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one woman in many: survival and resilience

jan cornall embraces UTP’s the folding wife


Valerie Berry, The Folding Wife Valerie Berry, The Folding Wife
photo Heidrun Löhr
A DARK HAIRED WOMAN STANDS ON THE POLISHED FLOORBOARDS IN THE CENTRE OF THE NEW BLACKTOWN ARTS CENTRE PERFORMANCE SPACE. MUSIC PLAYS—NOSTALGIC MUSIC OF A FORMER TIME. THE WOMAN, VALERIE BERRY, UNDRESSES TO HER BLACK UNDERWEAR. TWO MEN APPEAR AND WITH THE FINESSE OF PUPPETEERS, BEGIN A LONG SLOW COSTUME COLLAGE.

They dress, drape and fold yards of fabric and clothing around the woman, morphing one costume into another—a peasant becomes a woman of class becomes a revolutionary becomes a political prisoner about to be executed. A machine gun strapped to a thigh, a radio spewing forth crackly sound is tied around her waist and her feet are forced into red high heels. Shoes, shoes and more shoes. We are in Imelda territory.

Paschal Daantos Berry and Valerie Berry, Australian artists, also siblings, born in the Philippines, first discussed a collaboration based on their shared history in 2002. Teaming up with Anino Shadow Play Collective from the Philippines, director Deborah Pollard and Urban Theatre Projects, they have produced a fine new performance work of biographical fiction called The Folding Wife.

Datu Arellano and Andrew Cruz, members of Anino Shadow Play and the men who have transformed Berry in chapter one, return to their workstation. As Valerie begins chapter two, they squat on the floor by an overhead projector and laptop and throw exquisite imagery onto the back wall. Like painters playing with liquid light, colour and form, they create the visual sensuality and texture of memory so powerfully evoked in the text by writer Paschal.

All I have is the view from this window. I have seen the century through this frame, seen them come and go...Our women have always been here sitting by the shadows waiting for new opportunities. Waiting for wars to finish...We can feign happiness with enough practice; it is in our blood, that’s how you become resilient—by bending and folding into recognisable shapes.

Valerie Berry’s impressively portrayed characters fold into one another through a non-chronological telling of chapters. Chapter two followed by chapter eleven, then by chapter five and so on. We meet Grandmother Clara, Mother Dolores and daughter Grace. We feel the heat and torpor of their lives as regimes and curfews come and go. It is a story of waiting: “...waiting for wars to finish. For our men to come home...” or a school child waiting for hours in the hot sun by the side of the road for a glimpse of Imelda Marcos, who never comes.

More ingenious shoe routines, and flags of different nations that spew forth from Berry’s mouth. Grandmother Clara pines for her Spanish past while urging her daughter Dolores to escape to America. Her advice: “If you have the misfortune to marry one of ours, always be a step ahead. Get to know the queridas (mistresses) and make their life a living hell.”

Dolores meets an Australian saviour instead: Arthur, who brings Dolores and daughter Grace, to a new land. “We are two, stepping off the Greyhound bus, wondering if the dust will ever settle. It is silent here. But if you prick up your ears you can hear blowflies.”

The atmosphere changes but loses none of its power. Dry yellows and sandy browns fill the screen as Grace describes arriving in a cultural desert. And yet in this barren place she blossoms and blooms. Here among the “rough and golden boys licking plates, cheeks varnished from lamb fat and tomato sauce, smelling of lanolin from the wool”, she becomes a woman, declaring, “I will never fold, I will never fold, I will never fold into my self.”

The length of gestation of the work and collaborative care director Deborah Pollard and team (including lighting designer Neil Simpson, production manager Alexander Dick and members of Anino) have given in creative development and production have yielded a delicious fruit. Sweet, sour, bitter—all the tastes of memory are present in this powerful work. The audience is left with sensual impressions of lace and blood, laughter and sorrow, “roasted corn on Sundays, coloured parasols reflecting the white heat of the sun” and a heritage of women, strong, beautiful and dignified, who have survived on memories of a glorious past or a projected future as they bent and folded into themselves a nation’s pain .


Urban Theatre Projects & Blacktown Arts Centre, The Folding Wife, performer Valerie Berry, writer Paschal Daantos Berry, director Deborah Pollard, design, multimedia Anino Shadowplay Collective, lighting Neil Simpson; Blacktown Arts Centre, Western Sydney, April 19-28

RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg. 35

© Jan Cornall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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