When I wanted to write about Assemble Papers, originally it was going to be a plug: ‘look at this wonderful magazine, with its focus on the culture of urban living, high-density living, good design, ethical design, meaningful things and good architecture’. But the moment passed: the paper version of Assemble, sent to me by mail, is no longer the latest thing that Euge, Rachel and Pino have done.
Instead, these photos remind me of the wintery evening in Brussels when I returned home from the offices of the European Commission and found Assemble in my mailbox, full of photos of summery Melbourne, of wide open spaces, designer folk, Rob Adams, good coffee. It was the first time in my short life that I felt heart-breaking homesickness for a place that had never been home before.
The lightness of Melbourne life, the feeling of not-quite-freedom, but definitely-not-frustration. The open-mindedness, which hadn’t always been there, and a sense of style, poise and purpose, which intermittently always had. Assemble Papers is such a good magazine, filled with such ethics and beauty. Reading it always reminds me that we can do better than average, and than often we do. It makes me proud of Melbourne and, even, sort of, proud of Australia a little bit.
I was at those first meetings with Euge, when she was dreaming up, drawing up, this magazine, and my job was to try to shoot it down, game-test for all the problems before they actually occur. A few years on, she is doing such a marvelous job.
Briefly, because I am immensely looking forward to this sleep-longer-than-five-hours I am just about to have: Next Wave is great. I cannot write too much, because, unfortunately, I have promised words to other people (and the blog will have to wait for now).
But I thought it would be worth saying, important to say, that Blak Wave is one of the most important, and good, and meaningful things I’ve witnessed in Australia in such a long time. It requires an essay all of its own. Each event I’ve been to has been a healing experience, requiring words I do not have so close to it, and so late at night. And that Madonna Arms by I’m Trying To Kiss You is the best piece of Australian writing I’ve seen staged in a very, very long time (years!). And that I saw something very beautiful tonight at White Face, something I’d like to have a conversation about.
And I am yet about to go to Overworld, but Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jensen have blazed a huge trail already in young contemporary dance in Melbourne, and I am extremely excited. As I am about the extremely well reviewed Terminal (disclaimer: the makers of these two works and I used to all live together in Brunswick East, so I may be terribly partial). And then there is Natalie Abbott’s MAXIMUM. From where I am standing, it looks like the first outlines of the future of dance in Australia.
And finally, the second edition of Kids Killing Kids. (Again, a disclaimer: KKK is affiliated with MKA, and I am also affiliated with MKA.) It is a work which formally does not depart in any way from that classical form of documentary performance that NSW exports around Australia and the world (certainly there’s a name for the genre by now?), but it is still an important, I think, work, because of its thematic concerns, because it asks questions that we are usually too polite, or too scared, to ask.
I am not allowed to say much more here, so I am just making an invitation. Come.
The news has just hit my inbox: Dancehouse is presenting a choreography by Deborah Hay (whose If I Sing For You was shown, with great popular success, at MIAF 2008). I am terribly busy, so I will reproduce the press release down below:
“In my role as choreographer I provide the tangibility of a movement sequence and the intangibility of strategies to engage in the performance of that movement.” Deborah Hay
In March 2010 ten Australian artists were selected from nearly 50 applicants to participate in the Deborah Hay Solo Performance Project at Bundanon Artists Residence in NSW. They were selected by internationally renowned dancer/choreographer, Hay, with the assistance of local dance luminary Ros Warby, who also assisted during the 10-day intensive.
The intensive was followed by a daily practice over 3 months in preparation for presenting the solos in a public performance season. Victorian artists, Fiona Bryant, Atlanta Eke, Luke George and Carlee Mellow will perform their adaptations of In the Dark at Dancehouse from June 17 – 20.
Deborah Hay – Living in Manhattan by 1960 and studying at the Merce Cunningham studio, Deborah Hay joined a group of experimental artists who were influenced by Cunningham and John Cage. The group, later known as the Judson Dance Theater, became one of the most radical and explosive art movements of the twentieth century.
