Tag Archives: Artshouse

minus signs (reviewed: Artshouse season 01/2010: works by Rotozaza; Mem Morrison Company; Helen Cole; Acrobat; Scattered Tacks)

Silvertree & Gellman, Scattered Tacks. Photo: Alicia Ardern.

THE NEXT DECADE IN THEATRE AND CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE WILL BE A DECADE OF PHENOMENA, NOT OF SIGNS, OF EXPERIENCING RATHER THAN READING PERFORMANCE. THE FIRST ‘SEMESTER’ OF THE ARTS HOUSE 2010 PROGRAM COULD BE NEATLY DIVIDED IN TWO PARTS: AUSTRALIAN CONTEMPORARY CIRCUS AND UK-BASED RELATIONAL PERFORMANCE.

The latter (where the audience become performers and co-creators) is a backlash against 20 years of over-mediatised postmodern theatre. These new works are theatre minus stage, performance minus performers and spectacle minus the spectacular. The audience experience is the event itself: tactile, immediate, immersive, anti-ironic. The semiotic component is minimal, sometimes altogether absent, as the performance exists mainly in the mind of the spectator. It appears, perhaps, as our era abandons questions of meaning and engages with amplified possibilities of doing. It’s almost like a direct answer to Deleuze’s dream of the new non-representational theatre, in which “we experience pure forces, dynamic lines in space which act without intermediary upon the spirit.” And although tested by performance-makers both here (bettybooke, Panther) and elsewhere (Rimini Protokoll), the UK, building on its rich variety of live art, is something of a leader.

This form is too young to have encountered much meaningful criticism in Australia, but every form quickly accumulates knowledge. While I don’t think everything we have seen at Arts House could be called successful, the failures are just as interesting, like the results of an experiment.

Take Rotozaza. Their two shows, Etiquette and Wondermart, promised a new form of expression, ‘autoteatro,’ but delivered a half-hearted combination of pomo referentiality and demanding, mediatised interactivity. Both are no more than voices inside a headset, giving instructions to a single audience member. Wondermart is a walk through a(ny) supermarket. Etiquette is 30 minutes in a café, in which you and another audience member perform an encounter, a conversation from Jean Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie, the final scene from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and much else—sometimes by talking to each other, sometimes moving figurines on the chess board in front of you.

Wondermart, Rotozaza. Photo: Ant Hampton.

While very engaging in those few moments when the narration matches what’s happening in space (such as when theories of shopper behaviour are confirmed by innocent bystanders in the supermarket), most of both shows consisted of a series of mundane and tiring little tasks. Despite the interactive pretences, they were not so much an experience for one audience member as a performance by one audience member, with the concomitant stage anxiety—even if nobody was watching. The problem was not just that many aspects of the situation cannot be sufficiently controlled by the audience-performer (my noisy supermarket trolley forbade me from following shoppers as instructed; or the concentration required to both quickly deliver lines and hear your partner-in-dialogue). Rotozaza underestimate our anxiety not to let the performance down: a compulsive need to please the dictatorial voice inside the headphones by performing everything right.

.Mem Morrison, Ringside. Photo: National Museum of Singapore/Chris P.

If Rotozaza forgot how unpleasant structured events can be, Mem Morrison went all the way and staged the worst aspects of a wedding ceremony in Ringside. Its entire conceptual spine is the sense of alienation, monotony, meaninglessness and loneliness one feels at a collective ritual. The performance starts before it starts — audience groups are arranged into family photos, well-dressed and carnation-studded as per instructions—and seated around one long table. An infinite number of black-clad women, both attendants, family and brides-to-be, deliver food and crockery. Amidst the flurry Morrison is the only male, unhappy, confused, 12 years old, jokingly told it’s his turn next, sometimes playing with a Superman toy and sometimes MC-ing with his shoe instead of a microphone.

Ringside’s aspirations are sky-high, but the performance never manages to reveal much of its topical menagerie: ethnicity, gender, tradition, multiculturalism are signposted rather than explored or experienced. Morrison’s entire text is delivered through headphones, creating a mediatised distance that in 2010, after 20 years of screens onstage, is as déjà-vu as it is genuinely disengaging. There is a paradox within Ringside: it purports to bring forth an aspect of Turkish culture, but the distanciation intrinsic to the method condemns it as facile. The experience is ultimately of witnessing a whining 12-year-old, loudly airing his discontent at being dragged to a family event.

Helen Cole’s Collecting Fireworks, on the other hand, a performance archive and an archive-performance, is as simple as it is brilliant. A genuine one-on-one performance (a dark room, a single armchair, recorded voices describing their favourite performance works, followed by recording one’s own contribution), it exemplifies the opening possibilities of this new form: no stage, no performers, but a deeply meaningful experience. I suspect the end result will be a genuinely valuable archive of performance projects, as we are encouraged to remember not only the details of these works, but also the effect they had on us.

The reasons the two local circus performances were on the whole much more successful are complex: Australia’s long tradition of contemporary circus and Melbourne’s close acquaintance with both the form and the artists are not the least important. If with relational performance, imported from an emerging artistic ecology overseas, we occasionally felt both short-changed and ignorant, with circus we could comfortably feel at the world’s cutting edge.

Propaganda, Acrobat. Photo: Ponch Hawkes.

Acrobat’s long-awaited new work, Propaganda, points to the long tradition of circus used as Soviet agitprop, educational art dreamt up by Lenin in 1919 as “the true art of the people.” The company’s take is both ironic and deeply earnest, and it takes weeks of confusion before concluding that, yes, their open endorsement of cycling, eating veggies and gardening nude was serious. The tongue is in cheek, yes, when spouses Jo Lancaster and Simon Yates heroically kiss in the grand finale, centrally framed to the tune of Advance Australia Fair like the ideal Man and Woman in social-realist art. But it is a very slight joke indeed.

The specificity of circus could be defined as the pendular motion between crude and dangerous reality and the illusion of spectacle: relying on physical strength more than on representational techniques (it is impossible to just ‘act’ a trapeze trick), it can never completely remove the real from the stage. Acrobat’s previous (and better) work — titled smaller, poorer, cheaper — created tension by opening up the spectacle to reveal the hidden extent of the real: social stereotypes and obligations, physical strain, illness. Propaganda foregrounds circus as this family’s life: from the two children pottering around to the unmistakable tenderness between Lancaster and Yates and the heart-on-sleeve honesty of the beliefs they propagate. The dramaturgical incongruence between the ironic self-consciousness of the Soviet theme, with its inevitably negative undercurrent, and the performers’ trademark lack of pretence, remained the least fortunate aspect of the work. From the message to the magnificent skills on display, everything else was flawless.

