Tag Archives: MIAF

On Lucy Guerin; generally, and Corridor; specifically

Lucy Guerin, who, together with husband Gideon Obarzanek of Chunky Move, makes up Melbourne's choreographing royalty, sometimes seems to define dance in this city. So little of what the mainstage sees is radically different from their work, that having to disagree with what they have to say sometimes feels like a heresy.

And yet.

Guerin is a choreographer who will use a theme, an issue or an idea in order to explore movement, rather than using movement in order to explore a theme, an issue or an idea. In other words, while Guerin may create beautiful dance informed by the nature of love, one is unlikely to come to new conclusions on the nature of love from watching the piece. Guerin's pieces are always a solipsism, closed off from their point of departure in a strange way, self-sufficient and happy – which is not a flaw by definition. However, Guerin's choreography also appears increasingly simple, clear and semantically fixed like an open book or, less benevolently, a children's crayon drawing. (For this reason, I think, Guerin's dance is also an excellent introduction to contemporary dance in general, as it is squarely dance, yet very legible. Just like Jérôme Bel's work, by the same virtue of simple, glass-like clarity of intention and effect, is an excellent introduction to conceptual dance.) There is never an esoteric point of departure, never one too far away from the quotidian (structure and sadness, love, communication or, in the case of Corridor, over-saturation with commands), and the resulting performance never strays too much from being a dancing illustration. This occurs with such consistence that one ought not to read the program notes if one truly wants to think in front of the eye candy. Guerin's program notes are the most unsatisfying program notes in the world, spelling points and references out until the performance becomes an open structure, legible like an architectonic sketch.

As a result, cleansed of conceptual enigmas or radical opinions, Guerin's pieces rise or fall on the strength of choreography. Hers is often lovely movement, with nice balance between filigree and broad, between strong and soft, sharp and round, between abstract and figurative. Aether, for example, was Guerin at her aesthetically most satisfying. But, when the movement is mostly trite, a piece like Corridor starts to look grossly unexciting.

Harriet Ritchie and Lee Serle. Photo: Jeff Busby.

Corridor, Guerin's new piece commissioned for MIAF '08, gives one plenty of time to ruminate on what doesn't work, and why. The program notes, with characteristic subtlety, inform you immediately that the over-abundance of information, instructions on how to live, are at the bottom of the work. If one experiments in ignoring the notes, it will take no more than the first quarter of the show to glean the theme, still deserting the remaining three quarters to terrifying boredom, as the running motif of orders, orders, orders, fails to develop in either depth or breadth. Guerin commits another major crime of spelling out the methodology – dance improvisation on instructions delivered in real time, via phone, mp3 players, written text, imitation and verbally. Leaving the notes unread, though, one is left in the cold, with no insulation from fully noticing how uninventive, ham-handed the movement is. With dancers spontaneously responding to a whole array of orders, from roll on the floor to fall madly in love, figuration completely overruns abstraction, and a sea of details any broader structure, spoiling the usually solid balance of Guerin's work. It is all the more tragic that Corridor's cast lists all of the most promising young dancers in Melbourne, from Sara Black and Kirstie McCracken (somewhat less razor-sharp than usual), to the exquisite Harriet Ritchie, my new favourite Melbourne body.

Language is employed in the way that cannot be called more than tokenistic: here again, like in Two Faced Bastard, is Anthony Hamilton saying nothing in particular; and there is the writing on mirrors, inept descriptions of audience members. As if someone's idea of incorporating language (in itself not ground-breaking in dance), was merely tested, and still awaits evaluation. To use words, one of the most powerful elements of performance, in such a cavalier way, is shockingly slack. To decorate dance with some language is no more honourable than decorating verbal theatre with some dancing, as happens these days.

Because of Guerin's strong focus on effect of meaning on movement, rather than the other way around, a lot of it would work better if it were incorporated in theatre, with the dance motifs expanded and drawn out by a more discplined format, restricted by the need to pay attention to characters, dramaturgy, narrative line. The phalanx of order-reciting dancers, sweeping the narrow corridor in rotating formation, exempli gratia, is a beautifully realised image, but one the strength of which disperses in the dramaturgically vague sequence of scenes that follows. The duet of ailing between Kirsty McCracken and Harriet Ritchie is graceful, humourous and accessible, but, likewise, comes out of nowhere and proceeds into nothing. The structure of Corridor, ultimately, is one long, stop-start list of possible responses to one same question (© Carl), with no progressive development, coming across very much like a workshop in conceptual something or other.

