Powerhouse dancing: Les attitudes monstre gai

Indija Mahjoeddin

Triple Bill opened the Brisbane Powerhouse’s inaugural l’attitude 27°5, an annual event of contemporary independent performance intended to showcase risk-taking fusions of dance, music, and installation art alongside forums, workshops and masterclasses. Curated by Zane Trow and Gail Hewton, the intention is to support independent artists and small companies by providing a platform to make new work, assistance to build networks including residencies with visiting overseas artists, and the connections to get their work shown beyond Brisbane. l’attitude 27°5 offers 3 weeks focusing on Australian dance and installation artists beginning with 3 new works by Brisbane choreographers.

Shaaron Boughen’s Bleeding-A-Part is a moody exploration of love, desire, manipulation and obsession, sensuously danced by Fiona Malone with Tim Davey. Three scrim screens providing layering and texture initially veil the duo. She approaches, he rejects…they move to the next screen, each time she adds clothing items—layers—of separation. Susan Hawkins’ deftly crafted soundscape of cello, piano, and spoken text gives body and substance to the whole. More layers—tips for young women from the Vogue beauty book, a manual on preparing rabbit carcasses, love scenes from Cole Porter, the laboratory dissection of a rat, erotic secrets of an imaginary lover—words juxtaposed against movement driven by the feminine point of view. Always the female wooing, the male resisting, rigid, passive. By contrast, his narrative is left unpenetrated. A prop for her to propel herself relentlessly against—towards—hurling her desire at him, recoiling from his touch.

The highlight: a haunting screen projection, dancing with the narcissistic ghost image of herself as her lover, a her-him, before the image dissolves into ‘he’ and therefore turns away from her once more. Artfully realised, Bleeding-A-Part seems resigned in its mild meditation on the ambiguity of a hunger for desire with no messy, juicy bits.

Fugu San. Space made tangible. Sliced. Shifted. Sculpted. Fugu San is not alone but in pas-de-deux with her environment. The first sound from the darkness is a rhythmic knocking beat. A shaft of light slowly reveals the pounding of crimson pink pointe shoes like pistons into the floor. Above, Lisa O’Neill, austere in black, and seemingly still. For 6 minutes the pointe shoe generator rumbles under black skirt, an engine building up a charge, whilst oblivious, the arms, torso, head explore the space they occupy. Behind her, Emma Pursey cuts a dramatic presence as the gothic mistress before a glass cabinet of sound, mixing live from her potions on vinyl.

O’Neill is a vital performer, more than just the pay-off of her disciplined training—Suzuki on top of an orthodox dance background. Absorbed in kinetic ritual we are absorbed in her absorption. She manipulates space and time with mesmerising nuances.

Disappearing down a hazy passage of yellow light. Emerging from another, icy blue. Symmetry informs the work, an architectural geometry in design of body movement and staging that is used to underscore mood. And the hint of a Japanese aesthetic? (The title, I am informed, is a nickname meaning ‘blowfish’ but does not bear directly on the work.)

It’s not just a matter of body control and focus. Highlighting this, the third movement, a variation with grand pliés in first, momentarily loses that unmeasurable quality despite unwavering focus and control. A subtle shift, and I feel the movements are suddenly no longer satisfying her but made for us. Why…to extend the work, fill a quota?

Another exit: hip-rib-shift-elbow-leg heel-flick-land-look-pause….Eyes in her feet, in all her body parts. Querying, questioning, quirky feet. Despite the brief lapse, O’Neill’s Fugu San is powerful, playful. With no agenda, it demands no explanation. One could charge O’Neill with conservative formalism, or banal decorativism, but Fugu San transcends that by the shamanic power of the performer. With a noble reticence to disclose her secret narrative, Fugu San does not invite us, she simply embarks on her mysterious journey, and I want to follow.

The set of Monster loosely suggests a Hammer horror, its gothic doorway, its drapes splattered in lipstick pink blood. A scream in the dark. Now he takes it back. “What, did you think I’d serve you up a monster just like that?…Fuck off!” Monster is a highly personal work for dance and text by Brian Lucas, supported by Brett Collery’s eloquent soundscape, claiming to explore the iconography of Frankenstein’s monster, the politics of the monstrous and the monster within, but weighted towards the relationship break-down that drives it, sparking the inquiry into monsters but never really descending into the deep. These are the monsters of bad faith. There are 10 ways to hit out at the lover who deserted you—stapling his trouser legs, hiding 6 pork chops around the apartment, outing the beloved to his father.

As if writer, performer and choreographer all knew each other, Lucas presents a hybrid performance piece where movement and text arise out of the same impulse; a self critiquing narrative that turns over and over, folding in upon itself whilst winding its way forward through love story, childhood reverie, the father’s story, the lover’s revenge. “One! Two! Three! Four!…such a Control Freak!” Lucas parodies his choreographer, himself. Dad-monster shuffles and swears—“Pigs Arse yer Cunt!”—his fingers wobbling.

The demanding range of performance skills is delivered with assurance, seamlessly moving between dance and dialogue, between multiple strands of narrative: creator/creature, father/son, lover/beloved, choreographer/performer. But skirting the truly monstrous, monsters of domestic pettiness prevail, pivoting on loss of self esteem. For me, only his monstrous father evoked the kind of revulsion and pity that challenged.

Is this self expression made art or an effort to make artistic capital out of a surplus of self? Is this monster a power-freak manipulating us into condoning and approving of his monstrosity? Surely perpetual irony cancels itself out. By setting up and pulling down, Lucas wants to have his cake and eat it too: brave, raw exposé and self-absorbed relationship therapy. Whilst compellingly performed, I feel Lucas relies on a sophisticated complicity from his audience, implicating us in his revenge tactic no. 5: to “analyse his relationship breakdown in a performance piece.” How monstrously decadent!

Triple Bill, Bleeding-A-Part, director/designer Shaaron Boughen, writer Michael Richards, dancers Tim Davey, Fiona Malone; Fugu San, created and performed by Lisa O’Neill; Monster, created and performed by Brian Lucas; l’attitude 27°5, curators Zane Trow, Gail Hewton: Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse, September 5-17

RealTime issue #39 Oct-Nov 2000 pg. 39

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

1 October 2000