Scattered Tacks, by Skye and Aelx Gellman and Terri Cat Silvertree, stripped away spectacle to reveal the essence of circus: awe. Circus is a naturally postdramatic form: its narrative arc fragmented, aware of its own performativity (what Muller called “the potentially dying body onstage”) and constantly anxious about the irruption of reality on stage. Scattered Tacks is raw circus, naked: at times it felt like an austere essay in thrill. It revealed that the rhythm of audience suspense and relief hinges less on the grand drama of leaps and tricks and more on visceral awareness of the subtle dangers and pain involved. Eating an onion, climbing barefoot on rough-edged metal cylinders, overworking an already fatigued body—these were the acts that left the audience breathless. Yet they also achieve poignant beauty. The Gellmans and Silvertree bring Australian circus, traditionally rough and bawdy, closer to its conceptual and elegant French sibling, but in a way that is absolutely authentic.

Australia offers a good vantage point from which to observe the human being. Visiting Europe recently, it struck me how dense the semantics of the European theatre are in comparison. Performing bodies there are acculturated and heavy under the many layers of interpretation, history, meaning. The body here, on the other hand, easily overpowers the thin semiotics of Australian culture, emerging strong, bold and without adjectives, without intermediary. Body as phenomenon, not as signifier. It will be interesting to observe how the emerging interest in theatre as presence, rather than representation of meaning, unravels—and how much this country will participate in this trend. In this season it’s circus, one of the oldest forms of performance, that emerges as the more successful. The relational performance works only rarely overcame the trap of referentiality.

Arts House: Rotozaza, Etiquette, Wondermart, co-directors Silvia Mercuriali and Ant Hampton, Arts House and around Melbourne; Mar 16–April 3; Mem Morrison Company, Ringside, writer, director, concept, performance Mem Morrison, sound & music composition Andy Pink, design Stefi Orazi, North Melbourne Town Hall, March 17-21; Helen Cole, Collecting Fireworks, director Helen Cole, technical consultant Alex Bradley, North Melbourne Town Hall, March 17-19; Acrobat, Propaganda, conceived and performed by Simon Yates and Jo Lancaster, also featuring Grover or Fidel Lancaster-Cole, Meat Market, March 27-April 3; Silvertree and Gellman, Scattered Tacks, created and performed by Terri Cat Silvertree, Alex Gellmann, Skye Gellmann, Arts House, Meat Market, Melbourne, March 16-21.

First published in RealTime, issue #97, June-July 2010, pg. 33.

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Degrees of risk (Reviewed: Fragment31’s Irony is Not Enough; Jochen Roller & Saar Magal’s Basically I Don’t But Actually I Do)

Leisa Shelton in Irony is Not Enough: Essay on My Life as Catherine Deneuve, Fragment31. Photo: Ponch Hawkes.

THE LAST TWO PERFORMANCES IN THE ARTS HOUSE FUTURE TENSE SEASON, BY MELBOURNE’S FRAGMENT31 AND THE GERMAN-ISRAELI TEAM JOCHEN ROLLER AND SAAR MAGAL, SHARE DOUBLE FOCI: IRONY AND TRAUMA.

Fragment31’s Irony is Not Enough: Essay on My Life as Catherine Deneuve performance is a theatrical rendition of Anne Carson’s poem of the same title, which turns the poet into a third-person Deneuve, and narrates her infatuation with a female student through the doubly ironic prism of cinema and classical references. What would Socrates say, she wonders, her words laced with mature, weary detachment. Deneuve, the cinematic Barbie doll, effortlessly blank, is inserted in the place of a complex self. (In >A href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2006/dec/30/film”>The Guardian, December 30, 2006, Germaine Greer remarked that so devoid of personality have Deneuve’s roles been, that she cannot recall a single line any of her characters ever uttered.)

Fragment31 play with the representation of the fractured desiring self by simulating film. Shelton/Carson/Deneuve walks to the Metro; receives a phone call in her office; waits in a hotel room. Each scene is sculpted in filmic detail, each physically and narratively disconnected from the other, each floating as an island of naturalistic imagery in the mangle of props and wires of the Meat Market stage space. Sound, light, set, actors and musician, and designers, onstage too, come together in fitful fragments—the coalescing of the desiring, decentred self into one sharpened and fuelled by love. Even the narrator, Carson/Deneuve, is played by two actors: Leisa Shelton for body, Luke Mullins for voice. It is an attempt to discipline desire with a muffle of irony, dissimulation. But irony is not enough to stop infatuation; self-knowledge does not mandate control. Desire shows through. The poem crackles; the stage version, murkier and not as focused, less so.

Jochen Roller, Saar Magal, Basically I Don’t But Actually I Do. Photo: Friedemann Simon.

If in the first work irony is employed as the girdle of trauma, to keep the fractured self in one piece, in the next work irony is a safe, fenced pathway to the exploration of trauma. Basically I Don’t But Actually I Do is Israeli choreographer Saar Magal’s answer to a question: whether to make a work about the Holocaust with friend German Jochen Roller or, rather, not about the Holocaust at all, but third generation Israelis and Germans.

It opens with a discussion over the order of epithets—which layer of identity comes first? They agree: German Jew, black Jewish German, even gay German black Jew; but, says Magal, “we’re not going to talk about Palestine.” Magal and Roller change clothes, from the yellow of the Star of David to the brown of the SS uniform, and back. They play Holocaust testimonies on tape. They enact a series of iconic WWII photos: Magal collapsing into Roller’s arms, Roller shooting Magal, vice versa. Magal says, “This man stole a book from a Tel Aviv bookshop!” And Roller recites, “I don’t remember. Everyone was doing it. I was simply there.”

We are asked to take our shoes off, walk, sit and, later, to get up. We don’t understand. “Aufstehen!” shouts Roller. Some of us are randomly marked out, and one person pulled out of the crowd, to dance briefly with Magal, and then sent back. The show creates small moments of terror: we are dislodged from our audience complacency, but nothing bad ever happens, because it’s not that kind of show.

Basically I Don’t But Actually I Do is a catalogue of images enacted, repeated, but only as traces. It assumes a traumatised audience, for which every hint will be a trigger of memory. But, remarkably, it is a work that refuses to create false memories. It tests recognition; it has exactly as much content as the audience brings to it. It is up to each person to see genocide in the stage imagery, hear the Nuremberg Trials in the dialogue. The piece gently probes. How much do we still remember? What does it mean to us? What does it do to us?

In Australia (as opposed to Germany or Israel), the answer is not much. There were some walk-outs, which I cannot imagine happening at a Holocaust tear-jerker (for reasons of decorum). But for those to whom it meant something, Magal and Roller created a tasteful, careful little memorial space, in which a past event was reconnected to the present, and the relationship between the two weighed up.