Dates: June 17 – 19 at 8pm and June 20 at 4pm
The exact order of dancers on any given night may change, as production requires.
* Thursday 17th: Carlee Mellow, Fiona Bryant, Atlanta Eke
* Friday 18th: Fiona Bryant, Atlanta Eke, Luke George
* Saturday 19th: Atlanta Eke, Luke George, Carlee Mellow
* Sunday 20th: Luke George, Carlee Mellow, Fiona Bryant
Where: Dancehouse 150 Princes Street North Carlton Tickets: $22 Full, $18 Conc, $15 Dancehouse Members Bookings:please click here
I will open with a warm exhortation: Hole in the Wall, a Next Wave performance created by a large-ish group of artists including half of My Darling Patricia, is exquisite (if problematic) and closes on the 21st May. Showing at Meat Market twice an evening, it is a little piece of theatre you may still be able to catch.
After attending the performance last night, I found myself in a conversation about attending theatre events of this kind, and the sense of space, life and the world that prolonged exposure to art creates. It’s a playful state of mind, relaxed and exploratory, and very different from the usual life-world of the academic. In comparison, academia is… well, stifling and grey.
Point two: writing about the intrusions of art into geography, Nigel Thrift notes a common criticism along the lines of ‘what are you doing with all this arty stuff?’ His response:
A part of this suspicion is cultural: Euro-American societies still retain a residual suspicion of the arts as harbingers of illusion. Another part is sociological and resides in the current disciplinary division of labour. One other part is concerned with the means through which academics tend to earn their crust, which tends to downgrade many of the most important elements of performance: the tactile, the kinaesthetic, the auditory, and so on. But the creative and playful dimensions of performance seem to me to trump all these suspicions. (…)
Robert Bresson, the film director, … says ‘Hostility to art is also hostility to the new, the unforeseen.’ And perhaps [there] is a corollary: Hostility to art and the new finds expression in doctrines that set stringent limits in advance on experimentation in cultural theory and technique in cultural life.”
Point three: play. I’ve been thinking a lot about the utter lack of uncontrolled spaces in a city like Melbourne, spaces with no rules, where one is allowed to do whatever. These are the textbook play spaces, and we are textbook-lacking in them. What happens in a city with no play?
Stuart Aitken, a geographer of play, adds:
“Play… is most clearly defined as the active exploration of individual and social imaginaries, built up in the spaces of everyday life. [And play] does not fit well in the rational, instrumental logic that pervades the abstract conceived spaces of today’s world. (…) Play, at its most radical and important, is a form of resistance. Giving young people space is more than giving them room to play, it is giving them the opportunity for unchallenged and critical reflection on experiences.”
Michael Kantor’s last season (just announced) looks strangely like a Best Of Malthouse 2005-2010 (subtitle: The Kantor Years), or a Tribute To… CD (Melbourne indie theatre does Malthouse OR Malthouse does Melbourne indie… you choose). And not just that, but a Christmas edition with two bonus tracks (Great International Name + the understudy makes an appearance).
All the people that Kantor’s Malthouse has been supporting are gathered again: here are the local darlings Hayloft, again working with Black Lung on Thyestes; there is Ranters with Intimacy (a sequel to Affection?), there is Lucy Guerin’s new pop-cultural dance (with set design by Gideon Obarzanek of Chunky Move, another friend of the Malthouse); there is 1927, again after Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; Barrie Kosky’s most restrained and elegant The Tell-tale Heart returns after a sold-out season back in 2007; and Meredith Penman, a recent VCA graduate, frequently seen in Hayloft projects, and an absolutely exquisite actress (see her in Richard III currently playing at the MTC) brings her 2009 Sydney show, A Woman in Berlin, back to Melbourne. Is almost makes you feel outraged that she would have been allowed to open it there, and not here.