Melbourne International Arts Festival. Corridor. Lucy Guerin Inc. Choreography: Lucy Guerin. Dancers: Sara Black, Anthony Hamilton, Kirstie McCracken, Byron Perry, Harriet Ritchie, Lee Serle. Sound design: Haco. Set Design: Donand Holt. Lighting design: Keith Tucker. Costume Design: Paula Levis. Producer: Michaela Coventry. Arts House, Meat Market, Oct 16-25.

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Two Faced Review

I'm not sure about you, but I went to Two Faced Bastard expecting something very similar to what I got: something fun and by no means unwatchable, but simplistic, shallow and pseudo-cerebral, not really committed to exploring in depth the ideas (or rather idea, for there is only one) it professed to be exploring.

I only expected courage. I expected an idea taken to its logical conclusion. To me, Two Faced Bastard was an indecisive smear on a big white canvas left mostly untouched. On the dance side, I would say, my side got the full picture in the first part of the show. So much that I wondered if it hadn't been designed, misdesigned, from there. Strangely, the faint panel discussion voicing over Stephanie Lake's dancing never felt like it could stand alone as anything other than muffled background to movement. It sounded distracted, casual, glib in a swampy way, as if the panelists too were more focused on watching Stephanie: meandering in and out of listening, I never felt I was missing on much.

But there was a lot to look at on my side too, a dance of another, subtler kind. Brian Lipson is a genius when it comes to the niceties of body language, and plays himself brilliantly. He also plays extemporaneousness brilliantly, a certain this-is-happening-for-the-first-time-ness.

There was not more than a hint of extemporaneousness to the Brian Lipson I saw, although I allow I may have only seen patches of him, coming and going as he was. There was a tightly choreographed affectation of chaos, interrupting a line of tightly choreographed movement which, by not pretending to be spontaneous and free, seemed more genuine. What I enjoyed instead was the overlap of movement and non-movement, performance and not, particularly because, unlike virtually everything in Bastard, it had an effortless, surprising grace: the transition between Stephanie doing warm-ups (Stephanie the unstructured body) and performing (body as concentrated machine); and each time another performer would walk into the dance from the panel discussion – I wondered what it looked like from the panel side. This was virtually the only moment I was curious about the other side..

Alison has described the side I was on as the side of language, which I think is a little disingenuous. Sure, the cast spoke more on my side, but they also threw their bodies around a lot. Ours was the side of physical comedy. (I was reminded almost constantly of Donald O'Connor and the 'Make 'Em Laugh' sequence of Singin' in the Rain, surely the secret root of much contemporary dance, or least that strand of it which involves flopping around violently on the floor.) Maybe this is why I have been told by others who sat on your side that the laughter coming from ours made them jealous in the same way that your applause made us jealous of you. I was content on my side until then. I didn't feel like I was missing out on too much until your side applauded at the end of the first dance.

Take into account, however, that my side was silent, and yours almost perpetually noisy. Our side may have been all elusive mystique, but you were the tedious noisy neighbour. To us, it was the side of language. Certainly of noise.

The point is this: we weren't missing out for being on the so-called wrong side of the curtain. To wit: one of the most jarring moments in the first half of the production, before everyone starts changing sides, comes when two of the dancers turn Brian's long and stumbling spiel from the beginning of the piece, the one about introducing chaos into the performance, into a perfectly synchronised duet, transforming even his ums and ahs, his stutters and seemingly ad-libbed asides, into movement. And you're retrospectively thrown by how perfectly Lipson played the monologue earlier, not to mention by the precision of the duet itself.

What displeased me, though, was the clear affectation of these supposed breaks in the performance, at least on my side: dancers did not say anything meaningful, and didn't really introduce chaos into choreography either. Lipson running around and interrupting the show was a symbol of rupture, not a real one; and so was the panel discussion, and so was the call to the audience to choose sides, and so was the war that followed. It was almost a parody of theatrical deconstruction, going through the empty motion.