One could say that the risks in Basically… never felt sufficiently dangerous, the stakes never high enough to justify the pussyfooting (one German critic called it “politically correct”). The love woes of Deneuve/Carson are saturated with much greater danger, despite the ironic title. However, Basically… uses irony differently, as a way of coming closer to something unspeakable, rather than pulling away from it. If traumatic desire is a sore one still wants to pick, the Holocaust is a trauma of a completely other kind, one to tiptoe around carefully, holding hands.

Fragment31, Irony is Not Enough: Essay on My Life as Catherine Deneuve, creators, performers Luke Mullins, Leisa Shelton, music Jethro Woodward, set Anna Cordingly, lighting Jen Hector; Nov 16-20; Basically I Don’t But Actually I Do, creators, performers Jochen Roller, Saar Magal, lighting Marek Lamprecht, soundtrack Paul Ratzel; Arts House, Meat Market, Melbourne, Nov 24-27, 2010

First published in RealTime, issue #101, Feb-March 2011, pg. 38.

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Dance Massive: Let’s dance – and we do (reviewed: bluemouth inc.’s Dance Marathon)

Dance Marathon, Dance Massive. Photo: Ponch Hawkes.

DANCE MARATHON IS ONE OF THE MOST COMPLEX, MOST SOPHISTICATED AND YET MOST DELIRIOUSLY ENJOYABLE PERFORMANCE WORKS I HAVE EXPERIENCED IN A LONG WHILE, AND THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THIS REVIEW HAS COME ABOUT WILL ALLOW ONLY THE MOST SUPERFICIAL SCRATCHING OF ITS SURFACE. THE NEED TO PRODUCE A WRITTEN RESPONSE TO A PERFORMANCE WORK BY THE FOLLOWING MORNING BECOMES A GREAT IMPEDIMENT TO ANALYSIS IF SUCH WORK REQUIRES YOU TO DANCE ALMOST NON-STOP FROM 8PM UNTIL MUCH PAST MIDNIGHT. BETWEEN MY RAW EXPERIENCE AND THE REFLECTION ON IT THERE HAS BEEN TIME ONLY FOR SOME VERY DEEP SLEEP.

Dance Marathon, staged by Canadian interdisciplinary theatre collective bluemouth inc, functions on at least two levels, which have not entirely come together in my mind. The first is referential. It is staged as a version of the dance marathons popular in the USA in the 1920s and the 1930s. Starting off as Charleston-era one-person (largely female) showcases, the willingness of young dancers to compete in endurance dancing, seeking quick fame, prompted presenters to organise increasingly more elaborate marathons, weaving variety acts and celebrity appearances through the event, introducing complex rules of elimination, theatricalising personal dramas of the contestants and attracting large audiences. Short breaks were introduced for the dancers, allowing the overall length of the marathon to stretch to days, weeks, months. During the Depression era, dance marathons became the bread and circuses of the time, reflecting the large amounts of free time the unemployed citizens of America now had—but also offering that intriguing combination of promises: faint traces of fame and glory, cash and prizes, on the one hand, and work, food and shelter for a short while, on the other.

We may not know any of this, however, and still experience Dance Marathon as a satisfactory reference to a popular form, because the similarity with contemporary reality television is so stark. We enter; we queue to register; we fill out a form waiving health risks; we get a number; we complete a small dance card with personal trivia that will become crucial for the unfolding of the show; we talk to each other in mass anticipation. Our Mistress of Ceremonies introduces the rules: feet moving at all times, no knees touching the floor. We are randomly coupled and, I may add, this is all very exciting: we do dance, with great abandon, the way I rarely see Melburnians dance. There is no audience, although we are being filmed. Do we notice or care? No. As we have heard from reality TV participants, nobody does.

The evening includes dance lessons, games, elimination rounds, celebrity guests, skills showcases (Bron Batten does a mean tap dance), prizes. The logic of elimination is entirely congruent with both reality TV and the pedagogical rules of making all children feel included in a game: very few eliminations in the first three quarters, then a large cull before the semi-finals (bringing the numbers down from 65 to 6); contestants are eliminated on mainly irrelevant grounds, with great attention to preserving the diversity of faces; and the overall winner is decided in a micro-cart race. It is the most inclusive format that an elimination game could possibly assume. Just like those real people on TV sets, smiling under a cloud of swirling confetti, so are we feeling extremely gratified to be participating in something as lovely as Dance Marathon.

However, as a first-hand immersive experience, Dance Marathon is the complete opposite of its own references: it is rewarding, pleasurable, even empowering. In a town of reluctant dancers, it was quite marvellous to see people with no clear dance skills throw themselves around next to highly trained professionals, the former unselfconscious, the latter unselfconsciously corny. Moments of provided entertainment quickly became something to participate in, rather than just watch — in a way similar to Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On, the emphasis on the silly imbued the audience with great freedom to act. A reading of a sad poem prompted waves of expressive dance. Every so often, in the middle of a dance number, a choreographed formation would emerge, and we would move aside to observe better these bluemouth inc dancers whom we thought were here just to play. Overall, Dance Marathon worked like a truly wonderful party, in which the organised entertainment blended in perfectly with the fun we were able to have all by ourselves.

Dance Matathon, bluemouth inc. Photo: Gordon Hawkins.

The question worth posing is, why? This close to the experience, the answer can be only vaguely attempted. Dance Marathon foregrounded the elements of game with rules and challenges that stripped away a whole layer of agency from the participant, paradoxically liberating us from having to make choices, thus making us also safe from ridicule or awkwardness. Freud elaborates on the transition from children’s games to adults’ jokes, the latter being essentially more self-protective and tendentious. A joke protects its own pleasure before the intellect. A game, on the other hand, is pure pleasure codified — the purpose is not to win, but to follow the rules. Once inside the girdle of the rules, we are probably as free as we can ever be. It makes one wonder about the extent to which the emergence of immersive theatre — essentially games for adults — responds to some deep need we have today for simple pleasures.

On the other hand, it was very rewarding to see a huge mix of people — from the dedicated contemporary dance audience to people coming straight from swing classes, to those just having a Saturday night out — utterly enjoying, and understanding, an event that questions the theatrical form to this degree. It reminds one of the fact that dance, of all the ‘highbrow’ art forms, has the strongest connection to the street and to play — a point not made often enough.

As Deleuze said somewhere, we do not have a body, we are a body. In other words, our body is not an object we put into practice, but the entity through which we experience the world. This is why Dance Marathon, however satisfying on the level of reference to bread and circuses, exists primarily as an extraordinary party, allowing us to dance with strangers, be blindfolded and drawn into complex choreographies, and even attempt a mass (unskilled) rendition of the dance sequence in Jean Luc Godard’s Bande à part (1964), as Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey progressively accelerate on screen—and all with great pleasure.

Bande à Part – Dance Scene from Maria Tavares on Vimeo.

A perfect end to Dance Massive.

