, and with good reason, into wanting and enjoying the artist’s presence. Particularly in this kind of work. To say they won’t be there is challenging.”

Wynne-Jones admits that everyone behind Going Nowhere is “setting ourselves up with an impossible problem.” The weekend isn’t aimed at producing definitive answers that will only allow for 100% sustainable works to be created from here on. Wynne-Jones herself isn’t interested in only presenting works by artists working in that way throughout the rest of the calendar.

“To be honest, I think the only people that need to be flying around the world are artists. I think they’re the best transmitters of ideas and energy and connections. Once we’ve found some kind of biofuel for aeroplanes they should be filled with artists zipping around.”

But in the meantime, she does hope that Going Nowhere will expand beyond Melbourne and Cambridge in years to come. She makes it sound like a very attractive notion. “My fantasy structure for Going Nowhere in the future is that there could be any number of organisations around the world that over a particular period of time say ‘we’re Going Nowhere’ and there’s a repository of projects that have been designed in this way and the organisations can buy one or borrow one or create one or whatever. This is a rehearsal of that.

Going Nowhere, Arts House, Melbourne, 21-23 Nov. Full program at goingnowhere.net.au.

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 12

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

Atlanta Eke, Body of Work

Atlanta Eke, Body of Work

Atlanta Eke, Body of Work

The importance of the Keir Choreographic Award cannot be underestimated in the challenging climate in which independent choreographers work in this country. The prizes not only alert us to emerging talents and reward them with heightened visibility and cash (the Judge’s award, $30,000; the People’s Choice Award, $10,000) but perhaps the Award also signals where contemporary dance is headed. The latter, moreso than the winners, was the subject muttered about in the Carriageworks foyer after the awards announcement, as it was during Performance Space’s SCORE season (see pp19-23).

I can’t recall when I’ve heard, post-show, so much uncritical enthusiasm on the one hand and scorn on the other. There were eight semi-finalists: Sarah Aiken (VIC); James Batchelor (VIC); Tim Darbyshire (VIC); Matthew Day (VIC); Atlanta Eke (VIC); Shaun Gladwell (NSW); Jane McKernan (NSW); and Brooke Stamp (VIC); their works were performed at Melbourne’s Dancehouse. The works of the four finalists Aiken, Eke, Day and McKernan were on show at Sydney’s Carriageworks. (Perhaps the next showings should be telecast from one venue to the other.) What triggered debate was form. Award-winner Atlanta Eke’s Body of Work was even less a dance work than Monster Body, her much acclaimed segueing of dance, performance art and installation. Body of Work’s media dimension—the performer’s manipulated view of her ‘actual’ and virtual selves—suggested potential which the Award money might help realise.

Carli Mellow, Angela Goh, Leeke Griffin, Lizzie Thomson, Mass Movement, Jane McKernan

Carli Mellow, Angela Goh, Leeke Griffin, Lizzie Thomson, Mass Movement, Jane McKernan

Carli Mellow, Angela Goh, Leeke Griffin, Lizzie Thomson, Mass Movement, Jane McKernan

Matthew Day’s Rites (a take on Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring) was critically limited by its short duration and an awkward dramatic structure, but the work did spring from his body, as ever not looking like any dance we’ve seen, for which I’m grateful. Sarah Aiken’s Three Short Dances was Bauhaus-lite, more installation than dance, its large geometric shapes moving unrevealingly and the artist’s balancing of long poles on head, hands and shoulders aesthetically inexpressive. Jane McKernan’s Mass Movement was based on an improvisational structure which gave the work cogency, a great sense of nervy fluidity (suspenseful even as we waited for various patterns to resolve into a singularity of purpose) and featured actual dancing. McKernan won the audience vote (if foyer talk was anything to go by, Eke was also highly popular).

If there was a shortage of remarkable dancing in the final of the Keir Choreographic Award, there were ample signs of a young generation’s preoccupation with the body relative to its mediatised self, states of being, game structure and installation, none of them particularly new but certainly warranting renewed and regenerative investigation. Matthew Day (as evident in previous works) is the most idiosyncratic choreographer but his durational approach doesn’t mesh well with a competition requiring 20-minute creations (he came in around 10 minutes). Although conventional notions of dance haven’t figured highly in the finals, there are choreographic sensibilities at work, if not to everyone’s taste.

Expressions of disgruntlement centred on a perceived appropriation of dance by other art forms, not least the electronic arts, hence disappointment at the selection of video artist Shaun Gladwell as a semi-finalist (the award is open to non-dance artists who don’t necessarily even work with dancers) and irritation with Atlanta Eke’s limited movement palette and a po-mo overload of references that don’t add up to dance. Ironically, the movement to centre-stage of other practices in dance has been fostered by a generation of successful Australian choreographers who have fruitfully collaborated with photographic, video, sound, fashion, music and installation artists to yield aesthetically and intellectually ambitious works in which dance is primary but at the same time one part of an array of forces corralled by artists who describe themselves first as directors, then as choreographers.

There are dance artists and followers who feel that dance is being buried alive beneath other artforms—or displaced by notions of what constitutes art. Therefore, Natalie Abbott’s Maximum is not a dance work, it’s ‘just conceptual;’ Antony Hamilton’s Keep Everything is ‘over-blown,’ ‘tricksy dance theatre’ (although the dancers’ virtuosic skills are much admired, as if not choreographed), but Narelle Benjamin’s Hiding in Plain Sight is ‘the real thing’—entirely a dance work, one comfortably rooted in the lyrically fluent modern dance tradition of the last century, if blessed with the choreographer’s idiosyncratic demands on the body’s flexibility. Angst has also been expressed about recent works by Philip Adams and Luke George (page 26) which evoke ritual, the spiritual and the paranormal, their creations more akin to live art than dance. Is dance about to go missing?

Modernism’s challenge to ballet early in the 20th century and the Postmodern upheavals of the 1960s are still being felt in an artform which is at once born of highly disciplined, inherently conservative training, often from childhood, and a sometimes surprising openness to experiment. A desire for purity of expression has been central to these movements, expression freed of theatricality, narrative and psychologising—pure dance, of itself and nothing more. The Trisha Brown: From All Angles (see p15) program in the Melbourne International Arts Festival in October will track the evolution of this artist’s seminal aesthetic from un-dancerly performance art-like events to highly integrated, collaborative stage works—without Brown ever abandoning first principles.

Dance in the early 21st century is hugely diverse, complex and rampantly hybrid; it’s not surprising that there’s a desire to return to something essential (as in certain improvisational practices) or to at least further the abstraction and clarity of line in the dance of the second half of the 20th century with its entwined lineage of ballet, Modernism and Postmodernism.

Is a (mostly) generational battle looming over form and a perceived subordination of dance to other forms, or was it just a Sydney thing—in a state without a major dance school, with small university dance courses under threat and inordinately strong competition for arts funding? Given the unusually passionate, if not loudly expressed, opinions about the Keir Choreographic Awards (predictably there were complaints about the appropriateness of the judging panel, which included Mårten Spångberg, “the acclaimed ‘bad boy’ of [European] contemporary dance” [press release]), it would be healthy for the Sydney dance scene, and beyond, if these views were publicly discussed rather than rumoured. Was there dancing? Will there be dancing?

It is critical, from time to time, to ask what constitutes dance and how it renews and extends and even perhaps limits itself—as in the 90s with the incorporation of a greater range of body regimes and technologies. Interviewed in Bodies of Thought: 12 Australian Choreographers (RealTime-Wakefield Press, 2014), choreographer Helen Herbertson says, “…there’s such an enormous scope for dance to be applied. I almost feel like it’s lost a kind of specificity of being about physicality… So I think we are slightly in danger of dance looking like it’s just a kind of tool to be used. I’m waiting for a kind of re-flowering of really specific, particular detailed language.”

Congratulations to Atlanta Eke and Jane McKernan and to Phillip Keir and his partners, Carriageworks and Dancehouse, for bravely supporting emergent choreography in whatever form it takes. Long may the Awards persist and, like many an art prize, controversially test our collective taste and judgment.

Carriageworks, Dancehouse and The Keir Foundation: Keir Choreographic Award, finals, Carriageworks, 17-19 July; Performance Space, SCORE, Carriageworks, Sydney, 1 Aug-7 Sept

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 29

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

Tom Lane, Katherine O’Malley, Wake, Chamber Made Opera

Tom Lane, Katherine O’Malley, Wake, Chamber Made Opera

Tom Lane, Katherine O’Malley, Wake, Chamber Made Opera

What looks like a coffin but sounds like a musical instrument? Rory Grubb’s original electric ceramophone, as seen in Chamber Made Opera’s Irish-Australian production Wake as part of Limerick City of Culture.

What first appears to be a rather macabre white coffin, funereally draped outside the back garden patio door of an exquisite Limerick family home, later reveals itself to be embedded with tuned ceramic pots and clever electronic components. The metaphoric significance of flowerpots embedded into a coffin is quite poignant, if you stop and think about it. But apparently that was all my own projection, as their functional raison d’être, invented by Grubb, who plays them, is genuinely acoustic.

That’s the thing about this open, subtle show—directed by Maeve Stone in association with an eclectic pantheon of collaborators—it offers space for the spectator to make his or her own associations, and is not at all pushy. It creeps up on you and suddenly you find yourself in its grip, all emotional, and wondering ‘how did that happen?’

When you set foot across the threshold of this dream home in South Circular Road, you are invited to take your shoes off and roam freely around the entire ground floor, to sink into the sofas, listen to the grand piano being played nonchalantly by Fionnuala Gygax, or hang out with the sombre Katherine O’Malley in her slo-mo sandwich making (you’ll be eating them later, as at any wake you have ever attended). Here, there are clever video projections, by the staircase, on the ceiling, in the media room, all by Australian Christie Stott. There, on the table in the drawing room is a pile of sympathy cards, all addressed to “The Ryan Family.”

We accompany the bereaved O’Malley on her thoughtful, pathos-imbued domestic preparations for a familiar ritual that is more than likely about to take place. It feels like being in a hyper-real movie at points. Even though as we wander around the beautiful home at our own volition, we wonder, is this it? Will anything happen? Grubb plays a bicycle wheel like a cello. Tom Lane dons his electric guitar.

In our own time, all 25 of us one by one take a seat around the large sandwich-making table and O’Malley, the woman of the house, executes a subtle choreography around and on top of it, sometimes catching it and shaking it. She locates a crumpled piece of paper with her personal, lowly uttered speech written out on it. Okay, she has to deliver this. Reluctantly, accompanied by a few bars from Lane on electric guitar, she articulates her fragmented few words about her mother, whom she had, she says, for 39 years of her life. The ceramophone kicks into action outside the window.

Then the bit we were all hoping would happen, to bring this poignant ritual to a close—we are offered sandwiches, whiskey and port.

Katherine O’Malley, Wake, Chamber Made Opera

Katherine O’Malley, Wake, Chamber Made Opera

Katherine O’Malley, Wake, Chamber Made Opera

The eternal topic of death can be approached in a number of different ways. While over at the Galway International Arts Festival, the play Ballyturk is wowing crowds with a high-octane, frantic, hyper-charged Enda Walsh attack on the subject, here in a leafy Limerick suburb, Chamber Made Opera is adopting a subtle, less is more strategy to deal with the same unavoidable fact of our mortality.

The Australian company, imported by Limerick City of Culture to collaborate with an array of talented Irish artists, manifests its mission statement of re-inventing our bellowing, big-lunged impressions of what opera can be, with quirky little instruments, the unsaid, heartfelt mutterings and careful installations and interventions in an actual family home. Catch this gorgeous experience if you can.

This review originally appeared in the online magazine Vulgo and is reproduced with permission.

Limerick City of Culture Commission: Chamber Made Opera, Wake, concept, director Maeve Stone [IRE], concept John Rodgers [AUS], performer, choreographer Katherine O’Malley, composer, sound design Tom Lane [IRE], video design Christie Stott [AUS], dramaturg Tamara Saulwick [AUS], musician, sound design Roy Grubb [IRE]; Limerick, Ireland, 15-20 July

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 44

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

At Carriageworks on September 12, we celebrated 20 uninterrupted years of RealTime—its writers, editors, staff and clients, our Open City Inc Board of Management (publisher of RealTime) and especially our readers, supporters and the artists we treasure.

