Tag Archives: media

The Monthly strikes again

The locals will know, the un-Australians won’t: after a public and very unflatteringly-viewed sacking of their finest editor to date, because she dared work independently of her board, The Monthly, Australia’s only candidate for an art&politics magazine, has just appointed a new editor. He is 23 years old.

The public discussion has gone two ways: the road of restrained scepticism on the one hand, and the anti-ageism way on the other. The latter say: why couldn’t he be a good editor at that age? I was called young when I started (though I was 28/39/45 at the time)…

Ah, the point ain’t that a 23-year-old cannot be a decent editor of the country’s only pretendent at intelligent political magazine. The point is that he will not be the best possible. One needs experience, those 10,000 hours, one needs to fail before one learns. And, considering the circumstances in which Sally Warhaft lost her position, great skills are required of a Monthly editor if s/he is to be great.

On the other hand, it’s fair to assume there is no real desire to make The Monthly great. Guy Rundle has every right to point out that The Monthly has been content to be rather dull and uninspired where it could have been brilliant and influential. The weight of the magazine lies in what it does, not how it does it. It’s business as usual: we know how little we want, and that means we recognise it immediately. Again we are at the point, so common in this young country, where we proclaim the 20-something as a genius. Again that need not to demand the learning process from others – perhaps because then we would need to demand it from ourselves too?

Pavlov’s Cat, commenting on the issue, quotes T. H. White:

There is a thing called knowledge of the world, which people do not have until they are middle-aged. It is something which cannot be taught to younger people, because it is not logical and does not obey laws which are constant. It has no rules. Only, in the long years which bring women to the middle of life, a sense of balance develops. You can’t teach a baby to walk by explaining the matter to her logically — she has to learn the strange poise of walking by experience. In some way like that, you cannot teach a young woman to have knowledge of the world. She has to be left to the experience of the years. … And then … she can go on living — not by principle, not by deduction, not by knowledge of good and evil, but simply by a peculiar and shifting sense of balance which defies each of these things often. She … continues henceforth under the guise of a seventh sense. Balance was the sixth sense … and now she has the seventh one — knowledge of the world.

The slow discovery of the seventh sense, by which men and women contrive to ride the waves of a world in which there is war, adultery, compromise, fear, stultification and hypocrisy — this discovery is not a matter for triumph. The baby, perhaps, cries out triumphantly: I have balance! But the seventh sense is recognised without a cry. We only carry on … riding the queer waves in a habitual, petrifying way, because we have reached a stage of deadlock in which we can think of nothing else to do. …

I trust 23-year-old boys with very little, on a daily basis. I am 24 years old now: I still don’t know much, but I do know a great deal more than I did a year ago. Those who say that age doesn’t matter perhaps don’t remember what 23 feels like. Or perhaps they’re young themselves, and don’t know how little they know yet. After all, when I was 22, I trusted 23-year-old boys with many things. I am sure Ben Naparstek is among the better 23-year-old boys out there, if not the very best. Still.

On a slightly oblique note: I was on a bit of a mission earlier this year, talking to my older friends about the sort of things they’ve learned with age. I’ve always found that Woody-Allenism, “you don’t learn, you only get older”, troubling and manifestly incorrect. The responses have been interestingly laconic. Some have said you get tougher. Some have said you learn to distinguish types of people. You become less tolerant. Largely, there was a strange quietness at the question, as if they suspected I wouldn’t be able to do much with the information – which was probably right. I see younger people – in my class, or my sister’s teenage friends – and I can see the mistakes they need to make. Like T. H. White points so well, it is an illogical sort of knowledge, an ever-shifting sense of balance. It cannot be taught. What happens, I imagine, is that you learn the world, and you learn yourself.

Roz Hansen, whom I had the great luck to interview in 2008, summarized a woman’s career trajectory this way:

In your twenties you’re treading water, you’re trying things out. In your thirties you know what you’re doing and you’re starting to build your career. In your forties you’re making money. And in your fifties you have the experience, you’re confident, and you do it for love, because it makes you happy.

It’s not a bad thing to have in mind, I suppose.


Black Lung: Avast I & Avast II – The Welshman Cometh

I first encountered the Black Lung boys in Rubeville, in a Westgarth garage in 2006. As it often happens on the occasion of Fringe, the original venue had to be abandoned soon after the programs went to print, and I could be seen running up Smith St, having just read the handwritten notice on the ex-venue door, trying to get to a completely different suburb in five minutes. And it was worth every drop of sweat and every curse and kick of the tram door. Rubeville, I remember, was a ramble on the pursuit of money and fame. Some of it was obviously improvised, some of it probably wasn't. Most of the time, one just couldn't be sure. Eloise Mignon overdosed, vomited, and stepped out of character to complain about the gender politics behind her one-woman prostitution and drug abuse, surrounded with male heroes. Gareth Davies plotted to steal the Black Lung till and fly out of the country. Dylan Young offered his body to just about everyone in view. It was unpredictable, self-indulgent, plotless, but it was brilliantly written, fizzing with energy, and incredibly funny. It was brilliant theatre.

Having since missed all sorts of small-format Black Lung, including an intriguing-sounding Short + Sweet 10-minuter, 9 of which Davies spends raping Sacha Bryning (I hear), and Pimms in Fringe 2007, due to another venue catastrophe, it's been a relief to find Black Lung stable, intransient, programmed, unable to escape or collapse or disband or disappear, in the Malthouse Tower, presenting a revival of an old work, Avast, and an original sequel/prequel to it, Avast II. And they are still gorgeous, gorgeous boys.

The Black Lung boys.

Avast is grand and great. As we enter the Tower, completely transformed into a sort of magic shed of early manhood, all vintage porn magazines, rows upon rows of black umbrellas in the ceiling, graffiti on black walls ('Albert Tucker Mother Fucker'), animal skulls on wood panelling, damp Persian rugs on the ground and dead nannas in the corners, my companion smiles like only girls smile, and exclaims excitedly: “It smells like men!” Music is blaring, semi-naked dirty men with bushranger beards are jumping, dancing, and running through the space, and this chaos will seamlessly turn into theatre. Until it seamlessly turns out of theatre again, it will do the same as always: half of it, you will know, must be improvised, but you'll never be sure which half. Props will collapse, actors will seriously injure one another, bad stories will be told and audience members will try to leave only to get shouted at, and I quote: “Sit the fuck down or I'll punch your girlfriend in the face! That's rude!” (finding out that they were planted in the audience almost broke my heart). Among all this, the flimsiest narrative line emerges: two brothers reunited, for one to kill the other.