But while its intellectual games were simplistic – and we agree on that much at least – the production's effect on the audience was nonetheless genuine: it frustrated them. It was a show designed to frustrate, and to this extent was entirely successful. The show's title was not a title, but rather an accurate description: it was a two-faced bastard, this show, an adulterer, a backstabber. For all its unwillingness to probe its operations too deeply, it did generate a certain jealous longing for off-stage space, for the greener grass of the other side. And it did so very effectively.

I wish I had been frustrated the same way. Frustration is a beautifully genuine feeling to get in the theatre. On my side, it was all too pretty, too choreographic. Cute and totally predictable scenes on a string don't add up to a show. More often than not, the logic of the sequences was skin-deep: when Vince suddenly bursts onto our side of the curtain to long for Stephanie, it merely signals an escape from a narrative slump. When, later, Michelle dances and lip-syncs all wrapped in white paper – you wouldn't have been able to see this – Vince and Stephanie are suddenly annoyed at her presence, which is frankly inconsequential and doesn't relate to any other interaction these three characters have had – at least on my side.

But in feeling there was a certain inconsequentiality to Vince and Stephanie's annoyance, that it didn't relate to anything else you had seen, you did in fact feel some frustration in not knowing what had happened on the other side of the curtain. Frankly, I can't believe you were looking for narrative logic, and what's more don't really believe that you were.

I wasn’t looking for narrative logic; I was looking for dramaturgical logic: if you’re constantly adapting your terms of reference to the clichés of the scene, it expands neither the scene nor the whole. And the whole, on my side, the value-for-money side, so to speak, often looked like a confused blockbuster of the most extreme kind: eye candy and tokenistic humour with not much tying them together.

My side was like hanging out with the production runners on the set of a blockbuster: it was kind of fun. I had no idea there was a love story running through the piece until you told me. The only hint we got of it in the first half was when Lipson, wearing that ridiculous jacket, interrogated Vince about it. This, coincidentally, was the only section of the piece I really didn't like, this blatant incursion of narrative into the proceedings. Obviously, as we have both noted, the whole show was in its way a fiction – a symbolic or affected chaos as opposed to the real thing, a superficial exploration of bigger, harder questions – this was the only moment on my side of the curtain where narrative fiction stuck its nose in where it wasn't wanted. Maybe this is something you saw more of – you were, after all, the one who followed the love story from one side of the curtain to the other, while I followed the before-and-after-the-deluge-ness of the narrative-free backstage space. This space was fictitious too, of course – it's hardly as though the nonchalant wandering around of the performers wasn't equally as choreographed as what was happening on your side – but it wasn't a narrative fiction, and I appreciated that.

What I’m noticing is that there were obviously two very different sides to this show, but not the way we originally assumed. There was the back and the front, the honest frustration of the hungry and the more insidious frustration of gluttony.

I really wasn't that hungry backstage: there was plenty of termitic detail to fill me up. (Chris Boyd, however, appeared to be starving.) Meanwhile, it seems increasingly to me that what you were after was a happening, not a show. Is this a fair assessment? It's a similar complaint to those being made by most critics of an oak tree, who have claimed that the guests invited to take part have not been willing or able to transcend performativity. (Tim Crouch should get members of the audience to do it. Members of the audience who aren't actors.)

Funny you bring up Tim Crouch, since an oak tree had exactly the same problems that Two Faced Bastard does. Unsolicited, unneeded humour, and total transparency of method, both employed in order to make the experiment as safe as humanly possible while keeping the semblance of courage and of crossing boundaries. But, remember, Two Faced Bastard invited the audience on stage, and yet controlled the effect with an iron fist. An oak tree featured the same participation as tokenism, in which the supposed wild element cannot significantly alter any conclusion the performance strives to make – the same thing we regularly witness in your average political process.

I don't think Two Faced Bastard controlled the process. We controlled the process. You or me or anyone could have sat down in the middle of the stage – on one of the chairs even – and refused to move. That moment was about giving us a choice and none of us really chose to take it. In other words, Vince won the argument: we could have induced chaos but didn't. We have internalised the rules, not only of Two Faced Bastard, but of theatre-going etiquette more generally: the show is the boss.

I dare you to sit down in the middle of the stage next time you're invited to audience participation, and test the political permeability of the situation.

