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silver artrage


all the right steps

jonathan marshall: artrage’s 25th anniversary


Brendan Ewing, The Red Shoes Brendan Ewing, The Red Shoes
photo Bohdan Warchomij
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR MARCUS CANNING’S EXHIBITION CELEBRATING ARTRAGE’S 25TH ANNIVERSARY DEPICTED A FRINGE ORGANISATION DETERMINED NOT TO GROW UP AND TO REMAIN THE EDGY, EXPERIMENTAL—AND SOMETIMES HIT AND MISS—INSTITUTION OF ITS YOUTH. THE MESSY LIVE WIRE OF THE RETROSPECTIVE ASIDE, THE SUCCESS STORY OF THIS YEAR’S FESTIVAL WAS THE DANCE PROGRAM, ATTRACTING STRONG HOUSES AND REVIEWS.

Choreographer Bianca Martin presented her first large scale, full-length production, Home Alone, complete with an impressive if sparse two-storey set and onstage drummer, placing three dancers within an abstract world of troubled domesticity. Keira Mason-Hill—best known for her work with youth dance group Buzz—was the most happily playful of the performers, making one interlude where she was grabbed about the throat by an abusively dominating Joe Jurd all the more affective. In contrast Kathryn Puie’s aggressive athleticism combined with sliding grace saw her and Jurd clambering up walls and hanging from the steel-rimmed rafters in what occasionally looked like a homage to Fred Astaire’s famous ceiling dance in Royal Wedding (1951). Particularly in Mason-Hill’s dancing, there was a tendency towards ground movements and swinging body-twists in a low centre of gravity, contrasting with the up/down, climbing trajectories elsewhere apparent. A mime game of dinner involving cutlery and three cans of tinned goods traded amongst the performers appeared several times, imparting a sense of rhythmic continuity and return. Generally though, the piece was dramaturgically opaque, and the drummer was not used as often as one might have expected, with recorded music more frequently employed.

Compared with Paradise City and other athletic, post-Pina Bausch dance-theatre works seen in Perth in recent years, Martin’s Home Alone did not quite reach the right level of chaos, power, or density of relationships to fully soar. After Home Alone’s abuse scene, Puie retired to the upper level to crouch into herself and push about an old and out-of-place fake Christmas tree, suggesting a spirit in the attic whose physicality reflected through a glass darkly the actions of her fellows. With more attention to making visible such abstract relationships between the performers, Home Alone could make a fine contender for a Mobile States touring program.

Maho Sumiji, Shuichi Abiru, Selenographica Maho Sumiji, Shuichi Abiru, Selenographica
photo Christophe Canatpo
Dyuetto presented choreography by locals Sete Tele and Rachel Ogle alongside Japanese duo Selenographica (Maho Sumiji and Shuichi Abiru), together with a less effective, schlocky socio-sexual critique from Melbourne’s Luke George. In recent years, Tele and Ogle have been working with the differently-abled company The Get Downers (RT87, p18). Not having observed the pair perform such technical material in their own work before, what struck me about N_TN_GLD was the physical difference and dialogue present throughout every aspect of their actions. Tele is black, weighty and masculine, Ogle white, female and long-limbed. The production generated a wonderful slipping and sliding of affect and stylistics across the pair, from moments when similar inflections, poses and ways of holding the criss-crossing bodily forms of the two seemed to meld them into a construct of very similar modalities, to other instances where Ogle’s lengthy extension of form or Tele’s meteoric redirection of inertia and mass carved two almost irreconcilable forms onstage.

Rachel Ogle, Dyuetto Rachel Ogle, Dyuetto
photo Christophe Canato
The spatial dramaturgy and lighting reinforced the structure of the piece around this dialogue of separation and confluence. Tele started alone, in blackness, spot-lit from above, vibrating and articulating in a manner which erased his awareness of anything outside of the body and its neuroanatomical sensations. Here the performance recalled butoh. Then in a duet the dancers’ focus was still deeply internal, suggesting something of the non-human or posthuman in these bodies. N_TN_GLD ended with Ogle alone, hair masking her visage, and a sense of deep weariness and resistance to further action evident in her arms, her hands and the sometimes clawed shapes that decorated the space about her intermittently jerking, yet elegant columnar form.

French reviewers have focused on the exotic orientalism of Selenographica. What Follows The Act certainly could be read in culturally specific terms. The central role of critiques of the alienated husband-and-wife team in modern, post-WWII Japanese society and the arts after Mishima, butoh and Suzuki, does inform What Follows The Act. Selenographica however had none of the deliberate attempt to shock or to invoke taboos which was such a feature of this earlier work, reflecting a different trend in Japanese performance which has become more prominent since the 1990s, characterised by a deadpan, potentially comic lightness of touch. This is a mild, charming work, focusing on semi-improvised play and games between Sumiji and Abiru who begin by exploring how many movements and dialogues can be sketched between the pair as they sit, somewhat anxiously, at a domestic table, or later move towards and climb a prominently displayed ladder (a sign of escape perhaps?). To read such allusions in national terms would overstate matters. It is not just the Japanese who admire minimalism or enjoy quirky moments within an otherwise seriously performed work. In one particularly rich moment, Sumiji reclined on the table to let one hand snake and coil filigrees in the air, a totally pointless act whose joyful affectivity lies precisely in its unnecessary character. Such motifs place Selenographica at least as close to Euro-American dance theatre as to the particularities of Japanese aesthetics within today’s world of globalised performance—something which this company seems to embrace.