Avast II – The Welshman Cometh, the Malthouse-generated prequel/sequel, is a more coherent, more narrative-friendly performance. It has some semblance of plot, and is less of a meta-meander than Avast the First. It explains it, however, serving almost like an annotated commentary on the influences: an array of pop artefacts, from graphic novels (Preacher), films (Kill Bill), to cartoons (the Dragonball series). It is a western informed by the samurai Japan, by the gothic, by dungeons & dragons, a loose theme park of duty, family bounds, heroism, frontier mythology, resilience in the face of natural disasters, sword fights. It is a world devoid of women, where all the conflicts are between friends, fathers and sons. The story, if we should bestow such an honour on the ramble, follows an outlaw coming into the city, dragging an outcast, roped by the neck. The found man, nameless, with a hook instead of one hand, is baptised Diego because no-one can die without a name, and their arrival wrecks havoc upon the township, stirring shit in relationships between fathers, sons, friends (as already mentioned), and God. The narrative shifts left to right, following a logic of something other than plot, and music is employed like Melbourne doesn't get enough of it.

Death, and the melodrama of dying, are explored to no end, with Sasha Bryning pouring red paint on the necks of the cast, as they collapse one after another, while Henning, sitting on a couch in a corner, predicts the death of each cast member, from the grotesque (drowning, stabbing) to the mundane (prostate cancer, heart attack). Finally, the closure comes through the deus ex machina of American-accented monologue on the late Beatles and love, all sentimentality and nostalgia. The real content of the delivery is emotional, behind the avoidance of every motif and moment that happened on stage until then, just like male communication is predominantly about not saying anything. The logic of Black Lung is precisely the logic of that last monologue: rambling, elliptic, bursting with suppressed content, standing knee-deep in the murky waters of subconscious logic.

If there is one thing the Avasts are about, it's masculinity, in that primordial sense of strength, impermeable solidity, uncertain aloofness. (It's notable that someone like Christos Tsiolkas, a testosterone writer, an angry man, is an absolute anomaly in Australia although, for example, he would fit easily in the US literary mainstream. There is something repressive in the Australian story-telling, sense-making tradition that blocks not only femininity, but also unbridled masculinity.) All the usual problems of manhood and self-definition are present: from father-son and brotherly relationships, the insecure male sexuality, to the confusion of idols, roles and role models. It brings in boys icons from samurai and Nick Cave to superheroes and Son Goku. Deeply appealing images of freaks, gunmen, knights, strange animals, the lone saviour and the lone outsider are inflated, killed and exhumed, just like the God who descends only to be killed with a shotgun. All done with such irreverent, intelligent negligence for simple logic, that a girl spends the evening in giggles.

There is a rich undercurrent of contemporary mythology that Black Lung draws from, in a way that's openly juvenile, semi-certainly subconscious, but well-processed nonetheless. As stage content, it is glutinously over-the-top, indulgently amassing cultural waste on stage, pictures and phrases and postures and punchlines, letting them collide in montages of nonsense. But this is the over-active subconscious of humanity as refracted through the imbecile prism of pop culture. Just like myths are a drone of masses reduced to the most essential trickle of the most incisive images, stories, so is pop culture a choir of human confusion distilled into key dreams and nightmares. To dedicate one's life to trash, thus, may be a bit boring, lacking in variety, but a small dose is an immediate connection to all that's deeply true about life, without the filter of self-aware censorship.

Thomas Henning is an astonishing writer, and these two are, however strangely, solidly spoken-word pieces, although language is never more than another sign system to be blown up. The dialogue effortlessly shifts register from haute to pulp to slang, wrapping itself into knots of delightful hilarity. Dylan will attack the town preacher, “I'm thinking I might cut you down, like you cut me down and let me outside to rot!”, while the latter will defend himself fiercely: “Not to die, though. Not to die.”, while Johnno, who has changed into a woman midway through Welshman, leads a playful, seductive dialogue with Gareth by asking: “Have you ever killed a dragon?”, to which he deadpans: “Yep.” It goes off on tangents, from attachment to dead mother, dead father, brotherly rivalry, transgender conversation (Sacha Bryning does a feminist stand-up routine, but with an entirely male body language and intonation). Yet the verbosity is paired up with the most exquisite visual sense. A 1930s panama gentleman, a procession of strange animals behind a brotherly conversation, gay jokes, stadium rock, all is raised and dropped onto the text, onto the audience, with such diamond-sharp cohesive logic, that against all odds it feels like a journey, not a train crash.

One of the main qualities of Black Lung is the overwhelming freshness they bring to the theatre experience. The energy with which these guys (particularly Gareth Davies, the Prince Charming) jump across the stage, perfectly comfortable while hopping from silliness into acting into meta and back conveys a strong sense of understanding, agreement within the group. Whatever physical violence happens on stage is real, not clumsily enacted (as is usual); performers burst into giggles; there is enough unexpected, contextless nudity to make one feel that the performers are simply taking the piss. It's consistently uncertain what's structured, and what isn't, as the language and the imagery are constantly destroyed and renewed, in a way that feels sometimes dictated, sometimes improvised, but always purposeful. I don't remember my last theatre performance after which the performers could be heard shouting in the foyer: “No, he didn't really get hurt! It's called theatre, people!” The early, almost child-like thrill of real people, tangible, touchable, approachable, mortal, in the spotlight in front of you, comes alive again.

Black Lung are probably the most significant young company in Melbourne, if not more widely. Hold on to these tickets, boys and girls, they will be collectables soon. Unless, of course, the whole band disbands in a few years, frustrated by lack of funds, poor audiences, and our newspaper critics. (The audiences, for now, have been good, I should acknowledge. The blogosphere is buzzing. The funds are still not desperately needed. They're young.)

Avast and Avast II – The Welshman Cometh, a Malthouse / Black Lung co-presentation. The Black Lung Theatre Company: Sacha Bryning, Gareth Davies, Thomas Henning, Mark Winter, Thomas Wright, Dylan Young. Sound designer / musician: Liam Barton. Lighting designer: Govin Ruben. Stage manager: Eva Tandy. Malthouse Theatre, 12 November – 6 December 2008.

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The Women of Troy; a more discursive response.

A high-school boy, at the end of The Women of Troy, tells me uncertainly: I'm not sure if it's not making me feel anything because I've been desensitized by television… Despite the necessary reservation we should have for this self-analysis, as children today have been so overanalysed in their exposure to televised and game violence that they are conscious of the expectations placed on them to be heartless before their time, the boy is correct.