Then there is the new bright boy, Matthew Lutton, casting the new bright star Ewen Leslie in another dramatization of Kafka: The Trial, both for the Malthouse and the STC. Boy heroes make me yawn, but I am as curious to see Mr Lutton’s famed direction as anyone else, so good on the Malthouse for bringing him over. Meg Stuart is being brought over in the first international guest performance really worth its salt: Maybe Forever is only 3 years old, Meg Stuart is acclaimed, but has not quite finished saying what she has to say, and I am quite marvelled that the Malthouse would be so ambitious as to invite her over. It is also the only performance of the season I will miss (by being in Croatia), alas. The final bonus track is the pre-introduction of Marion Potts with Sappho… in 9 fragments (as ‘stager’, not director), before she takes on the artistic direction of the Malthouse in 2011.
I’d also point out that Things on Sunday, Malthouse’s talk program, looks particularly good this year, with a performance/interview with Heiner Mueller, rest in peace, and the Rex Cramphorn Memorial Lecture delivered by said Marion Potts on the turnover in artistic directors that is sweeping the country. And why not?
All in all, it’s a bit of a last ball, where we want to see all our friends perform something little. And it’s good like that. One characteristic of Kantor’s Malthouse has been a strong sense of community: there was a house way of doing things, there were friends of the Malthouse, a number of people got a lot of space to do work. It has bred some bitterness around town, by those who felt left out of the inner circle, but it has been not altogether unsuccessful. At the end of the Kantor era, Malthouse is not a lukewarm and/or beige place claiming to represent everyone while being nondescript and of no interest to anyone in particular. It is a distinct theatre, full of character, with a programming tradition that has an audience, a palette, strengths and weaknesses. And vision, which is very unusual for an institution its size in this country.
I am looking forward to a change of direction with Marion Potts, but I suspect the second half of the 2010 season will be very successful as a nostalgia-inducer. We will sit around the pit and reminisce about Paul Capsis, gollywog puppets, and the missed opportunity to turn the Gallipoli story into a musical.
All the details of the Malthouse season 2 can be gleaned here.
It is tempting to be extra generous to Michael Kantor in his last year of tenure as the artistic director of the Malthouse. “Elizabeth: Quasi per caso una donna”, a Dario Fo romp with the great Julie Forsyth in the title role, might have indeed been his swan song. Unfortunately, if the rest of his departing 2010 keeps the same tone, Melbourne will remember him as a purveyor of “gratuitous camp”, as Cameron Woodhead so aptly summarized his own opinion of Elizabeth in The Age.
I would like to illustrate the problems of this production by referring you to “Moi… Lolita”, a chart-topping French pop song from 2000. The video depicted the then-14-year-old Alizeée as a country girl in a skin-coloured skimpy dress, taking money from a man, getting a bus with her little sister, dancing in a discotheque surrounded by much older men, while the little sister is having a cocktail in a corner. She sings, very approximately, It’s not my fault if when I’m about to give up I see others, all ready to throw themselves at me’
My question is: how long does the average citoyen d’Australie (or another Anglophone country) last before getting very upset about this sexualisation-of-the-youngest business? I would guess not long. Try. Time yourselves. Let me know.
There is an essential seriousness at the bottom of the Anglo heart, still one foot in Protestantism, that makes it very hard to accept that this is just a pop song for a million kids to dance to all over the world. It is a seriousness about the meaning of life, but also about its semiotics, and it particularly comes to the fore in camp, the most English-speaking of aesthetic sensibilities.
Yes, pace Susan Sontag, camp is aestheticization of life, a kind of artifice, quotation marks around life, and yes it works through attenuation or exaggeration of surface – but, it seems to me, there is a melancholic disavowal at its very heart. Camp is a way of doing something and not doing it at the same time – either because you appear to be achieving the opposite (Sontag notes the camp taste for the androgynous body), or because you are overdoing it so much that you must be just pretending – and if its weighty mannerism completely eclipses its content, it is only because the content is somehow pushed away (too painful, embarrassing, or denied). What is disavowed, of course, is a matter of utmost seriousness. Homosexuality tends towards camp for this reason – it is an unprosecutable version of itself. There is something clumsy and unachieved, unaccomplished at the heart of camp, wrapped in glad-wrap of self-protection from failure. Julian Clary is obviously camp, but so is any Englishman who declares love in every possible way, from the most sarcastic to the most bombastic, without ever doing it simply and directly. Camp revels in the sentimental, notes Sontag, and it seems to me that this sentimentality is an equivalent of the melancholia of disavowal. Sentimentality is not-quite-feeling, just like melancholia: something is idealized, mourned, but never properly felt because it has been lost before it was had. (Judith Butler, if I may interrupt myself learnedly, finds melancholia both in homosexuality and in homophobia: the rage in homophobia is the fact that masculine heterosexuality has had to disavow its own homosexual side.) And the essence of every perfected camp pose is deeply tragic. So if it’s a mannerism, it is a mannerism because what’s at stake is too serious to be addressed directly.