Outside of the world of dance, Mar Bucknell presented A History Of Glass. Better known for his more extreme performance art works, Bucknell’s Glass was a surprisingly gentle piece consisting of a soporific set of prose-poems describing a population caught within a room of glass, blasted by light from outside, and within which the boundaries, meaning and structure of everything become evermore hazy. Bucknell’s recitation was accompanied by an electronic soundscape whose organ tones evoked film-maker John Carpenter’s music, while Stuart Reid used a digital sketch pad to project a yellow tinted doodle which he constantly added to, its curling scratches and deep, inky outlines lending a third rhythmic element to this gradual unfolding of sound, text and image, filling the space and the time of the performance. Overall the piece had a durational quality, the experience of its slow length being a key part of its structure and affect. Bucknell’s prose could have used a firmer structure—several apparent climaxes arose in which the inhabitants suddenly became free to walk beyond the glass and across the yellow sands, before returning to their prison—but this also helped give a sense of repetitive sustain and detailing, which made for an enjoyably somnambulistic yet existentially dystopian work; shades of Sartre’s No Exit, to be sure.

A festival highlight was director Matthew Lutton’s return from Sydney and Melbourne to stage Humphrey Bower’s adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Red Shoes. Lutton’s most mature work so far, the production had a sparse, Grand Guignol nastiness to it. Paris’ infamous horror theatre of the early 20th century, the Grand Guignol employed a taut, dramaturgical understatement before releasing a fervid, melodramatic excess and buckets of blood. It was a theatre of shock, a style of performance structured more around scenographic electrocutions and tensed release than any coherence of narrative or character. Staged on a blindingly white stage, complete with trapdoors into which objects could be dropped and a piano centrestage behind which material was hidden, The Red Shoes positively blazed with red when the perverse young male protagonist Kevin (Brendan Ewing, also showing a level of craft over and above previous achievements) finally asked the woodsman to sever from his feet the glistening, imprisoning devil shoes which had overtaken him and forced him to dance, Tourette-like, forever.

George Shvetsov, his lanky form often casting gargantuan shadows above and behind him, was an equally sexually troubling presence, not a perverse character per se but certainly one capable of seducing all on stage (and in the audience) as they trembled before him. Igor Sas however virtually stole the show as a cross-dressing temptress (the Ice Princess) and Kevin’s stern, comically Catholic conscience (Auntie C). Explosions in intensity within this otherwise minimal structure were heightened by Ash Gibson Greig’s score, varying from eruptive noise to almost Weiner cabaret.

The Red Shoes could have gained clarity from dramaturgical development—quite what, for instance, was signified by having Kevin’s mother, the Princess, Auntie C and other female characters collapsed into the dangerously sexy form of Sas was unclear—but as indicated, horror is not necessarily a form which requires transparency of meaning. This was a theatre of effects, and such scenes as where the naked Ewing quaked in a veritable seizure of pain and desire as dark red liquid dripped across his white skin was sufficient to bind The Red Shoes into a richly affective, sadomasochistic pleasure.


2008 Silver Artrage 25th Anniversary Festival, curators Marcus Canning, Andrew Gaynor: Company Upstairs, Home Alone (The Suburbs Dream Tonight), choreography Bianca Martin, performers Kathryn Puie, Keira Mason-Hill, Joe Jurd, design Jamie Macchiusi, drums Tim Bates, lighting Deidre Math, Rechabites, Oct 30–Nov 8; Thin Ice Productions, The Red Shoes, text/adaptation Humphrey Bower (after Hans Christian Andersen), director Matthew Lutton, performers Brendan Ewing, George Shvetsov, Igor Sas, designer Claude Marcos, music Ash Gibson Greig, sound Kingsley Reeve, lighting Matthew Marshall, PICA, Oct 18–28; Bright Edge, History Of Glass, text/recitation/digital-slides Mar Bucknell, sound Allan Boyd, projected live drawing Stuart Reid, Blue Room, Oct 29-Nov 8; Strut, Dyuetto, N_TN_GLD, performer-devisors Rachel Ogle, Sete Tele, lighting Mike Nanning; Selenographica, What Follows The Act & It Might Be Sunny Tomorrow, direction, choreography, performers Maho Sumiji, Shuichi Abiru, direction, design Genta Iwamura, music Koichi Sakota, PICA, Nov 5-8, Artrage, Perth, Oct 17–Nov 23

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 12

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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