I am reading, over and over, The Women of Troy described as powerful, shattering, poignant, and these are such disingenuous words. It is, quite the contrary, deliberately distancing, alienating, from beginning to end. If anything, we may guiltily leave the Malthouse Theatre feeling like we should feel shattered, unsure whether it's not touching us because we're philistines, or because we've become desensitized to Abu Ghraib as idea and image, but that is the extent of the emotional reaction. And that is, ultimately, the problem with The Women of Troy: it doesn’t seem to exist for an audience. It doesn’t want to make us feel, it doesn’t appear to want to make us think. If anything at all, it wants to disgust.

The Women of Troy.

Staging a clef is a very common way of modernising a theatre classic: dressing it up with imagery or situations from another time, usually contemporary, in order to bestow some relevance onto the text, some universal resonance onto our time. However, semiotically and dramaturgically, it makes a mess more often than not: all those colliding, flapping bits, all those elements contradicting one another. A classic, according to Calvino, is a work that has never finished saying what it has to say. To that purpose, I believe the theatre maker(s) has every right to dismantle it completely, build onto whichever thread of relevance she wants to follow. Or, having no emotional connection, she can stage it as a piece of historical formalism, in the key of an era, even if this means to succumb, like MTC, to neotraditional nothingness. Present an ancient Greek tragedy as a detention camp dress-up, however, and it opens up more problems than it solves.

The Women of Troy is a very clear manifesto on the banality of evil, from the blood-stained blue carpets to the torturers in mismatched tracksuits, helped by the chorus which, whenever there's blood, launches into classical muzak in direct defiance of Adorno. The plight of Trojan women after the fall of Troy is shown in bright light, completely de-romanticized. However, that seems to be the extent of the production's conscious intent at saying something.

It is not quite clean if either of the two conflicting elements is meant to be alienating, and if either should provide emotional content. Perhaps we should recognise our shock and horror as we recognise the motifs of Abu Ghraib, and the lines of Euripides would then make this violence strange. If correct, this is simplistic logic: no emotional content travels with these visual quotations, because they are just that. Clean, empty quotations.

Susan Sontag was deeply concerned about the effect that existence in a culture shaped by a sustained reproduction, recycling, of imagery, had on morality. In Regarding the Pain of Others she considers the ecology of images created by the way photography tears fragments of reality out of their historical and geographical contexts, mixing them freely into a visual soup of pop, iconic, ready-to-use images, and compares it to the surrealist collage. This promiscuous aestheticisation of experience, in her words, “makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.” It is not merely, thus, that being exposed to a pastiche of shocking images does not provide one with understanding of the complex ways in which suffering somewhere else exists in the same reality with our comfortable experience of regarding suffering on stage. More insidiously, being repeatedly exposed to shocking, brutal images hardens us against feeling shocked, feeling brutalized, by them. The repetition and the distance makes them feel less real, banalises.

Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation’s The Rape of the Sabine Women, recently shown at MIAF, is a crystal-clear counterbalance to this approach. In an interview, Sussman said she merely tries to give an experience that’s meaningful to the audience, and this, I think, is the point of difference. Otherwise, the two works are incredibly similar: both visually modernize an ancient story depicting mass violence on women, barely if at all condemned, (certainly presented as inevitable), and both plunge deep into visual quotations, building their work as a collage. But, while Kosky condemns us to tourism in other people’s pain, Sussman stacks a precariously balanced tower of references to ideas, ideals, aspirations, desires, fears. There may be not a word in Sabine Women, it is nonetheless as intelligent as an essay. Wall Street masculinity, desire for the orientalised feminine, the classicist, fascist and modernist right-angle order, the polished muteness of women’s magazines, echo throughout this work that’s never safe, never polite, but always, always meaningful. Sussman does not quote ready-made images to tickle ready-made emotional responses: she is opening these images to scrutiny through displacement, and tracing our attachment to the dreams they cloak through historical alignment, finding lines of connection between seemingly disparate images. The effect is as riveting as The Women of Troy numbs.

The Rape of the Sabine Women.

As an antidote to superficial, iconic, recycled image of pain, Sontag demanded the explanatory, intellectual potential of words, arguing that war photography belongs to the newspapers, surrounded with words. I am willing to agree, if only because the banal numbed shock of a recycled image has no meaning except as an artefact of our culture, important only in context. Morally, the image of a prison guard photographing a hooded prisoner has as much weight as a discarded candy wrapper.

So, it could be that we should emotionally connect to the brilliance of Euripides's play, in a crisp new 'translation', and the brutal, industrial ugliness of the prison camp setting, of the violence and the muzak, should distance the human drama. In fact, Alison praises its effectiveness as modernised tragedy.

But is it?

In On Christian Theology, Rowan Williams writes: One point that needs making at once is that the tragic by definition deals with human limit; that is, with what is not to be changed. There is pain in the world that is, so to speak, non-negotiable. The suffering that has happened and cannot be made not to have happened (the irreversibility of time) is, in spite of various kinds of vacuous, insulting and brutal rhetoric, religious and political, unchangeably there for us. (…)

And then quotes Howard Barker’s 49 Asides for a Tragic Theatre, among which:
Tragedy resists the trivialization of experience, which is the project of the authoritarian regime…
In the endless drizzle of false collectivity, tragedy restores pain to the individual.

But is that what The Women of Troy does?

I wish I could agree. I wish I felt that human suffering, the suffering of women through wars, was dignified in this production. If it happens at all, it happens through Robyn Nevin’s masterful realisation of Hecuba, because she is able to both rage Greek, and be the broken prison-camp shell of a human being, and not appear a puppet. The two halves, the decorous Greek and the cheap documentary Abu Ghraib, are so incoherently plastered one onto another, the production asks us to make such leaps of imagination, aesthetic adjustments, from flicking phone cameras to polytheism, that one would need to be a tightly programmed robot to do it successfully. If Hecuba, switching from gorgeous, profound defeat, numb humiliation that has already become shame, as Primo Levi poignantly concluded, to making fierce Greek statements about honour and state, still stands as the emotional centre of the production, it is due to Nevin’s fantastic performance, not the internal logic of the piece. The three-headed chorus alternates between apathy, scrambling for food, and obtuse singing, functioning as a do-all backdrop, perhaps, but never as three human beings. And the representation of Helen as a sort of mafia wife is either outrageously inappropriate, or confirms my doubt that there is little empathy for the women of Troy in this production. Nothing can validate the black coat, the sunglasses, the hubris. A person condemned to death clings onto dear life. You need to not understand bare desire to survive to smother survival into grotesque.

Melita Jurisic and Robyn Nevin. Photo by Tracey Schramm.

