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When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing, Heiner Goebbels, Melbourne International Arts Festival When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing, Heiner Goebbels, Melbourne International Arts Festival
photo Wonge Bergmann for the Ruhrtriennale.
If you’re wondering what choices to make for the 2014 Melbourne International Arts Festival, there are several major productions that might take you out of yourself, or deep inside, as the best art does: Heiner Goebbels’ When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing; Trisha Brown, From All Angles and Chunky Move’s Complexity of Belonging.

These should be seen alongside the festival’s expansive circus program, Dewey Dell’s Marzo (from the progeny of Italy’s Castellucci family) and Roslyn Oades’ Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday (see Caroline Wake’s interview with Oades), and there’s much else to experience.

Heiner Goebbels, When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing

Master theatre maker Heiner Goebbels has been a recurrent guest of Australia’s international arts festivals, always surprising us with large-scale works with strong musical foundations, exquisite design and a mind-bending theatrical sensibility. The visits commenced with Black on White, with Ensemble Modern (Adelaide, 1998), Max Black (Adelaide, 2000), Surrogate Cities (Queensland Music Festival, 2003), Stifters Dinge (Melbourne, 2010) and Eraritjaritjaka (Sydney 2013), the latter featuring a very brave string quartet, an actor reciting phrases from the work of Elias Canetti in a dissociative meditation, and, as ever, magical design. Goebbels’ design, collaboratively created, often has the stand-alone quality of an installation, not least in the performative but performer-less Stifters Dinge. We can expect nothing less than immersion in a strange world in the 2012 production When The Mountain Changed Its Clothing with its oscillation between a functional everyday and a vivid truth-telling fantasy world.

The title, drawing on a Slovenian folk song, refers to the changing of the seasons, which provides the work with both its structure and an analogy with the transitional Twilight Zone of adolescence, realised in performance by 40 girls between the ages of 11 and 20—Vocal Theatre Carmina Slovenica. These young people come from a region which has endured great social and political upheaval, reflected in Goebbels’ choice of music (indie pop, folk, propaganda and choral works), the games these young women play and diverse texts. Shirley Apthorp writes in the UK Financial Review (27 Sept, 2012), “Two teenage girls, their faces calm as a Vermeer portrait, disembowel stuffed toys with dispassionate precision as they recite Gertrude Stein’s views on the rich, the poor and the very poor. Then younger girls take the teddy-bear innards and make them float like clouds over a plastic lawn.”

As revelations about the appalling extent of child abuse escalate an increasing number of films and stage works attempt to provide insight into young lives (What Maisie Knew, Boyhood, We’re the Best) or give them the stage as in Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed’s Once and For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen (Melbourne, Sydney, Aug 2009) and Teenage Riot (Melbourne Festival, 2013). Of course not a few Australian young people’s theatre groups have consistently worked this territory. Will When The Mountain Changed Its Clothing be an adult reverie about childhood or give its performers, so powerful in song, credence in their own right—or bring adolescent and adult together in revealing collaboration?

Trisha Brown Company, Set & Reset Trisha Brown Company, Set & Reset
photo John Waite
Trisha Brown: From All Angles

This series of works, talks and films from the career of a major and highly innovative figure in 20th century American dance is a Melbourne Festival centrepiece. Acclaimed for her design sensibility, intelligence and wit, choreographer Trisha Brown was one of the artists from various practices who gathered and collaborated at the Judson Memorial Church in the early 1960s, fomenting postmodern dance—anti-theatrical, non-narrative, improvisational and rooted in everyday movement. In the 70s Brown created works in which harnessed dancers walked along walls, that were performed on rooftops or operated according to game rules, mathematical sets or cellular imperatives—patterned creations that generated mobile spatial design from human movement and mostly danced without music, until 1983.

Since then, in theatre works of larger scale and design, Brown has deployed the music of Bach, Webern, Schubert, Robert Ashley and Laurie Anderson (the exhilarating Set & Reset of 1983 which you’ll see in the festival and can preview on YouTube), as well as jazz and opera. Brown’s choreography, although meticulously phrased and making unusual demands on the body (and her own in solos), continues to magically flow out of stillness or walking with an ease that defies the effort applied.

Trisha Brown: From All Angles is a once only opportunity to immerse yourself in the dance works and thinking of a great artist. In the two programs titled Pure Movement, nine works from 1978-1994, including Set & Reset, will be performed, accompanied by pre- and post show discussions. Another nine works, 1970-73, will appear in the Early Works program and nine films, including a 72-minute interview with Brown, will further extend our appreciation of the artist’s body of work. Brown retired from her company in 2011; these Melbourne Festival performances are part of the Trisha Brown Company’s farewell tour led by Associate Artistic Director Carolyn Lucas who has been with the company since 1984 and, as a dancer, originated key roles in Brown’s body of work.

Stephen Phillips and Lauren Langlois, Complexity of Belonging, Chunky Move Stephen Phillips and Lauren Langlois, Complexity of Belonging, Chunky Move
photo Sarah Walker
Chunky Move, Complexity of Belonging

In the beginning, the internet was heralded as utopian, a promulgator of democracy and a simplifier of just about everything. Quickly appropriated by extant and emergent commercial interests—some of them, like Google, born of the internet itself—the global online networking system has yielded increased totalitarian control (in democracies and dictatorships alike) and an illusion of freedom (to have your privacy invaded and identity stolen). Life has become more complex. Chunky Move’s new work Complexity of Belonging tackles the issue head-on: “a theatrical exposé into the daily trials of surviving in a hyper-connected, hyper-sensitive, globalised society” (press release). The work focuses on nine figures (a mix of actors and dancers) and their sense of identity, in terms of nationality, gender, sexuality and history. Leading German playwright Falk Richter (writing here in English) and also the director of this production, has drawn on the lives of the performers, but they will not be playing themselves. Typically his writing borders on the surreal while being bluntly and sometimes satirically political.

But Complexity of Belonging is not a play. It is choreographed and co-created by Chunky Move’s artistic director, the Belgian Anouk van Dijk, in her fifth collaboration with Richter (the others are Nothing Hurts [1999], TRUST [2009, PROTECT ME [2010] and Rausch [2012]). Nor is it a dance work, or dance theatre. When Virginia Baxter and I saw the Richter-van Dijk Trust at the Schaubühne in Berlin in 2009 (a last minute invitation and following a rushed reading of half the inhouse English translation before entering the theatre) we were swept away by the theatre-dance synthesis, the work seamlessly slipping in and out of and merging dance and theatre. As Richter has said of the collaboration, “We were experimenting on a new art form,” in which words and movement have the same weight, where a naturalistic movement becomes dance, or words spring into telling physical shape.

In an interview for the Goethe Institut, van Dijk explains the partnership with Richter: “We share a strong interest in communicating energy, be it verbal or in movement. When we work together, Falk’s language and my choreographic eye meet as equals. We need one another to express what moves us.”


Melbourne International Arts Festival, 9-26 Oct; https://www.melbournefestival.com.au

See also the RealTime TV interview with Director Josephine Ridge

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 15

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

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