Dance Massive: bluemouth Inc, Dance Marathon, performers, creators Clara Adams, Stephen O’Connell, Clayton Dean Smith, Cass Bugge, Lucy Simic, Cameron Davis, musicians Steve Charles, Peter Lubulwa, Eugene Ball, Carlo Barbaro. Arts House, Meat Market, Melbourne, March 26; www.dancemassive.com.au

First published on the RealTime website, as a part of RealTime’s critical coverage of Dance Massive 2011. Reprinted in RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. 19. The 2011 Dance Massive archive can be accessed here.

This is a dear review of mine, because it was written in an only-half-rational frame of mind. Dance Marathon – which I had enjoyed immensely – ended around 2am, and my deadline for the review was 12pm. I got home, fell asleep (I was exhausted and exhilarated), slept until about 9am, sat down and wrote this. The published article is not far from the first draft.

While I no longer think that Dance Marathon is the masterpiece I proclaim it to be here, many of its qualities are undeniably in the experience itself, not in the semiotic skeleton that remains in our minds afterwards. Theologically, I understand myself to be a secular Catholic; something akin to a secular Jew, with an appreciation of ritual and ceremony in and of themselves, not as a shortcut to an omniscient, omnipotent God. Dance Marathon seems to me to possess many of the best qualities of the religious liturgy, quite beside its own postmodern understanding of what it is. As you can hopefully read between these lines, it is undeniable that I had a rave time.

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Dance Massive: The ambiguities of happiness (reviewed: Shaun Parker’s Happy as Larry)

Shaun Parker: Happy as Larry. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I ENCOUNTERED SHAUN PARKER’S HAPPY AS LARRY WITH A VIVID FEAR OF REPEATING A RECENT EXPERIENCE OF SEEING A PERFORMANCE ON HAPPINESS DEVISED BY SOME THEATRE UNDERGRADUATES. AFTER AN HOUR OF WATCHING THEM FROLIC AND TUMBLE, GIGGLE AND DANCE, I BELIEVE THE ENTIRE AUDIENCE WISHED THEM DEAD. NOTHING CAN BE QUITE SO IRRITATING AS WATCHING A PERSON IN A PROLONGED STATE OF BEING DEEPLY HAPPY. WE DO NOT IDENTIFY, QUITE THE CONTRARY: WE FEEL EXCLUDED, DISRESPECTED, IGNORED. WE MAKE COMPARISONS TO ARYAN PROPAGANDA. WE FEEL ENVY.

Not without reason have the classic theatrical forms focused on showing us great tragedies, or ridiculing deeply flawed characters. That’s something to identify with easily: suffering and smugness. Herein lies the paradox of mimesis: another’s happiness is not transferable by identification, does not become my happiness. Show me a happy person on stage, I am likely to see only a self-satisfied bastard.

Happy as Larry shows us people in prolonged states of happiness for no less than 75 minutes, with no narrative arc or character development to introduce variety, and no recourse to the spoken word. However, within this field of monotony it focuses on the varieties of experience and personality, loudly proclaiming its employment of the Enneagram’s nine personality types to create an interesting range of joyful experiences.

We watch very different people enjoy very different activities: a ballerina delights in perfectly executing a classical figure; two young men copy each other’s movements flawlessly, their happiness being both shared and competitive; three women dance, laughing, lightly and not overly concerned with precision; a roller-skater learns to control his wheels. Adam Gardnir’s elegant set, a rotating blackboard slab, keeps the meter of the show, sweeping dancers upstage and bringing new scenes on. While most activities are representations of a simple, even childlike delight in bodily coordination, synchronised movement or skill, some are complex and intriguing. A narcissistic seducer, compulsively revealing his tattoo, dances despite Dean Cross’s chalked suggestion: “Don’t just do something. Stand there.” Miranda Wheen, on the other hand, appears on the scene only as a mediator of other performers’ journeys: she tries to contain the seducer’s movements, or picks up and steadies the roller-skater. Her satisfaction is palpable, and yet there remains a niggling trace of disappointment as the stage is never hers, her fulfilment never self-generated.

Ghenoa Gela, Happy as Larry, Shaun Parker & Company. Photo: Prudence Upton.

It is this democratisation of what could otherwise easily be a fascist insistence on unity of experience that guides Happy as Larry safely out of dangerous waters or sparking a riot in the audience. The rotation of interacting, interfering characters opens up a space for identification. While Parker spends too long hitting a single emotional note, thus provoking some boredom, he also repeatedly manages to bring us back by creating a fresh image of a kind of joy we have previously not considered—such as Cross’ deep, rich euphoria expressed through forceful sliding across the stage, leaving powerful and inarticulate daubs of chalk on the board, a possible representation of artistic creation. Moments of such recognition are powerful if infrequent, and it does make one wonder about how little time we spend thinking about what makes us happy, and how much worrying about what worries us.

The choreography and the technique are beautiful, and this is to a large extent a dance to enjoy for the variety of dancing bodies and styles. However, the dramaturgy is held together more by the rotating slab and the excellent soundtrack (available on iTunes, no less!) than by any sound sense of purpose. What backbone there is is provided by a recurring attempt to illustrate the fleetingness of happiness—from trying to draw a square around a balletic swirl to the ever-growing ridiculous chalk diagrams of Marnie Palomares’ limbs. Like Luke George’s excellent NOW NOW NOW, Happy as Larry allows the pursuits of the present moment to resolve in absurdity. Now is only ever now, and the detritus of these moments is not happiness itself, any more than the collection of props in a gallery could ever be a decent substitute for Marina Abramovic.

After many false endings, the final scene turns unexpectedly bleak: the choreography resolves into unison repetition of movements one could expect from football hooligans—raised fists, chest banging, machine-gun mime. This is repetition for its own sake, dark and not at all joyful, the very image of the death drive. Is this what happens when we try to retrieve irrecuperable happiness? There is not enough solid dramaturgy to know for sure. One by one the dancers leave the stage, leaving Dean Cross entangled in the balloons, themselves detritus from the beginning of the show which, I forgot to mention, involved a sequence of very simple stage trickery. Light switches drawn on the blackboard ‘operated’ stage lights and a flock of balloons was summoned with a snap of fingers. Happiness seemed a very simple thing at that time.

Dance Massive: Shaun Parker, Happy as Larry, director/choreographer Shaun Parker, dramaturg Veronica Neave, musical director Nick Wales, composers Nick Wales, Bree van Reyk, production design Adam Gardnir, Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, March 22, 23; www.dancemassive.com.au

First published on the RealTime website, as a part of RealTime’s critical coverage of Dance Massive 2011. Reprinted in RealTime, issue #102, April-May 2011, pg. 18. The 2011 Dance Massive archive can be accessed here.