This is, ultimately, what The Women of Troy does – it tries to not so much shock, as to nauseate. Repulse. It makes things grotesque, and that seems to be its ultimate goal. The grotesque of Cassandra’s rape, for example, is in the way it happens in a closed cupboard, and not in plain view. The image of Cassandra crawling out, underpants drenches in blood (certainly an excessive amount) around her ankles, is an image meant to disgust, not to make think, and certainly not to provoke compassion. It is not the shocking graphic revelation, but the choice of what’s shown, and what’s hidden, that makes it something other than a simple, bare witnessing of violence.

There are, as usual, elements that work, perhaps surprisingly. The planarity of body direction, used greatly in Navigator too, results in visual banality that’s quite intriguing, and is mirrored in effect by the back wall, a flat surface of filing cabinets and school lockers. The most effective device employed to physically show the precarious, exposed vulnerability of these women is to constantly make them balance on small cardboard boxes. There are at least two moments in which, perhaps unintentionally, a palpable emotional connection was established between the play and the audience. The entrance of Andromache, perhaps a side-effect of pregnancy and fine costume. The other was a song, the Balkans mourning song, perhaps because it finally dispensed with the sugary muzak to offer something more felt, something relating to the narrative. For the rest of the time, and this needs to be said, the audience tries hard, very hard, to empathise. If Hell is the absence of compassion, we spend the entire show trying to save ourselves.

Melita Jurisic. Photo by Tracey Schramm.

There were two intellectually interesting features. The choice of muzak, first, a random selection of madrigals, Bizet, Mozart, When you're smiling, when you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you. And second, the BBC Radio voice on the speaker, announcing the tortures to be bestowed upon each one of the royal daughters. This was not your normal psychotic German bureaucrat, administering genocide as a job description. This was the polished enunciation of an educated gentleman, explaining the options to Hecuba, Cassandra, Andromache, and advising them not to try to find their own alternatives, because everything had been predicted and provided for already. This was one genuinely subversive element in the play: in my mind, it acknowledged that the concentration camps were invented in South Africa, that the holocaust was the product of the cultured, urbane mind, exterminating the world because it didn't fit in their little definition of civilization. It also, somewhat funnily, related to that strange way in which, I believe, Anglophones identify with the ancient Greeks and Romans. Both because they seem to see their drama as the basement to Shakespeare, and because they identify with the search for first principles, analytical approach to life, basic questions of cause and purpose. It was a moment of Sussman-level intelligence in an otherwise banal pastiche of borrowed imagery. And yet, I don't think it was intentional. The first thing the gentleman sitting next to me did, when the lights came up, was to mention the incomprehensible question of Germans and the concentration camps.

We came wanting to feel, and we were not allowed to. Alright. Had there been intellectual content instead, had we been accused of something other than insensitivity, perhaps the experience wouldn't have felt so empty. I went away from The Women of Troy initially only underwhelmed. But, the more I thought about it, the more this feeling turned to fury. The chorus of three women, dressed in white tights and singlets, their womanly silhouettes so crushingly humane, remind one of the most ordinary of women, who spend their time at home wearing quite the same clothes. Smeared with blood, bruised, electrocuted, this is the most potent image in the entire production. And Robyn Nevin's Hecuba, right in the middle of the play, reminded me very strongly of my grandmother, who survived her own war by collaborating with whoever marched through, and cleaned up behind the partisan army in the end, burying some German soldiers behind the house with the rest of her family. There is a real and deep history of women in war. Women suffer in wars, and suffer greatly: this is not an abstract subject. And yet, Kosky’s production seems to treat the suffering of women in war as simply yet another image to be subverted, a theme to refract through a visual prism, and confuse. It is deeply unfelt.

Why make these intimate revelations about women, make them wear home clothes and resemble living grandmothers? Why humiliate them if it isn't even in order to bring their tragedy closer? Undress them on stage in order to distance them from us, to prove a point about the banality of mass media? How demeaning, disrespectful and offensive to present them like this: dirty, violated, deconstructed and disjointed, forced to now sing, now shiver numbly, passively, now invoke gods. Interrupt their pain with changes of register, scale it up and down with grotesque. The worst plight of the women of Troy, in this production, is in the way they are not allowed their suffering.

Ian Kershaw, in Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich, wrote that calmly observing the suffering inflicted on others would not be possible without apathy, yet apathy was the most common reaction to the proliferation of hate propaganda. If there is a way to avoid apathy, it is not through complicity with the promiscuous aesthetisation of experience. Not even in the theatre.

The Women of Troy, by Euripides, adapted by Tom Wright and Barrie Kosky, directed by Barrie Kosky. Designed by Alice Babidge, lighting by Damien Cooper, musician Daryl Willis, sound design by David Gilfillan. With Robyn Nevin, Melita Jurisic, Arthur Dignam, Natalie Gamsu, Queenie van de Zandt, Jennifer Vuletic, Patricia Cotter and Kyle Rowling, Giorgios Tsamoudakis and William Larkin. Sydney Theatre Company, presented by Malthouse Theatre, until November 22.

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The beautiful, enormous space of Carriageworks – probably at least half the size of the Venice Arsenale – is a good place to think about the relationship between body and space. It is a semi-reconstructed, semi-abandoned train shed, a glass and iron enclosure of large volumes of air, with narrow but tall corridors, with sprinkles of soft benches, chairs, on the concrete floor, a space as impressive, in its effect on the mind, as any intentionally good architecture – as pleasant to wander around as that opera house. Sivan Gabrielovich mentioned being in the outback, experiencing for the first time the enormity of Australia, and feeling bare, lost, foreign, and unable to hide to herself. Nothing casting a shadow. I have often, returning to the Kvarner Bay after long periods overseas, felt the immediate realignment between my physical existence and the dynamics of the relief: the regular rhythm of the hills, the safe mutability of the sea, the enclosure of the islands all around.

The philosophical background to Bodyweather likewise – the acceptance of being a part of the world, and not a constant confrontation with it, is what has driven Far-Eastern thought strongly towards understanding applied arts and everyday practices as spiritual pursuits, perfecting the tea ceremony and work ethics just like the Western thought has engaged in still life painting, biochemistry and walking on the moon. As Okakura says, in The Book of Tea, “The art of life is in constant and repeated adapatation to our surroundings.”

Bodyweather is a comprehensive training and performance practice, developed by Min Tanaka, a butoh dancer and choreographer, and his Mai-Juku Performance Company, exploring the intersection of body and environment. Body is conceived not as a fixed, separate entity, but as a constantly changing, permeable element in the order of things, responding to the processes inside and outside the body. Like the weather. Strength is drawn from the acceptance of its fragile finiteness. As a former member of Mai-Juku, from 1985 to 1991, Tess De Quincey introduced Bodyweather to Australia in 1988, before establishing De Quincey Co. in 2000. She has since engendered a strong teaching and performance practice, and developed different projects, the most fascinating of which must be the Triple Alice Laboratories, which explored the landscape of the Central Desert of Australia, bringing together an interdisciplinary group of artists and scientists, indigenous and non-indigenous, in situ.

