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Tony Cuthbertson, Vanessa Tomlinson, See Hear Now Tony Cuthbertson, Vanessa Tomlinson, See Hear Now
photo Glen O'Malley
IN SEE HEAR NOW 2007, QUALITY COLLABORATIONS AND SYNERGIES ABOUNDED; IT WAS THE AUDIENCES WHICH WERE THIN. TROPICAL TOWNSVILLE’S COLDEST WINTER ON RECORD MUST HAVE KEPT ITS FROST-TENDER INHABITANTS INDOORS, UNWILLING TO BRAVE THE UNSEASONABLE COLD(ISH) SNAP EVEN FOR THE LIKES OF DISTINGUISHED VISITORS, BONEMAP AND JIM DENLEY, CLOCKED OUT DUO AND LAWRENCE ENGLISH. THE COMPENSATORY ASPECT OF SMALL AUDIENCE NUMBERS WAS THE FEEL OF FAMILY GATHERING/MASTER JAM SESSION.

performance 7: lapse

Previous collaboration between Bonemap and Denley was evident in Lapse, the piece straddling the divide between improvisation and rehearsed polish. The aural contortions of Denley’s sax were complemented dynamically by Russell Milledge’s dripping, synthesized percussion in the early stages of the piece. Projections of numbers and computations flickered across the walls, amplifying Rebecca Youdell’s stressed, erratic movements. Youdell, in a vintage black ruffled dress, played to the spotlight, flitted and flirted with the saxophonist, intermittently connected with him, calmed; then the next wave of moaning, wailing sax threw her back to her obsessive scrubbing, quarantined by the circle of the spotlight into her involuntary dance, untouchable.

Youdell bumped against visual artists scratching away at their easels on the periphery, and tangled with an unseen protagonist. Black and white projections of body silhouettes appeared, initially floating and swirling like a Bond film intro, but at times becoming frantic and distorted. Youdell clawed at her costume.

The visual artists laughed, sharing a separate moment, but the laughter almost mocked the dancer’s vulnerability. The projections turned into a hall of mirrors reflecting a filmed Youdell in a red dress torn and pinned together with safety pins. Her shadow interrupted her screen self as she mimicked its movements.

Distorted words filtered through the sax and the laptop. Youdell screwed up her face and tilted her head in an effort to decipher.

Lapse gave away its performance history with a neat wrap up, the music and visuals ending as Youdell faced the audience, styled like a catwalk model, placed her hand under her long hair and flipped it forward to hide her face.

challenges

In contrast, not a few of the festival’s 20 performances were overlong and dawdled scrappily to their conclusions. Works which were solidly captivating in their first half died as the ideas ran thin. This could have been due to the pressures of improvisation.

Another challenge was the role of the visual artists. They tended to be placed at the edges of the action, contrary to the claim in the program: “Visual artists feature...as an integral performing and documenting element, enabling the audience to simultaneously view a number of different visual interpretations of the performance.” However, lighting, projections and distance often prevented the audience from seeing the marks being laid down. Occasionally artist movements at the easels served as an iteration of the larger performance, but mostly it seemed extraneous. Visual art incorporating new media practices were integrated more successfully, with projected film and stills essential to the ambience of many of the multidisciplinary pieces.

performance 4: untitled

The most effective incorporation of visual art was achieved in Performance 4.

Movement artists Nicole Keen and Kate Hooper were wrapped together in a single stretchy white sack centrestage. As they contorted in response to Amanda Stewart’s vocal performance, visual artist Michelle Deveze drew on the cloth. Slower passages allowed her to make deliberately directed work, while at times the movement artists’ staccato responses caused Deveze’s charcoal marks to become random and opportunistic, confined to wherever she could establish contact with her heaving canvas in the moment. A further layer of intrigue was added by local artist Donna Foley’s simultaneous responses using a data tablet, the images projected onto the dancers and walls.

Stewart’s voicework and Foley’s projections carried a heightened synergy underpinned by Foley’s specialisation in the intersection of the visual and aural. Just as Stewart pares back language from the coherent into its component parts, Foley’s calligraphy, using stylus on data tablet, is like pre-writing scribble, almost fooling the audience into believing they could decipher, in Foley’s chaotic, lacy marks, what Stewart was vocalising.

The intensity showed in Stewart’s mobile features and taut neck muscles as she worked rapidly back and forth between two microphones. An unbelievable array of effects was conjured. At times it was like someone quickly turning an old radio dial across stations, or overhearing the sighs, whispers and tragedies of the inhabitants of a whole apartment block all at once.

In between evoking echoes of kissing, popping, chattering teeth, ripping velcro, rain, trains, Morse code from space or a penguin colony in distress with her hoarse, breathy scat, Stewart threw in the odd, tantilising word, which she later described as “a rant for the underlings; women and low caste people.”

Foley’s projected marks changed colour, overlapped, intensified until the screen was practically filled, emptied and the process begun again. The lighting replicated changing weather. Photographer Glenn O’Mallley ducked and wove through the action, adding his shadow to the backdrop as he recorded Deveze trying to tame a ground which behaved like a large, unruly and reluctant animal.

Eventually Stewart’s vocals wound down from disturbing to soothing, ending quietly with “fait accompli...the economics of us...” She walked away from the microphones cueing Foley and Deveze’s last slow lines as they all eyed each other.

These disparate elements married to produce a multidimensional, sensual and random collage. The eye was kept moving, the ear straining and the mind racing to connect the nuances of voice, hand and body: an engrossing journey.

performance 11: after milk wood

Three actors based in North Queensland, Christopher Glover, Susan Prince and John Robertson, performed as an array of characters in a text derived from Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. The shifts from character to character intensified in pace and visual projections reinforced the rhythm of the dialogue. With the speakers’ faces distorted by the strongly coloured uplights and partly obscured by the projections onto their semi-transparent cage, the focus was firmly on the powerful poetry.

Brisbane-based media artist and composer Lawrence English stood at his laptop computer for the first two-thirds of the performance, recording, mixing and sampling to produce a soundscape playback for the final third. As the actors fell silent and still, English’s playback commenced with a sound like humming machinery, a faint tune and feedback. Bites and echoes of the spoken performance became audible, passages of dialogue were repeated, snippets of biting and nagging, interspersed with a squeaking wheel turning reluctantly. Thomas’s words were rearranged, new dialogue formed between characters in English’s reflexive mixing—the dreams of Milk Wood’s characters disintegrated and reintegrated as night terrors.

This time, the frantic, responsive work of the visual artists at the edges of the performance space added several unexpected elements to the whole. Working on paper with dry media, the rustling, crunching and scratching enhanced the mood of the piece and could be heard in the playback, providing layers of night sounds like rats scuttling and leaves blowing. Deveze, Jenny Tyack, Gerald Soworka and Katherine Cornwall continued to work on through the playback, responding to the mixto which they had already contributed. The movement of the visual artists in the half light of the stage periphery also added a sense of dark things lurking at the barely discernable edges of consciousness during sleep and dreams.

panel 4: spoken music, stationary movement

At a brief forum held at the end of day three, a group of participants examined the potential of movement and text in contemporary performance. Discussion ensued on the hierarchy of forms in each performance, which led, of course, to the question ‘What constitutes Art?’ Group? Language? Neurology? Someone commented that for an infant learning language everything is interrelated, and involves control of movement/hand/mouth/ ear. This neatly encapsulated the tone of the festival, its cross disciplinary experiments and unexpected synergies, and its extended family inclusiveness.


See Hear Now 2007, Multi-Arts Festival, director Michael Whiticker, Townsville, June 21-24

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 50

© Bernadette Ashley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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