The evening commenced with the launch of Bodies of Thought: 12 Australian Choreographers, jointly published by RealTime and Wakefield Press. Choreographer Sue Healey, one of the book’s subjects, spoke of its importance for her and Carin Mistry (Dance, Australia Council) launched it. The editorial duo, Erin Brannigan and Virginia Baxter, thanked contributors, reflected on their labours of love and mused over some of the big questions about Australian dance the book confronts.

The birthday celebrations proper commenced with speeches of reflection and congratulation from Open City Chair Tony MacGregor, sponsor Andrew Findlay, Managing Director, Vertical Telecoms (Vertel) and Andrew Donovan, Director, Emerging & Experimental, Australia Council. Managing Editors Virginia Baxter and Keith Gallasch reciprocated with a curated suite of 20 one-minute performances (one for each of our 20 years) gifted to RealTime by Nigel Kellaway, Julie-Anne Long, Edward Scheer, Felicity Clark, Amanda Stewart, Nalina Wait, post [Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose], Miranda Wheen, Caroline Wake. Katia Molino, Ruark Lewis, Clare Britton & Matt Prest, Gail Priest, David Williams, Jason Noble [Ensemble Offspring], Vicki Van Hout, Rosie Dennis, Sam James and Keith and Virginia themselves, to a sound score by Gail Priest.

Thanks to all who spoke, performed and attended and to the generous Carriageworks team. This was a wonderfully affectionate and truly communal celebration.

Virginia, Keith, Gail, Katerina & Felicity


Clockwise from top right – Tony MacGregor, Open City Chair; Virginia Baxter and Erin Brannigan; Annemarie Jonson, Alessio Cavallaro, former OnScreen editors, photo Sandy Edwards; writer Edward Scheer, writer and former contributing editor Jacqueline Millner, photo Sandy Edwards; Keith Gallasch & Virginia Baxter


Clockwise from top rightMiranda Wheen, Nalina Wait, Mish Grigor & Natalie Rose, Vicki Van Hout, Jason Noble, Katia Molino

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 30-31

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

L’Orfeo

L’Orfeo

L’Orfeo

The story of this early (1607) opera is based on the mythic journey of Orpheus to the Underworld to retrieve the love he lost to snakebite on their wedding day. Orpheus’ divine music persuades Pluto to allow Eurydice to return with him to the human world, but Orpheus’ weakness has him look back to make sure she is following. He thus breaks the barter, and she disappears forever. The story represents music’s capacity to celebrate and persuade, reflect love and despair, and to struggle with human fallibility—as musicians daily do with their instruments. At the end, Apollo pities Orpheus’ compassion for suffering and raises him to the heavens.

Monteverdi’s opera, with its delicate Baroque vocal ornamentation, coupled with a restless continuo and peppered with harmonic discords, holds together these worlds of contradiction between human effort and transcendence. Although I’m not sure these delicate tensions are successfully realised in this production—a joint effort between national and international designers, specialist period instrumentalists and singers and the Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics along with School of Music alumni and current students—it certainly has its achievements.

Conductor and Head of the School of Music Peter Tregear wanted the production to be “generation defeating” by virtue of its digital elements. Certainly, Llewellyn Hall packed in the younger crowds. A digital set is also “cost-effective, infinitely recyclable and already receiving interest from other productions overseas.” Indeed, there were gorgeous moments in Andrew Quinn’s design: when the ‘forest’ of columns bows to Orpheus’ arrival (a reference to Shakespeare’s Henry VIII where trees “did bow themselves when he did sing”); in the depiction of the journey across the river Styx, the boat a stunning row of shingles, sea-water shimmering below; and in Hades’ dark-plinthed mausoleum, which called to mind the ‘grief museums’ designed by Daniel Libeskind.

Perhaps if the oscillograph—a projection for the audience tracking the musical score, manipulated by the digital operator—could become more responsive to the actual dynamics of the orchestra, it would be a less plodding device. Even so, I’m not sure that ‘seeing’ the shape-of-music-made-literal really works. It begs the question of what we see in theatre’s ‘empty space.’ It’s the role of director and performers to realise just how active, engaged and relational it already is.

Despite Liz Lea’s sprightly choreography, Orpheus and Eurydice’s wedding is strangely unjoyous, although some of its sombre tone must be attributable to Allessandro Chiodo’s rather stark lighting design. Other key dramatic interactions were lost: for example, Orpheus’s Act III aria to the Ferryman does not seem sung to the space between the two of them—which surely it is: Charon is mesmerised and charmed by Orpheus’ desperate need to have him sleep, as much as by the song’s melodic contours. A key dramatic interaction is lost.

The diction of young graduates, Lachlan McIntyre and Nicholas Beecher, were exceptional, as were the vocal, dramatic and emotional power of Krystle Innes as the messenger of Eurydice’s death and Paul McMahon as Apollo. As for other title roles, the visuals projector was so loud that many times singers could hardly be heard. What a strain for such fine performers.

Chiodo’s lighting design is at its best in the Underworld scenes, where figures seem to float and emerge from the darkness—occasionally reminding me of Brian Thomson’s design for Britten’s Death in Venice for the Australian Opera in the 1990s, but the bright spotlight on Eurydice just when she is lost to Orpheus forevermore is very strange. There is also some awkward plotting at sensitive moments in Act III when tenor Nicholas Mulroy as Orpheus struggled to move cross-stage into patches of light, disrupting the superb poignancy of his aria. In the final scene, Apollo’s digitised ‘exploding star’ seemed gauche against the delicacy of the music.

The Baroque style is generally less rich than the more familiar Bel Canto, partly due to the nature of baroque instruments—thinner gut for strings and harpsichord, smaller reeds and bores for winds. But L’Orfeo’s richness comes from the tensions layered between the continuum motion of orchestral instruments and the plaintive qualities of voice expanded into expressive bouts of melisma. One singer confided that her training in jazz helped her meet the music’s demands. Like the quality of light and shade created by wind through leaves, Monteverdi’s melismas catch more emotion and nuance than any literal interpretation.

The ANU School of Music with the School of Art and the Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics: L’Orfeo, composer, Claudio Monteverdi, libretto Alessandro Striggio, translation Anne Ridler, musical director Peter Tregear, director Cate Clelland, digital set Andrew Quinn, lighting Allessandro Chiodo, costumes Nadine Geary-James, Deul Seo, choreographer Liz Lea; Llewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music, Canberra, 21-22 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 45

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

Cypher, Nick Power, Junction Arts Festival

Cypher, Nick Power, Junction Arts Festival

Cypher, Nick Power, Junction Arts Festival

In an early interaction with a local, I ask what he is most looking forward to seeing at Launceston’s Junction Arts Festival in 2014. As we flick through the program guide together he remarks, “This isn’t really an arts festival. It’s more an events festival.” He’s instantly a little embarrassed at his apparent ignorance about what constitutes ‘art.’ What he had picked up on though is at the centre of the curatorial vision of the festival.

The artworks in the program this year were events. Each project possessed only a subtle artistic frame around an encounter between artist and audience. The works were not just for an audience but also made with and between them. That is the nature of art as event. It is a rupture in which people are necessary. It actively privileges the public, both their gaze and their presence. To borrow a line that I love to quote, but cannot remember where from: “It is not about something, it is something.”

Events took forms that ranged from script-reading to guided walk to dance battle to workshop to party-for-one. They were situated in a range of places—theatre, gallery, shop-front, warehouse, function room, park, car park, river and other public sites across town. The event-ness of these projects offered the potential to invite Launceston audiences to displace their typical status as subordinate to an artist and their artwork and instead take on their own agency and active interpretation within the established framework.

Nassim Soleimanpour, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

There was palpable excitement in the audience of largely conservative local theatre subscribers upon entering White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. We walked through the grand auditorium of The Princess Theatre and onto the stage. A meta-stage had been demarcated in white electrical tape, around which the audience sat in rows of chairs. Theatricality in terms of lighting and sound is renounced, and the set is simply a ladder, a table, and two glasses of water. A local actor enters carrying an envelope. He opens it and removes the script for the show. It is the first time he’s seen the text. He reads it to us.

The performance focuses on the presence of the audience, co-opting members into acting out scenes and noting biographical information on the Iranian writer and his life which we are both removed from and largely ignorant of. There is a joyous charm to be had in experiencing the actor attempting to fulfill what is stipulated in his script. Ultimately the work is a confrontation with the words he speaks: words via which the playwright has ‘travelled’ to Launceston, in order to conjure the performance through this intermediary. Everyone present is unified through the event of the script-reading. We have moved beyond a representational theatre experience and into the theatrical experience of an event. Because of this, a collective voice of the audience takes over the work in the concluding moments of the show. Despite what feels like a far-fetched provocation in the text, the majority in attendance band together to prevent the actor from drinking the glasses of water that have been said to be poisoned. Indeed, the actor too appears somewhat worried about the possible result.

Nick Power, Cypher

In Cypher we have another performance space demarcated in white tape. This is a break-dancing circle, known as a ‘cypher.’ In it the codes, conventions and gestures of ‘breaking’ and ‘battling’ are abstracted and appropriated by four break-dancers towards making a contemporary dance work that alternately has the performers competing with each other and dancing together. The cypher circle continually fluctuates and is literally deconstructed and reconstructed by the performers. The treatment of space mirrors the treatment of the break-dance practice and brings the audience in close, looks them in the eye, and encourages them to treat this cypher as the real deal.

The cypher eventually multiplies and the audience co-inhabits these spaces with the performers, before the performers hand them over entirely to the audience who dance within them. What the audience perform is shameless parody, a by-product of the representation and consumption of mediatised subcultures. As the light slowly fades, the show ends with a poignant moment of silence, a final repetition of synchronicity: we hear in the breath of the dancers the labour expended in their virtuosity. For a moment they are only human after all, and not that different from us.

Cypher is a thoroughly entertaining demonstration of the ‘breaking’ subculture. Sequences condense and repeat as rituals move towards the cathartic threshold of collapsing the work’s dance form and including the audience in an event that continues in the space post-show as enthusiastic children play at the break-dancing moves they have just seen.

Big One Little One, Confetti

After standing in a line for a little over 30 minutes I am instructed to knock on a door. It opens with screams of delight and two young women pull me into a tiny room. Silver streamers line the walls. I am offered a shot of vodka. I am spun around and instructed to strike a piñata. I am presented with a birthday cake and told to blow out its solitary candle. We dance. They strip a layer of clothing. Confetti is thrown. It’s over. I am ushered out. The concentrated joy of the minute-long work Confetti, by Australian collective Big One Little One (NSW-VIC) was the representation of a party rather than a genuine party-event. It was the formulaic machine of a party performed identically on repeat, with the audience as the anonymous trigger. The subject celebrated was the rather dehumanising act of partying itself—relentlessly and forever, and in a bittersweet way, always wanting something more.

Abigail Conway, Time Lab

UK artist Abigail Conway’s Time Lab performance exemplified one of the subtlest artistic frames at the festival. It takes the form of a workshop in which we individually make items of jewelry out of broken wristwatches. We are greeted in a shop-front by the artist and briefed on what is to happen. We are directed behind a curtain where a clinical workshop laboratory has been set up. There is an individual station for each of us, with all manner of utensils we will need for our arts and crafts session. The artist then leaves us entirely to our own devices, informally focused on making something of our time. The artist is there to provide assistance, but only really addresses us again to encourage us to finish when the hour-long workshop is nearly over. She then wants to document our pieces and have us answer personal and conceptual questions on the idea of time, for a publication that will provide a bigger picture of the travelling project.