This is another dance tribe, and one that, I am told, has historically focused around Performance Space, which is one institution Melbourne could really envy Sydney for. A very precious, very valuable organisation, presenting a curated program of contemporary hybrid performance, linking theatre with dance, film, visual arts and new media, and creating a profile for the new, it is the kind of kick that Australian performance needs badly, and doesn't get with any sustained effort.

Triptych is a performance that moves its audience around, arranges our limbs, with the patience of water. It opens up and closes like an accordion book. It lets us find our space along a long wall with no seating provided, and then, changing the configuration of space with moving screens, gently forces us to disperse, assemble, locate a bench or lie on the ground. It's a slow, deep experience, demanding patience and engagement. It affects internally, through the stomach.

It opens with Peter Fraser, later joined by Lizzie Thomson, their movement slowly overloading with the stimulus of three enormous screens projecting cherry branches quivering in the wind. The performance slowly builds up the initial pink prettiness of cherry blossom into a paralyzing experience of over-abundant stimulation, as Fraser tries to fly and collapses. Using the incessant repetitive accumulation of sound and image as soft as a murmur, it becomes the overwhelming nothingness of a full, dense void. The excess of colour, of movement, of the three screens build up into abstract buzz – and this dissolution of cherry blossom into pure stimulation is the last instance of figuration we will see tonight.

The next configuration of screens, Fraser and Thomson now accompanied by Victoria Hunt and Linda Luke, shows the body responding to the electric buzz: information, digital impulses, electricity, with the body near-paralyzed, unable to create coherent movement with beginning and end. The only way for this fine-grained stimulation of noise to resolve is to turn into organic white noise of the sea. As it does, the body slowly frees itself from the block and, finally, Victoria Hunt manages a smooth, non-discontinued, round arm movement. And collapses.

Triptych composes media with more intelligence than just about any performance I've seen: no element is dispensable. The moving screens constantly change the dynamics of space, with view lines intersecting, with movement lines interrupting and changing; performers can be out of the view of most, or even everyone, in the audience, and yet they are strong points in the overall composition of bodies, image, and empty space. There appear to be serial images built in linear configurations: in one moment, Thomson spasming in front of a screen, in unison with the sound/image projected, is mirrored by a smaller, less undisciplined tremor of Hunt's body, while Luke, on the far right, is helplessly lying on the ground. In the third scene, the sea wave on each side of the space draws an invisible line of horizon with the two central screens, and the perceived darkening of the digital screen when viewed at an angle creates an illusion of depth. Gorgeous projections by Sam James and Robin Fox and De Quincey's dance are closely, closely aligned with the Chris Abrahams's noisescape, to the point where no element could exist without the other (and how often do you see dance where the back wall is a brainstorm of unrelated imagery?).

However, for someone as unfamiliar with Bodyweather, or De Quincey, as I am, it was the quality of the body that was the biggest revelation, and the strongest point of interest. All four are astonishing performers (particularly Hunt and Fraser), their bodies like clay, drying into brittle dissipation with air, pulsating with electricity, or absorbing the heaviness of water. This is more an exploration of pure movement, of body reacting to stimuli, than choreography as such, and whoever expects dancers to stretch limbs and mimic being pulled and pushed may find little visual interest in Triptych. These are weighty bodies, grounded, most of the movement being an accumulation of blocked responses accumulating inside the body, trying to find release. It has no interest in recitative, demonstrative movement, but works from the inside. It is often inscrutable, emitting no signals and sending no messages; it can be merely felt. These are real bodies, bodies being, rather than ever copying another reality.

Triptych – Robin Fox sample from Samuel James on Vimeo.

Triptych. By De Quincey Co. presented by Performance Space. Choreographer/Director Tess de Quincey. Performers Peter Fraser, Victoria Hunt, Linda Luke, Lizzie Thomson. Sound composition Chris Abrahams. Audio-visual production Sam James. Video footage Tess de Quincey. Oscilloscopes Robin Fox. Performance Space @ Carriageworks, 245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh, Sydney. 6–15 November.

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Biennale di Venezia: 6. Festival Internazionale di Danza Moderna

A slightly different version of this text has appeared on vibewire.net.

Wayne McGregor / Random Dance Company. Photo: Ravi Deepres.

1. dance in is the air

It is impossible to adequately explain the artichoke-like nature of Venice, with its layers beneath layers: paths for American tourists, paths for Italian tourists, paths for cultural tourists, paths for temporary residents, paths for real Venetians (those rare creatures). The path to Biennale is hardly close to the heart of this strange city: ensconced in Arsenale, the gigantic medieval shipyard in Castello, the poor and least picturesque of the six sestieri, where most inhabitants live oblivious to the two-week clamour of the cultural elite attending the dances. Going through the maze of makeshift laneways within this enormous industrial emptiness framed with the tall Arsenale walls, one cannot help noticing that highbrow culture today is a restricted-access good, just like the wealth within this phenomenally important shipyard once was. Walled away from this city, Biennale della Danza Contemporanea is a curiously generic, place-unspecific, mid-Italian / pan-European event, its audience all high heels, expensive clothes, melange of accents. Despite the tentative Choreographic Collison, a workshop with young local choreographers, now in its second year, it feels very much like the local people have nothing to do at this Biennale. Coming out into the bleak calle [street] outside, containing nothing but a single, generic, Bangladeshi-run bar serving pasta and mediocre coffee, one could be in an industrial anywhere in Europe.

The theme to this year’s Biennale, directed by Ismael Ivo, is Beauty, understood in the least cynical, least sardonic way. “Today beauty is used to promote the trade, the commercialization of the image”, says Ivo, adding: “It is thus not an expression of an interior virtue, but a purely external manifestation.” His is a provocation to rethink aesthetic pleasure, taking into consideration our emotive, energetic responses to beauty.

2. francesca harper

The dangers of the theme are best exemplified by Francesca Harper’s Fragile Stone Theory 2K8 / Interactive Feast, a compilation piece created specially for Biennale, on the theme of the relationship of a person to beauty, freedom and anxiety that a female artist feels in relation, again, to beauty. A mixed-media piece, Fragile Stone would have worked infinitely better if there was more dancing, and less of everything else. Harper’s dancers are a beautiful group, svelte, strong and precise, and the second act, exclusively danced, was a pleasure to behold. Not enough, however, to shake us awake after the endless first act, which was a burlesque of a kind, a headless melange of live signing, video performance, short bursts of dancing interrupted by conceptualising fluff. Too much of the time was filled with inspirational songs, snippets of autobiographical cocooning, and well-meaning messages, to realise the concentrated energy that a dance work needs.

