suspending self, time & disbelief

keith gallasch, virginia baxter: trevor patrick, i could pretend the sky is water, dance massive

Trevor Patrick, I Could Pretend The Sky Is Water

Trevor Patrick, I Could Pretend The Sky Is Water

THE INCOMPARABLE TREVOR PATRICK’S I COULD PRETEND THE SKY IS WATER IS AN UTTERLY MAGICAL, IMMERSIVE 33-MINUTE PERFORMANCE-CUM-INSTALLATION THAT EXPLORES RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PLACE AND MEMORY AND, WITH WICKED WIT, NEGOTIATES THE DISASTER THAT CAN BEFALL ANY PERFORMANCE, NOT LEAST DANCE.

We’re loath to give too much away. We can say it involves a clever stage design (Efterpi Soropos) comprising three large surfaces that act as screens. The projected videos by Rhian Hinkley, with evocative detail, transform these into ceiling, wall and floor and, later, the sea. Trevor Patrick is somewhere in here, first glimpsed as a ghostly presence on the wall—perhaps just a video image, a Bill Viola-ish spectre, an ectoplasmic return of the repressed. But we do have his voice, an older Patrick croaking out a series of 13 remembrances, each deliciously precise and framed by seductive, sometimes disturbing ambient sounds drawn from nature (Livia Ruzic), commencing with the mere drip, drip of water but soon growing into something more turbulent.

As with all things in I Could Pretend The Sky Is Water, the recollections float freely—the memory of a childhood ride in a rocking boat could have been on a swaying train. And as ever with Patrick, the writing is rich in detail and inherent poetry, suffused with droll humour. The particularity of place is striking in these remembrances—the idiosyncratic names of Australian towns seem odder than ever—although the reliability of recall is again tested: did such an event happen in this town or that one? Memory floats, suspended between possibilities.

The droll pace of Patrick’s speech mirrors the Australian voice of older generations. Or will we all sound like this some day? Inducing a dreamy forgetfulness, it relishes the crisp consonants of words like “Tumbarumba,” the fruity tongue rolls for names like “Gloria.” Sentences are rarely tied off briskly but rather extended with gross relish in words like “a-r-s-e” or the endless possibility of “Anyway…”

Suspension is the text’s insistent motif—on a chair, on a plank, in a boat, atop the artist’s father’s shoulders. Deft shifts in point of view are especially amusing—an old council chair remembers supporting an aunt’s “fat arse,” a carpet recalls the uneven weight of furniture and feet. The impressionistic image of Patrick on the wall sees him suspended and slowly rotating, his movement of strangely elongated hands and feet heavy, as if under water. Indeed, water increasingly invades his, and our, environment. Hinkley’s video art masterfully generates this transformation with images of great beauty, entailing subtle superimpositions and fragmentations: the ceiling rose is awash, the carpet colours spread into new patterns.

Patrick is subsequently revealed to be a human-animal hybrid in an exquisite stretch lace costume (by Peter Allan) that, in the shifting textures of Soropos’ lighting, evokes at different times soft, delicate flesh or a richly delineated scaly armour. The creature’s movement becomes more fluid, more dancerly but with not a little irony in the ensuing dialogue between Patrick and his older self. The text suggests not just the discovery of a pre-historic living fossil—suspended between species at a particular evolutionary moment—but also the performance itself as potential disaster (“eight of the audience are still unaccounted for”). This refers inherently to the riskiness of this performance but also to the challenges for all performers, not least choreographers (the crisis entails throwing out choreographic sections and other anxieties: “the longer a dance goes on the less likely its survival”).

There is no sense in which the work is confessional, beyond expressing with metaphoric intensity the stress of creation and performance for that very singular, strange species, the artist in the struggle for survival. There is a brief reference to Patrick as bow-legged and pigeon-toed when a child. Someone in his family assumes this will “right itself if attention is not drawn to it” and that “the blackboard will calm his restive legs.” But much of the imagery captures the look and feel of the past in terms of names, places, events (the Queen’s 1954 visit—“Nothing to see”), objects and lateral associations—crooked teeth and a lop-sided car grille.

I Could Pretend The Sky Is Water celebrates the survival of the artist with a great deal of beautifully clothed irony and hints of hard won optimism (“the audience never give up hope until the last of the choreography”), although the final image is as disturbing as it is beautiful. Similarly the grace of Patrick’s movement belies the physical endurance entailed in being suspended for the entire performance.

This marvellous act of suspension is supported by highly integrated video, stage, lighting and costume design and reinforced with the sustaining power of remembrance embodied in words in a work that anticipates a future reflective self while facing the creative crises of the present. In little more than half an hour, Trevor Patrick marvellously suspends himself, time and our disbelief with a scenario at once deeply familiar (the dance of memory) and utterly strange (the artist as beautiful alien).

See realtime’s video interview with Trevor Patrick

Dance Massive: I Could Pretend The Sky Is Water, words & movement Trevor Patrick, costume Peter Allan, set & visual design Efterpi Soropos, set & design realisation Bluebottle, film production Rhian Hinkley, soundscape Livia Ruzic; Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, March 23-26; www.dancemassive.com.au

RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011

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

26 March 2011