The work privileged the workshop event over any sort of artistic conceit and was essentially handed over to us as genuine workshop participants. We became bricoleurs, for the artist and for ourselves, of transience itself. Timepieces of course are not time itself, but act as our representational measuring devices as we vainly attempt to control it. In Time Lab that representation is reconfigured into a personalised decoration—we each left with an individual pearl that somehow managed to personify the formlessness of transience.

Junction Arts Festival, 10-14 September, www.junctionartsfestival.com.au

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 14

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

Sacha Cohen, The Three Minute Bacchae and other Extreme Acts, 2008, PACT

Sacha Cohen, The Three Minute Bacchae and other Extreme Acts, 2008, PACT

Sacha Cohen, The Three Minute Bacchae and other Extreme Acts, 2008, PACT

For 50 years Sydney’s PACT has been a seedbed for artists of all kinds, most recently those engaging with contemporary performance and live art. In the late 60s and early 70s it was a vital hub for folk music, adventurous theatre (a multi-site production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt) and happenings. In following decades it focused on youth theatre.

Nowadays titled PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, the organisation “supports, produces and presents interdisciplinary and experimental performance work by emerging artists from diverse backgrounds…providing a space (its home theatre in Erskinville in Sydney’s inner West) for artists, where all aspects of experimental performance can converge in a vibrant and holistic community.”

Originally housed on the edge of the Sydney CBD, near Darling Harbour, PACT was founded by a group led by Robert Allnutt, Jack Mannix and Patrick Milligan in response to the Federal Government’s Vincent Committee Report that “highlighted the dire state of Australia’s performing arts, film and television industries.” This was at a time when the arts landscape was thinly populated, largely prior to the emergence of state and independent theatre and dance companies in the late 60s and into the 70s and of an incipient film industry. PACT (Producers, Authors, Composers and Talent, and later Producers, Artists, Curators, Technicians) aimed to develop a range of practitioners who would enrich Australian culture.

Alumni include a kaleidoscope of significant names in Australian arts and entertainment including Peter Weir, Graham Bond, Zoe Carides, Lara Thoms, Matt Prest, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose and Zoe Coombs Marr (post), Malcolm Whittaker, Alison Richardson, Augusta Supple, Sally Lewry, Ashley Dyer, Nick Atkins, Natalie Randall, Daniel Prypchan, Jane Grimley, Caroline Wake, Amity Yore and Ling Zhao. PACT has yielded directors, performers, writers, curators, choreographers, filmmakers, digital media artists, sound, lighting, set and costume designers, technicians, artistic directors, cultural producers and marketing managers.

As the cultural landscape transformed over 50 years, so too did PACT, focusing in recent decades on young and then specifically emerging artists—ranging from late teens well into their 20s, eager to learn, collaborate and engage directly with the public while on the cusp of their careers.

The PACT IS FIFTY birthday audience will be addressed by Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, and entertained by past and present PACT artists and artistic directors (who have included Caitlin Newton Broad, Anna Mesariti, Cat Jones, Julie Vulcan and now Katrina Douglas). There’ll also be screenings of rare archival footage and the launch of PACT’s 2015 program.

In RealTime 124 we’ll report on the celebrations and take a close look at PACT’s distinctive history and the breadth and depth of its sense of community. A visit to the Previous Events pages of PACT’s website offers a glimpse of a decade of engagement with young artists, arts organisations, festivals and communities. An extra 40 years adds up to a remarkable achievement.

PACT IS FIFTY, PACT, 107 Railway Parade, Erskineville, Sydney Saturday 18 Oct 6-9pm

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 32

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

Philip Glass Trilogy, Akhnaten

Philip Glass Trilogy, Akhnaten

Philip Glass Trilogy, Akhnaten

Though considered radically experimental when first produced, Philip Glass’s early operas have become standard repertoire because of their enduring musical strength and originality. Glass’s initial three—Einstein on the Beach (co-written with director Robert Wilson and choreographer Lucinda Childs, 1976), Akhnaten (1980) and Satyagraha (1983)—form what he called a portrait trilogy, paying homage to significant figures: Einstein the physicist, Mahatma Gandhi the civil rights champion and Akhnaten, the Egyptian pharaoh who revolutionised religious belief during his reign, all legendary figures who have god-like status.

But these operas are not conventional theatrical stories—Einstein on the Beach is not a story at all, but a choral, instrumental and dance performance with spoken texts addressing contemporary society.

It was with Einstein on the Beach that Glass and Wilson broke new ground, introducing a unique kind of formalism into the territory of conservative opera culture. Wilson had previously created theatre pieces of many hours’ or even days’ duration, dissolving the barrier between theatre and life. Einstein on the Beach is intended to run four–five hours without a break, during which the audience can come and go. But in its 2014 production, State Opera SA breaks it into four discrete acts, each of 50 minutes, with intervals, while still retaining the five “knee plays” linking the four acts. State Opera has reinvented Einstein on the Beach, retaining its essential character while enabling a high level of concentrated performance by the dancers and singers. Importantly, it changes the dynamic for the audience, so that instead of the opera appearing as one long immersion with which you interact as you wish, you now focus on the four parts. The result is breathtakingly intense.

State Opera does not use the original set design. Nor is the violinist, the wonderful Carolyn Lam, who also doubles on keyboard, dressed as Einstein but is instead seated with the other musicians centre-stage—except when she briefly engages in a dance passage while playing. Thus we hear but don’t see the figure of Einstein. State Opera’s design is spare, emphasising the dancers and the music while reducing visual cues to essentials. The central visual feature is a huge floating black triangular form that hovers above the performers.

The highlight of the trilogy is dancer Rebecca Jones’ performance in Einstein on the Beach, superbly delivering the Supermarket speech while en pointe. Her exquisite execution of classical ballet moves is in startling contrast to her rumination on mundane urban life—she’s a creative soul searching for meaning. The choreography throughout Einstein is superb, as the dancers move around the stage in close proximity to the musicians, as if feeding off the music. The five musicians form a central visual element, as does Timothy Sexton’s conducting, which links all the movement on stage to the complex musical structure with mathematical precision.

The State Opera Chorus is the driving force in all three operas. Producing a peerless sound, their controlled, tireless repetition of Glass’s musical figures creates hypnotic rhythms, building a chant that overwhelms all other thought, as if music represents the laws of physics governing the universe. As the musical patterns repeat and mutate, we are reminded of the repeating behaviours that characterise life on Earth and its evolution. In Einstein, the chorus repeats the solfege scale or a series of numerals as if they are mantras. The three operas are meditations and an education in the appreciation of mathematical complexity rendered as music. Throughout the trilogy, Sexton directs both musicians and chorus, managing entrances and multiple rhythms. The musicians are superb, brilliantly rendering Glass’s music. Vocal soloists Adam Goodburn (an excellent Ghandi), Cherie Boogaart and Deborah Caddy are outstanding, all having roles in both Akhnaten and Satyagraha in the same week.

State Opera’s most significant move in producing this trilogy is in inviting choreographer Leigh Warren to direct. Dance is a central element of Einstein, and Warren also recreates Akhnaten and Satyagraha through some wonderful choreography. In Akhnaten, the black-clad dancers swirl around the white-robed chorus and the soloists who are in contemporary western clothes. The dancers appear as a life force, their vitality and suppleness contrasting the measured, ritualised movement of the soloists.

Again in Satyagraha (the word refers to non-violent protest), the dancers envelop the singers in movement representing turbulent human and cosmic forces, or they become crowds or mimic forms such as lotus flowers opening. The most conventional of the operas, Satyagraha is exquisitely slow. There is a narrative element but the music, the singing (in Sanskrit) and the dance overwhelm it—unlike the other two operas, there is no outline in the program notes, implicitly inviting us to treat Satyagraha as a visual and musical experience to be appreciated rather than a story to be understood.

While thematically the operas represent science, politics and religion, the overarching framework becomes religion, or rather a raised level of spiritual consciousness. Refraining from any didactic or evaluative position, the operas are a celebration of three ideal, heroic figures. This trilogy is the core of Glass’s oeuvre, and through their musical linking, the three operas appear as a single work that is greater than the sum of the parts. Staging the three so successfully is a huge achievement.

State Opera of SA, Philip Glass Trilogy: Akhnaten, Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, director, choreographer Leigh Warren, director, conductor, chorus master Tim Sexton, Leigh Warren Dancers, Adelaide College of the Arts Dance Ensemble, Members of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Adelaide Art Orchestra, designer Mary Moore, lighting Geoff Cobham; Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, 5, 7, 9 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 46

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

Treasured Photos of Random Strangers, James Dive, The Glue Society for Art and About Sydney

Treasured Photos of Random Strangers, James Dive, The Glue Society for Art and About Sydney

Right time, right place during the City of Sydney’s annual Art & About you could find yourself part of a group portrait taken by James Dive of the aptly titled Glue Society in the series Treasured Photos of Random Strangers. Why not celebrate the joys of randomness? Nice change.

Celebrating art is big and getting bigger. The long Spring-Summer festival season is underway. We report on OzAsia, Darwin Festival, Launceston’s Junction Festival, look back to the European Summer’s Avignon Festival and Odin Teatret’s Holstebro Festuge in Denmark and preview the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the Proximity Festival of one-on-one short works.

Philip Brophy and Dan Edwards were impressed by films about music from Nepal, Britain, Bali and India in the documentary program of the Melbourne International Film Festival, surely countering psychologist Stephen Pinker’s view that, in terms of human evolution, music is now merely “auditory cheesecake for the mind.”

There’s plenty of reading for dance fanciers with reviews of new works in Perth, Townsville (a Dancenorth-Tasdance collaboration), Cairns, Parramatta, Adelaide (Leigh Warren and the Glass Operas), Dunedin (NZ) and Performance Space’s SCORE season, plus an interview with American dancer Michael Schumacher who will be in Perth in November for the MoveMe Improvisation Festival.

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 3

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

When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing, Heiner Goebbels, Melbourne International Arts Festival

When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing, Heiner Goebbels, Melbourne International Arts Festival

When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing, Heiner Goebbels, Melbourne International Arts Festival

If you’re wondering what choices to make for the 2014 Melbourne International Arts Festival, there are several major productions that might take you out of yourself, or deep inside, as the best art does: Heiner Goebbels’ When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing; Trisha Brown, From All Angles and Chunky Move’s Complexity of Belonging.

These should be seen alongside the festival’s expansive circus program, Dewey Dell’s Marzo (from the progeny of Italy’s Castellucci family) and Roslyn Oades’ Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday (see Caroline Wake’s interview with Oades), and there’s much else to experience.

Heiner Goebbels, When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing

Master theatre maker Heiner Goebbels has been a recurrent guest of Australia’s international arts festivals, always surprising us with large-scale works with strong musical foundations, exquisite design and a mind-bending theatrical sensibility. The visits commenced with Black on White, with Ensemble Modern (Adelaide, 1998), Max Black (Adelaide, 2000), Surrogate Cities (Queensland Music Festival, 2003), Stifters Dinge (Melbourne, 2010) and Eraritjaritjaka (Sydney 2013), the latter featuring a very brave string quartet, an actor reciting phrases from the work of Elias Canetti in a dissociative meditation, and, as ever, magical design. Goebbels’ design, collaboratively created, often has the stand-alone quality of an installation, not least in the performative but performer-less Stifters Dinge. We can expect nothing less than immersion in a strange world in the 2012 production When The Mountain Changed Its Clothing with its oscillation between a functional everyday and a vivid truth-telling fantasy world.

The title, drawing on a Slovenian folk song, refers to the changing of the seasons, which provides the work with both its structure and an analogy with the transitional Twilight Zone of adolescence, realised in performance by 40 girls between the ages of 11 and 20—Vocal Theatre Carmina Slovenica. These young people come from a region which has endured great social and political upheaval, reflected in Goebbels’ choice of music (indie pop, folk, propaganda and choral works), the games these young women play and diverse texts. Shirley Apthorp writes in the UK Financial Review (27 Sept, 2012), “Two teenage girls, their faces calm as a Vermeer portrait, disembowel stuffed toys with dispassionate precision as they recite Gertrude Stein’s views on the rich, the poor and the very poor. Then younger girls take the teddy-bear innards and make them float like clouds over a plastic lawn.”