You're on.

I think every show in this country is chiefly concerned with providing closure in regards to value of the money spent. There is no brutality, no violence, in Australian theatre, lest we get another opinion piece bemoaning the extravagance with which the decadent artists spend the taxpayer’s dollars. I think it hurts everyone if we are tickled, yet treat it as a slap. It makes for a weak audience, and weak artists. It makes us sheltered, self-satisfied, and whiny. Of course people don’t know in which direction to faint first when they see a Kosky show: nobody is used to a real slap anymore. What Bastard does brilliantly, perhaps without meaning to, is lay bare this desire to get the value of our ticket price back. My side, with Lucy’s pretty dancing bodies, I would say, is where our money's worth was meant to be. Even when we changed sides, we were still hoping the money’s worth would follow us.

I'm not too surprised by all this. We're talking about Lucy and Gideon here, for whom the answer to the question of chaos is invariably to provide only an illusion or illustration of it. It is on this point, I think, that we both agree, but also where we ultimately part company. We agree that the show could have gone further, introducing a genuine level of risk for all parties concerned. I did not expect it to do so, due in large part to the team behind it, and so was not too disappointed when it didn't. I was able to take something away from it, the Farberian minutiae, the little things. You, while not seeming gutted exactly, nonetheless seem somewhat angrier.

That's because I can imagine the damage this will do to the local theatre for another twenty-four months at least, with any brave exploration flagellated, even self-flagellated, because, hey, if Chunky could do it and be so fun and accessible, why does any tall poppy need to get all aggro with the audience? This, to me, was deadly experiment, an equivalent of Brook’s deadly theatre, more insidious for pretending to be brave when, in fact, it was deadening:

The problem of the Deadly Theatre is like the problem of the deadly bore. Every deadly bore has head, heart, arms, legs: usually, he has family and friends: he even has his admirers. Yet we sigh when we come across him – and in this sigh we are regretting that somehow he is at the bottom instead of the top of his possibilities. When we say deadly, we never mean dead: we mean something depressingly active, but for this very reason incapable of change. . .

When good actors play in bad comedies or second-rate musicals, when audiences applaud indifferent classics because they enjoy just the costumes or just the way the sets change, or just the prettiness of the leading actress there is nothing wrong. But none the less, have they noticed what is underneath the toy they are dragging on a string? It's a wheel.

But is that what we settle for? Is that what we've come to expect? Do we not, ever, demand more?

Two Faced Review. Dialogue by Matthew Clayfield (Esoteric Rabbit) and Jana Perkovic (Mono no Aware).

Melbourne International Arts Festival. Two Faced Bastard. Direction & choreography: Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin. Set design: Ralph Myers. Lighting design: Philip Lethlean. Costume design: Paula Levis. Composer: Darrin Verhagen. Performers: Vincent Crowley, Anthony Hamilton, Michelle Heaven, Stephanie Lake, Brian Lipson, Byron Petty & Lee Serle. Arts House, Meat Market. 8-12 Oct.

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Batsheva Dance Company: Three & MAX. Or: ljudi su ljudima neprijatelji.

1. Baroness Bethsabee/Bathsheba/Batsheva de Roschild, and Martha Graham, jointly established Batsheva Dance Company in 1964. Graham trained, Bethsabee funded.

2. Ohad Naharin, Batsheva's choreographer since 1990, created Gaga, his own technique, not because of a back injury, but thanks to it. It has been variously described as awareness through movement, reaching emotion through your physicality, and the other way around.

3. The dancers are very good.

Three.

4. First is a philanthropist, second the century's most important choreographer (according to the Time magazine), third a therapy of movement, fourth a tripartite omnibus (beauty, nature, existence), and fifth a military drill.

Waltz with Bashir, another Israeli piece of art that reached our island recently, despite a world of difference has the same underground rivers running. By digging and poking, it opens up to examination an occasionally malfunctioning yet stable collective mind, laying naked the strange and complex ways in which we adapt to and absorb cumulative shocks of war. As I have mentioned elsewhere, tragedy rarely manifests itself in everyday life with overt gesture. Shock, violence, terror, chaos instead wash over the mind and the body, forcing them, more often than not, into a pragmatic reconstitution. Over and over again, Batsheva made me contemplate the effect of nation-wide military service on a culture; of constant preparation for a war.

