Vicki Van Hout, dancing on a cultural knife-edge

Keith Gallasch

Vicki Van Hout’s new dance theatre work, plenty serious TALK TALK, is wickedly funny, existentially intimate, culturally complex, bitingly political and superbly danced. In the persona of Ms Light Tan, Van Hout is trapped between black skin and white, between heavily marketed Indigenous culture and an ambivalent relationship with her ‘appropriation’ of traditional Indigenous dance. We are the confidantes for a woman on the edge, “a middled-aged dancer with OCD problems,” tipping a glass of water to the floor from her talk show desk, dangerously tilting a large, old cassette recorder (not working but she madly stabs away at its keys) and transforming into a vicious three-legged mongrel. We’re all off-kilter.

Commencing in a mood of wicked irreverence about welcomings to country (ably abetted onscreen by Cloé Fournier and Glen Thomas) and followed by an hilariously brilliant display of hybridised dance forms (including flamenco-Aboriginal and “a moggy with wings”), the work palpably darkens as Ms Light Tan lives out awkward phone conversations about style and appropriation and a series of stressful experiences, the entrapments that close in on her. There’s intense emotional pain realised as a dance that excruciatingly hovers between seemingly real physical sensation and highly crafted choreography. A nasty hospital experience where she’s treated as if she’s an addict morphs into a nightmarish drug deal, a metaphor (“I do contemporary”) for the ambiguities suffered in pursuing one’s craft (the dealer offers her clap sticks). It’s a chilling piece of writing, powerfully realised as Van Hout plays both self and dealer, the transformations accentuated here by lighting designer Frankie Clarke’s moody framing.

Vicki Van Hout, plenty serious TALK TALK, FORM Dance Projects, photo Heidrun Löhr

In the work’s moving penultimate scene, Van Hout writhes, teeters and staggers near collapse but gradually transforms pain into manageable shape to rise above crisis. The show concludes with an overtly political, bitterly funny onscreen suburban land grab juxtaposed with phone cold-selling of Indigeneity, typical of the opposing pressures imposed on Ms Light Tan. The pulsing of the lighting and the replay of voice-over from earlier on somewhat over-literalise the already intensely meaningful final dance and elsewhere there is room for some judicious editing; otherwise the dance/theatre interplay and the calculatedly disruptive “where are we now?” structure feels organic.

With stand-up comedy verve, skilful acting and multimedia dexterity, engrossing, illuminating dance, an eerily spare music score (in an era of sonic lambast in dance) and, above it all, the artist’s glowing woven-grass sculpture-cum-screen suspended centre-stage, plenty serious TALK TALK is a wonder, revealing the complex entwining and unravelling of race, craft and culture in one fraught soul querying her courage to persist against the odds.

FORM Dance Projects & Riverside Theatres, Dance Bites 2018: plenty serious TALK TALK, director, performer Vicki Van Hout, dramaturg Martin del Amo, videographers Marian Abboud, Dominic O’Donnell, screen performers Vicki Van Hout, Cloé Fournier, Glen Thomas, sound designer Phil Downing, lighting design Frankie Clarke, stage manager Gundega Lapsa; Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, 30 Aug-1 Sept

Top image credit: Vicki Van Hout, plenty serious TALK TALK, FORM Dance Projects, photo Heidrun Löhr

8 September 2018