Francesca Harper Project. Photo credits: La Biennale di Venezia.

Fragile Stone Theory was an attempt at fusing two very different kinds of energy: the liberated, empowering r’n’b of a strong-minded African-American woman, and contemporary dance that works its magic best when restricted, when struggling to find the way out, when in pain. The combination is always forced, and Fragile Stone Theory ended up resembling a rock concert way too much (a similar mistake was made by Robert Wilson in The Temptations of St Anthony, also filled with simplistic messages). When not achingly literal, when aiming to be an aesthetic knock-out, contemporary dance is fundamentally an art of condensed abstraction, and there is nothing evasive, nothing in any way indirect in the kind of music that Harper performs. While the monochrome, feminine strength of Duet, Trio and Solo, complete with bondage-like costumes, led towards a strong-minded exploration of the concept of beauty, the overall effect was deflated by the literalness of the large part of the performance.

3. wayne mcgregor

I first encountered Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance Company in 2003, when they performed Nemesis at the Dance Week Festival in Zagreb. A bit of a geek choreographer, in the widely anticipated Entity McGregor has teamed up with neuroscientists and cognitive scientists to explore the relationship between the brain and the moving body. The piece developed from the idea of an artificial intelligence that assumes the choreographing role, a software that generates movement through independent thought.

There are visible preoccupations in the piece with the random, accidental nature of movement, yet defined and born by naturally occurring mathematical equilibrium and order. The performance opens and closes with a Muybridge-like video of a running greyhound, a strange and beautiful perpetuum mobile, enchanting in its rhythmic repetitiveness. Mathematical formulas and laws are referenced in the sparse video projected onto the three wings of Patrick Burnier's construction enclosing the set, reminiscent of Leonardo’s machines. Two music choices, a modern classical piece by Joby Talbot, performed by the Navarra Quartet (sadly, not live in this performance), and the electronic clubscape of Jon Hopkins, are both products of creative processes fuelled by the appreciation of randomness as much as the alignment with strict mathematical rules. Burnier's costumes are decorated with their own DNA codes.

Eadweard Muybridge: Woman with a Bucket

However, Random also dance a terrific dance: it is possible to be blissfully unaware of these intellectual preoccupations and still enjoy the performance. McGregor’s signature vocabulary has not changed since 2003: it is still a dance concentrated firmly in the hips, shoulders, ankles and wrists. It has by now been consolidated into a system, paradoxically not dissimilar from the classical vocabulary. Trios are prevalent over duets, quartets and loose group movement abound. 60 minutes of this diptych are filled to the brim, and the space absolutely activated, with rapid movement, dense arrangement of limbs into most exquisitely unexpected combinations, bodies arching, contorting, kicking, curling, coiling, closely conversing with the music.

In the phenomenal first half, lithe, androgynous bodies seem to bounce back and forth from the thoughtless, inhumane particles into feeling, touching creatures seeking comfort of another human being in a series of groping, tender, desexualised duets. The second part is more legible, but less engaging. Bodies, sexualised back by the stripping of their unisex singlets into black underwear, undergo a series of transformations: from brainless, unconscious blubber into individualised bodies, connecting with one another on an instinctive level, gaining apparent consciousness and re-connecting with genuine emotion, separating to finally achieve intelligence. Entity closes as the monophonic, glorious frenzy of our data-streamed, hyperactive present. The final images of these re-humanized bodies, dancing each one to its own logic connected the chaos of brainless matter to the chaos of a thousand souls, yet the overall effect was somewhat flat, somewhat tiring, no doubt also due to the monotone electronic white noise.

Where McGregor excels is the minute choreographic detail: the exquisite duets, both asexual and emotionally needy (there is no more sexual tension in his male/female duets than there is in the fine-grained interaction he creates between two male bodies); and the complex relationships between the dancers on stage. One moment, a motionless duet in the background of a solo: man lying down, his head in her lap; in another, the power balance of two dancers disrupted by the third, merely standing on the stage. The all-female group seems to perform a rapid, randomized shuffle of movement, every so often settling into one classical feminine pose, as if directed by an accelerating, virus-infected computer; and finally, a rapt, frantic duet is paused for a mere second, and a soft kiss exchanged.

Wayne McGregor / Random Dance Company. Photo: John Ross.

This is Beauty with capital B, for sure. It is, also, a spectacle. However brutal, the slick and shiny surface of Entity is never broken by anything as disruptive as a mistake, a question. From beginning to the end, it is a harsh, yet unfliching statement on human relationships.

4. the beast within

There is no more uncertainty in McGregor’s worldview filled with smooth, young androids than there is in Francesca Harper’s comforting song-and-dance. What Biennale Danza presents with these two pieces is a set of clinically precise pictures of what we may find beautiful, asking us to feel more widely, perhaps, but certainly to suspend judgement. Gliding along the canals of this beautiful city, among other beautiful, stylish theatre-goers, it is easy to do so, and yet flatter ourselves to be doing something courageous, something daring. We are shielded not only from the multiple quotidian problems Venice faces, not only from the social reality of this troubled country, but from the entire remaining world. Kicking the mounds of rubbish piling up along the sides of the Venetian street as I walk home, it strikes me all as somewhat indulgent.

6. Festival Internazionale di Danza Contemporanea. Venice, 14-29 June 2008. www.labiennale.org.

Fragile Stone Theory 2K8 / Interactive Feast. Artistic project, direction and choreography: Francesca Harper. Video: Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty. Music: Wynne Bennett and Francesca Harper. Performers: Francesca Harper, Hattie Mae Williams, Josh Johnson, Julius Hollingsworth, Clement Mensah, Dominique Rosales, Giulia Fedeli. Dramaturgy: Julius Hollingsworth. Costumes: David Grevengoed, Gabi Mai, Carmen Wren. The Francesca Harper Project, June 19-20; Teatro Piccolo Arsenale;

Entity. Concept/ Direction: Wayne McGregor. Choreography: Wayne McGregor in collaboration with the dancers: Neil Fleming Brown, Catarina Carvalho, Agnès López Rio, Paolo Mangiola, Angel Martinez Hernandez, Anh Ngoc Nguyen, Anna Nowak, Maxime Thomas, Antoine Vereecken, Jessica M Wright. Original Music 1: Joby Talbot, performed by Navarra Quartet. Original Music 2: Jon Hopkins, performed by Jon Hopkins. Lighting Design: Lucy Carter. Digital Video Design: Ravi Deepres. Set / costumes: Patrick Burnier. June 20-22; Teatro alle tese – Arsenale; 6. Festival Internazionale di Danza Contemporanea, Venice.

