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setting boundaries, combating fear

jan cornall on martin del amo’s new work

Jan Cornall is a Sydney-based novelist, playwright, lyricist and writing teacher: www.jancornall.com.

Martin del Amo, Never Been This Far Away From Home Martin del Amo, Never Been This Far Away From Home
photo Heidrun Löhr
IN THE HIGH TECH, HIGH ART, HYBRID TREND OF CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE, PERFORMER MARTIN DEL AMO IN HIS LATEST SOLO PIECE, NEVER BEEN THIS FAR FROM HOME, BRINGS IT ALL BACK TO BASICS—VOICE, MOVEMENT, A BARE SPACE AND GOOD OLD FASHIONED MICROPHONES WITH CHORDS AND STANDS. SOPHISTICATED SOUND AND LIGHTING DESIGN SUPPORTS THIS WORK, BUT NO VISUAL FX MEANS STORYTELLER DEL AMO CREATES A LANGUAGE OF IMAGERY AND LEADS THE AUDIENCE INTO A WORLD OF THEIR OWN IMAGININGS.

The work of the solo performer is always risky. What if the telling fails, what if the audience doesn’t get it, what if they fall asleep—“what if they want me to shut up and just dance?” Del Amo doesn’t falter over such concerns, but methodically carries out his set task—to share with us the journey of his explorations: notions of home, the void of fear, danger and the unknown, where the edges of dreaming and reality meet.

A man in a white suit seems to hover in the space. As our eyes become accustomed to the dim light we see he is moving towards us across a white floor, his slight frame strangely trapped in the formality of his dress (aptly designed by Virginia Boyle). Carrying his polished brown shoes, he is barefoot, as if he has escaped—crept away from somewhere. Behind the white performance square, sitting at a table, sound artist Gail Priest ‘plays’ a laptop, feeding the buzzing soundscape into the air. To his left, also just outside the square, lighting designer and technician Clytie Smith watches intently for his next move. In darkness, barely noticeable around the square, the shapes of large crates and scaffolding loom. Mirabelle Wouters’ set is deceptively simple—speakers, back stage gear, and on the edge of the mat, 10 microphone stands, like metallic one legged birds, wait to take flight.

The man makes himself tall and puts his shoes down at the edge of the white floor. He walks back to a microphone and begins to speak. “What most people are afraid of is the void, nothingness”, he tells us, “but the void can be taken literally—take silence for example.”

The series of tellings begins, punctuated by voiceless dance pieces and slow, deliberate placings of microphone stands about the square. Following him all the way, the under pattern of electronic sound and subtle lighting supports the progression of his journey.

He walks to the edge of the white square and brings a microphone stand onto the space, placing the chord carefully in a straight line. Speaks. Brings in another—its chord in a diagonal line meeting the first at a triangle point.Then another, and another. Gradually, the performance square is crisscrossed with chords like lines on a map—countries perhaps, or sections of a brain. At each microphone he tells us of his fascination with expeditions and the failures of explorers; of danger and of a torture witnessed by a friend in a childhood forest. There’s the story of the philosopher Walter Benjamin who committed suicide at the French/Spanish border during WWII when he really didn’t need to, and a retelling of how to use word association to escape the recurring dream of a white room with no windows and doors. There are tips on how to survive a crocodile attack and the tale of a friend, Sylvia, who went off to play Russian roulette with women she met on the net and hadn’t been heard of since. “If someone doesn’t speak to you it’s as if a void opens up. It reminds you how disconcerting silence can be.” Back to the silence.

Slowly, the man unplugs all the microphone chords and reels in the leads. Released from its criss-cross of lines and sections, the soundscape soars as del Amo runs, skips, twirls and skates his euphoric dance across the white—fearless, borderless and free.

If the structure of story/movement/story/ movement feels a little predictable at times, by the end it seems to fit the setting of boundaries needed to combat fear. Breaking free requires courage, strength, skill—all of which del Amo displays in his choreography and in the execution of Never Been This Far From Home. And yet there is a vulnerability in the performance of his man/boy stage persona that you sense his creative collaborators (all women) have encouraged and made possible. With their help, it seems Del Amo’s refugee from other worlds, other feelings, behaviours and longings, has finally arrived home.


Never Been This Far From Home, devised and performed by Martin del Amo, sound design Gail Priest, set design Mirabelle Wouters, lighting design Clytie Smith, Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Redfern, Sydney, March 7-17

Jan Cornall is a Sydney-based novelist, playwright, lyricist and writing teacher: www.jancornall.com.

RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. 34

© Jan Cornall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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