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the mysteries of curation (reviewed, Arts House, season 2/2011 – Aphids, Team MESS, post, Gabrielle Nankivell, Joan Baixas)

Thrashing Without Looking, Aphids. Photo Ponch Hawkes.

INCREASINGLY, I WANT EACH ARTS HOUSE SEASON TO COME WITH A CURATORIAL STATEMENT.

Yes, the art world has, for at least a decade, been engaged in a furious debate about whether curatorship has come to supersede the work of art. Curation, in Anton Vidokle’s much-quoted words, now routinely oversteps the line, becoming a

reinforcement of authorial claims that render artists and artworks merely actors and props for illustrating curatorial concepts. Movement in such a direction runs the serious risk of diminishing the space of art by undermining the agency of its producers: artists (e-flux Journal 16, May, 2010)

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However, as Alison Croggon has put it elsewhere, without critical reflection on the art of the times, without drawing connections, instead of a culture we will merely have ‘a lot of art.’

While offering much to enjoy this year, Melbourne’s Arts House has so far presented us largely with a lot of art. While I concede that it might understand its role as presentational rather than culture-shaping, as serving the artist rather than imposing a zeitgeist, Arts House is nonetheless the premiere venue for live art in Victoria. It makes programming decisions that shape how this city understands an artform. Its lack of explanation does not diminish its curatorial power—it merely renders it opaque.

Finally, I am unsure whether artists benefit from this silence at all if, as this year, the programming presents works of clashing sensibilities; works that, without proper juxtaposition, appear to negate each other’s propositions, ideas and statements.

By way of example: members of Sydney-based Team MESS introduced two intriguing participatory works, both sitting broadly within the British-inflected tradition of live art in which the unpredictable, artless liveness of the performance event is its chief intriguing ingredient, and art-ness obtained almost exclusively from the framing of the encounter. The first, This Is It, is set up as a press conference for a non-existent film that—judging by the promotional material we are offered—merrily merges an infinitude of clichés of Australian cinema: a moody drama about a childless couple, haunted by suburban malaise and a mysterious dark-skinned stalker. The actors are terrific as diplomatic mouthpieces for the film: some with underlying anxieties (Malcolm Whittaker’s hands almost imperceptibly shaking throughout the evening), some unflappable in their pretty muteness (Kate Randall, perhaps a dumb starlet, but perhaps simply settled into her role as conference eye-candy); and finally Frank Mainoo, explaining that his character is simply “darkness,” “the Other” and “really a plot device more than a character.”

This Is It, Team MESS. Photo Ponch Hawkes.

The format opens up for playful interaction as the event opens for questions invited from the floor. Questions start pouring in: about the reason for including zombies, shooting in 3D, possible sequels, Pasolini influences, interlaced with inquiries into Dara Gill’s directing method and racism. It was thrilling to watch the performers respond to this barrage of challenges, rising to incorporate our flights of fancy while remaining true to the characters and the set-up. “Well,” opined critic Paul Harris, the host of the event, “I’d say it might be a racist movie, but it does not endorse racism.”

The second work was Malcolm Whittaker’s A Lover’s Discourse, a love-letter-writing project for perfect strangers. As any performative dimension is completely absent from this collaborative effort, it presented itself through participants’ personal accounts, followed by attempts to find their correspondents live on Omegle (a kind of chat-roulette; roulette-like, random pairing chat room). Although the event soon became tedious, as one’s recommended daily intake of irony was surpassed, it nonetheless ended with a queue to sign up for further letter writing (and me in it).

Both these works create only tenuous artistic frames around a collaborative exchange between participants who are only vaguely aware of the project’s agenda and in no way prevented from hijacking it. Indeed, the wide margin allowed for creative play is the biggest strength of both projects and much of the enjoyment seems to derive from actively testing the elasticity of the artful boundaries.

By contrast, Thrashing Without Looking, a project bringing together a number of prominent Melbourne-based live artists, divided the audience into two groups: one that assembled a karaoke video from a cryptic menu, and the other, strapped into video goggles (thus watching the event from the camera’s point of view), obediently executed their selection. Participation is the wrong word entirely to describe the audience’s role in this work. It is more accurate to think of us as theatre fodder, disoriented bodies reacting to a confusion of sensory inputs, or choosing through such a short list of options that a randomising script could have easily done the same job. However, the main interest of Thrashing Without Looking is in something else entirely: the old-fashioned blurring of mediated and live experience and the emotional and sensory vulnerability it provokes.

Post’s Who’s the Best? sails through similar waters, although the blurring here is, as usual, between the performers’ real and their performed selves. The technology is not only reduced to the bare bones of theatre (curtains and lights), but even those are wonky: the contest to decide which of the three members is the best is constantly undermined by the stage going about its own business, structuring the banter into a Shakespearean dramatic curve largely on light and sound alone (not dissimilar to Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s NO DICE).

Next to it, Talya Rubin’s Of The Causes of Wonderful Things, a one-woman play that involves a town in the American South, missing children, a private detective and many small props, looks like an archival piece. While Rubin’s is an evocative performance—her ability to shift character is instantaneously mesmerising—there is so much style in the work (the 1940s noir, which has come to replace the Gothic as immediate indicator of macabre) and so little evidence of the concerns present in the rest of the season (liveness, mediation of reality, audience experience) that these qualities all but disappear in context.

I left My Shoes on the Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain, Gabrielle Nankivell. Photo Ponch Hawkes.

The same could be said for Gabrielle Nankivell’s poetic I Left My Shoes on Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain. It is a dance work weighed down by dense narration closely collaborating with sound and light (Luke Smiles and Benjamin Cisterne) to create a syncretic image of anxieties and fears plaguing a young woman. While technically impeccable and brilliantly performed, formally it is no more than an introspective dance poem, and it is unclear what prompted its inclusion in this ostensibly live art program.

Finally, what to make of the inclusion of Joan Baixas’ Pregnant Earth? An astonishing work, which incorporates live painting, puppetry and spoken narrative, from one of Spain’s great artists, it was both timeless and not of the moment. It revealed a depth of craft and a relatively independent set of concerns that needed to be somehow brought back into relation with the more fumbling, but fresher, set of local performances we had witnessed immediately prior. Without such a context, Baixas’ delicate and violent narrative, which moved from the burnt National Library of Sarajevo to a puppet that did not like to perform, was both weighty and stupefying.

We have come to expect such radical decontextualisation from mainstream festivals, which in Australia function exclusively as showcase. Indeed, Pregnant Earth would have made perfect sense had it been programmed in the Melbourne International Arts Festival. And yet, if even food and film festivals shape their programs with some subheadings and introductions, how is it possible that suggesting the same to an arts festival has become a hallmark of art sabotage?

