Perceptual adjustments

Philipa Rothfield on performer Sharna Vrhowec

Sharna Vrhowec has a powerful sense of the surreal, and the determination to make it happen. Clearly influenced by her former teacher and mentor, Margaret Cameron, Vrhowec is focused on the ways in which her performance is able to stage something out of the ordinary. She doesn't mind making her audience wait, perhaps too long, perhaps not, in order to create a moment of intensity. Unlike Cameron, Vrhowec's work is not text-based. She uses her body and its trappings.

Traces of Splendour and Decay begins with an installation and concludes with a series of performative snapshots in a strange space in the back of Gasworks Theatre, a cordoned off and converted section of rehearsal space. Not perfect but it will do. A dozen or so people are taken into the space, firstly to file past a naked woman lying face down on the floor. Although inert, this is an after-image of drama, as if the tidal wave has just passed. She lies clutching a tablecloth which is half on/half off a dinner table. Crockery and cutlery is strewn around her, looking like a failed version of that magic trick where the magician whips off the cloth leaving the tableware intact. Because she is naked, the scene is not quite domestic. Furthermore, her body is covered by a long scroll of text. The audience pauses, then moves on.

We sit for some time, not sure if this is time or timing. Lights flash, then we hear the clip-clop of heels. Darkness again. A woman in a revealing black dress is perched on a stool beside a doll's tea service sipping tea. It's all a little bit too precious. She darts an aggressive look at us. Whilst her body is on display, her look challenges ours, disrupts normality. There is almost the sense of a split between face and body. Is the body unable to look back? Not always, though it is coded here as a to-be-looked-at being. The woman challenges us: “Did you hear that?” Was someone crying? Vrhowec retreats to a dark corner to remove her clothes. Having wrapped herself almost entirely in Glad Wrap, she does the most fabulous skitter along a back wall.

It is refreshing to see a young performer who's prepared to manipulate the perceptions of her audience. Nothing was laid out for the casual observer. We had to strain, with time to think about what we had seen and what might happen next. If Vrhowec intends to use movement and not much text, perhaps we might see a more finely nuanced physical expression in future works. It's nice to know that, whatever the content, it promises to be thoroughly outside the logic of the everyday.

Traces of Splendour and Decay, solo performance, Sharna Vrhowec, technical assistance Noel Lloyd, Kristy Ross; Gasworks Theatre, Melbourne, September 14-15

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg.

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

1 December 2005