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Julie Vulcan, Drift Julie Vulcan, Drift
photo Michael Myers
The animal inside us, the wild and the civil, and the sea-shifting currents of journey were each explored by three new performance works in Brisbane: Circa’s Beyond, which premiered in Berlin before landing at the Brisbane Powerhouse; Sally Lewry’s powerful physical theatre work Cimmarón; and Julie Vulcan’s new live art work, Drift, the two latter works commissioned by Metro Arts.

I have to admit that I am a shameless fangirl of Julie Vulcan’s work. I say this as a caveat for those readers who are perhaps less engaged with the fragile experience of live art, or who are not as attracted as I am to the indubitably feminine aesthetic explored in Vulcan’s arresting body of work. Drift is a follow-up to I Stand In, an intimate piece where spectators witnessed Vulcan massaging volunteers, a private act in a warm, communal space (RT116). She brings that same quality of shamanic intensity to Drift, where the audience can watch or participate. You are invited to lie on a lime-green, inflatable lilo with a nest of shredded paper atop, which looks inviting but has a disconcerting texture and an unpredictable waterbed motion. Vulcan attends to each of the lilo-layers with precise dignity, providing a face-mask and an ear-bud for the sound-scape. She then massages your hand with a firm and sensual stroke until you relax. Your interaction ends with her photographing you, wrapping you in a metallic blanket and then folding the massaged hand around a delicate, palm-sized origami boat. Participants stay for as long as they want within the confines of the two hourly sessions.

The work’s gentle thematic is a commentary on passage and the precarious nature of boats as refuges, which has such a charged history for Australian immigration, not just in the latest brutal incarnation of White Australia in our refugee policies, but for the waves of immigrants who have come to our shores in vessels of all shapes and sizes. I could see many a traditional theatre patron at Metro struggle with an anxiety about time: when should I leave the lilo? This is partly the thematic of the work, but also a clue that some aspect of the timing isn’t quite fully formed. Perhaps this is a result of programming two short sessions daily that re-set, rather than a longer durational work that accretes over days. Paradoxically, in her artist’s talk Vulcan noted she had attracted a number of repeat, city-commuter walk-in spectators, who were coming back in their lunch hours. I think this is testament to how Vulcan as a performer and artist can hold a space, elevating and deepening it into a profound experience: sensorially, politically and, dare I say, spiritually.

In contrast to the delicacy of Vulcan’s live art practice was the earthy and engulfing experience of Sally Lewry’s new work Cimmarón. Lewry is a familiar face to Melbourne audiences but this was her debut in Brisbane. The intense, almost wordless piece played out on dirt, lit by the delicate shadow-play of lighting designer Paula Van Beek.

Sally Lewry, Tamara Natt, Cimmarón Sally Lewry, Tamara Natt, Cimmarón
photo Miklos Janek
The trajectory of the work follows two bodies. The first is Lewry, dirt-strewn in a shapeless hessian sack: a grunting, pawing, howling wild beast but in no way aggressive or out of control, simply wild, tender and vulnerable, like a brumby or a new-born bird. She encounters Tamara Natt, a statuesque dominator, hair pulled back tightly into a plait at the top of her head, clad in dark, narrow clothes, with echoes of the military and dressage. The moment of first contact includes a full range of emotion: curiosity, distrust, potential seduction, but in what seems like an inevitability given the history of these binaries of centre and margin, dominant and abject, the wild is brutalised in what was for me the most powerful sequence in the whole show, bleeding in and out of Patti Smith’s “Wild Horses,” as Lewry’s figure was whipped and broken, made to dance in circles, to learn to obey and be remade in the image of her dominator.

The work reads beautifully across a range of political, feminist and historical contexts as well as conjuring a detailed immersive world. My only hesitation was around the journey of the dominator. This wasn’t about the quality of Natt’s performance, but a sense that the trajectory had been less interrogated and was less specific in movement vocabulary, in design choices, even in the objects allowed her in the space which were clichéd (whips/red carpets/sunglasses) compared to the genuinely surprising and satisfying nature of Lewry’s initial hessian attire, her naked torso revealed under pressure and her wild ram skull. When Lewry unburies this in the final third of the show it pulls the whole thematic of the piece together: the wild that is now dead, fossilised and curated and what was once pulsing and irresistible is lost but still encodes for us an involuntary and simultaneous attraction and repulsion.

Bridie Hooper, Circa, Beyond Bridie Hooper, Circa, Beyond
photo Andy Phillipson Photography
Ironically, the piece with the most dialogue and literary pedigree was CIRCA’s new show Beyond. This Brisbane company is an absolute international juggernaut, perpetually on-tour and cycling through stages of formal experimentation—from digital technology to text-based collaboration. Beyond signals a back-to-basics circus form with a simple stage, traditional skills and a delightful, show-stopping premise: the animal inside us all. Drawing from a range of cultural references as varied as Alice in Wonderland, Donnie Darko and Cats the show is a smile-a-minute experience. You could take your most belligerently anti-theatre friend to see Beyond and they would thank you. That isn’t to say that the work is lightweight, quite the contrary, its magic lies in the way the death-defying skills of the tightly bonded ensemble skim across sophisticated cultural references to a charming soundtrack of Broadway standards and classic songs. The image of the supple bodies of the circus performers under their enlarged fluffy bunny heads says it all: the surreal and secret pleasures to be found in releasing our inner beasts.


Drift, concept, performance Julie Vulcan, sound design Ashley Scott, The Basement, Metro Arts, 1-5 April; Cimmarón, creator, director, performer Sally Lewry, co-devisor Xanthe Beesley, performer Tamara Natt, Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts, 4-22 March; CIRCA, Beyond, director Yaron Lifschitz, Brisbane Powerhouse, 30 April-11 May

RealTime issue #121 June-July 2014 pg. 37

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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