Arts House: This Is It, created by Team MESS, performers Frank Mainoo, Natalie Randall, Malcolm Whittaker, Meat Market, Aug 5; A Lover’s Discourse, devised by Malcolm Whittaker, Meat Market, Aug 12; Thrashing Without Looking, creators Martyn Coutts, Elizabeth Dunn, Tristan Meecham, Lara Thoms, Willoh S Weiland, North Melbourne Town Hall, Aug 3-7; Who’s the Best?, devised and performed by post: Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose with Eden Falk, Meat Market, Aug 3-6; Of the Causes of Wonderful Things, writer, deviser, performer Talya Rubin, co-deviser, director Nick James, Meat Market, Aug 11-13; I Left My Shoes on Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain, text, physical content & performance Gabrielle Nankivell, sound Motion Laboratories – Luke Smiles, design Benjamin Cisterne, North Melbourne Town Hall, Aug 11-13; Pregnant Earth, devisor, performer Joan Baixas, Arts House Meat Market, Melbourne Aug 16-17

First published in RealTime Arts, issue #105, Oct-Nov 2011, pg. 36.

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RW: Miracle

The fantasy of the Grand March is the political kitsch joining leftists of all times and tendencies. The Grand March is the splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness; it goes on and on, obstacles notwithstanding,, for obstacles there must be if the march is to be the Grand March. – Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Phillip Adams, I may have occasionally mentioned, is one of the most important artists currently operating out of Melbourne, and his BalletLab has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 1999. Miracle, their new work, has been welcomed as something of a Winter Masterpiece. Excellent, without surprises.

Adams has spoken of Miracle as a sequel of sorts to Amplification, the work that launched BalletLab. Amplification delved into the sensory experience of collision, and the aftermath of death, so to speak. Now, Miracle turns to the otherworldly business conducted in this world: to spirituality, cults, political movements. It features, in no particular order: a phalanx of hand-holding dancers in tie-dye togas; ceramic clogs; David Chisholm’s music which grows into an entire three-dimensional cube of sound, blinding and exhilarating; Star Wars references in Ancient Greek robes; Luke George in outer space, hanging by an extension cable; two levitating Dalai Lamas; speaking in tongues; political sloganeering through a choir of loud-speakers; a hundred harmonicas; and occasionally some genuine ballet, with glimpses of references to religious paintings and frolicking Renaissance nymphs. It is a vast and brilliant work.

It is strange to come to it having recently seen Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, an ode to the 70s Californian counter-culture. Zabriskie Point, too, opens with a political meeting, and proceeds across the desert into various combinations of spirituality and group sex. Or, even more accurately, Kundera’s early novels, which chart the leaking boundaries between religious kitsch and Communist ritualistic neologisms. The most coolly intellectual of novelists, Kundera has mercilessly pointed at the need to close one’s eyes and simply belong, march in some parade or other, which emerges continuously in societies, no matter how rational on the surface; he was equally quick to point at the leaks between the brotherhood of men and fraternicidal political purges. Miracle, in which sacrifice is never too far from self-sacrifice, is on the same trail.

This work has clearly developed from Oliver Pink in Amsterdam, a dance short performed at the VCA Dance showcase in 2008. Oliver Pink featured a range of thoughts and visual motifs that made it into Miracle, including the spectacularly uncanny combination of clogs and loud-speakers. I was very impressed by Oliver Pink, and Brocage, another Adams’s choreography for the same program. At the time, I felt I could give my own recapitulation of Phillip’s aesthetic position. It is worth repeating, if only because I could not say it any better today:

Brooke Stamp in Miracle. Photo: Jeff Busby.

“What Adams makes, in terms of movement, is ultimately very simple, but it’s the simplicity of someone who thinks complex. He will not complicate things unnecessarily either for the viewer or for the dancer – indeed, his student pieces are remarkably executable – because it’s the total feast that seems to matter, not the decoration on the cake – and equally, he will use clean, simple images that hit the mark from such unexpected angles that one honestly, honestly thinks while ogling the beauty. Bocage parodies decadence, for example, by having pretty vaudeville dancers, all in black and lace, hit their heads in unison against the piano, and by bringing up birds in all shapes and forms, from head feathers to little framed paintings the dancers will hold in front of them. That birds have always been considered particularly erotic animals (and that peacocks are the symbol of decadence par excellence, birds unable to fly, crippled by their own beauty) is not unknown, just a thought we don’t entertain too often, and such clicks of recognition abound in both dances.

“It is hard to put the finger down on what is in these works that keeps them together, that makes them feel so coherent in the way they awake our mind, and Adams’s program notes, while always useful, never spell it out. For Bocage, he writes: “Bocage is a fantasia of Victorian transitional worlds”. For Oliver Pink in Amsterdam, slightly less opaquely (but with equal charm): “I have devised a triumphant onslaught of choreographic hysteria ascending to heaven. This fascination with the epiphany and universal phenomena is performed against repetitive mantra, phrase and hymn-like voices. What has transpired is an examination of false hopes and religious stereotypes that promise a new beginning.”

“Both works, above all, are full of appreciation for the beauty and the pathos and the absurd of a particular side of humanity, in a way that never feels exploitative. Oliver Pink, through images of public abandon to mass hysteria, pokes fun at organized religion, cults, subcultures, society, political movements, but more than anything at the human need for collective experiences. Bocage, on the other hand, with its costumed prettiness, seems to trace the contours of our very affection to decadence, to the nexus of beauty and death, and the melancholia that follows (call it ‘nothing’, like Louis Quatorze court ladies, or ‘mono no aware’, like Kyoto court ladies). However, there is courage and freedom of representation and meaning-making in Adams’s work that is quite unprecedented in Australian dance, even theatre. The reason why he can do it so successfully, I think, is in the very quality of his empathy. Adams understands how ideas, ideals, needs and aspirations live and mutate through images, through simplification, and he uses images to trace them, subverts images to startle us out of easy complicity, creating a rich emotional experience for the viewer. If he can do that, though, it is because his are works made from the inside, by someone who knows how these images feel, and is aware of the effect they will have on the audience. Adams performs a forensics, but felt forensics, and does it as a humourous, empathetic exploration that is usually reserved for traits of national character, anthropology of social classes, and similar micro observations of behaviour.

Oliver Pink in Amsterdam and Bocage are not dissimilar from The Castle or Absolutely Fabulous, caressing and teasing and exposing at once, but parody of universal human traits is not a usual ingredient of any art, let alone Australian theatre, all caught up in telling national stories, all Kath and Kim for the self-presumed highbrow palate.”