It is a common mistake for the Anglophone to misinterpret any exhibition of wild emotion or manner as camp: but without self-irony of the disavowal, it is not camp even if it looks like it. It is melodrama at times, flamboyance or megalomania, wild farce, etc. There is a morbid darkness at the heart of the Spanish culture that makes its excesses fascist before campy; and a joyfulness at the heart of the Italian culture that makes it illiterate in self-irony. Dali is therefore not camp; neither is Dario Fo.
Can they be campified nonetheless? That one can love a Tiffany lamp or Art Nouveau or Sagrada Familia in a camp way is undisputable; but Elizabeth shows a number of problems that arise when one decides to interpret a play campily, against its grain.
What would “Moi… Lolita” look like in a genuinely English version? We do have a good equivalent already: Britney Spears’s “Baby One More Time”. A much less literal rendition of the same, with the 16-year-old nymphet in a schoolgirl uniform, singing something allusive but indirect; textbook camp. But the spelling out of ‘Lolita’, the dancing and the older man giving her money would be too strong elements to keep, precisely because the issue at stake is taken too seriously to be treated so playfully, in such a shamelessly silly way.
Elizabeth is a play in the tradition of commedia dell’arte, which is to say a proto-farce, and the ontological position of every farce is that life is too silly to do anything but laugh with it. There is no seriousness at its bottom: it comes, if it does, as an addition, a U-turn. Dario Fo’s humour, like most Italian humour, is a humour of wild exaggeration, of physical comedy, of whirlwind language, spinning at a vaudeville level at which nothing is sacred. Fo injects satire into it, but this is a cosmic sort of satire: satire of power, masculinity, ego – not of this or that person.
Kantor’s Elizabeth moderates this cosmic silliness into something apparently only marginally different, but what it actually does is weigh the text down, inadmissibly and unforgivably, with the disavowed seriousness of camp. Instead of a joyful romp, it becomes a heavy-handedly melancholy, semiotically weighty thing. The problem is not that there is an interpretation per se: the problem is that it fails as a piece of theatre.
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing to say about Michael Kantor is that he seems to be capable of only a very narrow expressive range. Save for the extraordinary Happy Days in 2009, all of his work sticks to the same stew of camp singing, heavily applied Satire, sprinkled with poignancy until we all feel five years old. Too many of his works have looked like an educational poster: this is your FUN, this is your SOCIAL RELEVANCE, and this is your MORAL. Unfortunately for Kantor, the dramatic mechanics of Elizabeth cannot withstand such treatment.
I have rarely seen an English-language production of plays of this kind that understands and honours their lack of seriousness (the most recent was probably The Bourgeois Gentleman, a VCA student work ’09 and a delicious, hyper-silly rendition of Moliere). They tend to turn out pompous, spacious and verbose: the frivolity becomes camp, but they are too long to sustain the effortful artifice of camp without growing tired, boring. Similarly, Elizabeth suffers from too much space between the notes, literally: the silences, the bare stage, the criminal lack of movement (coming back from Europe, it was comparatively mesmerizing how little the actors moved). Lofty room is given to paraphernalia: the dialogue, the words, the plot. As humour withers from Elizabeth, it becomes embarrassingly obvious that a farce has little plot, no characters, no message and neglectable depth. It’s a tragic failure if its chain of events don’t elicit laughter, for it is a form that doesn’t attempt much more (just like “Moi… Lolita” is a pop number, not a call to sexual revolution).