As revelations about the appalling extent of child abuse escalate an increasing number of films and stage works attempt to provide insight into young lives (What Maisie Knew, Boyhood, We’re the Best) or give them the stage as in Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed’s Once and For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen (Melbourne, Sydney, Aug 2009) and Teenage Riot (Melbourne Festival, 2013). Of course not a few Australian young people’s theatre groups have consistently worked this territory. Will When The Mountain Changed Its Clothing be an adult reverie about childhood or give its performers, so powerful in song, credence in their own right—or bring adolescent and adult together in revealing collaboration?

Trisha Brown Company, Set & Reset

Trisha Brown Company, Set & Reset

Trisha Brown Company, Set & Reset

Trisha Brown: From All Angles

This series of works, talks and films from the career of a major and highly innovative figure in 20th century American dance is a Melbourne Festival centrepiece. Acclaimed for her design sensibility, intelligence and wit, choreographer Trisha Brown was one of the artists from various practices who gathered and collaborated at the Judson Memorial Church in the early 1960s, fomenting postmodern dance—anti-theatrical, non-narrative, improvisational and rooted in everyday movement. In the 70s Brown created works in which harnessed dancers walked along walls, that were performed on rooftops or operated according to game rules, mathematical sets or cellular imperatives—patterned creations that generated mobile spatial design from human movement and mostly danced without music, until 1983.

Since then, in theatre works of larger scale and design, Brown has deployed the music of Bach, Webern, Schubert, Robert Ashley and Laurie Anderson (the exhilarating Set & Reset of 1983 which you’ll see in the festival and can preview on YouTube), as well as jazz and opera. Brown’s choreography, although meticulously phrased and making unusual demands on the body (and her own in solos), continues to magically flow out of stillness or walking with an ease that defies the effort applied.

Trisha Brown: From All Angles is a once only opportunity to immerse yourself in the dance works and thinking of a great artist. In the two programs titled Pure Movement, nine works from 1978-1994, including Set & Reset, will be performed, accompanied by pre- and post show discussions. Another nine works, 1970-73, will appear in the Early Works program and nine films, including a 72-minute interview with Brown, will further extend our appreciation of the artist’s body of work. Brown retired from her company in 2011; these Melbourne Festival performances are part of the Trisha Brown Company’s farewell tour led by Associate Artistic Director Carolyn Lucas who has been with the company since 1984 and, as a dancer, originated key roles in Brown’s body of work.

Stephen Phillips and Lauren Langlois, Complexity of Belonging, Chunky Move

Stephen Phillips and Lauren Langlois, Complexity of Belonging, Chunky Move

Stephen Phillips and Lauren Langlois, Complexity of Belonging, Chunky Move

Chunky Move, Complexity of Belonging

In the beginning, the internet was heralded as utopian, a promulgator of democracy and a simplifier of just about everything. Quickly appropriated by extant and emergent commercial interests—some of them, like Google, born of the internet itself—the global online networking system has yielded increased totalitarian control (in democracies and dictatorships alike) and an illusion of freedom (to have your privacy invaded and identity stolen). Life has become more complex. Chunky Move’s new work Complexity of Belonging tackles the issue head-on: “a theatrical exposé into the daily trials of surviving in a hyper-connected, hyper-sensitive, globalised society” (press release). The work focuses on nine figures (a mix of actors and dancers) and their sense of identity, in terms of nationality, gender, sexuality and history. Leading German playwright Falk Richter (writing here in English) and also the director of this production, has drawn on the lives of the performers, but they will not be playing themselves. Typically his writing borders on the surreal while being bluntly and sometimes satirically political.

But Complexity of Belonging is not a play. It is choreographed and co-created by Chunky Move’s artistic director, the Belgian Anouk van Dijk, in her fifth collaboration with Richter (the others are Nothing Hurts [1999], TRUST [2009, PROTECT ME [2010] and Rausch [2012]). Nor is it a dance work, or dance theatre. When Virginia Baxter and I saw the Richter-van Dijk Trust at the Schaubühne in Berlin in 2009 (a last minute invitation and following a rushed reading of half the inhouse English translation before entering the theatre) we were swept away by the theatre-dance synthesis, the work seamlessly slipping in and out of and merging dance and theatre. As Richter has said of the collaboration, “We were experimenting on a new art form,” in which words and movement have the same weight, where a naturalistic movement becomes dance, or words spring into telling physical shape.

In an interview for the Goethe Institut, van Dijk explains the partnership with Richter: “We share a strong interest in communicating energy, be it verbal or in movement. When we work together, Falk’s language and my choreographic eye meet as equals. We need one another to express what moves us.”

Melbourne International Arts Festival, 9-26 Oct; https://www.melbournefestival.com.au

See also the RealTime TV interview with Director Josephine Ridge

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 15

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

Nerve Engine, Bonemap

Nerve Engine, Bonemap

Nerve Engine, Bonemap

Bonemap invites one audience member every 15 minutes to participate in Nerve Engine. Designed to ensure a very personal experience, this interdisciplinary and immersive one-on-one format has been perfected by this Cairns-based company (new media artist Russell Milledge and performer and co-creator Rebecca Youdell) over the past four years.

The installation is made up of two large round netted and transparent scrims hanging from roof to floor in a darkened room. The participant, with an iPhone attached to the back of their hand, stands inside one scrim while the other, four metres in front, is empty.

I’m immediately submerged in an environment of sound and image. Four double projectors fill the corners of the room with digital imagery, all of which is stitched together by software developed by Milledge. At the same time I’m engulfed by a 4.1 sound system. The work is coordinated by Milledge from a control desk behind me. Along with the programmed light and sound, an extra layer of sound is triggered by the iPhone—influenced by my movements.

As Nerve Engine begins, a spotlight illuminates a dancer, Youdell, in a brilliant red dress dragging a treasure chest. She too has an iPhone attached to her hand and I’m gently enticed into a duet of movement, finding myself imitating her arm movements. Then through a series of gestures she almost becomes my puppet as I guide her into the chest and she disappears.

The experience lasts for approximately 10 minutes and crescendos with loud, all-encompassing drumming while the performer reappears making frenzied movements in a red tutu.

The images projected on the participant’s scrim are elemental—water, air, smoke and flames. At times there is sensory overload—images are layered, the sound is engulfing and attention repeatedly drawn to the performer—theatrically lit and always garbed in red: the red of blood, the life force and nerve engine of the work.

With Youdell suspended in space like a lab specimen in the middle of the second scrim, the work concludes with a projection of the dancer in the stance of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, linking Nerve Engine to Bonemap’s ongoing exploration into the relationship between body and universe.

Most impressive is the way image, sound, light and action combine seamlessly, the result of clever use of technology alongside physical performance. As a participant I come away feeling privileged to have been part of a unique experience—a performance orchestrated just for me.

2014 Cairns Festival, Nerve Engine, director, scenographic design, media Russell Milledge, co-director, choreographer, performer Rebecca Youdell, sound design Steven Campbell, programmer Jason Holdsworth; Cairns Entertainment Centre, 26-30 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 32

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

Matt Gingold, Filament Orkestra, 2014, What I See When I Look At Sound

Matt Gingold, Filament Orkestra, 2014, What I See When I Look At Sound

Matt Gingold, Filament Orkestra, 2014, What I See When I Look At Sound

In Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr Strangelove a group of mad military men are hunkered down in an underground bunker watching missiles fly around the world. As with much of the most paranoid science fiction, this setting was based on fact, in a command centre buried under the mountains of Colorado that is designed to withstand a nuclear hit.

In an exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Kynan Tan has created what looks like a contemporary version of this sort of bunker. We are immersed in darkness among screens animated by mute colours and thin lines. The biggest of these is a large, dual screen projection that flickers into a world map, upon which topographies and population statistics appear and disappear in a fantasy of total visibility.

Kynan Tan, What I See When I Look At Sound

Kynan Tan, What I See When I Look At Sound

Kynan Tan, What I See When I Look At Sound

Tan’s is a deep space aesthetic, one enabled by the era of information, while using this data to reimagine the earth. Contour profiles and cameras on aircraft reveal terrain that is both alien and familiar, flattening our experience of the Earth only to render it in four dimensions once more. The installation would look good in a biennale somewhere, as it makes more than a metaphor for the globalisation of information, making us feel as if we are both inside the world and out of it, immersed and abstracted from the planet all at once.

As if to completely reverse the immersive effects of this information bunker the other works in the exhibition rely on more analogue ideas. Cat Hope creates a temple of low frequency out of a dangerous looking pile of bass guitars and dirty amplifiers. The volume knobs and the placement of the guitars is just right to produce a well of bass, its density and texture shifting as we move about the room.

Cat Hope, What I See When I Look At Sound

Cat Hope, What I See When I Look At Sound

Cat Hope, What I See When I Look At Sound

Hope creates a bunker of a different kind from Tan’s, but her piece also resonates strangely with the outside world, as it creates a highly tuned awareness of subsonic and low frequencies. After meditating on Hope’s strings, my ears and body were tuned to find bass wells everywhere, sites where low frequency sounds are trapped as they echo out of air conditioners and other ambient machines.

If Hope creates some kind of 1980s-style cyberpunk temple and ashram of bass, Lyndon Blue’s Altar harks back to a psychedelic era. He places an interactive Theremin in front of a trippy, warped projection so that putting your hand into the instrument’s field distorts old footage of airships exploding and crystals forming in a laboratory. Meanwhile the sound of tape wheezes back and forth, to create something akin to a bad trip watching the History Channel, when the bright colours go muddy at 3am.

The main PICA room is dedicated to two other installations. One by Lauren Brown features headphones that produce no sound, as if to deconstruct the whole exhibition. Brown alludes to sounds by writing a column of word-sounds under ultra-violet light, in a long poem to everyday listening.

The biggest single installation here is a dense and complex arrangement of light bulbs, electrical wires, radios and relays that runs as precisely as a toy train set. In Matthew Gingold’s Filament Orkestra bulbs switch on and off in different orders, triggered by sensors that are then hooked up to speakers that also hang from the ceiling.

With the passion of a technically gifted child, Gingold can play his instrument with an intuitive sense of how his abstract grid of light can be turned into a machine of beauty. His contraption is obsessive and strange, a steampunk factory designed to solve obscure riddles. Like a template for something greater than itself, Filament Orkestra looks like an experimental model that has yet to betray its true purpose.

Lyndon Blue, Altar, What I See When I Look At Sound

Lyndon Blue, Altar, What I See When I Look At Sound

Lyndon Blue, Altar, What I See When I Look At Sound

There is a sense of occasion around this exhibition, that marks a coming of age for a couple of Perth artists, Lyndon Blue and Kynan Tan, who have long been lingering in local universities. Blue is a local polymath who plays everything from big band jazz to neo-folk and krautrock, while Tan has been creating impressive experimental sound pieces for some time.

This exhibition proves Blue and Tan can work with bigger installation spaces, while Hope used the occasion to announce she is folding her improvisational bass project Abe Sada to play more with the compositionally focused Bass Orchestra. A book launched at PICA, titled The End of Abe Sada (PICA Press, 2014), testifies to this shifting scene of low frequency improvisation.

While all of these artists work with completely different technologies, they are unified by an obsessive interest in their materials. From a set of older machines, such as bass guitars and light bulbs to Tan’s synchronised immersions and Blue’s hypnotic and hallucinatory device, the exhibition is like a poem to bunkers in space and time, illuminating a will to make caves out of wires.

In utopian fiction, there are always two characters. The first is the visionary who inspires others with his ideas about changing the world, while the second is the tinkerer, who will get madly enthusiastic about the details. Each of these installations shifts between the two points of view, as its artists realise some grand idea but only through an obsessive-compulsive attention to detail.

The wires of Gingold’s light bulb system extending to the PICA ceiling, the ridiculous collection of bass guitars and the old school optical distortions of Blue’s psychic projection all testify to the madness of artists at work. They come together because each of them displays a certain eccentricity, an interest in fiddling with things when others would have lost interest.

