the waiting game

virginia baxter on shaun parker’s this show is about people

This Show is About People

This Show is About People

This Show is About People

IN HIS NOTES ABOUT THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS SHOW IS ABOUT PEOPLE, CHOREOGRAPHER SHAUN PARKER TALKS ABOUT A TIME HE SPENT WITH HIS MOTHER IN THE WAITING ROOM OF AN ONCOLOGIST’S SURGERY. ALONG WITH ISSUES OF LIFE AND DEATH, WHICH THE EXPERIENCE BROUGHT SHARPLY TO MIND, THE PLACE OF PARKER’S DARK REVERIE CLEARLY SEEPED INTO THE WORK HE WAS DEVELOPING AT THE TIME.

Theatrically, this space is rendered as a waiting room of another kind, the nondescript transport terminus beloved of many contemporary performance practitioners. Here, Parker joins Benedict Andrews, Christof Marthaler, Alain Platel and designers such as Anna Viebrock and Mirabelle Wouters, artists who dwell on the desultory spaces of contemporary urban life—the mall, the rooftop, life-sapping bureaucratic and indeterminate domestic spaces, the anonymous late night servo. It seems the little hells that haunt our dreams are the places where our most talented do some of their best creative thinking. These spaces also demand a certain scale, a sense of vista. Wings are abandoned in favour of a wide-open horizontal stage, which automatically gives the works a cinematic feel.

In This Show… a line of plastic seats houses a random assembly of night dwellers, who appear to have little in common save their temporary cohabitation of this transit zone. At one end of the space there’s a wall phone, at the other, a vending machine. Stage right a couple of musicians casually blend into the scene. Behind the seats a glass wall divides the people who gaze distractedly out at us from the space beyond, a kind of platform for a train to nowhere that never comes. From time to time, people stand and depart through the doors unexplained, to return later unannounced. This sense of stasis interrupted by arrivals, departures and time-killing ritual provides the rhythm of the work.

Here we’re less concerned with the strict arc of theatrical narrative than with a loose, musical structure that allows for lateral connections, the possibilities of the passing parade, the sweep of vision in which casual details catch our eye. We’re aware of others in the audience pointing out something that might have escaped another’s attention—the entrance of two new characters via the vending machine, a woman miraculously manifesting an identical twin. In conventional theatre, these would be pivotal moments; here they form part of an unfolding world, the slow unpacking of a state of being.

Of the nine people onstage, only four are ‘real’ dancers. From them there are spectacular leaps and head-spins and strobing (I wanted more of this) and the full dance vocabulary from contemporary to ballet to popular movement/dance forms. But everyone in this work dances in his/her own way. Some of the best choreography links spontaneous gestural phrases into sequences based on the ordinary inventiveness of boredom. There’s a one-man mouth orchestra of violent plosives; a battle scene beginning with finger ‘puppets’ and ending with the stage strewn with bodies, all to the accompaniment of a beautiful lament from the singers. The choreography reminded me of Tanja Liedtke or Alain Platel’s C de la B though Shaun Parker has a way to go yet to match their sustained inventiveness. But This Show… inhabits that same world of odd pairings not to mention musical minglings and eclectic movement scenarios. The versatile Anton playing the aggro nerd with the ghetto blaster has no trouble executing a pretty pirouette. Matthew Cornell impressively switches from the gestural musings of a philosopher to the masculine bravura of highly gymnastic street dance. The sad, lilting songs of the female ensemble led by Mara Kiek dance on air as the singers drift through the space. The troubled looking man by the phone (Tobias Cole), who moves only in extreme slow motion throughout the piece, suddenly bursts into sublime countertenor to sing “Beauty has come like an angel to earth…”

As was bound to happen in a work that claims as its territory “the very nature of life and death” the work is less effective when it gets too close to the deep and meaningful. In some of the spoken sections in which thoughts are ventured on the circle of existence, or an extended dramatic section where one pleads for another to return to the real world, the work falters. I could also have done without the mood shattering readouts on the LED in favour of more translations of some of the lyrics of the beautiful Bulgarian and mediaeval songs which simultaneously wove the spell of this work. A telephone conversation constructed from a string of platitudes was an artless waste of time

What gives This Show… its considerable power is the evocation of a place of understated communion. Shaun Parker has assembled an impressive blend of creative minds and conjured a bright world from the endless distractions of the everyday that interrupt and subvert our darkest thoughts. An assembly of strangers spontaneously synchronises into collective patterns of movement and thought, knowing all the while that just as suddenly any of them may up and leave for the silent world of the platform beyond the automatic doors.

This Show is About People, director, choreographer Shaun Parker, musical directors Mara & Llew Kiek, designer Robert Cousins, original sound design Peter Kennard, collaborative performers Anton, Matt Cornell, Marnie Palomares, Guy Ryan, collaborative musicians Jamie Birmingham, Tobias Cole, Silvia Entcheva, Llew Kiek, Mara Kiek, Nick Wales, dramaturg Veronica Neave; Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House January 23-26

RealTime issue #83 Feb-March 2008 pg. 14

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

1 February 2008