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MELBOURNE FRINGE FESTIVAL


Body/tech crossings

Urszula Dawkins: 2014 Melbourne Fringe Festival


Snow, performer Skye Gellmann Snow, performer Skye Gellmann
photo Vincent van Berkel
A GLIMPSE OF THREE OF THE MORE CROSS-ARTFORM SHOWS AT THIS YEAR’S MELBOURNE FRINGE REVEALED BOTH CHALLENGES AND SUCCESSES IN MERGING GENRES AND TECHNOLOGIES, IMMERSING AUDIENCES AND ATTAINING COHERENCE AT THE EDGES OF CONVENTIONAL DRAMATURGY. OSTENSIBLY DEALING WITH SNOW, FIRE AND SOMETHING CALLED THE “CHRONO-SYNCLASTIC INFUNDIBULUM,” ALL EXPLORED TO DIFFERENT DEGREES THE INTERPLAY OF HUMAN SENSES AND THE AGENCY OF BOTH PERFORMERS AND AUDIENCE.

Infundibular

At the high-tech end, the collaborative work Infundibular brought together three dancers with a team of creators including interactive media artist Mark Pedersen, and a curious inflatable set by Stanislav Roudavski. Developed as a series of scenes during a Fringe residency at Dancehouse, Infundibular, according to Pedersen, was loosely ‘retrofitted’ to the narrative of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1959 sci-fi novel The Sirens of Titan. The work moves from an Earth in revolutionary chaos to the imposed control of a Martian Army; explores symbiotic harmony on Mercury; and ultimately plunges into the all-encompassing world of the “infundibulum,” where time, space and destiny mysteriously coalesce.

At the core of Infundibular is Pedersen’s interactive design, a system in which the movement of dancers triggers light or sound, which in turn the dancers respond to, creating human-technological feedback loops (for more on the technology see RealTime’s review of SoundLabyrinth at ISEA 2013: www.realtimearts.net/feature/ISEA2013/11176). Strong image-and-sound impressions are formed on Earth when a dancer attempts to escape an invisible circle, her movements synaesthetically ‘becoming’ the roar of a rioting crowd; and on Mars when advancing dancers are repelled by harsh, audience-triggered static.

Most successful is the Mercury scene, in which a solo dancer attracts diamond-shaped scraps of light on the floor around her—like Vonnegut’s vibration-attracted beings, called “harmoniums” in the novel. As the dancer moves, the lights follow her like sharp, bright creatures, multiplying as the dance progresses, until finally she backs away and leaves them, a swimming gathering of life left behind on the floor.

The infundibulum itself is a giant, translucent worm, inflating slowly for the final scene, like billowing cloud. Once it’s fully inflated, the dancers are able to play inside and outside of it amid shifting light and darkness; it’s an extended, elating moment in which the physical interaction of bodies with the skin of the worm, the light and the moving air become primary. If only we as audience could play too.

Symphony of Strange

Gareth Hart’s Symphony of Strange took a low-tech approach to body/sound interaction, fusing Hart’s improvised choreography with the clamour, song, crunch and howl of some 50 “non-musical instruments,” played by five musicians. Hart’s intention was, he says, “to create an immersive experience that teetered between the decrepit and the delicate.” The result feels subtly synaesthetic, as sounds like crumbling leaves, tearing fabric, escaping air, drummed gas bottles or a scraping hacksaw seem to both set his body into trembling, recoiling or flailing motion, or to be triggered by the motion itself.

Yet Symphony of Strange doesn’t feel like flowing fusion so much as a ritual of sorts. The cavernous Substation venue, lit peripherally by tea-light candles, is set up with ‘stations’ where different interactions take place—a circle of leaves and twigs; an altar-like central platform; and the “junkyard orchestra” at one end of the space—with the audience free to move from station to station. Composer Edward Willoughby’s jagged layering of sounds evokes the arrhythmic patterning of everyday life, feeling strangely ‘natural’ despite the plastic, metal and glass of many of the ‘instruments.’ At one point, well into the work, the musicians smash light globes into a box, the sound of glass shards shifting the mood suddenly into one of beautiful destruction. On the night I attend, a strong wind brilliantly augments the ‘orchestra,’ adding the metallic clamour of the roof iron to the cacophony of human-played instruments.

Snow—a quiet circus

Skye Gellmann is building a reputation with his stripped-back, participatory circus shows—his previous work Blindside (with Kieran Law) had audience members fumbling in the dark with smartphones, seeking out sounds in gloomy corners in between watching Chinese pole tricks. His new work, Snow—a quiet circus, eschews technology in favour of large quantities of butchers’ paper, more pole tricks and, for much of the show, silence. The audience wears earplugs; not to suppress a loud soundtrack (nor the slash of metal-guitar from the nearby rock venue), but because, as Gellmann tells us at the start, if we pause first and adjust to the silence “the ringing in your ears becomes the soundtrack.”

Snow proceeds with a mix of audience games and circus tricks, focused around a central pole covered in taped layers of paper that are torn down over time. Gellmann, ever keen to get his gear off, it seems, performs naked for much of the show, as in Blindside—though what draws our gaze is his physical power and control, especially in managing to perform on the paper-clad pole, with that inkling of ‘calm fear’ in his focus. In one entrancing sequence, Gellmann repeatedly pirouettes and slips from a rolling ball. A moving Grecian statue, all torque and form and marble skin, he displays playfulness, virtuosity, attempt and failure all at once. From the ‘live-art’ participatory perspective, Snow’s high point is the ‘snowball fight’ that Gellmann orchestrates: the audience balls up paper into rounded clumps and goes for it with the abandon of several dozen primary school kids let loose in their thermals and mittens. Faint giggles, ripping paper and the thud of feet on the polished floor seep through the earplugs.

Infundibular, Snow and Symphony of Strange are all ambitious in their merging of technologies and artforms, opening up sensual, cross-genre and synaesthetic territories that firmly invite further exploration. All three shows might have been stronger with concentrated direction (none credits a director, as such); as an audience member there were moments of wanting to be more involved, or feeling involved but somehow distant, ‘invited in’ and yet still separate. It will be great to see how these artform and body/tech crossings crystallise, either in further iterations of these shows or in the future works by these creators.


2014 Melbourne Fringe Festival: Infundibular, choreography Rachael Heller-Wagner, Ashlee Bye, Moriya Rosenberg, interaction design Mark Pedersen, music Jess Keefe, Camille Robinson, Roger Alsop, visual projection Travis Cox; Dancehouse, 25-28 Sept; Gareth Hart, Symphony of Strange, choreographer, performer Gareth Hart, composer, performer Edward Willoughby, performers Alex Elbery, Alex Gates, Justine Walsh, Stephen Weir; The Substation, 30 Sept-4 Oct;Skye Gellmann, Snow—a quiet circus, artist Skye Gellman; The Melba Spiegeltent, Melbourne, 1–5 October

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 19

© Urszula Dawkins; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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