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emerging sydney performance


new waving

martin del amo on emerging forces in sydney performance


Brown Council, Runaway Brown Council, Runaway
photo William Mansfield
WITH A STRONG PRESENCE AT THIS YEAR’S NEXT WAVE FESTIVAL AS WELL AS AT NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL FRINGE FESTIVALS, A NEW GENERATION OF YOUNG SYDNEY-BASED PERFORMANCE MAKERS IS CLEARLY GOING PLACES. CONSIDERING THE CURRENT VIBRANCY AND DIVERSITY OF SYDNEY’S EMERGING ARTISTS COMMUNITY, THIS IS HARDLY SURPRISING. AT PRESENT THE COMMUNITY TEEMS WITH TALENTED YOUNG INDEPENDENTS WHO HAVE CREATED ONGOING ENSEMBLES, INVENTIVELY SEEKING OUT AND STITCHING TOGETHER OPPORTUNITIES TO SUSTAIN THEIR PRACTICES.

They take advantage of emerging artists initiatives and mentoring schemes provided by contemporary arts organisations such as PACT Youth Theatre, Performance Space and Urban Theatre Projects as well as by federal, state and local funding bodies. In addition, they have also been rather proactive in creating their own opportunities through self-instigated, artist-run initiatives. The Cab Sav series, housed at Lanfranchis Memorial Discotheque until the venue’s demise last June, immediately springs to mind. Other initiatives include Quarter Bred, a residency program supported and housed by PACT Youth Theatre, and Underbelly, a public arts lab and festival, at CarriageWorks, now in its second year. Earlier this year, the Imperial Panda Festival, presented in small alternative venues, played to full houses every night of its two-week season.

Sydney’s young independents comprise a wide range of artists from various backgrounds and include performers, musicians, new media artists, writers, producers and designers. It is striking how close-knit and self-sufficient the community has become, with artists supporting each other’s practices, taking on various roles in their respective productions—on stage, behind the scenes and front of house.

brown council

The members of the all-female artistic collaboration Brown Council—Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley and Di Smith—met when studying at Sydney’s College of Fine Arts (COFA). Straddling contemporary performance and the visual arts, their work is strongly concept driven, peppered with references to the history of performance art, but at the same time firmly anchored in the realm of high theatricality, incorporating outrageous wigs, costumes made of sheets and lots of fake blood.

In Milkshake, a short performance piece, later turned into a video work, Barrett, Blackmore, Doley and Smith are clad in hand-painted skeleton costumes, their faces made up to look like skulls. Subverting the overt sexuality of many music video clips, they perform a stylised booty dance routine to hip hop artists Kellis’ chart-topper Milkshake, while simultaneously drinking a litre of milk each. As they gyrate their hips and shake their torsos, they literally turn into human milkshakes. What started as a good-natured booty dance turns into an act of performative endurance. There are burps and pained facial expressions; it is obvious that the performers are on the brink of vomiting.

Brown Council’s first full-length work, Six Minute Soul Mate, which recently premiered at the Next Wave Festival in Melbourne, is a very different affair. Exploring the nature of love and romance within a contemporary quick fix culture, it consists of nine six-minute monologues in front of brightly coloured heart-shaped backdrops, emulating the structure of speed dating events.

post

Since starting to work together as a group in 2004, Post (Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Nat Rose) have gradually developed a distinctive theatrical style, fusing a penchant for brightly coloured lycra with an astute eye for political satire. Their most substantial work to date is their full-length theatre show, Gifted and Talented [RT80, p46]. Receiving significant critical interest when first performed at PACT in 2007, it has since become a hit on the festival circuit with seasons at the 2007 Melbourne Fringe Festival, the 2008 Adelaide Fringe Festival and the 2008 Brisbane Festival’s Under the Radar program.

Set behind the scenes of an eisteddfod, Gifted and Talented is an hilarious yet disturbing critique of the constant striving for perfection and obsession with imposing control over other people’s bodies. Dressed in multi-coloured fluoro tracksuits, Coombs Marr, Grigor and Rose play suburban mums who viciously discuss the failings of their amateur dancer daughters, all the while chain smoking, downing cans of Solo and gorging sausage rolls with gallons of tomato sauce. In an unexpected twist, Post link the cruel strategies their eisteddfod mums with acts of government sanctioned violence as reported in the wake of the prisoner abuse scandals in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

Post’s new work, Swimming Home in Heels, a 10-minute performance installation set in a hotel room for one audience member at a time, recently premiered at Next Wave. Exploring notions of lies and intimacy, it will form the basis for a new full-length theatre show, Shamelessly Glitzy Work, to be developed in residency at Performance Space later this year.

janie gibson

With two memorable solos, performed at short works nights at Performance Space and Lanfranchis in 2006 and 2007, Janie Gibson has established herself as a powerful and original performance maker with a keen interest in over the top characterisation and fantastical monologues. She recently created her first group work, The Whale Chorus, collaborating with performers Alex Grady, Matt Prest, Georgie Read and Phoebe Torzillo [RT84,p36]. Gibson directed the work as well as performing in it.

The Whale Chorus gingerly teeters on the line between dream and nightmare. It’s populated with centaur and gnome-like creatures as well as a troubled young family. There is exuberant ensemble dancing inspired by 1980s dance films as well as intensely delivered renditions of well known pop songs. There is also a narrative of sorts constantly looping back on itself, evoking David Lynch’s complex dream logic. Amongst all this, Gibson occasionally appears as a mysterious queen of evil, majestically delivering lines of comic book cruelty: “Do you dare me to stick my long extended fingernails into this electrical socket? Do you?”

Gibson’s next project, titled Cassandra, is a surreal domestic drama set in a space halfway between a kitchen and a karaoke bar. The performers, some from Whale Chorus, will take turns playing an exaggerated nerd character, Cassandra, donning a brown wig, a T-shirt with a pillow underneath, pants and glasses and clutching a bowl of Weetbix. Cassandra will be developed at Underbelly at CarriageWorks in July and presented at the Brisbane Festival’s Under the Radar.

Pig Island, Simply Fancy Pig Island, Simply Fancy
pig island

After meeting at the Sydney University Drama Society (SUDS), Nick Coyle, Charlie Garber and Claudia O’Doherty formed Pig Island in 2006. Since then they have created three full-length works, rapidly gaining a reputation as one of Sydney’s most exciting young theatre companies.

Their wildly imaginative and often deliriously funny self-devised shows have struck a chord with audiences and critics. Winning the Golden Gibbo Award for Best Independent Production at last year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival for their first show, The Glass Boat, their most recent production, Simply Fancy, was picked up by Neil Armfield for a three-week season at Downstairs Belvoir Street where it played to good houses in January, before moving on to the 2008 Melbourne Comedy Festival.

Simply Fancy dazzles with its highly energetic performance style and dialogue-based text that is both fresh and inventive. Its rollicking storyline revolves around the quest of a dad and his two teenage children for a pineapple, kiwi fruit and guava to make a fruit salad for Grandma’s birthday. This absurdist, madcap adventure features a vast array of locations and characters, the most memorable being the mantaray, an enigmatic creature half praying mantis half stingray. Pig Island are currently preparing to take Simply Fancy to the Edingburgh Fringe Festival in August this year.

RealTime issue #85 June-July 2008 pg. 12

© Martin del Amo; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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