Miracle cuts through such disparate human impulses as political action, eucharist, and collective suicide, and it does it with the clarity of an essay, yet keeps the glee of a work of art. It is a calculated assault, with too much sound, too much screaming, too much emotion, too much gaudiness, all employed to demonstrate an over-the-top experience. A child of European Tanztheater (pace Pina Bausch) on the one hand, and an Australian type of vaudeville on the other, it keeps the narrative threads and emotional briskness of the former without renouncing the humorous lightness of the latter. The only element it constantly trims is the dance itself. Every new BalletLab project, it seems, has less and less straight-faced dance, and the little it has becomes more and more a sign for dance, to be mined for signification rather than used as a method. From the overcomplication of Origami, it has arrived to a loose rambling of costumes, light, sound and motion, with only an occasional structured movement phrase.

If there is a letdown, it is simply that little is added to the original idea which Oliver Pink contained in a condensed, but already fully fleshed out form. It is also slightly surprising that, however inventive Adams is, a 2008 assessment can still be current without an addendum. In 2010, it would be wonderful to see something completely new.

Miracle. By BalletLab. Choreography and direction: Phillip Adams. Music and sound composition: David Chisholm and Myles Mumford. Dancers: Luke George, Kyle Kremerskothern, Clair Peters and Brooke Stamp. Costumes: Toni Maticevski. Lighting: Bluebottle & Jenny Hector. Arts House, Meat Market, July 15 – 19.

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Teuila Postcards, or the revenge of the cultural object

Teuila Postcards is an example of that thing-that-isn’t-theatre: performance. To use the language deign of theatre-lay restaurateurs, say, on annual night out, it is dancing with a narrative that goes beyond movement, yet never resolves into a plot. In the audience comprised mainly of enthused Pacific Islanders, my date and I had an evening of giggles and standing ovation, and understood perfectly how come theatre is ritual, rather than story-telling. Not merely an artform that works best when it looks at the instances of disingenuousness, of fronting an audience: it is an artform in so many ways political, because it is social, because it makes things happen in front of people.

Teuila Postcards, Polytoxic. Arts House, 2009.

If I must assume a high-school tone, Teuila Postcards is about tourism, the performance of culture, the distortion of culture for an easy buck, and the beauties of colonial rule. It features floral shower caps, some semi-folkloric dancing, laundry-hanging, and a most charming fa’afafine. I admit here my predilection for art that critically addresses tourism, doubtlessly deriving from a childhood spent in a tourist destination, followed by early young-adulthood in a tourist destination par excellance. Moving to Melbourne after a lifetime of being stared at and asked for directions, dodging drunken backpackers on Saturday nights and wrestling my culture out of the need to perform for the clicking camera and pointed microphones, it was sultrying to arrive into a place where every do-gooder considered their own tourist practice an act of unquestionable virtuousness. The easy prostitution of my formative years, the easy interpretation of it all as good and right by some distant, ignorant Australians, has remained an alarming and troubling point of internal argument for me ever since. For this reason only, Teuila Postcards was a welcome experience.

It is an exercise in subversion and in laughter and in exorcism, presented this audience of art-subalterns and non-theatre-goers-of-colour with a series of tourist eye-candy, so pastel as to be nearly macabre. From a woman in lava-lava (Pacific sarong, to keep the high-school lingo) and T-shirt, hanging her laundry, listening to Cindi Lauper and dancing a feline little unconscious dance across the stage while a 1960s tourist in sharp heels and two-piece tourist suit was flashing a camera at her, to a pair of Gothic colonial ladies in shiny, spidery black crinolines, drinking tea in an elaborate ritual, orientalised beyond recognition as English roses, the deep intelligence of this piece is rendered nearly invisible, super-subtle underneath a mad combination of fun and beauty. While the structure would benefit from being less fragmented (one pricks up one’s ears to hear the mad undressing scramble during costume-change breaks), less resembling a series of tableaux, Teuila Postcards manages to flow, stutteringly, from the arrival of confused tourists onto Samoa to their departure, and in between an entire culture caricaturized for their perusal. Yet what we see is never bitter, never self-pityingly victimized. A culture that grew into modernity through colonisation always exists in a symbiosis with its own mockery: a female Steve Irwin observing the indigenous male is as offensive as it is hilarious.

Above it all, the wonderful dancing scenes: a tourist-pleasing shimmy morphing into an MC Hammer routine, an exotic-beauty-cum-tribal-warrior dance as a background in a fizzy-drink commercial, down to the jointy, angular spider-woman twitch of the palagi (‘fallen from the sky’, ie ‘white person’) woman, who literally lands on the stage with balletoid gorgeousness, yet cannot be but hilarious. The whole thing is so amusing that the brainy performanceness of it all manages not to alienate a single audience sulk.

On the way home, I was thinking about other theatre works of interpretive tourism, and the great use they all make of choreographing it. Tourist movement is mass choreography like no else: like ballet ensembles, same direction, same tempo, same costume, many same-looking bodies. A beach collonisation, end-of-season exodus, or Teuila‘s pas de troix of drinking, nausea and vomit: how beautifully predictable, how excitingly, heart-warmingly homogeneous tourists are.

Teuila Postcards. By Polytoxic. Artists and Creators: Efeso Fa’anana, Leah Shelton, Lisa Fa’alafi. Costume Design and Construction: Leah Shelton, Lisa Fa’alafi. Lighting Design: Andrew Meadows. Sound: Efeso Fa’anana, Leah Shelton. Visuals: Jaxzyn Stage Manager: Justin Marshman. Set Design: Lisa Fa’alafi with Polytoxic. Set Consultant: Jonathon Oxlade. Set Construction: Troy Gilliland. Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne, 13-16 May.

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This week / reporting from the trenches

I sometimes forget that this is a blog; that I could indeed post photos of my feet were I so inclined. In the last weeks, GS has come to seem more like a monster-chore, up there with Film Production, Graphic Design, Liaising, Dinner Parties, Dance Writing. For these have sapped all energy out of me, exactly the way I had promised myself not to allow happen.

What has been going on? Dance Massive, an exercise in condensing the rather maverick diversity of movers and shakers in the city (and somewhat beyond) into two weeks. Just the right size, I say, and a report is on its way.

Arts House has returned to its rather excellent programming: after a season in Sydney, down come Hoipolloi with their fantastic show Floating. Its brilliance lies not quite in its deconstructive tendencies (that refusal to play by the rules), nor in its interest in stand-up comedy (a la Fondue Set), but rather in its playful approach to time and semiotics. I am a humourless grump prone to outbursts of rash whenever marriages of formal deconstruction and induced laughter are attempted in front of me – no soft spot whatsoever – but I loved Floating like I rarely love a performance. On until this Sunday.

Opening on Wednesday, same Arts House, same high expectations, My Darling Patricia return from Sydney with Night Garden. If you remember their excellent Politely Savage in Fringetime ’06, you are, like me, expecting a lyrical, moody, formally inventive inquiry into the Australian social mythology. Great word of mouth is preceding them.