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Attempts on Her Life; or the anatomy of a decade.

Melbourne University Student Union Theatre: Attempts on Her Life. Written by Martin Crimp. Directed by Susie Dee. Sound Design and Composition by Kelly Ryall. Set and Costume Design by Jeminah Reidy. Lighting Design by Niklas Pajanti. Audio-Visual Design by Nicholas Verso. Cast: Rhys Aconley-Jones, Chloe Boreham, Ananth Gopal, Kali Hulme, Joshua Lynzaat, Jen Mackie, Laura Maitland, Jan Mihal, Ella Roberts, Anna Teresa Scheer, Sophie Testart and Megan Twycross. Guild Theatre, University of Melbourne, 16 – 24 May 2008. Bookings on 03) 8344 7447 or www.union.unimelb.edu.au/tickets.

A virtually identical version of this article can be found online on vibewire.net.

There is something about the theatre of blood and sperm (in the sense of a distinct spatio-temporal artistic trend, centred on the UK, but also a bit of Germany, Austria and the ex-Balkans) that seems to me to speak most clearly and precisely of what 1990s were. Watching Attempts on Her Life, a Melbourne University Student Union Theatre production of a 1997 text by Martin Crimp, for the first time I came to realise how our entire worldview changed with the war in Bosnia. It is a view from the distance, and yet to me (who has spent the 1990s somewhat closer to the epicentre) this enormous, eye-opening change of perspective was never reported as accurately as it is in these wounded, screaming plays. Not even by, say, Kusturica. I had a vague idea, previously, that Bosnia became Western Europe's big trauma, a failure of optimism, but never took it seriously ('our suffering is so much bigger'). In retrospect, the crash of hopes within Bosnia was probably complementary, rather than contrasting, to the larger disillusion.

So what really happened in the 1990s? There was our war, a brutal, senseless and incredibly immediate war. In Britain, there was the introduction of CCTV and the rise of surveillance society. There were the first doubts on consumerism, channelled through the early slacker fiction. After the ambitious 1980s, it started becoming apparent that our enormous appetite was not just a consequence of our fulfilling ambitions, that it was not a constructive consumption, a transformation of elements. It had turned into consumption for consumption's sake, blind and insatiable, until, to paraphrase both Slavoj Žižek and Viktor Pelevin (1999), it became a monotonous murmur of absorbing and disgorging, joyless but for the punctuating, ever briefer wow!-moments. There was the first mention of eating disorders. Yet the formal rhetoric of the mass (and not so mass) media, inherited from the 1980s, was that of the end of history, the best of all possible worlds, endless joy, how lucky are we?!

Today, the lag between what we feel and what we are told to feel is slightly different – post-9/11 world is a sombre world – and the dissident behaviour nowadays is, perhaps, to trust thy neighbour and not feel afraid (see American indie). Then, however, the arts reacted with an explosion of violent nihilism, as if subconsciously we were trying to heal the gap between what we heard and what we felt. It was the decade of Trainspotting (1996), Nirvana (1991-1994), Tracy Emin, The Prodigy (early 1990s), Fight Club (1999). Even reading early Bridget Jones (1995) leaves an aftertaste, for all the shopping and gossiping is framed by dysfunctional eating and persistent binge drinking. When the towers collapsed, Baudrillard said they had to; we had been making them collapse in films so persistently we brought it on ourselves. Our return of the repressed. But perhaps it was simply the external reality bursting the same feel-good bubble that we were trying to burst from the inside, through our art, all along.

It was all slightly different elsewhere. While Europe had a real war on its doorstep, the US had a televised one that – again quoth Baudrillard – never happened. I would be curious to know what an Australian subject in 2008 may find in Attempts on Her Life, what sort of reading they would have. Perhaps the war on terror has created the same de-localised anxiety here. But my entire life flashed before my eyes. In-yer-face was so good, so accurate at nailing the threads that connected our fears. Perhaps it is the theatrical medium that allowed these plays to circumvent plot, cause and effect, setting or rounded characters, and keep alive the tenuous threads between acts and emotions, that now makes them such a mirror of a decade. In Blasted (1995), the violence Out There and its impact on our ability to love. In Family Stories (1998), the guilt for our children's future. In Woman-Bomb (2003, but it counts), the raging impotence in the face of coerced serenity, governmental soothing.

In Attempts, the inability to quite pinpoint what it is that worries us, between the everyday hedonism here and immense suffering elsewhere, results in a disconnected series of semi-portraits, of semi-stories, of variations on a feeling. The text is subtitled 17 Scenarios for theatre: the death of Anna, Anny, Anja, Anushka, figurative, artistic or medically sound, is narrated in fragments, dialogues, commentary, songs, video, arguments, answering machine messages. Recurring motifs are war, femininity, surveillance, despair. Not innocently, the empty vessel on whose person the scenarios are played out is a woman.

Melbourne University Student Union Theatre's production, in the skillful hands of Susie Dee, plays with the possibilities of theatre. As much as the context of certain dialogues is transparent, they are never staged literally, but hover in a dreamspace, a not-quite-space. As a result, the production refrains from situating the meaning in any one place (imagine the boredom of 17 times same), leaving it both associative and open-ended.

Photo credits: Vicki Jones

Jeminah Reidy's set puts the audience in the centre, in a swarm of swivel chairs, while the stage hugs the sides of the theatre, as a long, white, tiled underground station. The actors (for there are no characters) talk to each other, argue, across the auditorium, which results in some beautiful mass movement, as audience members swivel left to right, following the action. From one fragment of a story to another, the focus shifts from left to right, backstage to front, until, all possibilities exhausted, it ends exactly where it started. Cyclic nature of life or exhaustion, it nonetheless feels complete, concluded.

