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John-Paul Hussey, Love Monkey John-Paul Hussey, Love Monkey
photo Mark Burban
I WAS RECENTLY WONDERING ABOUT THE COMPATIBILITY OF BUSINESS MODELS AND ARTISTIC GROUPS AND GOT TO PONDERING THOSE IRRITATING SLOGANS CORPORATE LEADERS USE TO SPACKLE OVER THE GAPS IN THEIR RHETORIC. YOU KNOW THE ONES. THEY BEAR THE SAME RELATIONSHIP WITH INSIGHTFUL DISCOURSE THAT SURVIVOR HAS WITH ANTHROPOLOGY AND ARE ABOUT AS NUMBING. “THERE’S NO I IN TEAM.” “A CHAIN IS ONLY AS STRONG AS ITS WEAKEST LINK.” IN THESE CASES, I GOT TO THINKING, THERE’S NOT MUCH FIT WITH THE ARTS AT ALL. I’VE SEEN PLENTY OF RUBBISHY WORKS SAVED BY A SINGLE PERFORMER. LOTS OF COMPANIES THRIVE DESPITE THE PRESENCE OF SOME OBVIOUSLY UNDERQUALIFIED MEMBERS. ALL OF THIS MENTAL MEANDERING EVENTUALLY GOT ME DEBATING THE PROS AND CONS OF GOING IT ALONE VERSUS THOSE OF ASSEMBLING A TEAM OF LIKE-MINDED PERFORMANCE-MAKERS.

phoebe robinson

I realise I’d had Phoebe Robinson’s quiet, effective Only Leone in mind in the days preceding these thoughts. Robinson’s been developing solo work for a few years now, and the short Only Leone is the culmination of her three-month residency at Dancehouse. It’s a rumination on solitude at several levels, most not immediately obvious. There’s the Roy Orbison allusion in the title, as well as the understated influence of the sparse, laconic wanderers of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. But beyond these, I’m more used to seeing Robinson dance in partnership with her sister Julia, or alongside other dancers with (the now departed) Dance Works. For me, much of Only Leone’s loneliness came in the form of the ghosts not visible around the dancing form. We often discuss live performance—especially dance—in terms of presence, the positive materiality of the body. But when choreography can equally signify absence, the effect is uncanny.

It’s not immediately obvious whether Robinson is consciously playing with the problematics of dancing alone. Her choreography seems to imply it, though. She doesn’t try to fill the expansive white space in which she moves—far from it. Her movements are unnervingly precise but understated and for the most part occur within tightly conscribed areas, rather than traversing the stage. The sole exception occurs when she unexpectedly darts towards her audience to stop a breath away, now sharing the darkened space of her onlookers. It’s an ironic attempt at connection, though, and it seems clear that any kind of fourth-wall busting would be an artificial substitute for the more authentic connections which develop during creative relationships.

john-paul hussey

In the absence of co-conspirators, of course, a performer often turns to their relationship with an audience to fill the void. John-Paul Hussey’s Monkey Trilogy comes to a close with his latest, Love Monkey, which makes explicit a theme of connectedness and fragmentation which has underscored his previous solo outings. As usual, it’s a fascinating and often infuriatingly dense skein of ideas, drawing lines between Hussey’s own autobiography, classic myths and Jungian archetypes, works of great and popular fiction (from Moby Dick to James Cameron’s Titanic, for instance) and much else besides. It’s largely about love, charting various relationships across the performer’s history, but it’s equally about his relationships with his artistic forebears, his world and his craft itself. And though it would be easy to conclude such a narrative with an attempt to bridge the divide between performer and viewer, Hussey bravely maintains a constant distance from the onlooker by imbuing his story with so much strangeness that we can’t help but be frequently confounded. Even as he makes a thematic plea for human connection, he waves his eccentricities and idiosyncracies in our faces, as if to remind us that the price of true individuality is isolation.