The evidence—making things work, and showing them off—is something that is often lost when art is taken into bigger galleries. Here the banality of the materials, the evidence of an artist’s madness, pulls this exhibition into a tactile realm. The mediation of sound and vision takes place as we listen to switches and watch the vibration of strings.

What I See When I Look At Sound, curator Leigh Robb, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth, 12 July-31 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 47

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

Jalanan

Jalanan

In an age in which many people’s experience of popular music comprises corporatised pre-packaged pap masquerading as televised talent quests, it’s easy to forget what a powerful agent of change music can be. An unexpected thread affirming the possibilities of musical expression bound a diverse range of documentaries at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).

Jalanan

This debut feature from Canadian-born, Bali-based Daniel Ziv was the surprise hit of MIFF, deservedly taking out the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary. Mixing casual interviews and observational footage, the film sparkles with the personality of its three subjects—Ho, Boni and Titi—as they eke out a living busking on Jakarta’s public buses. They don’t rely on regurgitated Neil Young songs however. These performers often pen their own tunes, rife with satire and loaded political comment. At one point, for example, we hear the dreadlocked Ho calling for Indonesia to hang officials who have corrupted the nation. Boni also sings of current events and life on the street, drawing on his experiences living under a road bridge for the last decade. Titi is one of the few female buskers working the capital, using her sweet voice to support herself as she tries to gain a high school certificate as a mature-age student.

Over the five years traced by the film, the lives of Ho, Boni and Titi undergo some radical and unexpected transformations. Despite the hardships they endure, the overriding tone of the film stresses empowerment through creative expression, a feeling reinforced by Titi’s presence at the MIFF screenings. A season of Jalanan at a Jakarta cinema has apparently made Titi something of a star in her homeland, and she played at several campaign rallies for the popularist new president-elect, Joko Widodo. An inspiring story about our rapidly transforming northern neighbour.

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets

Expecting another standard issue rockumentary, I’d skipped over Florian Habicht’s film about British rock act Pulp when making my MIFF selections. But a ticket landed in my hand at the last minute through a stroke of luck for which I’m now grateful. Unlike most rock documentaries, Habicht’s film doesn’t take the viewer’s love of the band for granted. In fact, the film is only peripherally about the group. Its real interest is in the origins of Pulp’s music on the streets of Sheffield, and what their songs mean to those who live in the city. This very un-hagiographic approach is all the more surprising given the film was made in collaboration with Pulp’s frontman, Jarvis Cocker.

Habicht structures his film around Pulp’s final concert in their northern hometown at the end of a 2012 reunion tour. In the days leading up to the gig, he talks informally with Cocker and other band members, as well as many people on the streets of Sheffield. The diehard fans are here, as you’d expect. But so is a wonderfully eccentric newspaper hawker, a former colleague of Cocker’s in a local market, a wayward young couple living rough, and a range of elderly locals who would have been grey even in Pulp’s heyday of the mid-1990s.

The result is a cross-generational ode to the importance of popular music in British culture. It’s a measure of the film’s achievement that I came out a Pulp convert—not so much for what I saw of the band, but for the down-to-earth honesty they convey through their involvement in a down-to-earth project. Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets is a timely reminder of just how intelligent and poignant pop music can be.

Jai Bhim Comrade

Jai Bhim Comrade

Jai Bhim Comrade

Part of MIFF’s India in Flux strand of contemporary documentaries from the subcontinent, Jai Bhim Comrade is an epic work from one of India’s master documentarians, Anand Patwardhan. Fourteen years in the making, it traces the struggles of India’s Dalit Caste (the so-called “untouchables”) in the wake of a massacre by police at a protest in 1997. It does so from a grassroots perspective, homing in on Dalit activism through performance and song.

The level of detail presented here through interviews, voiceover narration, observational footage and videoed performances is not easy to digest, especially for viewers not familiar with India’s complex history or intricate caste system. But Jai Bhim Comrade provides a fascinating insight into the country’s recent political upheavals from a point of view we never see on nightly news bulletins.

The film begins with the death of Dalit singer Vilas Ghogre, who hangs himself in the wake of the 1997 massacre. Over the next decade and a half we follow attempts to bring the police involved in the killings to justice, as well as the broader fight for empowerment of the Dalit caste. All of this takes place against a backdrop of rising Hindu nationalism, signified by the ascendance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Frighteningly, Patwardhan’s camera shows that due to a systematic campaign of disinformation by the BJP confusion reigns in the Dalit community about who was in government in 1997.

Jai Bhim Comrade concludes with the police commander who ordered the 1997 shootings finally sentenced to life imprisonment, 14 years after the event. He is released a week later, pending an appeal that is yet to be heard. Meanwhile, Dalit musicians of the radical Kabir Kala Manch group, who perform pro-democratic, anti-caste plays and songs in rural villages, are forced into hiding as they are accused of links with Maoist Naxalite rebels.

Jai Bhim Comrade is engrossing if challenging viewing for anyone wanting to better grasp the social dynamics at play in present day India and the country’s politicised street-level culture.

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll

In the spirit of Golden Slumbers (Davy Chou, 2012), a documentary about Cambodia’s vanished cinema, John Pirozzi’s Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten attempts to unearth the lost history of Cambodian popular music of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Although the film’s subtitle reads “rock and roll,” the nation’s pop of the era comprised a diverse array of crooners, Latin-Cuban dance bands, folk singers and surf guitar groups.

Pirozzi tries to cover a lot in two hours. As well as 25-odd years of music history, he sketches the political backdrop of the war in neighbouring Vietnam and the disastrous impact it had on Cambodia. A US-backed coup against the neutral government of Norodom Sihanouk in 1970 provoked a civil war that led to the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime taking control of the country in 1975. Khmer Rouge rule extinguished virtually all forms of culture and resulted in the death of around a third of the population, including many famous musicians.

With so much to cover, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten is more about breadth than depth, but the film snappily conveys the joy popular music brought to Cambodian society as it opened up and diversified during the relatively stable years of Sihanouk’s rule. Soberingly, the film also illustrates how culture provided little defence in the face of a regime as murderous as the Khmer Rouge.

If films like Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten and Jai Bhim Comrade show some of the limitations of music as a form of cultural resistance, they also affirm that whatever the vicissitudes of history, grassroots creative expressions can always be found pulsating beneath the surface of every society. Through the unexpected connections running through these very different documentaries at this year’s MIFF, audiences were reminded of just how much music can mean when it comes from the heart and speaks to the lives of everyday people.

Melbourne International Film Festival, various venues, 31 July-17Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 16

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

Billy McPherson, Roslyn Oades, John Shrimpton, I’m Your Man rehearsals

Billy McPherson, Roslyn Oades, John Shrimpton, I’m Your Man rehearsals

Billy McPherson, Roslyn Oades, John Shrimpton, I’m Your Man rehearsals

There is a certain self-consciousness that comes over a writer when faced with interviewing an artist who conducts, edits and restages interviews for a living. I speak, of course, of Roslyn Oades, a Sydney-born, Melbourne-based artist who has spent more than a decade pioneering the form she calls “headphone verbatim.” [Actors are fed edited audio via headphones which they reproduce with precision. Eds.]

Though we have talked previously, about everything from the merits of supra- versus circum-aural headphones to the ethics of sharing other people’s stories in performance, when I get the brief for this article it occurs to me that we have never really discussed gender. What follows derives from a telephone conversation we had on the evening of September 4, four days before Oades went into rehearsal for her latest project, Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday, which will premiere at the Melbourne Festival on October 9.

Art, theatre, voice, installation

Oades identifies four paths or practices that have led her to this moment, starting with her formal training at the College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales in the early 1990s. COFA had only recently merged with UNSW and Oades was among the first students who could take art classes at Paddington as well as humanities subjects at the main campus in Kensington. She speaks fondly and proudly of training in photomedia with Anne Zahalka and in theatre with John McCallum, among others. This would be more than enough for most students, but Oades also wanted to explore acting, leading to the second strand of her practice. While still at university, Oades won a guest role on A Country Practice, where she huffed and puffed her way through a teen pregnancy and labour.

Once she had graduated, Oades continued to work in television, doing small guest roles on shows such as Police Rescue (“Leah Purcell and I were rookie cops together”) before landing a larger role on Home and Away. From 1996 to 1998, she appeared in 25 episodes as Kylie Burton before being arrested at the altar and then dying of a drug overdose in prison. Such plotlines did not so much plant the seeds of doubt, as water them; Oades was still living in Bankstown, trying to reconcile its diversity with the very white world of Summer Bay, and wondering how she might go about making her own work. So she called the Bankstown Community Arts Officer, Tim Carroll, and asked him about what he did and how he got his job. Working with Carroll at the Bankstown Youth Development Service allowed Oades to start Westside (a publication for emerging writers from the western suburbs), investigate installation art (“we filled an empty bank with gravel”) and also introduced her to Alicia Talbot and Urban Theatre Projects, which would in turn lead to her first full-length theatrical production.

In the meantime, she had also started cultivating the fourth strand of her artistic practice—voice work. In 2000, her interest in voice took her to the United Kingdom, where she recorded every accent she could while also training and working with Mark Wing-Davey and his Non-Fiction Theatre company. She came home the following year to voice the character of Tracey McBean in the children’s program of the same name. More acting work followed, but when she appeared on All Saints for a second time, eight years after the first and playing yet another infanticidal mother (“I think I’ve killed six babies and a mother during my career”), she decided she’d had enough.

Headphone verbatim theatre

Oades’ first work, Fast Cars & Tractor Engines (2005), started life as the Bankstown Oral History Project. In 2000, she helped three young artists from the area perform some excerpts for the project’s launch. Two years later, she directed a 15-minute version for Urban Theatre Projects’ Short and Sharp season; three years after that, a full-length production premiered at the Bankstown RSL, to immediate and effusive praise (see David Williams in RT70). Since then Oades has made four more headphone verbatim works, including Stories of Love & Hate (2008; RT89) and I’m Your Man (2013; RealTime 117, Darwin Festival Feature).

While Oades calls these three plays her Acts of Courage trilogy, and Currency Press is about to publish them in a volume with that very title, I sometimes think they could just as easily be called the Australian Masculinities trilogy. It is fascinating to hear men from Bankstown, Cronulla and beyond trying to impress each other as well as their female interviewer while talking about love, violence and sacrifice. In I’m Your Man in particular one is often struck by the fact that Oades must have been the only woman in the room, moments before the big fight, trying to capture what she calls “adrenaline on tape.” Of course masculinity becomes all the more intriguing in performance when an actor like Katia Molino conjures it with a mere shift of the leg and tilt of the head. This “gap,” as Oades often calls it, between an actor and their character’s gender, race, ethnicity and age, is absolutely key to headphone verbatim if it is to be anything more than a “style.” For Oades, headphone verbatim is more than a theatrical “texture or technique;” it is a “dramatic device that enables us to think about who’s allowed to say what in Australia.”

The mention of masculinity brings us to gender more broadly and how it has shaped her career. Oades tells me how “at the start of every show, I have to be talked into making it; I feel as if I have an idea but I’m not sure if it’s any good.” Happily she has always been persuaded, but having sat in on artist pitching sessions since, she thinks that this is not a personal but rather a structural issue: male artists seem “better at stepping forward” whereas women often present themselves as “team players” and thus come across as less confident. On the contrary, when a woman is confident, and does pursue her artistic vision with the same focus as one of the many feted young men, she can be perceived as “difficult” or “demanding.” These insights have arrived in part thanks to Oades’ time as Malthouse Theatre’s Female Director in Residence in 2013. Like Anne-Louise Sarks (RT116), who was in residence at Malthouse in 2011, Oades is acutely aware of being in the “right place at the right time:” next door to Urban Theatre Projects when it moved to Bankstown; ready to take a production from the margins to the mainstream when Belvoir came knocking; and in Melbourne when Malthouse initiated its scheme. Indeed, it was there that she started work on her current project.

Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday, a Melbourne Festival Malthouse premiere headphone verbatim work drawing on responses from 18- and 80-year-olds, is not the first piece she has done outside the Acts of Courage trilogy—that was a Vitalstatistix commission, Cutaway: A Portrait (2012). It is, however, her first project without Katia Molino and Oades admits to feeling slightly lost without her. Perhaps this is why she thinks that this might also be her last headphone verbatim piece, at least for a while. She says she is interested in continuing audio work but without actors. One possibility involves the audience listening to recordings or re-enactments of conversations say, between a father in prison and the son who is allowed to speak with him for 12 minutes each week.

She’s also interested in creating an immersive piece, bringing her full circle back to those Bankstown installations all those years ago. When I ask Oades about what binds the many aspects of her practice, she says simply “storytelling,” to which I would add “listening”—a vital skill for every woman in a world of “mansplaining” (see Rebecca Solnit’s essay “Men Explain Things to Me” if you haven’t already (www.tomdispatch.com).

But do not confuse listening with passivity. Roslyn Oades says she loves nothing more than “disappearing in a room, when everyone else is speaking and I’m listening. I can look quite mousey and inconsequential, but really I have a microphone. I’m recording and that’s a very powerful thing.”

Melbourne Festival & Malthouse, Roslyn Oades, Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday, Malthouse, Melbourne, 9-26 Oct

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 33

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

Alick Tipoti, Poeypiyam Angayk 2014, video

Alick Tipoti, Poeypiyam Angayk 2014, video

Alick Tipoti, Poeypiyam Angayk 2014, video

Saltwater Country: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art from the coastline, from the islands, from the beach. Places of tidal movement, silt deposition, cyclonic storms and fishing. A shoreline where people meet for the first time—perhaps in the expansion of empire or on holidays at Christmas.

Saltwater Country is social, with workshops into the Gold Coast community and Erub Island in the Torres Strait. Workshops funded through a chance meeting of one of the curators, Virginia Rigney, with Hal Morris, the CEO of the Gold Coast Waterways Authority at a talk Rigney was giving about architecture. (This being the Gold Coast the talk was held on a cruise boat.) Rigney pointed out the value of highlighting Indigenous knowledge and culture to build community engagement and the Authority came on board with funding for public programs including a five day artist camp on Stradbroke Island run by Judy Watson.

Stingrays snooze half buried in the sandy shallows all along the coast, leaving flat-loafed depressions that Watson has cast in bronze then set to float just above the gallery floor. She has also cast the detritus of the shoreline: turtle heads, kelp roots, fishing floats, chest bones. Drifting and detritus are themes for other artists as well—not surprisingly given the role of the ocean as both a slow medium for exchange and the world’s largest dump. Laurie Nilsen creates barbed wire cages for urban rubbish that finds it way from shop to trolley to car to the drains then to the mouth of the Brisbane River. Barbed wire—from his younger days as a fencer out towards Roma. Wire grew barbs in the 1870s during the colonisation of the range lands in the USA. The barbs hurt the cattle just enough so they won’t lean on the fences and break them. Country museums almost always have a small display of different types; there’s a surprising variety. It’s a strange metaphor, wrapping discarded packaging with the tool for dividing land into parcels.

Erub Arts, GhostNet Weres 2014, installation,

Erub Arts, GhostNet Weres 2014, installation,

Erub Arts, GhostNet Weres 2014, installation,

More drifting, more rubbish transformed. This time from way north. The Aru Islands are south from Papua. From here Willem Janszoon set off in the Duyfken in 1606 for the newly formed Dutch East India Company to become the first European to land in Australia, near Weipa. Nowadays maybe a fishing trawler heads out from Aru and a net gets tangled in a coral outcrop to be cut loose and drift away through the Arafura Sea. Six kilometres of plastic netting drifting along, a ghost net catching turtles for no-one then washing up on the beach at Erub Island in the Torres Strait. Erub Erwer Meta (Darnley Island Arts Centre) people take the net, free the turtles if they can, pull out the rubbish, pull apart the net, weave it into an oversized version of their traditional tool for scooping sardines in the shallows. For most people sardines come in a tin, from Portugal, Norway, Coles. For the people on Erub this is about who they are and have been, made into art and then traded to the mainland.

Also from the north is Alick Tipoti (see RealBlak, RT111) with a series of short videoed performances. Tipoti is best known for his linocuts but here we see his choreography and dance. The stage is dark and spare, the camera low, eye level for someone seated on the ground. Tipoti enters from the side, out of frame, out of darkness and into the light. He is dressed in what I take as traditional—long grass type skirt and leggings, arm bands, shell necklace and a mask that confronts the viewer with an unyielding, penetrating stare. Familiar items that can seem somewhat empty when viewed by someone with little personal cultural context in a museum but here they are transformative. It is a striking performance.

Saltwater Country next travels to the Australian Embassy in Washington and then to AAMU in Utrecht, a dedicated Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art set up by an ex-ambassador to Australia from the Netherlands. An exhibition traded across borders and across oceans to bring in the tourists and bring into being a binding chain of social relations.

And it is right that this exhibition starts at the Gold Coast, in a city that grew purely from the pleasures of the beach and at a venue originally called The Keith Hunt Community Entertainment and Arts Centre. Named after a-good-Labor-man who came up from Sydney in the 50s to run a snack bar on the Coast. Fish and Chips then local government. Years trying to get an arts centre off the ground. Became Mayor and the first civic leader in Australia to sign the petition calling for an Aboriginal Treaty. Front page news. 1981.

Saltwater Country, curators Virginia Rigney, Michael Aird, artists Vernon Ah Kee, Daniel Boyd, Michael Cook, Megan Cope, Erub Erwa Meta, Fiona Foley, Rosella Namok, Napolean Oui, Laurie Nilsen, Ryan Presley, Brian Robinson, Ken Thaiday, Alick Tipoti, Ian Waldron, Judy Watson, Gold Coast, City Gallery, 19 July-31 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 48

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

Manakamana, Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

Manakamana, Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

Almost 25 years after the onslaught of post-colonialism in academic discourse—a well-intended yet passive-aggressive critique of preceding generations of colonisation and imperialism which shaped the concept of a ‘third world’—contemporary documentaries intent on capturing those terrains have rarely broken away from the leftist-humanist slant born of those ideologies.

While musicologists work similarly to televisual and documentary ethnographers and anthropologists, musicians and their audience rarely work this way. From Ska to Electro to Rai to Jungle to Reggaeton to Congotronics (to name obvious contenders), music has not once stopped performing as a living language, born of local conditions, shaped by transformative confluences and completely conscious of its shape-shifting identity. When industry and culture clash, it’s the stuff of people getting together and making noise despite the determining semantics of their chosen tools, instruments, processes and sounds. The resulting music dictates its own hybrid identity with its own voicing, no matter how incorrect, contradictory or unsuitable its appearance.

So what happens now when music-making and documentary practices intersect? Mostly, it’s the same old post-colonial lip service being voiced despite the styles employed. Openly problematising freshness comes from the efforts of the Sensory Ethnography Laboratory, an experimental yet institutional filmmaking venture and program established in 2007 at Harvard University. Its varied results are linked by a willingness to explore cine-doco-televisual modes of encoding and inscription which forward an excess of documented data (visual and/or aural) while attempting to refrain from narrational, discursive and/or determining modes of address and commentary. It’s a utopian impulse for sure—one born of the power of poetics overcoming didacticism—yet the after-effect of this slant on documentary practice has enhanced and accentuated how sound (and by inference, music) shapes the end results.

Manakamana, Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

Manakamana, Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez’s Manakamana (2013) is possibly SEL’s most advanced example in this respect. The documentary is a suite of uninterrupted single-shots of one-way journeys in a cable-car strung high over hilly and terraced heights in Nepal, either to or from a Hindu temple at the uppermost stop of the ride. Each shot simply shows the car’s inhabitants (singles, duos and trios) sitting facing a fixed-tripod camera. Shot on Super-16mm but recorded in full and crisp digital audio, the inhabitants occupy most of the frame; we witness them observing everything we can’t fully see (beyond the layer of glass visible behind them), plus they often acknowledge the camera in a casual and nonplussed manner. It’s amazingly open in its procedure and its contents: the results are starkly experimental yet the means of production are thoroughly disclosed and evident. The surfeit of detail and the complexity of subtle inflections captured make for riveting viewing and auditing—the deliberately dumb automaton camera-work and the knowing tedium of its temporality seem to enforce rather than limit this.

Now, many critics have interpreted Manakamana in terms of ‘honesty,’ ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ due to the nature and conceit of its production. But I wonder if such knee-jerk support for ‘keeping-it-real’ documentary tropes misses the greater audiovisual complexity of the film. For many people, the absence of music and the removal of a narrational voice-over can create a ‘shock of the real’ while preventing them from realising how a documentary’s codes can determine their experience. In line with the SEL’s codes of practice, Manakamana is intent on exploring how an audience’s experience can be reconfigured by engaging with the documented material in a new and expanded way. And the locus of this activity is on the soundtrack.

Manakamana, Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

Manakamana, Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

Firstly, the film crystallises the contradiction between visual and aural modes of inscription: its grainy patina collides with its hyperreal sonics. The closer you squint at its images projected large (in the 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival), the deeper you fall into the swimming grain of the film’s abstracting surface. But the closer you listen to the soundtrack, the more you perceive the complex networking of occurrences which comprise the real-time synchronous passage of time and space in each cable-car journey. Plus, one hears much activity equally beyond the camera frame and beyond the cable car. In an evocative gesture toward self-reflexivity, the cable car becomes a type of camera obscura, positioned to be embodied within the world while encoding its place within that world.

Secondly, inasmuch as the cable car is a camera obscura, it is also a recording booth. Its domain centres the spherical immersive experience of sound all around—especially in a suspended cable car high off the ground— and translates to us a similar ‘other-worldly’ experience of the depicted environment as one which floats the listener in sound’s totality. This is a supremely ‘non-screenic’ effect. The bulk of all cinematic effects is predicated on an illusory window-on-the-world, which in turn is derived from the sensation of situating an audience in a black void box to witness images which appear to come from a zone beyond/behind the screen. Conversely, Manakamana documents its sensory environment by situating the imaginary ear smack in the middle of the world it visually captures.

This ‘non-screenic’ effect is highlighted by the thunderous shuddering clackety-booms which intermittently occur when the suspension cable passes through the structural towers dotted along the cable car route. Rather than mute these moments or mix them down, the film fully captures the sensation of being jolted by these markers of the film’s cyclical journey. Sharp transients, whelps of bass and peaks in volume shake everything: the car, its inhabitants and the cinema itself, as the booms erupt the otherwise pastoral appearance of the film’s contemplative tone. But soon enough, one is accustomed to these jolts just as the on-screen passengers appear inured to their disruption, and the film synchronises to the inhabitants’ relaxed relation to their environment.

Manakamana, Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

Manakamana, Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

But perhaps the most noticeable aspects of Manakamana’s soundtrack arise from the placing of music within this anthropological laboratory. From a trio of metal band members enthusiastically taking selfies, preening their hair while quoting/singing phrases of local folk songs from the radio, to what might be a father and son musical duo who say little but spend most of the time tuning their sarangi while playing a traditional song, the film powerfully captures the vibrancy of music as a lived language. The absence of preciousness with which these ‘characters’ breathe music while engaged in apparently oppositional activities proves how ‘second nature’ music can be, produced and experienced by musicians regardless of any contextualising or determining framework of its presentation. By the time we get to a cable car ride with five goats, one starts to even appreciate the animals’ responsive bleating as a meld of music, language and sound.

In a contemporary climate wherein everyone and everything is desperate to humanise, well, everyone and everything, Manakamana doesn’t simply provide momentary respite from this pathetically saturated realm of utopian well-wishing: it actively, materially and formally foregrounds how a commitment to an informed aesthetic practice can unleash a broader and more encompassing politics of representation. Watching the movie will only reinforce limp leanings towards the very humanism the film potentially combats. Listening to it subjects us to audiovisual incidents and environments that circumnavigate illusory humanism by instilling one with a breathtaking sense of our own insignificance.

