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The circus of afterwardness

Leah Mercer


Andrew Bright & Chelsea McGuffin, anyway i’m not alone Andrew Bright & Chelsea McGuffin, anyway i’m not alone
photo Justin Nicholas
In a self-consciously self-referential performance, Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus’ anyway i’m not alone employs the metaphors evoked by the stuff of circus. The tricks you do, the applause you crave, the daggers that get thrown at your door, the stuff you drop and the things you keep doing over and over again until you get them right.

Exploring the ways people encounter each other and how connections are made, the performance presents the audience with moments that are carefully built and then quickly abandoned. The opening sequence introduces the 4 performers and exploits the discomfort of circus performers seeking applause for every trick. It is an opening with some memorable moments. Perhaps the most psychological features a man juggling while a woman clings to his body. Rockie Stone’s act of balancing 4 chairs while simultaneously narrating each moment is compelling for a different reason, its self-referentiality celebrates the live act performed in real time.

The highlight of the performance is Andrew Bright’s beautiful trapeze work. Slow and precise, with the ghostly figures of the other performers moving through the space beneath him, it is an exquisite composition. Even the crying baby in the audience seemed a perfectly orchestrated component of the mise-en-scène. It is later revisited with the addition of Chelsea McGuffin. Here the formerly clinging woman is allowed to fly and the piece successfully recasts its spell.

In design and structure the work refuses any unified or clearly articulated world. According to the program notes “nothing can mean anything very much” unless “we discover what Freud called ‘afterwardness’—the way some things acquire meaning after they have happened.” This cannot substantiate a certain aimlessness (as opposed to randomness) that characterises this performance. For example, the sequence featuring McGuffin and her hulahoops and David Sampford juggling in the nude is either undercut or overwhelmed by Stone’s monologue about verbs, but even ‘afterwardness’ fails to illuminate it. And yet ‘afterwardness’ does its job in the following piece, where Sampford’s determination to juggle 6 balls takes the audience so far beyond their patience that they end up on the other side, rooting for him.

The final long sequence is performed to an aural and visual soundtrack that evokes travel and the passing of time. In it we are carried away via a series of disparate images, the highlight of which is McGuffin walking a tightrope en pointe. Her final monologue starts as a tirade upholding the virtues of partnership on the domestic front and quickly moves into a celebration of the possibilities created through teamwork, everything that we have just witnessed. Maybe we don’t need the monologue to tell us what we’ve just seen in the flesh. Maybe the “sheer fact of someone doing something,” as the program suggests, is not quite enough to ensure that the audience and the performance intersect. Just when you’re trying to decide, the show finishes as it began—in the discomfort of them staring at us and us staring at them.


anyway i’m not alone, Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus, director Yaron Lifschitz, composer Steve Reich, musical director Zane Trow, performers Andrew Bright, Chelsea McGuffin, David Sampford, Rockie Stone, costumes Anna Illic, lighting Jason Organ, Richard Clarke Brisbane Powerhouse, June 27-July 5

RealTime issue #56 Aug-Sept 2003 pg. 10

© Leah Mercer; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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