Ash Flanders, I Love You, Bro Ash Flanders, I Love You, Bro
photo Sarah Walker
three to a room

Here’s a curious counter-example: Three to a Room’s upcoming Edinburgh tour of Adam JA Cass’ I Love You, Bro. It’s a genuinely stunning monologue in itself, earning acclaim for playwright Cass and performer Ash Flanders when staged in last year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival. It traces the true story of a 14-year-old English boy whose obsessive search for human interaction through online chatrooms led to his stabbing in a dank alley, a police investigation unveiling a vast web of lies and intricate role-play, and a court conviction for inciting his own murder. There is an “I” in alienation, apparently.

A thrilling story aside, what makes this tour so interesting is in the way that Three to a Room—a company of three young theatremakers—have taken this small production, along with Sisters Grimm’s equally fringe cult schlock-fest Mommie and the Minister, and pushed them all the way to the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s not that they’re adapting these works. They’re doing something oddly rare in the independent theatre scene—producing. Having already toured their own productions to Edinburgh—the lauded An Air Balloon Across Antarctica—the company this time round has found a pair of pre-existing pieces which deserve further life, and has taken on the job of making the connections between these satellite performances and the solid terrain of Scotland. The business of the independent producer—the forging ties between free-floating creatives and established institutions—has been one of the more exciting areas of development and discussion in recent years, and the work of small companies such as Three to a Room add an extra layer of activity to the trend.

rogue

After all this talk of the loneliness and isolation of the creative, it’s only fair to turn to its opposite. Anyone with any experience in the performing world will know the feeling of intense intimacy engendered by a close collaboration with a group of fellow artists—the wrap-party “we’ll always remember each other!” expressed as everyone swaps numbers, even as a part of you hopes X never calls and Y quickly fills that spare role in production Z. It’s amplified exponentially in the case of major performing arts courses. After three years of excoriating emotional nakedness in which intra-class relationships are formed, broken, reformed and so on, the power dynamics and status levels come to seem a cemented microcosm of the world itself. And then comes that world. And everything becomes open to question as the class star struggles for roles and the quiet kid at the back is fending off job offers.

The ranks of Rogue are filled out with ex-VCA dance students (and other graduates from around Australia), and if the company’s Next Wave double bill was anything to go by, they’re an impressively cohesive bunch. The Counting saw this literalised—Antony Hamilton’s choreography presented an hypnotic mass of overlapping motion which blurred the lines between the organic and the mechanical. Individuality disintegrated quickly, the work favouring instead a sense of complementary movement—technically sophisticated and visually complex, patterns echoing across different bodies and discrete spaces. That these young dancers managed to flawlessly execute such an intricate, almost sublime work is testament to the company’s status as an important new force in Melbourne’s dance scene.

Ocular Proof was created by company members themselves and, while not as subtle as Hamilton’s work, is equally encouraging. Its sequence of a dozen-odd vignettes ranging from the comical—18th century courtiers flirting and backstabbing across a glowing dining table—to the unsettling—bodies acting as screens for the projected image of two rapidly aging and decaying figures. The design technology provided by Olaf Meyer and members of Bluebottle3 is nothing short of dazzling here, and at times comes to overshadow the dancers’ performances. But this is no complaint. One of Rogue’s strengths seems precisely this willingness to sacrifice egos and grandstanding in order to take advantage of the experience and ability of others—choreographers, designers or each other.


John-Paul Hussey’s Chocolate Monkey shows at Sydney’s Seymour Centre, Oct 14-25; I Love You, Bro at Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh, Scotland, August 2-25

Only Leone, choreographer, performer Phoebe Robinson, sound design Sheldon King, Felicity Mangan, lighting Adam Hardy, Ben Cobham; Dancehouse, July 2-6; Love Monkey, writer, performer John-Paul Hussey, director Lucien Savron, composer Kelly Ryall, set, video Matthew Gingold, lighting Shane Grant; Northcote Town Hall, May 28-June 15; Three to a Room, I Love You, Bro, writer Adam JA Cass, director Yvonne Virsik, performer Ash Flanders; Monash University Student Theatre, June 30-July 3; Rogue, The Counting, choreography Antony Hamilton, performers 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

RealTime issue #86 Aug-Sept 2008 pg. 8

© John Bailey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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