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startlingly close

alex ben-mayor: 2008 next wave


THE 2008 NEXTWAVE FESTIVAL’S PROGRAMMING CONCEPT OF “CLOSER TOGETHER” INITIATED BY JEFF KHAN AND THE NEXT WAVE TEAM FOUND RESONANCE IN ALL OF THE WORKS I WITNESSED OVER THE FESTIVAL, WORKS WHICH INVITED AUDIENCES INTO INCREASINGLY INTIMATE SPACES, BOTH PHYSICAL AND TEMPORAL.

text:form, 2008 Next Wave Festival text:form, 2008 Next Wave Festival
photo Alec Lewis
alec lewis: text form

From the most ephemeral of spaces, the cybersphere (our virtual addition to the troposphere), where presumed dislocation creates a digital anonymity, Alec Lewis’ Text Form exposes solo intimacies of information gathering. The work actually has its genesis in a corporate “screw up” ("This was a screw up and we’re angry and upset about it”, media statement Andrew Weinstein, AOL Vice President of Corporate Communications: www.lot49.com/2006/08/aols_mea_culpa.shtml).

Back in August 2006, AOL released the data of 20 million searches by 658,000 of its users. Digital privacy advocates were soon shouting down the cables and the data was promptly removed—but the digital democracy of the net being fluid, nothing is truly lost forever and you can still find the files on numerous mirrors around the world.

Lewis uses this leaked information both as instigator and raw material for his compact installation. The search data is displayed on three scrolling LED screens which note the random user number, the time of search, the search term and the website subsequently visited. Below these are three small LCD screens that run through video works made in response to various searches. Lewis has largely gone for those with the most impact—searches for deviant fetishes and oddball imaginings. For instance, User #3318459 has a string of searches based around the theme of filet à la femme: “barbequed girl meat”, “girls fattened for butchering” and “cannibals feasting on the buttocks of young girls.” The video work intersplices images of a butcher flaying a large slab of meat with a girl undressing in a bedroom, oblivious to the presence of a hooded figure nearby. This hooded voyeur makes several appearances over the course of the videos, acting as a simultaneous metaphor for the unseen searcher and for us as viewers. A serious drawback of the installation was the lack of information regarding its inception—I only became an enlightened observer after attending the artist’s talk. The program notes promised to make people think twice about how they used the internet and I for one will not be asking Google “is it healthy to store up semen or cum in a glass and drink it for a week” like user #7897282 did.

matthew prest & collaborators: the tent

The warm beef stew we’re presented with is a hearty reminder of the chill wind outside and simple camp chairs creak under-bum as the audience settles back to hear a tale. We are inside a large canvas tent, and thankfully so, our small party having been led off the concrete carpark behind Federation Square down behind Birrurung Marr to a huge gravelled lot beside a lattice of railway tracks. For the moment we are simply glad to have escaped the piercing Melbourne cold, the kind that creeps through any crack in scarved and hooded armour however small.

Our guide and host is Michael, a clean and wholesome 20-something corporate worker, and while his current relationship to Brett, the owner of the tent, is not fully clear—we have just witnessed him run flailing after Brett’s white Commodore which sped off at our approach—he assures us that Brett will be only too happy that we’re here. Michael casts off his black suit for comfy flannel jim-jams and the story of his meeting with Brett unfolds. Brett is a bushie, a modern jolly swagman who lives off the land and a doctor of philosophy dropout made larger than life by his conspicuous absence.

The performance team of Matthew Prest, Danny Egger, Clare Britton and Eddie Sharp use a deft array of theatrical constructions from revelations of spaces within spaces, puppetry and snippets of Brett’s recorded Chautauqua or travelling tale to illuminate the meeting of these two souls. Prest as Michael is subtly nuanced and engaging, constantly keeping his audience at the fore, more than readily dropping segments of the tale he feels are unnecessary. But it is with Brett’s sudden return that things become doubly interesting. With Michael bidding a hasty farewell after few pleasantries, we are left alone with Brett, unsure now as to what our contract as audience has become. Have we been invited into the tent or have we infiltrated it? Have we been abandoned to explain our situation as viewers/voyeurs/audience to a man whose space we have breached? The discomfort of intruding, of being brought too close together is languidly teased out. Seated inside the tent, simultaneously shelter, storytelling soapbox, nomadic structure and concrete example of a slightly ascetic philosophy, we are given the space to ponder not only the elements which keep us bound together, but also those which push some of us further apart.