Julie Forsyth realizes a wonderful Elizabeth: old, bogan, energetic and paranoid, she is a beautifully original creation. However, in too many moments she is literally the only thing moving on stage, while some insignificant bit of dialogue is being delivered. It’s telling that the most successful moments in the play (and there are a few, evenly scattered throughout the production), are those in which the stage is animated: the operatic exit of Donna Grozetta, the revolving set. Had there been more simple silliness, the denouement might have actually punched with poignance. Instead, Kantor squanders his seriousness: no moment for a note in minor key is wasted, and almost the entire second act sentimentally elegiac – before the queen has even died! By the time Fo is about to make his one serious point, our ability to empathize with a farce has been so severely wrung that we could comfortably sit through a treatise on Hiroshima, complete with a crying choir of disfigured toddlers, and make mental supermarket lists.
Elizabeth is too long and too inconsequential a text to be camped up like that. By ignoring its farce, Malthouse gets a show full of theatre, but without drama, shiny artifice disguising no serious issue. In my more awake moments, I imagined a provincial Italian theatre running away with the script, making scatological jokes and filling the stage to the brim with business. I even imagined how wonderful the play might have looked in Butterly Club, in a cabaret version. If Elizabeth makes the text look bad, I am still convinced there is a worthwhile play at its bottom. It just requires a production less worried about its meaning.
Elizabeth: Almost by chance a woman [Quasi per caso una donna: Elisabetta], by Dario Fo. Translated and freely adapted by Luke Devenish and Louise Fox. Director Michael Kantor. Set and costume designer Anna Cordingley. Lighting designer Paul Jackson. Composer Mark Jones. Sound designer Russell Goldsmith. Dramaturge Maryanne Lynch. Apr 3 – 24.
I’ve just braved acute asthmatic bronchitis (not my words) to get myself down to ACMI and back, and see the first part of Melbourne CTEQ’s 3-week Chris Marker mini-fest live. It has nothing to do with theatre whatsoever. In fact, his films are so essentially films, so deeply untheatrical, that I can recommend them on nothing but my own enthusiasm.
As for my enthusiasm, I have been waiting impatiently for these three Wednesdays since about April. Chris Marker’s films are the most uncanny collage of thought, image, free association, philosophical musing, travelogue, and they are felt, humane, deep and employing both sides of the brain the way no other films have ever done for me (indeed, as we have established tonight, they are the polar opposite of Asperger’s films like Napoleon Dynamite, aloof to everything but their own hipster specialness). Watching Sans Soleil, which may be my ever-favourite film, with its free-associative stream of images relating loosely (but certainly) to a stream of very interesting thoughts, is an experience I would very favourably compare to that of being completely inside another person’s head. And a very interesting person’s, too.
The entire three-week experience, if you are so bold, will cost you a meagre $20. FULL DETAILS HERE.
Dalija won the Prix Jardin d’Europe, awarded by emerging critics to emerging choreographers, at ImPulsTanz last year, for her work , a sort of horror-dance based on the total fallibility of memory. I have hoped to write about it ever since arriving back from Vienna in a state of shellshocked awe. Of course, it’s not the last time that life simple moved on too fast.
Handle With Great Care is quite similar in its point of interest to another very beautiful dance that has been made this year, Sandra Parker’s Out of Light. When I saw it, earlier this year, I had an acute, sharp and mournful flashback to Handle with Great Care. I’ve described both choreographies as looking like faint memories of choreographies. While watching them, they look like distant memories of a performance. But Parker’s dance, however beautifully executed, was two things that always anger me in art: full of frills, and twee. There was a lot of memory going on in her work, a whole tapestry of lost threads, and some sort of funny didacticism at the end that both redeemed the piece (with its proclamation of value where, until that point, there had been only vacuous cuteness) and condemned it further. But that may be, as we say, a cultural thing.