Some of the attempts on her life are simply exquisite: a battle of art criticism over her posthumous exhibition of suicide notes, despite all its mime of realism staged as a dream, a nightmare, of a gallery opening. Autobiography of a sex worker (replete with vivre-sa-vie-claims), confessed in third-person (restrained and fragile Megan Twycross), behind a screen, with a mass dance, interrupted half-way and from then on dictated by the translator (militantly French Chloe Boreham). An unexpected song (excellent Kali Hulme). The central point of the performance to me seemed to be a faux-advertisement for pink caddillac Anny, presented in Bosnian Croatian (I may have misheard here, and if so I apologise for any offense) with a sexy MC (rather good-looking Jan Mihal), turbo-folk music and three dancers in fluorescent pink parkas (overflowing with references to nouveau riche, war profiteers, the new bad taste). As the advertisement progressively degenerated, turning from the sum of our desires („always a beautiful blonde inside“) into the sum of our repressed anxieties (with „no room for Gypsies, Arabs, Kurds, blacks“), I was reminded not only of the vast semantic cathedral attached to the possession of a good car in a place like Bosnia, but also of those sarcastic news programs Danijel Žeželj created in Sun City (1993), in which genocide, wars, and new ozone holes were interspersed with hardcore porn and an order: smile wider!, wider!

Is Melbourne University Student Union Theatre always this good? Was I meant to be aware? Only the occasional acting glitch points to this being a non-professional production, rather than something that Malthouse could be staging. Right. Now. It did help that Crimp’s play may be the most brutally, icily poetic text I have encountered in a Melbourne theatre in a while. Whichever way, this outstandingly creative and courageous production may be the best thing currently playing.

See also: On Stage (and walls)

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27.ix.2007. Arts House: Sara Juli’s The Money Conversations

It's been two years since I've last seen my family and most of my friends. I haven't been able to save the money necessary to go back to visit.

It's the beginning of the night, only a few people in the audience, and Sara Juli comes on stage in low key, wearing jeans and a blazer, takes her shoes off, her socks off, takes a pile of cash out of her left shoe and counts it. It's US$1500, in $20 notes. She gives some to select audience members with the words: “This is 20 dollars and I want you to have it.” Some of them have to work for it: she puts money in her cleavage, in her pockets, or performs little intrusive routines in gibberish: mumbling, complaining, touching their bodies or faces, poking at them. One lady gets so uncomfortable she gets up and moves to another seat, then runs around the auditorium. Sara Juli is very intrusive for a person allegedly watched.

Then she returns back on stage and asks: “What is $20?” Silence. She offers: “A ticket for Sara Juli at the Meat Market.” What is $40? Someone says: “A dinner at a good restaurant.” “A massage.” What is $80? “Rent.” “If you live in a shoe box?”, she asks. What is $100? “A formal dress.” “A dentist check-up.” “A ticket to Queensland.” We're opening up now.

A few rounds of this. Juli reveals secret hiding places on her body for bigger slabs of cash, counts another $1500, then $2000, in bigger and bigger notes. Dances around, gives money away. Some refuse to put her hands down Juli's underwear to get money. Some do it without qualms. I am given $50. What is $150? “A public transport fine.” What is $200? “IPod Nano.” What is $250? A lady in front of me says: “A daily wage for a nurse (if she works overtime).” Someone on my left: “The hourly rate my accountant charges.” Someone behind me: “The price of a cup of coffee with a lawyer. Or at least what one recently asked for a consultation.” Someone casual:”A pair of G-Star jeans.”

I got lost, I must admit, after $150. After $150 (a decent pair of shoes) I cannot think of recreational purchases. There is the price of my coat ($400), my monthly rent ($700) and the cost of a visa to move to Australia ($2000 if you have to do a complete health check and an HIV test, like Croats do), but none of this is real money. The cost of these things, I realise while sitting there, is measured for me as the effort needed to save up the precise sum (time, work). Juli asks about $850, about $1000 and about $300. Answers come up. An expensive dress. Two nights in a good hotel. One night in the emergency ward. A ticket for the AFL Grand Finals, says the man next to me about the price of my coat. I'm getting lost in this whirlpool of little desires. $500, Juli says, is the price of a ticket for a Madonna concert. $500, for someone else, is a gym membership, and $2000 is a new clutch on their Swedish car. What happens if you truly desire these things? An iPod Nano, an experience of Madonna, a Swedish car? Does your horizon of wants stretch with your salary? Or your friends' salaries? Sara Juli does her little interpretative dance, credit, debt, investment, to have money. I am holding a $50 note in my hand; it has by now become a complicated thing, a repository of possibilities. I've heard someone recently say that money has become our collective symbol of reality. The more money you possess, the more real you become in terms of participation in life, this life, this life based on consumption. Perhaps Juli wants to create in us the same sense of confusion she felt during the money conversation with her partner. Perhaps this is why I initiate money conversations, because I don't think of it as anything other than work and time. I feel suffocated by the number of things we've named tonight. Particularly iPod Nano.

The conversation, that went somewhat quiet around $1000, gets lively again with $2000. It's obvious that I'm not the only one that thinks only in everyday-small and exceptionally big sums. Juli suddenly raises her hand and asks for 5 cents. People rummage through their pockets, wallets, bags. Juli makes a round and gets her cents, then asks. “Who has 5 cents? Who needs 5 cents? Who doesn't give a cent? Who has never earned a cent in his life?” I feel bad (I have no cents, only tip dollars). She correctly returns the cents to each person, collects the remaining cash scattered on the floor, gets a pen and paper, adds up, returns the pen and paper, and turns to me: “This is $3680 and I want you to have it.” She gives me the slab of cash. Lights go off.

People applaud, I applaud, lights go on, Sara Juli leaves the stage, people start leaving, a 'Donation Box' is placed by the door. The man next to me, whose AFL ticket is worth the price of my coat, gloats over the money in my lap, and congratulates me on my tough decision.

I count the money over and over (the result is different each time; I'm too confused). I came to the show intent on keeping anything I get. Money is money is money and I need it. Perhaps I would have kept that $50, you see. But I would not, cannot, keep $3680. I don't want this big pile of cash. It's dirty, it smells, it's a theatre prop, not something I need in my life. I would have kept $50, but it's equally clear to me that if I'm not going to keep the slab, I cannot keep a couple of notes. The situation is oppressive. I feel like I'm trapped in a game show. I walk to the 'donation box', where Juli's partner stands, and asks what will happen if I keep the money. “The show will have to be cancelled.”, he replies dryly. Has it happened yet? “Once, almost. One man took a large amount, but it was returned the next day.”

His current job, and her current job, are centred around the cash in my hands. Her entire life savings in my hands. I saved more than that in the past year, although it all went on my university fees. Her entire life savings. I start throwing the money in the box, note by note. By the time I'm sick of it, there's still a hefty pile left in my hands. I want to tell him I haven't seen my family in two years because I cannot pay the ticket back home, but he's not interested in me, he's looking elsewhere. I throw the last notes in and tell him I've decided to keep the last $20, for record. He's not interested (he's still looking elsewhere). As I walk out, I start to cry.

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