Swimming Home in Heels, 2008 Next Wave Festival Swimming Home in Heels, 2008 Next Wave Festival
photo Jorge de Araujo
post: swimming home in heels

For Swimming Home in Heels by Sydney trio Post, we were brought about as close as we can get. A single audience member at a time is led into a miniscule dorm room above a trash bag inner city pub overflowing with feminine detritus—half eaten packets of chips and chocolate lie strewn amongst g-strings and party clothes, the heady fug of Impulse, Passiona and cheap white wine. As soon as the door opens, the hurricane pace of stories and anecdotes begins. Plastic cup of cheap goon in hand I sit in the only available space at the foot of the single bed and hear how Mish got fingered by a random bloke on the bus and then of her exploits last night with this toothless geriatric. A debate erupts as to whether she pashed him before or after she spewed.

Post excels in the construction of biting Australian satire. The confidence that we are positioned in as active participants implicates us in a schoolies world of booze, sex, music and raucous party binge, where everything is just so fun and meaningful and special y’know. OmyGod and did I tell you how we all lay back on the bed and listened to Destiny’s Child, spesh! Or how Mish painted my nails or when Nat and Zoe did their, like, fully amazing dance that they’d been working on for, like, ages? The performance is hilarious in its folly and a scarily evocative facsimile of a weekend at 16.

Post’s previous works in Melbourne—Gifted and Talented [RT80 p46, RT85 p12] which equated stage mothers with the guards of Abu Ghraib, and Idle Hands Wake up With Fleas which taught the audience a choreographic score composed of military restraint tactics—contained a dark and overt politic which helped to reposition the work in a somewhat violent way. And while for some, the proximity to the performers will be confrontation enough, the lack of political engagement in this new work yielded only lightness and frivolity—a shame, for harsh realities were what made the satire of their previous works so disarming.

Ocular Proof,  2008 Next Wave Festival Ocular Proof, 2008 Next Wave Festival
photo Jorge de Araujo
rogue: the counting & ocular proof

Rogue formed as a close-knit graduating company from VCA Dance 05 and look set to become an important addition to Melbourne’s contemporary dance and performance world. The collective works as both ‘guns for hire’ with external choreographers (and powerful guns they are) as well as creators of their own movement and visual scores. In this double bill they display their strengths in both capacities.

The Counting is an intricate succession of non-repeating isolations striking in its syncopation. Choreographer Antony Hamilton extends the defined flurries of movement from his recent debut, Blazeblue Oneline [RT85 p35] to create complex structural rhythms for his dancers. The impetus for this mechanised movement is from circadian rhythms—inherent cellular and physiological cycles that occur within the body over a 24 hour period. The bodies on stage, dressed in the co-valent colours of enzymes, engage in a series of duo and group architectures that draw us close into this microscopic realm. Working at odds with the resonating undertone of the musical score, the bodies, captivating in their hermetic constraints, inhabit their own rhythmic spaces.

Ocular Proof reconstitutes Rogue as makers. As we file into the cavernous space of the MeatMarket’s adjacent main auditorium, a dancer greets each audience member in turn with a kiss on the cheek and a whispered welcome. The work originally set out to explore our perception of truth, but from the outset it is clear it is now about something else—the intimate spaces of love. We watch a shadow play pas de deux of hearts and lovers intertwined, a baroque puppetmaster seated at a luminous limb-thrashing feast, and a clever evocation of a couple exhausted by passion as the music threads from minimalist to electro to grinding industrial. In the latter part of the piece, Olaf Meyer’s multimedia projections create a truly remarkable visual hallucination. Meyers builds on his visual experiments in Ivan Thorley's Dreamland [www.realtimearts.net/article/issue76/8471] using camera and projector to map and track the shifting body, creating a synchronicity between visuals and the body that I haven’t witnessed since the early work of Japanese company Dumb Type. This, combined with Rogue’s energetic virtuosity, made for one compelling night in the theatre. Definitely a company to watch.


Text Form, artist Alec Lewis, Kings ARI, Melbourne, May 9-31; The Tent, director Matthew Prest, performers Matthew Prest, Eddie Sharp, tent designer, technical director & stew maker Danny Egger, puppeteer, puppet & set design Clare Britton, sound design Jack Prest, The Paddock, Federation Square, Melbourne May 21-25; Post, Swimming Home in Heels: A performance about lies, performer-devisors Zoe Coombs Marr, Natalie Rose, Mish Grigor, The Exford Hotel, Melbourne, May 15-30; Rogue, The Counting, choreography Antony Hamilton, performers (Rogue) Derrick Amanatidis, Danielle Canavan, Holly Durant, Merryn Heath, Laura Levitus, Kathryn Newnham, Harriet Ritchie, Marisa Wilson, Suhaili Micheline Ahmad Kamil, lighting Alexandre Malta, costume Doyle Barrow, music Panasonic; Ocular Proof, choreographer-performers Rogue, multimedia design Olaf Meyer, lighting Alexandre Malta, costume Doyle Barrow, music Lachlan Carrick, Meat Market, Melbourne, May 28-31; 2008 Next Wave, May 15-31, www.nextwave.org.au

RealTime issue #86 Aug-Sept 2008 pg.

© Alex Ben-Mayor; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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