Aćin’s work, in contrast, was so sparse that it amounted to a horror. It moved without moving, it lasted forever, it often felt that the dancer was trapped in her own body, which couldn’t move because couldn’t remember what, how, why. Handle with Great Care was relentlessly harsh, not ascetic but intelligently, burrowingly harsh, it was an active rather than passive aggression, and it wasn’t beautiful so much as sublime.
Her most recent work, Oh, no!, uses breakdance moves to explore masculinity. After the lucky Vienna, it will tour Budapest, Zagreb, Maribor and Sarajevo.
More than one person around me recently has been loudly annoyed that Michael Jackson’s death is a Bigger Deal than that of Pina Bausch. Sure, MJ is a pop idol, an icon, an image. But Pina Bausch has re-taught us how to look at the body: as far as 20th-century art goes, Bausch is as important as Picasso, Beckett.
It is not quite apt to compare the two. Pina’s death, however unexpected, is not a tragedy: Bausch has not only achieved so much that modern dance will take another 100 years to chew through it, she was also an elderly woman. Michael Jackson was 50, not in the dying age.
There is something dirty about Michael Jackson’s death, just like there was in his life. Kathy Charles has put it the best: “I feel sadness but also a sense of relief that this is all over, that we finally have permission to remember the joy Michael Jackson brought the world, and not be distracted by the grotesque charade his life had become.” It all feels uncomfortably akin to the aftermath of a particularly extravagant orgy, with dismembered, unconscious hookers lying around. “Can someone clean them up?”, the lord of the manor asks. Once they’re gone, the men can sip cognac and reminisce on the gorgeous night they’ve had. Now that the decaying body of the pop king is removed from the scene, we can remember the fantasy boy we have created: a delusion without the monstrous mirror-image.
Pina Bausch, on the other hand, has left us with utmost grace. She has become one of those rare women who are discussed as creators, professionals first, and women second. (Hopefully, there will be no biopic, or re-write of this story, in which she becomes a woman with a broken heart who exorcises romantic disappointment in work, a la Coco Chanel in the recent cinematic wonder.) I count Bausch as one of the most important artists to me, and I have never even seen her work live. Like Hideaki Anno, mere descriptions sufficed to send my brain into overdrive.
Deutsche Welle, which broke the story to the English-speaking world, says in its obituary: She was the biggest choreographer in the world. At Village Voice, Deborah Jowitt writes an In Memoriam:
Whether you loved Bausch’s work or hated it, you wouldn’t dream of not going to see it. And many young New York choreographers, schooled in Merce Cunningham’s the-movement-is-the-meaning principles, were both impressed and excited. As Jane Comfort remarked in a 1988 interview, “When we saw Pina Bausch, it was a shock; it was almost like she was giving Americans permission to use expressive movement again.”
“She washes clean the human soul on and off the stage. She shows in her scenarios our addiction to causing and receiving pain and our ecstasy at being human. When you see the work – the repetition of human love gestures, aborted wishes, rejection, inadequacy, desolation and absurdity – you still come out thrilled to be a member of the human race.”
In the tributes, the likes of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Wayne McGregor, Pedro Almodovar (who, together with Fellini, has used Bausch in his films), Wim Wenders (who never managed to), Alain Platel, talk about the importance of her work. Jan Fabre adds a rather beautiful, big thought: “I imagine that she died with a cigarette in her mouth: you have to stay loyal to the things that kill you.”
I do need to apologise for neglecting this blog. I have, truth be told, going to the theatre very, very little (once a week, twice a week, sometimes even not at all). I was finishing my big work project, and hoping to get a bit of holidays between semesters (I am graduating in November). But woe, instead of being a happy suburban slacker, I have moved onto another project; the famous arts policy one that I had been swindling my way into for some time now. It is a fantastic job, of course. It’s just that I was hoping for a holiday. I’m not sure how long one can live three or four lives at once.
I will be back soon, though, although perhaps with a more conscientious division between core and non-core reviews. And writing is going on, just not on the blog. By the end of the day, I am finding myself brain-fried too often.