info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

the past made present

donata carrazza sees the old van co in mildura

Donata Carrazza is a Mildura-based writer and businesswoman.

The Seal Wife The Seal Wife
photo Joe Pasquale
IN MY UTOPIA FOR SENSITIVE SOULS, FIONA BLAIR WOULD BE RECEIVING MULTIPLE AWARDS FOR HER VISION, HER COURAGE AND HER BRAVERY FOR DARING TO SHOW US A NEW WAY OF SEEING. THE THEATRE COMPANY, THE OLD VAN, WHICH WAS FOUNDED IN 1998 AND FOR WHICH BLAIR IS ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, IS AN INDEPENDENT, PROFESSIONAL GROUP BASED IN RURAL VICTORIA WHICH AIMS TO CREATE WORK THAT IS CLOSELY RELATED TO THE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH IT IS PERFORMED AND NOTABLE FOR INVOLVING LOCAL CHILDREN AND ADULTS IN ITS PRODUCTIONS.

Mildura has already been host to some magical moments created by the Old Van. In 2003 we witnessed A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, Mildura 1956, performed at the Riverside Golf Club. The following year it was The Life and Deaths of Don Koyote, Man of the Mallee at the Botanical Gardens and in 2005 Romeo and Juliet was performed in a large dusty packing shed in Merbein.

“Performing acts of cultural appropriation” is something to be proud of here. Blair manages to bring an immediacy and appropriateness to the work she chooses. She genuinely connects to the community and the location she selects (or which selects her: Blair’s attraction to Mildura may have something to do with her early childhood in Robinvale), always respectful of the Indigenous past and inspired by the great Western canon.

The Old Van’s most recent production was The Seal Wife: A Ceremony of Ghosts, performed at the Perry Sandhills (six kilometres out of Wentworth) for two nights in early May. It is based on the legend of the selkie, and under Blair’s direction, we learn of this story in the opening sequences from a narrator sitting with children of the area around a campfire. Audience members encircle the ‘stage’ which is a gentle valley of sand extending into the dune area. Huddled there in the dropping temperature of the desert we feel transported to an imaginary township, surrounded by what was once an inland sea. An eerie atmosphere is created by the blue-grey smoke of the fire rising into the starlit black sky.

In Scottish folklore the selkie transforms into a human after shedding its skin. If the skin is stolen or disappears the creature can never return to its original form. It can live in the human world, marry and have children, but it will always yearn for the sea.

Leroy Parsons, assistant director and Indigenous media officer with the company, plays the role of the selkie. He first appears on the ridge of a distant, illuminated sand-dune, seemingly limbless and with convincing sea-animal movements.

After his transformation into human form the audience is distracted by a distant moaning and the slow, rhythmic apparition of the ghost women of the town, all clad in black, making their way towards the central scene. It’s mesmerising and beautiful on many levels. The guttural sounds of unresolved grief are enough to make us pensive and absorbed.

We witness and understand that the women steal the skin in order to do a trade with the selkie, requesting a night with the drowned seamen of the town. He agrees, on the condition that he gets the skin back and a bride in return.

Soon the traditionally dressed bride and groom are before us. A surreal scene follows where the town’s women ritualistically adorn the bride with a waist piece that unfolds into vasts lengths of white tulle and fabric. This gently choreographed sequence, performed with care and attention, is enigmatic yet powerful in conjuring up ideas of pirate ships, sails, fish nets, harbour posts, storms and waves. We are reminded yet again of the dangers of the beguiling sea and its dreadful ability to steal away loved ones.

Sad thoughts are diminished in a moment with the arrival of the men, resurrected and reunited with the women for a night of joyous singing, dancing and love-making. But before we are really aware of it, the mood has shifted again and we are in the midst of heartbreaking separation, the splitting of lives and people into their singular ghostly worlds. Female voices eulogise their dead husbands. A male voice quotes TS Eliot, characterising the sea: “It tosses up your losses, the torn seine,/ the shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar/ And the gear of foreign dead men” (from Four Quartets, The Dry Salvages).

The Seal Wife was a moving, meditative theatre experience enhanced by its attention to music, lighting and text. The Old Van does well to continue its commitment to brave theatrical works in regional communities, refreshing stories from our Western cultural tradition while paying homage to our Indigenous past. The work is not ‘polished’, and the better for it, as its rawness delivers soul that’s sometimes hard to find in the plethora of cultural options available to us.


Old Van Theatre Company, The Seal Wife, A Ceremony of Ghosts, director, writer Fiona Blair, performers Lou Bennett, LeRoy Parsons, Joyce Greed, Chloe Mackie and community members, lighting designer Rob Irwin, music directors Tracy Bourne, Bagryana Popov, fire sculpture Darryl Cordell, Perry Sandhills, May 1-3

Donata Carrazza is a Mildura-based writer and businesswoman.

RealTime issue #85 June-July 2008 pg. 44

© Donata Carrazza; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top