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Longing, loneliness, late night radio

Eleanor Brickhill reviews One Extra’s latest show


Solon Ulbrich, Gilli O’Connel, Rapture Solon Ulbrich, Gilli O’Connel, Rapture
photo Andrew Fisher
Moving hastily past the title Indepen/dance for this new triple-bill production, curated by One Extra at the Seymour Theatre Centre, I quickly realised that what was implied by the title had less to do with the artists’ aesthetic concerns than with their economic status.

Such a conventional format, and the equally conventional proscenium arch provided by the venue, the Everest Theatre, didn’t allow much room for the choreographers to play and presented staging problems, not least because of the load of theatrical, aesthetic and technical values and expectations that come with that territory. And if the artists are inexperienced, young, or lack cohesive artistic direction, any divergence from those expectations, intended or otherwise, is not well served. In this environment, work tends to look as if it’s aspiring to the same aesthetic values as, say, Sydney Dance Company, regardless of what the original concerns might have been, and if it fails to compare favourably on that level, then other choreographic ideas become reduced.

But the first of the 3 works was most successful, drawing for its effect on the choreographer’s colourful imagination. h.t.d.a.p.h. (or how to draw a perfect heart), is really a duet rather than a solo, choreographed by performer Lisa Ffrench, with DJ Jad McAdam’s quiet chat-style vocal design setting the ambient mood. We are invited to attend lightly to love, longing, loneliness and late-night radio, as well as Lisa’s obsession with drawing hearts and finding fate in their artistry.

Opening her heart-rending story with a fake-blood-on-the-shower-curtain Psycho routine, she describes further how she has drawn hearts on misted shower glass, on foggy windows, on telephone memo pads. Once again wearing her now infamous rubber gloves—don’t ask me why—Ffrench tells us the story of her obsession with lurve.

Surprisingly enough, before leaving for the theatre that night, a friend suddenly asked, “Do you believe in love?” Startled, I went, “Um, well, um, yes. What an odd question.” When it was revealed that she meant mainly the undying eros variety, I gave it all away by saying, “Oh, that? No, not these days. People over 40 don’t, do they?” And then, having said that, to be confronted as if with a continuation of that odd conversation in Lisa Ffrench’s material! It must be in the air. So I could have thought, oh, dear, I’m all wrong, everybody is thinking about it. Or, I might also ask, why do choreographers mostly deal with issues of interest to people predominantly under 30?

As the program unfolded, it was increasingly the second question which leapt to mind; and it’s not the material necessarily, but its treatment which creates problems. For instance, the last work, Rapture, choreographed by Rosetta Cook and performed by her company of 10 or so dancers, seemed to be a work made for young children. It opened with all the dancers carrying on tiny kiddie suitcases which they fiercely and possessively clasped to their breasts in parody of sulky 2-year olds protecting their favourite toys. While the performers are undoubtedly serious in their intent to depict various aspects of erotic rapture, in the end, the effect is unintended and unfortunate parody: the ‘drama’, the ‘passion’, the ‘pathos’ of young storybook love sends itself up with empty style, little social commentary or exploration, and little contemporary relevance.

The work itself was given depth mostly by the musical design, a collection of schmalzy classics, predominantly romantic, and violin-based, splendidly passionate and love-lorn, played at an overpowering volume. Around this hung the dance material, and some of the duets I remembered seeing in prior performances, set apart and more delicately focused than seemed possible in this longer work. Here, the ensembles and never-ending twining, lifting, pleading, sitting, sulking, running, chasing, throwing, smiling etc, developed an overall blander texture, adding little to the overwhelmingly strong imagery created firstly by the familiar and much-loved romance of the music.

The middle work, dear carrie, choreographed by Marilyn Miller, was as it said, a work in progress, again not well served by the venue. The story is ambitious and personal, dealing with the tragedy of an Aboriginal woman, Carrie, whose life was ruined by the cruelty of displacement, and the spiritual and physical oppression and degradation she experienced at the hands of religious do-gooders. The dance, while simultaneously caught in the net of 70s modern, studded with iconic 90s Aboriginal dance images, structured with its strange anti-climactic ending, and laced with a raw, histrionic soundtrack, had a straightforwardness which might have been simple naivety, but which insisted on its dignity. Even so, while such tragedy is obviously deep, compelling and passionately felt, a quieter, more understated, arm’s length realisation might have allowed space for the audience’s compassion, and communicated the choreographer’s intent better than it otherwise did.


Indepen/dance: h.t.d.a.p.h. choreographer-performer Lisa Ffrench; Rapture, choreographer Rosetta Cook; dear carrie, choreographer Marilyn Miller; curated by One Extra Dance Company, Seymour Theatre Centre, May 15

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 16

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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