Meeting Israeli boys and girls of my age always left a strange, but strong, impression on me. How beautiful they were, with their big eyes, with their freckles and their bony, elastic physique! The most beautiful, her name, Anat, of just the right type of angular grace, looked like your typical mongrel goddess, all blonde curls and sunburnt freckles, until rumours spread that she had been trained as a tank operator; a military specialist. They were like sunny winters, distant people, unwilling to smile too widely, unwilling to be impressed, unwilling to say too much. They always seemed wrapped around a central backbone of internal discipline, teeth clenched even when they were having fun, which they were often and with deep investment. Nothing was ever light with these kids, nothing was taken seriously, but there was a considered principle hidden in this cynicism. And yet there was a certain spring of step that marked them, unmistakably, as boys and girls, not men and women.

Batsheva dance like nearly abstract bodies in a war zone.

MAX.

It is not too far from modern ballet, unless, as Ditta Rudle said in Die Presse, we promote it into contemporary dance on the basis of having brains. With such clean precision, long lines of movement, the bedrock of this dance is clearly modern American. But the atemporal and placeless modern American looks somehow juvenile, untainted with life experience, with joys and sorrows, compared to the hard, solid and world-weary Batsheva. While the choreography is often somewhat inconclusive, the sheer quality of the movement is something new to me, and to this country.

It is a male choreography: male dancers are better across the board. The line of inquiry is not intellectual as much as abstractly emotional. Every limb is thrown straight from the stomach.

Batsheva's is a body trying to break into figuration, shed its abstract skin: abstracted by modernism, by dance, by war and by discipline. Each member of the Batsheva ensemble has the straight back and the poise, the inner centeredness of a tango dancer (tango being an honourable acceptance of neverending pain). There is a strong internal conflict in the movement of the warm human body inside and the mechanical shell of choreography that wraps it, stretches it, makes it leap, curl, bend. But the conflict is truly internal. There appears to be no rebellion of the body against the shell, just a wilful acceptance of the drill, less disciplined than simply sober, pessimistic. More than yielding, the body absorbs the hard lines of movement – and there is no particular distinction between men and women in either of the two pieces; duets are conversations of emotional equivalents – turns violent blows into learning. And when it manages to break out of abstraction, it secretes no gesture, nothing but direct, masculine emotion, raw, unstructured and frightening the way male emotion always is.

To call these two shows humanist may be an unreasonable stretch: apart from a military type of camaraderie, there was nothing that suggested any values, just a brown, earthy understanding of what humans are capable of. Enlightened strain. I would call it medieval Catholic for the sheer pathos of accepting suffering, minus the melodrama, were it not so Israeli. I would call it expansive if the word didn't contain a faint fragrance of thinness, which is not the case here. Three and Max are both dense dances, concentrated in the middle the way expansive, sharp movement rarely is.

Three.

Three is uneven in a very consistent way. The first of the short segments, Bellus, performed on Glen Gould's 'Goldberg' Variations by Bach, is conceptually the soundest, dancing around the idea of beauty by producing a harmonious dialectic between Pretty and Strong. The second, Hommus, 'nature', is compositionally the most successful: women only, in 13 short sequences of homogeneous movement, get to every corner of the stage in counter-clockwise motion. Their synchronised bodies are pulled and pushed by an internal clash, absorbing the shock, but the earthiness is never lost to mechanical violence. Female dancers, by and large, are not as impressive as the males, which risks making this section dull, but instead gives it room to breathe, and a delicately covert softness that makes this giving in of the body extremely moving. The final piece, Seccus, on experience, is the least coherent theatre. While the dance vocabulary is the most impressive, it often feels like a vapid showcase of abilities, a slap in the face meant to impress before the finale. There appear glimpses of slowly accumulating didacticism: in a camp, tango-sprinkled male duet that had none of the nude, raw beauty I've come to associate with male duets; Christ-like gesture of pointing fingers at skinny dancer ribs; and a triumphal proof that men can make vaginas too. It never resorts to academic or cute, no, but does create a sort of eisteddfod that didn't sit very well with the Australian audience. (American critics, as a note on cultural disagreement, loved Seccus much more than the spare, simple Hommus).

MAX.