Down at the VCA, Paul Monaghan will be opening some Strindberg (A Dream Play), and Daniel Schlusser rebuilding Peer Gynt from scratch in a little over a week. Both are opening on Thursday 26, details here.

I cannot quite put in words how exhausted I am. My brain is fried from all the writing I have been doing, a tangle of knots the only thing keeping my head up. In the act of final betrayal, my mind decided, amidst reports, print formatting, and evocative descriptions of dance (all today), to boycott the fine sieve I was trying to push it through, and switch to fiction. No extra points for creativity.

Finally, a small announcement. In 2009, I will be making a special effort to see as much hybrid art and performance as this city can muster, and my time give in to. Apart from the fact that not-quite is my favourite kind of perfomance (the mind is a melange, just like these unpinpointable brainstorms of dance, music, dialogue, image), I am also sitting on the Green Room Alternative & Hybrid Theatre Panel. So please keep me informed of all those site-specific, upside-down, one-audience-member-at-a-time, multimedia, weird-arse, and other such shows happening around. Just in case. I spend up to 10 nights a week in the theatre, but lovely events still fall through the cracks, behind the desk, together with the lost pens and forgotten dirty laundry.

On that note, I retreat back to the trenches with a salut from C. de la B:


Marina Comparato performing Voi che sapete (Mozart), in Wolf, dir. Alain Platel.

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Dance Massive

While I’m catching up on sleep whenever I can find a spare hour – which makes my days wildly unpredictable for everyone else – you can find my reviews of Dance Massive performances accumulating, with painful regularity, on the RealTime website, some other website, as well as distributed around the Dancehouse, Arts House, and Malthouse (how’s that for a trio of hice?) in paper form.

In an unusual doubling-up, Alison muses on the very same shows.

Hopefully you’re all enjoying the dance invasion. I’m very happy to note that the audience numbers look more than great, with a large percentage of delighted small children filling the seats. At The Fondue Set last night, they were responding to post-modernism with shrieking exhilaration. How very wonderful. Here are the future dance connoisseurs in the making.

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This week / exhaustion

The quiet of the last few weeks, on GS, was just the backstage of the roaring thunder of Ms Gorilla managing no less than 6 jobs and one full-time university degree, adding up to something approximating 100 hours a week. If you think that this is bordering on literary figure and/or surrealism, well: there’s your answer to my absence from writing lite thoughts about current affairs and my feet.

In the last few weeks I have done such an extraordinary amount of work that it’s a wonder I haven’t dropped dead. (As our beautiful days incorporate morning thunderstorms and painfully hot nights, I am reminded that I have truly adapted to Melbourne. When I first moved here, I spent the entire 2006 limping from flu to flu, my body in utter confusion about the 5-minute turnaround of seasons.) I have co-authored a paper, produced a short film, and held a research project together around these activities. I have been designing three websites, finished one, and prepared a book for print. I have interviewed, written, read, edited, commissioned, liaised, responded. Meanwhile, just to spice things up, I’ve had to somehow resolve a housemate crisis, lease crisis, Centrelink crisis, general home-economics crisis (huge), enrolment crisis, multiple-technology-breaking down crisis, and a personal crisis, each one bigger than the other. I have learned to read Social Security Law, which is more than the average person does in order to get social security. I also have a couch guest at the moment, but Fanny is a lovely, calming presence in this apartment that sometimes resembles an erratically steered raft in the Bermuda triangle.

However, in this chaos of duties, responsibilities and transferable skills, I’ve discovered the blessing that people with stable moods are. How vastly overrated psychological instability is!, how inappropriately deemed a sign of creative genius! These weeks have been made bearable, if not somehow enjoyable, by the continuous presence of many wonderful people in my life (you know who you are), people whose general emotional maturity I could count on. Good lesson. Important.

Onto the news:

by now everyone knows that Dance Massive has started, a two-week dance fest that will certainly keep those of us who tire of language happy. There will be in-depth coverage, here on GS, on Spark Online, and elsewhere. I would enthusiastically recommend Inert, were it not sold out. Other things of interest include Morphia Series, by Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham (see my review of Sunstruck) Chunky Move’s high-tech Mortal Engine, and Sydney’s Fondue Set with No Success Like Failure, on which David Williams wrote beautifully here. Splintergroup, an offshoot of Ultimavezesque Dancenorth, are down from Queensland, with lawn and the charmingly titled roadkill. The website claims the latter was developed with Sasha Waltz and Guests, which alone is a recommendation enough.

At Gasworks, Sandra Parker’s extraordinary Out of Light is going until 7 March: you have three nights left to catch it. At La Mama there are two nightfuls of Wretch left, with the inimitable Angus Cerini and Susie Dee. If you’re into another kind of unrealism, National Theatre in St Kilda is showing Don Giovanni by Victorian Opera, directed by the man-legend Jean-Pierre Mignon, and it’s absolutely fabulous. Samuel Dundas, whose debut as a principal singer this role I believe is, is an extraordinary Don G, cocky and damned equally, making it all infinitely more credible than MTC’s scandalous Don Juan in Soho (although the latter added drugs, urban squalor and yuppidom in search of verisimilitude).

Arts House, my favourite venue in town, will soon have My Darling Patricia down from Sydney, with Night Garden, and Hoi Polloi far-down from the UK with Floating. Both look delicious, but I am biased towards hybrid performance. More information on the Arts House website.

On the more text-heavy side, Malthouse is soon opening Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd, a highly anticipated return of Lally Katz & Chris Kohn to the city. Combining Julia Zemiro with the historical research into vaudeville, this should prove very popular with the general audience. I am hoping to see it some time later, as my rarefied interest in non-dancing dance and silent performance, and body and memory, and so on, keeps me occupied. But oh you should all go.

Yet the most exciting news, to the urbanist me, has been the launch of Creative Spaces (a week ago, but, hey, 6 jobs). More than a very pretty website, it has been conceived by the City of Melbourne as a sort of match-making service, trying to connect every vacant space in metropolitan Melbourne with an artist looking for a studio, performance space, or a storage corner. You can advertise a space, or a need for space.

While this is a hugely practical, useful set-up, it also marks a commitment by the city government to take care of its creative communities. The project was fancily launched in Boyd School Studios, former JH Boyd Girls High School at 207-221 City Road Southbank. Local government has bought the object from the State gov, and refurbished it into studio spaces. This is likely to be a temporary settlement, while the future of the site is negotiated into either another housing condominium, or, as the local residents are pushing, a community centre (don’t get me started). Even such, it’s a very positive, if small, step towards making life on a shoestring easier in this city.

This is all from me for a while. It has been suggested to me to start a calendar of events on this website, keep tracks of openings and such. To add that to my weekly schedule, though, I would seriously need to employ an intern, or a subcontractor.

But we will finish, as usual, with a pop song you are unlikely to have ever encountered: Alina Orlova, from Lithuania.

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