Manakamana was the winner of the Golden Leopard award, Filmmakers of the Present, Locarno Film Festival

Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez, Manakamana, 2013, 118 mins, Melbourne International Film Festival, 7, 10 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 17

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

 Eurydice, Red Stitch

Eurydice, Red Stitch

Eurydice, Red Stitch

When a performance purports to speak to a reality outside of itself, it’s fascinating how often we put absolute faith in that claim.

I’m not referring to the more profound ontological questions raised by philosophers and undergrad theatre alike, but the simple way in which we accept the honesty of an artist who apparently draws on experience, or presents something based on research, or includes found material, quotation or documentary. This is a good thing—think how much would be lost if we approached all art with paranoid suspicion—but it’s also just one of the many, many clauses in the unwritten contract we tend to agree upon in the creative sphere.

Red Stitch, Eurydice

US playwright Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice maintains a very clear connection with a reality external to its fictional world. It retells the myth of Orpheus from the perspective of his wife, but in doing so also warps the story through an autobiographical lens. It’s a compelling proposition—merging a form of writing in which fabrication is almost unforgivable with a mythology that works on symbolic, allegorical and fantastic levels. When Eurydice arrives in the Underworld she finds her dead father there, but while her memory of him has been washed away by the river Styx, his own recollections have been imperfectly removed and he is able to reawaken their relationship.

Ruhl’s own father died of cancer in 1994 and the more effective elements of Eurydice deal with a similar loss. Nowhere in the play is explicit reference to the playwright’s own life made clear, but it is difficult not to read as honest her focus on retrieving something of one’s parent from the afterlife. This untenable quest is made possible by language, poetry, drama, imagination and, in the final telling, does not end well. Orpheus himself is mostly a supporting player in this retelling, and so it comes as no surprise that the reason Eurydice does not return with him to the waking world is here a result of her own actions. This is no soothing balm, of course, and to Ruhl’s credit she ensures that the tale remains a tragedy.

Red Stitch’s production brought out much of the work’s nuance and was commendably performed, with Ngaire Dawn Fair and Alex Menglet offering especially fine turns as Eurydice and her father, respectively. But the show’s strengths also highlighted its shortcomings, and were a reminder that this is a relatively early work in the playwright’s career. A trio of stones acts as Chorus in a manner not much beyond what you’d find in a high school exercise, and Hades’ earthly form as a “Nasty Interesting Man” suggests the way that rich and resonant mythology is made saccharine and twee here.

This is a recurrent characteristic of Ruhl’s writing: the invocation of grand themes such as love or death before a retreat into cliché or convention. It’s perhaps also why her works are so popular on mainstages around the world. They’re not particularly challenging, and seem construed not to elicit soul-shaking emotion from audiences but to simply meet the criteria desired by this play’s lord of the underworld—that of being “interesting…”

Lara Thoms, Liz Dunn, The Last Tuesday Society

Lara Thoms, Liz Dunn, The Last Tuesday Society

Lara Thoms, Liz Dunn, The Last Tuesday Society

The YouTube Comment Orchestra

By some coincidence, the first ever comment made on YouTube was just that: the word “interesting….” (followed by that infuriating four-dotted ellipsis). That’s if we’re to take as truth the delicious monologue that opens The Last Tuesday Society’s The YouTube Comment Orchestra. MC Richard Higgins walks us through the unexpectedly tortuous mystery of that first comment and its later disappearance, and the hilarious soliloquy is the perfect justification for a full 90 minutes dedicated to the truly bizarre phenomenon of online commentary.

What follows is a series of performances by a range of artists taking the notion of the online comment as a provocation. Last Tuesday co-creator Bron Batten herself enters into an online argument about a booty-shaking Nicki Minaj music video, interviews young people on the subject and finally presents an hilarious animal-suited dance routine. Post’s Mish Grigor delivers an art therapy experience that turns weirdly erotic and gently uncovers the role of power in the commenter’s relationship with her subject. Lara Thoms and Liz Dunn recreate notorious performance art videos and compare the responses of professional critics with those of confused or bemused online commenters.

These and other sequences don’t add up to any coherent thesis; the Society’s regular mission has always been to seek out polyphonic responses to a theme, rather than curating some kind of harmonic ensemble. There is a subversive overall effect to this otherwise light laughfest, however. Though we all know that a comments section is where good thoughts go to die, the comments themselves oddly emerge as the heroes of this work. For all the humour and odd-thinking these artists bring to the stage, many of the biggest laughs come from anonymous internet users mocking art in ways that are themselves wonderfully wry.

Michelle Ryan, Vincent Crowley, Intimacy, Torque Show

Michelle Ryan, Vincent Crowley, Intimacy, Torque Show

Michelle Ryan, Vincent Crowley, Intimacy, Torque Show

Torque Show, Intimacy

Torque Show’s Intimacy is another work that draws much of its power from a real-world circumstance given creative treatment. Dancer Michelle Ryan was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 30, and this work makes viscerally apparent the effects of the condition on the dancer’s own body. In solos and duets with Vincent Crowley, the exertion and focus Ryan requires in order to simply cross the traverse playing space is both painful to watch and impossible not to grasp. As with so many contemporary works that feature a performer with some kind of disability, this work is not ‘about’ that disability but also not able to exist without it.

Ryan relates humorous or dark dreams she may or may not have had; Emma Bathgate belts out sensational jazz numbers; duo Lavender vs Rose provide occasional accompaniment. The work, again, doesn’t necessarily add up to a coherent whole, but Ryan’s engaging presence and, especially, a number of stirring moments of what appears to be genuine intimacy are more than enough to keep this experience alive in the mind for some time to come.

Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Eurydice, writer Sarah Ruhl, director Luke Kerridge, performers Ngaire Dawn Fair, Olga Makeeva, Dion Mills, Johnathan Peck, Alexandra Aldrich, Sam Duncan, Alex Menglet, 3 Sept-4 Oct; Last Tuesday Society, The YouTube Comment Orchestra, co-curators, performers Richard Higgins, Bron Batten, performers Zoey Dawson, Nicola Gunn, Mish Grigor, Grit Theatre, The List Operators, Telia Nevile, Lara Thoms, Malthouse 17-27 Sept; Torque Show, Intimacy, by Michelle Ryan, Lavender v Rose, director, choreographer Ingrid Weisfelt with Ross Ganf, performers Michelle Ryan, Vincent Crowley, Emma Bathgate, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne, 13-23 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 34

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

Cherine Fahd, Blown-Up, video still courtesy the artist

Cherine Fahd, Blown-Up, video still courtesy the artist

Strong political undercurrents rose to the surface in The Sceptical Image, an exhibition of 11 artists interested in unpicking the relationship between contemporary art and documentary practices. Offering new work by academic artists and researchers comprising the Art and the Document research cluster at Sydney College of the Arts, and presented in conjunction with The Image In Question conference, the exhibition sought to locate itself as a generative site for research.

The exhibition pursued a number of critically relevant threads and the politically charged nature of several of the artists’ practices was apparent such as Merilyn Fairskye’s MARCH on the annexation of the Crimea and Janelle Evans’ Eliza Fraser: The Blackening.

Spread across several spaces in the recently repurposed sculpture studios now home to the SCA Galleries, The Sceptical Image’s installation felt rabbit warren-ish in parts and was overshadowed by the vaulted architecture in others. The subtle potency of many of the works was not entirely lost however; Tanya Peterson’s Available Light conjured images of a bushfire smoke-obscured sun from an otherworldly sky. Taken at the start of Summer last year, these images captured nature in a state of imbalance. Peterson commented that on the same day she took them, Australia’s first ever request to activate the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters was made, allowing for satellite data and imagery of the bushfires to be received. Given that Peterson’s practice has been concerned with photography, light and the production of failure this coincidence seemed particularly apt.

On the opposite wall, Justin Trendall’s embroidered Helpless attempted to contravene images elevating industrial progress. Boldly disrupting the monumental modernist forms of factories, silos and skyscrapers using red thread, he undertook an act of resistance to their presence on the landscape and the interlinked economic system that drives them.

Drawing on industrial complexes of a different kind, Margaret Seymour’s Remote Sensing utilised an image of a National Security Agency surveillance compound made freely available by American artist Trevor Paglen. An iteration of her interactive Tracker robotic video works, Remote Sensing created an elusive experience for the viewer as it moved across the gallery floor, echoing the slippery and secretive way mass surveillance operates in today’s society.

Stefan Popescu’s engaging (un)identified contended with the speculative and the absurd as it highlighted the supposed concurrence of football and unidentified flying objects in Australia. His use of Tom Drury’s 1953 grainy UFO-capturing match footage (which has been called “the holy grail of Australian ufology”) served to destabilise not only the concept of truth in historical documentation but also notions of nation-building as they coalesce around male sports.

One of the most striking pieces was Blown-Up by Cherine Fahd. The twisted ‘selfie’ performance video challenged the viewer with the awkward political incorrectness of gazing at a person dancing in a fat suit. Blown-Up encapsulated the trajectory of humans looking at other humans—from Eadweard Muybridge’s early studies, politically contested images of prisoners and so-called degenerates, to reality TV and YouTube videos.

Kenzee Patterson, Bergie Seltzer, Firstdraft

Kenzee Patterson, Bergie Seltzer, Firstdraft

Firstdraft: Bergie Seltzer

Across town at Firstdraft’s new space in Woolloomooloo, seven predominantly Sydney College of the Arts alumni presented the self-curated group exhibition, Bergie Seltzer. In contrast to the hodgepodge of works that can typify such endeavours, Bergie Seltzer was a well thought out, cohesive exhibition.

Borrowing from 20th century artistic tropes—pop, ready-made and text-based forms—and born from a shared appreciation of each other’s practices, the exhibition as a whole could be read as a conversation among artists, filled with witty one-liners and lines ripe to be read between.

While the title might have pointed towards the ‘thought bubble’ over the spoken word (bergie seltzer is the fizzing sound generated by trapped air being released from a melting iceberg), the exhibition elucidated matters of language and modes of communication through its inclusion of writing instruments, signage, advertising and broadcast content.

Due to their deft, interwoven arrangement in the space, many of the works entered a dialogue with one another. Playful tensions could be sensed however as the bright, colourful works vied for the viewer’s attention. Kenzee Patterson’s large wall text, Look, implored the viewer in deep Kleinean blue at the far end of the gallery behind Ben Terakes’ scatalogical Broken chair with poo and Frankensteined rocking horse after the late American artist Jason Rhoades. In front of this were two of the quieter, and possibly more nuanced, works in the show: Patterson’s Return to Form sculptures, a pair of sinuous ampersand forms teased out of a bar of galvanised steel reinforcement—a material prized for its rigidity and capacity to enable multi-storey construction.

Simpatico among the artists could be found in the adjacent room as Kevin Platt’s curly bracketed neon lips, Scripture/Cable Management, smiled benignly at Sean Rafferty’s suntanned plywood Fady Lingers (a word play on Lady Fingers and fruit and vegetable boxes) while in the opposite corner Will French’s bright yellow inflatable figure, an appropriated marketing character, rose with a kind of manic optimism and fell with a pathetic impotence.

In an exhibition that also celebrated materiality and process, French’s ink on paper TVSNOW took two years to complete. Produced while he was watching television, French painstakingly carved eucalyptus twigs into pixel shaped stamps and used their impressions to build a picture of screen static. Given that TV snow contains traces of cosmic radiation from the Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago, this work was a particularly poetic homage to the analogue signal as it fades from view in the digital age.

Echoing this, Emma White’s Waste of Potentia pondered the value of the individual gesture with a seemingly discarded pencil and eraser and a slight, pathos-filled sentence. “I was here” initially appeared to have been scrawled on the gallery wall by some anonymous vandal but, typical of White’s work, was an artistic facsimile laboriously rendered from polymer clay.

