Performative re-assemblings

Virginia Baxter

A broken tree, each segment labelled with a number. Standing among them Koon Fei Wong silently accounts for each piece on her air calculator. Pale and willowy in little girl dress, the performer is nevertheless powerfully present. Plagued by nightmares, trauma of collective memories, she strives to embody her visions in fragments of language and gesture. The tiniest of wrist actions takes our attention, it animates an arm that floats out from the torso. From the side of the stage Liberty Kerr on cello and Barbara Clare sampling sounds, underscore or interrupt with their own murmuring utterances. Images spill onto the stage. A pile of bodies, dead arms reaching out to be held. Fei chops at her arm, repeats “Long or short sleeves? Or sleeveless?” She stands on a dismembered trunk, “I’m great. I’m terrific.” A proud little smile dances on her lips, in the corners of her eyes, while those same muscles reveal the lie. She speaks of bloodied bones in snow, the colour moving between elements, red to white to brown. In the elusive way of dreams, events drift apart from physical sensation. Remembering her child self as helpless witness to violence, she detachedly describes events in voiceover. Meanwhile her naked body grasps at the sensation in ineffectual movement, shuffling awkwardly on her buttocks from one side of the stage to the other. Finally she falls and falls and falls. And exhausted, she re-assembles the strewn fragments of the tree.

Koon Fei Wong came to Australia from Hong Kong 5 years ago to study Aeronautical Engineering. Thankfully, she lost her way and wound up at the School of Theatre Film and Dance at the University of NSW. Fei was also a participant in Tess de Quincey’s Triple Alice project in Central Australia, a profound experience which triggered some of the thoughts on dislocation and identity she explores so powerfully in this performance.

Teik Kim Pok in generic T, BVDs and white crew socks ponders his place on the map of cultural identity. Whether in Singapore or Australia, clearly being Teik Kim is not enough…”In a past life, I may have yelled ‘Long Live Chairman!’ Today I yell, ‘Long Live (fill in name of Western popstar)’.” And why have his parents only ever called him Daniel, a moniker officially registered nowhere? Taking stock of his upbringing and its effect Teik Kim tosses round possible identities, re-modelling himself, parading for us on a black and white runway. It’s a nicely judged performance, a blend of seriousness and fun that keeps the audience guessing. Along the way, he asks us to take a look at each other, to shake hands while resising eye contact. Finally uncomfortable in the suit, he discards it for a clearer match for his cultural confusions, where else but in the enigmatic persona of Michael Jackson-the black man who could pass for white, maker of his own idiosyncratic moves. Teik Kim flicks the switch to vaudeville and at last, utterly convincing to himself and his audience, with jutting pelvis, single glove, hat concealing features, he slides a slippery moonwalk to “Billy Jean.”

These 2 impressive short works were created as part of Teik Kim Pok’s and Koon Fei Wong’s research as Honours students in the School of Theatre Film and Dance at University of NSW. Both have also engaged with the contemporary performance community in Sydney for the last 2 years with earlier works seen at PACT Youth Theatre, Urban Theatre Projects, Performance Space and Belvoir Street.

Dis(re)membered, performer Koon Fei Wong, sound liberty & bc from magnusmusic, project supervisor Clare Grant; Post-Op Chamber Piece, performer Teik Kim Pok, sound Michelle Outram; Io Myers Theatre, September 25-28.

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg.

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

1 October 2002