MAX, in comparison, is Spartan. A single block of camouflage-coloured movement, it runs around a bit less, always a little bit surer of what it's doing. It is even less dressed than Three: a lot of it to no musical accompaniment, most only to spoken word in an unintelligible language, a combination of Arabic murmur and Latinate resonance (composed and spoken by Ohad Naharin himself, credited under the name Maxim Waratt). The theme, this time foregrounded, is the subtle, insidious terror of the collective over the human body, but there is more than simplistic individualism in Nasarin's treatment: the brotherly collective of Batsheva (and not, by any means, sisterly; with an unsentimental precision of a war-harassed organism) finds strength as much as strain in collective discipline. At one point, progressive numbering forces differently grouped dancers into series of progressive moves, building little stories through dictation. At another, a soundscape of industrial noises is transcribed into individual dancers as instruments: yet instead of registering violation, bodies appear to embrace the heavy-hitting beat as a source of power.

I have seen the same sober discipline, the same bleak yet intent acceptance of deep movement, without a hint of frill, in Dalija Acin's dance (another dancer in a war-torn place). It is grounded dance. Not sad, not angry. Dance coming from one's centre of gravity. Rather un-Australian. From modern to contemporary, everything that Australian dance has picked up (frills, objects, tweeness, cocooness, warm humour, surfaces, stories) is absent in Batsheva's heavy, hard-edged movement.There is nothing like this in Australia, and there won't be for a while. We are not a war zone after all. We don't dance with death, when we dance.

Melbourne International Arts Festival.
Batsheva Dance Company: Three. Choreography Ohad Neharin. Costume design Rakefet Levy. Lighting design Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi). Sound design Ohad Fishof. Music JS Bach, Brian Eno, and others. The Arts Centre, State Theatre, Oct 10-11.

MAX. Choreography Ohad Neharin. Music Maxim Waratt. Costume design Rakefet Levy. Lighting design Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi). Music Production & Mix Ohad Fishof. Sound design Moshe Shasho. The Arts Centre, State Theatre, Oct 12-13.

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Jerome Bel: The Show Must Go On

the water does not intend to reflect the moon
nor does the moon intend to be reflected in the water:
how calm and serene rest Hirosawa's waters!

+++

18.x.2007. The Show Must Go On
Concept and direction: Jérôme Bel. DJ and Technical director: Gilles Gentner. MIAF. Playhouse at the Arts Centre. 16-18 October. Co-produced by Théâtre de la Ville, Paris; Gasthuis, Amsterdam; Centre choréographique national Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon; Arteleku Gipuzkoako Foru Aldundia, Donostia, San Sebastián; and R.B., Paris.

In 2006, my Croatian friend Petar insisted that I be his delegate at MIAF '06 and witness Jérôme Bel. He was adamant. I had to see him. Unqualified, unmodified by adjectives, this Jérôme Bel. Except, of course, that he was crazy, but madness is a constant in art. So I went. And to this day I cannot define what it was that I saw. I walked out with a strong feeling that everything was beautiful and life worth living. But why?

Recently, I saw Thom Pain, a play meant to break conventions, tear through the form, show us raw feeling, but also a play endlessly plagued by acting. I witnessed it as spontaneity enacted, performed, and unconvincing, a quirky but superficial recombination of formal clichés; the paradox exploded in full force when the actor interrupted the final applause to ask for donations, explained the history, operation and purpose of the fund in question, and gave an example of an acting colleague struggling through illness. This sudden moment of real life on stage had me in tears before I realised what was happening. It was as if the emotions of the play, behind the play, finally found a suitable release point.

May I compare it to Kim Ki-duk and his elaborate constructions of situations, situations improbable, unrealistic? In Kim Ki-duk's world, grandiose combinations of people, places, events, emotions, serve to illustrate comparatively small intellectual points (intellect being but a fragment of human reality). The problem is that so much of life, of humanity, of existence, is fundamentally indescribable, unshowable, unrepresentable, comes out spontaneously when nobody is looking, nobody is acting, nobody is writing or directing. The truth of art – for myself, of course – is born in the moment the artist forgets the artist, the work and the purpose, and expresses some of that light of life. I'm sure there is more than an element of fairly simple Euro aesthetics in this, but think Zen: He who deliberates and moves his brush intent on making a picture, misses to a still greater extent the art of painting. Draw bamboos for ten years, become a bamboo, then forget all about bamboos when you are drawing. In possession of an infallible technique, the individual places himself at the mercy of inspiration.