Both The Sceptical Image and Bergie Seltzer reinvigorate the at times facile discussions around artist-organised exhibitions and the sophisticated exchanges they have with one another about and through their work. As with icebergs there is always much more going on below the surface.

The Sceptical Image: Ryszard Dabek, John Di Stefano, Janelle Evans, Cherine Fahd, Merilyn Fairskye, Anne Ferran, Tanya Peterson, Stefan Popescu, Margaret Seymour, Yanai Toister and Justin Trendall, SCA Galleries, Sydney College of the Arts, Lilyfield, 2-30 Aug; Bergie Seltzer: Will French, Kevin Platt, Sean Rafferty, Kenzee Patterson, Kate Mitchell, Ben Terakes, Emma White, Firsdraft Gallery, Woolloomooloo, Sydney, 23 July-15 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 49

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

Chanthaly

Chanthaly

It was with heady anticipation that I arrived in Hobart for the third annual Stranger With My Face Horror Film Festival. Voted one of the “Top Five Coolest Women’s Film Festivals in the World” by readers of Movie Maker magazine, SWMF was started by Hobart-based filmmakers Briony Kidd and Rebecca Thomson as part of Women in Horror Month, the February-based initiative founded in 2010 by US writer/filmmaker Hannah Neurotica, which aims to highlight female directors working in a heavily male-dominated genre.

SWMF took root after Kidd’s short film, The Room at the Top of the Stairs, was shown in another women’s horror film festival, the LA-based Viscera Film Festival. “That’s all I wanted to do initially in 2012, just screen some of the Viscera shorts as a Women in Horror Month event in Hobart. But there were other films that I wanted to include as well, and then we wanted to have talks and a script comp, and it very quickly became its own thing. So we ran with it and called it Stranger With My Face (after the Lois Duncan YA novel) because the kind of horror I’m most interested in as the programmer of the festival concerns the ‘horror within’ rather than your more straightforward external threat.”

This year’s four-day program boasted five feature films, Australian and international shorts programs, children’s workshops, a symposium, exhibitions, play readings and the popular 48-Hour Tasploitation Challenge—a short film competition open to all. It opened officially with Ann Turner’s 1988 feature Celia.

Celia is a remarkable evocation of an Australian childhood whose terrors, enmities and fantasies transform, in response to 1950s political paranoia, into something jagged and dangerous. Child star Rebecca Smart’s unaffected yet compelling presence in the title role is supported by an accomplished cast and Geoffrey Simpson’s expansive cinematography. Chris Neal’s chiming score contributes strongly to the sense of an eerie childhood netherworld. The film’s detours into fantastic surrealism, gradually dovetailing with moments of real-world violence, led Kidd in her introduction to name Celia as a precursor to Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994).

Opening a horror film festival with a ‘non-horror’ film, albeit one with horror elements, might be unconventional, but the decision to spotlight this lesser-known classic proved astute, for Celia introduced significant themes that resonated in the festival films to follow: unflinching identification with a female protagonist; retreat into a mythic woodland world in which (often violent) empowerment is found; and the conflicted identity suggested by SWMF’s title.

Running alongside the film program was the Mary Shelley Symposium, taking in traditional fairytales, Tasmanian Gothic, the children’s bogeyman in contemporary cinema and an illuminating history of women in horror. Common themes snaked their way through symposium and film program. Says Kidd, “The two are programmed side by side, but I wanted it to feel like they were riffing off each other in various ways. For example, Emily Bullock talked about Tasmanian Gothic and The Tale of Ruby Rose (1989) and we screened the short film Little Lamb, which is a new example of Tasmanian Gothic and the director’s mentor in making it was Roger Scholes, the director of Ruby Rose. I also realised there was a fairytale element to a lot of the films I was considering…so adopted that as an informal theme across the program.”

The Australian shorts program ranged from gorily irreverent to haunting and melancholic. Splatter gags were plentiful in Mia’Kate Russell’s queer werewolf farce Swallow (2013) and Caitlin Koller’s Maid of Horror (2013), which sees a bridesmaid usurping her friend’s big day in the bloodiest possible way. In contrast, Victoria Thaine’s The Kingdom of Doug (2013) was elegantly sparse, its subdued mood enhancing the cultish horror at its centre. Little Lamb (2014) gave us a convict-era Bluebeard with Tasmania’s dark rural landscape as grim backdrop.

International shorts were similarly eclectic. Grace Under Pressure (Jen Moss, UK, 2014) presented a cheeky spin on the wish-granting fable, while conversely, Hide and Seek (Kayoko Asakura, Japan, 2013) moved with beautiful clarity of composition from calm through to suspense, terror and ultimately horror. The standout was Substance (USA, 2014), Barbara Stepansky’s immersive, hallucinogenic account of two friends unwittingly bringing an alien powder to a winter music festival.

Evangeline, Karen Lam

Evangeline, Karen Lam

The intense identification with a female protagonist—even beyond death—found radical expression in the festival’s ‘victim narratives’: feature films Evangeline (Karen Lam, 2013) and Kept (Maki Mizui, 2014). Partially inspired by a long series of unsolved murders of young women in British Columbia, Evangeline begins with its titular heroine (Kat de Lieva) escaping a restrictive upbringing for the excitement of college life. Lam develops this part of the narrative as though it’s a gentle coming-of-age film, allowing Evangeline to blossom as a character before, in a brutal turn of the tables, she is violently assaulted by young men she trusted and left for dead in the woods. The film now enters a subterranean world of heightened violence where fantasy and reality combine to hammer home the heroine’s suffering and rage.

Kept is, most disturbingly, based on its director’s personal experience of an abduction—faithfully reproduced, according to a Skype interview post-screening, in the film. Her attacker would subsequently go on to violently rape another young woman. Dealing with Mizui’s guilt at not reporting her attack sooner, Kept is the most difficult SWMF film to watch. Its bald detailing of sexual violence is unflinching, though the main character’s retreat into animist woodland fantasy offers some respite. It is hard not to be reminded, while watching Kept and Evangeline, how completely they upend conventional crime/horror narratives where an unformed female character is raped or murdered purely to drive the plot and further the character development of an often male protagonist and his antagonist. In Lam and Mizui’s scenarios, the viewer must remain with the victim; there is no escape from the suffering she endures, nor its consequences. The closest relative to these depictions might be the rape revenge movie, but Evangeline and Kept are deeply personal; far less formulaic.

Ground-breaking too, for different reasons, was SWMF’s closing film Chanthaly (2012), Laos’ first horror film and its first from a female director, Mattie Do. Made, astoundingly, for under $5000 and shot entirely in Do’s home, Chanthaly’s limitations work to its advantage, painting a claustrophobic picture of a young woman’s sheltered life in middle class Vientiane. The supernatural makes its presence felt ominously yet quietly. Do’s discussion afterwards with Indonesian-Australian filmmaker Katrina Irawati Graham covered the pressures and pitfalls of making a horror film in Laos, ranging from being arrested (due to Do’s recent emigration from the US) to having to justify to government officials the inclusion of scenes depicting hand-holding and a female lead wearing pyjamas.

This exploration of different perspectives and shaking up of familiar narratives is something that horror, a naturally transgressive genre, can pursue to great effect, but often does not. That SWMF showcases films outside of horror’s ‘safe zone’ makes it genuinely exciting. As Briony Kidd explains, “I’m looking for films that have something to say. There’s an assumption that genre is mainly escapism but, to me, there’s so much scope in horror to be provocative or extreme or personal or original, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?”

Stranger With My Face Horror Film Festival, University of Tasmania, Art School and Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, 21-24 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 18

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

Casus, Finding the Silence, photo Sean Young, SYC Studios

Casus, Finding the Silence, photo Sean Young, SYC Studios

The perilous follow-up to a smash hit is the subject of David Burton and Claire Christian’s new play Hedonism’s Second Album for La Boite Indie and the reality for Brisbane circus collective Casus (Emma Serjeant, Jesse Scott, Lachlan McAulay & Vincent Van Berkel). Finding the Silence is the latter’s follow-up to their internationally acclaimed Knee Deep and there was a palpable sense of anticipation at the Judith Wright Centre premiere.

Director and ensemble member Jesse Scott described the show as being about “that moment of inner silence before every trick…In that moment of solitude you are truly alive and aware, defying danger, fear, gravity.” Program notes can sometimes be abstruse or pretentious but in typical Casus understatement, these words sum up beautifully the experience of watching the show and its aesthetic of austere and vulnerable contemplation. Unlike the warm earth and honey tones of Knee Deep, Finding the Silence has clearly been infected by the white lights of hotel corridors, the low horizons of European winters and the craving for stillness in a ‘whirlwind’ of touring.

The work begins with a stripped-back stage, covered by a long rectangular training mat and a bank of lights to the right. Dan Carberry’s subtle score works underneath the action of the bodies, almost imperceptibly, resisting dramatic peaks and at key moments in the show almost falling away, like sound sometimes does when you close your eyes. You watch, engrossed as the flow of bodies passes before you, solo and duo mostly, with two or three climactic group routines that mark the half-way and then the endpoint of the show.

While founding Casus member Natano Fa’anana is sadly missed due to injury, newbie ensemble member Vincent Van Berkel maintains the intense, almost loving complicity that exists between each member of Casus. You feel like you are watching private moments as the tricks build from sequences on the mat to a bench and a gobsmacking aerial routine. There are blindfolds, cartwheels and spinning bodies. Yet somehow each extraordinary sequence, while it showcases a gently implacable strength from each of the performers, eschews the razzle-dazzle of ostentatious circus ‘stand and deliver’ tricks. The show felt to me like circus for circus-makers: complex, self-referential and tautly disciplined.

This is such a brave choice for that critical follow-up work. Casus has not sought to repeat a formula for success, to regurgitate Knee Deep in any discernible way. The sequences felt fresh and distinctive and this is the hallmark of true artistic risk-taking. While I suspect that Finding the Silence may not have the same popular appeal as Knee Deep it cements Casus’ place in Australian circus as a powerhouse of innovation, risk-taking and integrity.

Hedonism’s Second Album, La Boite Indie

Hedonism’s Second Album, La Boite Indie

Another new powerhouse on the local Brisbane scene is the playwriting team of David Burton and Claire Christian. Hedonism’s Second Album follows Sumo, Chimney, Michael and Gareth and their rapacious band manager Charlie as she pushes them to pump out their second album in the space of a week to placate their furious record company after a recording of the band trashing the studio appears on the internet.

The show belts along at rapid-fire pace. Band members harangue, comfort, confess to and manipulate one another. The unreconstructed Australian male drummer, Sumo, steals the show with all the best lines and a surprising tenderness for his closeted band-mate, Michael, who is unable to break away from a violent relationship. Yet the other men, ostensibly less damaged, seem to evade deeper investigation. I think this is because the plot is driven largely by band clichés, aka the lead songwriter wants to go solo, the drummer isn’t good enough and the girl breaks up the band (almost). What lifts the work into something arresting is both the superb directorial work of Margi Brown Ash and the quality of the writing. Ash makes the bodies on stage seem one beast, moving, snarling, bouncing, holding each other with fierce intensity. This is matched by a vernacular that sounds like flat naturalism but is rich with a kind of generational cadence—an attack that exploits the vernacular of band grunge and pushes it into a dark poetry of masculinity in crisis. Both Finding the Silence and Hedonism’s Second Album were full-blooded works that confirmed the talent of their creative teams and their promising futures.

Casus, Finding the Silence, performer-creators Emma Serjeant, Jesse Scott, Lachlan McAuley, Vincent Van Berkel, director Jesse Scott, sound design Dan Carberry, lighting Rob Scott, Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts, 15-23 Aug; La Boite Indie, Hedonism’s Second Album, writers David Burton, Claire Christian, director Margi Brown Ash, performers Patrick Dwyer, Gavin Edwards, Nicholas Gell, Thomas Hutchins, Ngoc Phan, designer Josh McIntosh, lighting Ben Hunt, La Boite, Brisbane, 13-30 Aug

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 35

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