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Matthew Day,Thousands Matthew Day,Thousands
photo Gareth Hart & Next Wave Festival
THE SYDNEY FRINGE FEATURED SOME 200 SHOWS OF WHICH I CAUGHT A MERE HANDFUL AT PACT AND CARRIAGEWORKS. IT GRABBED A LOT OF MEDIA ATTENTION, ATTRACTED LARGE AUDIENCES FOR SOME SHOWS (ESPECIALLY AT CARRIAGEWORKS), SMALL FOR OTHERS (SOME ARTISTS COMPLAINED TO THE PRESS ABOUT LACK OF MARKETING SUPPORT), HANDED OUT MANY AWARDS WITH ITS SPONSORS AND TRUMPETED HUGE TICKET SALES, 35,000, AND MASSIVE BENEFITS FOR THE LOCAL ECONOMY. WISELY FOCUSED IN INNER CITY SUBURBS (REDFERN, ERSKINEVILLE AND MARRICKVILLE), THE SYDNEY FRINGE MAY WELL HAVE GAINED SUFFICIENT TRACTION IN 2010 TO GUARANTEE ITSELF A FUTURE.

matthew day: thousands

We’re seated mere feet away from Matthew Day, alert to the increasing tension in his body as he balances horizontally, close to the harsh floor on a mere two points of contact, suspended for a brief eternity before unfolding into a rotating, standing series of subtle transformations for...I don’t know how long. Time is erased as Day seamlessly mutates into slow-mo, non-literal evocations suggestive of body-builder, dance clubber (bizarrely headless as he faces away from us, head dipped), martial artist, butoh dancer, sportsman... as well as suggesting the body young and then strangely aged. The precision, control and focus are breathtaking. This is not dance in the usual sense, but it takes all the skill, strength and creativity of a talented dancer-choreographer to realise this acutely delineated state of being. Day, who studied at the University of Western Sydney and the Victorian College of the Arts, describes himself as a choreographer and dancer who works across dance, performance, film/video, queer cabaret, drawing and theory. Watch out for more from Matthew Day.

Skye Gellmann, Retinal Damage Skye Gellmann, Retinal Damage
photo Niki Bodle
skye gellmann: retinal damage

Skye Gellmann, of Scattered Tacks fame (RT97), likewise induces an altered state in his audience. Two small rows of us face each other across a narrow performance space, plunged into darkness save for the flickerings of a slide projector that enable the artist to undo our perception of space. We see Gellman appear and disappear; we feel the rush of air and the too-near proximity of his body as he somersaults between us in the dark; we watch with the scary luxury of a close-up as, inches away, hands on wooden blocks, he walks upside down. As with Matthew Day, the proximity of the performance, the artist’s control, focus and inventive visual play, and a sense of risk, make for a very special experience of the body.

appelspiel: appeloft

Appeloft is performance taken to the nth degree of informality and apparent happenstance. Again, intimacy rules, but skill and focus are out of the picture—calculatedy elided in favour of building an aura of spontaneity. We’re seated on ancient lounge suites, fed homey cakes and treated like acquaintances who’ve wandered into a student party and are expected to participate, if with minimum pressure. The performance climaxes in a collective dance in sleeping bags. It’s painless fun with stories that don’t go anywhere (these people remind us just how slick Forced Entertainment are), games that don’t make sense and a silly making of a radio play that amusingly toys with vegetables and the relation of image to sound. But threaded through the non-sense are matters that are not played for their drama but nonetheless suggest deeper concerns: a female performer who is losing her eyesight decides she wants to cut the fruit that will be handed out to us, and an odd tale is told of the opening of revealing letters to a presumed-to-be-dead previous tenant. This is amiable performance, hovering between script and improvisation and dependent on the company’s ability to consistently riff in the party manner, which it largely did. I look forward to seeing what Appelspiel (whose members studied together at the University of Wollongong) can get up to beyond the party format.

elbow room: tiny chorus

Elbow Room’s well-travelled, much praised, Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney Fringe festivals’ audience favourite, A Tiny Chorus is a clever take on the mechanics of clown duos of the ilk of Laurel and Hardy but, significantly, without manifesting the physical violence that typically results from dumb errors, envy, greed, embarrassment and one-upmanship that characterise the form. These are all on show in A Tiny Chorus, but crystallised into near stillness, slow, slow burns, simple motifs (a red straw and scissors) and routines (involving variously a jar of gherkins, jelly and a balloon) and climaxing with the requisite pathos as one clown gives the other heart, and a voice. The director and performers clearly know their clown stuff, even if it is stripped back and very knowing, delivering a meticulously crafted production, occasionally funny, if never hilarious.

aerialize: clammy glamour from the curio-cabinet

The sense of risk and mortality inherent in circus is made palatable by the pleasures of clowning, spectacle and the erotic. In Clammy Glamour from the Curio-Cabinet, Annabel Lines and Simone O’Brien, directing for the Aerialize circus training centre, heighten the engagement with death (a skeleton man, a possible killer) and sexuality. They weave together a large cast of skilled performers in an impressionistic, Edwardian gothic saga of seduction, rivalry, abduction and murder where the tools of the circus trade (ribbons, ropes, nets, trapeze and hoops) become the means not merely for virtuosic performance but equally for entrapment. The variety of characters (a lizard-like green imp, a hare, a clockwork doll, ‘diabolical’ twins), routines and layered deployment of the large performance space lend Clammy Glamour (there’s not a little sweat exuded) an epic quality that overrides the opacity of its delirious narrative. A little trimmer, more organic re-working would be worth a return season.

tantrum theatre: peepshow

Newcastle’s Tantrum Theatre presented a version of their March 2009 production Peepshow, a site-specific response to the architecture and history, real and imagined, of the city’s Civic Arcade. Inevitably that specificity was lost when transposed to PACT’s courtyard, foyer and performance space, but we did get a glimpse of some of the talent of this youth company’s senior ensemble. We were led through a series of solo performances, entailing encounters with a scary homeless guy blessed with tunnel-vision wit; a feckless party hostess determined to keep imaginary sexist male guests at bay; another hostess, anxious that we know our place and manners; an abrasive, sexist porn filmmaker who corralled us into auditioning; and, finally, a business woman frantically grappling with a whiteboard with a mind of its own—a finely sustained piece of comic business. While most of the performers got the tone right for their personae, the overall impression of Peepshow in this setting was of incomplete episodes and an absence of overall structure and context, for which the calibre of the performers was some compensation.


The Sydney Fringe: Matthew Day, Thousands, sound design James Brown, PACT, Sept 18-25; Skye Gellman, Retinal Damage, www.skyebalance.com, PACT, Sept 10-17; Appelspiel, Appeloft, PACT, Sept 17-25; Elbow Room, A Tiny Chorus, director Marcel Dorney, performer-devisors Eryn Jean Norvill, Emily Tomlins, CarriageWorks, Sept 10-25; Aerialize, Clammy Glamour from the Curio-cabinet, directors Annabel Lines, Simone O’Brien, CarriageWorks; Tantrum Theatre, Peepshow, director Brendan O’Connell; PACT Sept 16-23

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 37

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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