In The Diary Project, Renata Cuocolo pointed out: What has always fascinated me is the way in which people can stay at the window or on the veranda all day long, looking outside not getting bored, but if they go to the movies or to the theatre they immediately complain about feeling bored. Renata Cuocolo, herself an artist.

The Show Must Go On, this year's gift to us (and might there be more?), explores this front line between the real and the artificial image, and real and artificial experience, and creates something very special in the process. Most of the art, contemporary art, that does work on this distinction, I find displeasing, self-conscious, banal, and not bringing anything new into the picture, just the insistent, insecure clamor of why do you look at me? am i special? am i that special? just how much? i'm not! or am i?. Like the reaction of one confronted with someone else's love. Not Bel, though. For whatever reason, he succeeds. I find it hard to paint a picture of why?, therefore!, by these means!, this is his secret! But it works for me, for the person sitting next to me, for that guy behind me giving the standing ovation at the end, for the excited 12-year-old. Perhaps it's the sweetness. I myself am not a fan of brutalism in arts, of that in-your-face violence towards the spectator. Why not try to reach the television-viewer instead, the computer-game player, the sports audience, or at least those who go to musicals? Theatre bunch, themselves attending theatre very rarely for pure spectacle, are already likely to be engaged in arts production, asking themselves the same question. And that is, after all, why a theatre performance would have any more significance than watching the street.

So in a sense, The Show Must Go On makes us watch like we would watch the street. He pokes the theatre form just enough to get us there, and yet not forget to be engaged emotionally and intellectually, to give it the importance we rarely give to street-watching. He does that by doing all kinds of unexpected, un-theatrical things to the stage, performers and the audience, but there is never brutality to it. He plays pop songs. Performers assemble on the stage only to put their hands in their pockets and look at us, the audience. They lights go off. The performers will leave the stage, then come back. Dancers without ballet training will perform ballet clichés. Performers without singing talent sing. People will hug, and dance a sentiš under muted red lights. At one point, even the audience is given a chance to perform, with the lights on us, and the entire performing ensemble looking attentively. (To Matt's dismay, only some use the opportunity to dance a dance back. He has since suggested attending another performance only to right this wrong.) It's all unexpected, it's all vaguely puzzling, but there is the same sense of purpose that exists on the street at any given hour (even 5am). It's some sort of life on stage, but not as a representation of some off-stage life, it's performers living on stage, being what they are and doing what they do in the most honest way. The sound technician comes on stage to dance alone on Only You, and after a minute, having had an idea, he jumps off the stage to his technician desk, turns the volume up and the lights down, and returns. After an entire songful of random actions, jumps, clenches, bangs, finishes, the dancers not only stop performing, they take a minute to be tired. They take their jumpers off. Go off-stage and come back with bottles of water. They breathe heavily. They wait for the next number. There is no affectation to it, but no purposeless banality either. It's Bel saying, these are performers, you are audience, i direct: let's see the possibilities of the situation.

In fact, what's most compelling about the performance is its ability to glean most spontaneous audience reactions. In a less benevolent world, this would include a great number of patrons leaving, but this night, instead, there are people rocking on their chairs in beat with the pop songs; patchy singing along; laughter on all sides, and it's the most beautiful thing, bursts of laughter from a person or two, contagiously spreading over the auditorium and dying quickly, then again; there is a final applause that in itself could be a staged scene, with standing ovations on one side, people leaving on the other, and groups of happy patrons simply sitting in their seats, enjoying what's certainly not the end of the show. Until everyone has left, it's not over.

There is no incitement to grand collective audience participation, and none is likely to happen in a city like this. It's not a show of universal love&collective harmony. There are witty moments, and happy moments, and moments of individual responsibility. But there is never despair, never any suggestion we might be better off observing the street outside. Afterwards, there is palpable joy in the air. Joy. There doesn't seem to be in Bel's work any intention to teach us, and nor does the audience seem to intend to learn secrets about life. But in the end, how calm and serene rest Hirosawa's waters.

by Jana Perkovic

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