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adelaide festival 2013

gravity decentred

keith gallasch: adelaide festival

Sylvie Guillem, Bye, 6000 miles away Sylvie Guillem, Bye, 6000 miles away
photo Bill Cooper

Brink’s Thursday, although flawed, impressed in the end, Larissa McGowan’s Skeleton was a favourite and the Australian-Timorese co-production Doku Rai a remarkable cross-cultural experience (enhanced by the brutally tropical conditions provided by the Queen’s Theatre). Each of these works in one way or another unsettled my emotional, cultural and physical centres of gravity.

sylvie guillem, 6000 miles away

In Jiri Kylian’s 27’52” two huge quartz halogen lamps spot the floor: in one a reclining male dancer, in the other a woman emerging from beneath a pale, heavy cloth. They dance in their own worlds until he enters her space, reaches to touch her and is twice repelled as if electrocuted. His hand placed on her head appears to contain her and the pair enter into a series of brisk entwinings, simpatico undulations and balletic lifts. She retires to the cloth; he solos, creating a line across the blue-lit stage on which he alternates fluid and sharply angled moves at a gentle pace, falling to the floor before turning to the woman, lifting her, now like him naked to the waist, into a beautifully sustained contemporary pas de deux. The sense of the two being at one is ruptured when she suddenly runs away from him. He surrenders his chase, lifting and disappearing under a black cloth. She returns to find him gone, runs in the opposite direction and likewise disappears. Wonderfully performed by Vaclav Kunes and Natasa Novotna, 27’52” embodies the Kylian vocabulary but with passages that speak of more recent dance languages while evoking fragile coupledom.

Sylvie Guillem and Massimo Murro execute William Forsythe’s challenging Rearray with apparent ease without ever surrendering its inherent sense of abstract drama in the choreography and David Morrow’s modernist score (piano, strings, feedback). The astonishing lighting (Rachel Shipp), best seen from the dress circle, patterns the floor in subtly shifting lines of ever merging and dissociating lines of metallic blues and greys on which the duo sortie, tangle, embrace and lock in glorious off-centre Forsythian configurations that hold when they should fall. Together and apart Guillem and Murro excel, their realisation of Rearray proof of the power and beauty of Forsythe’s radicalised ballet formalism.

The third work on the program was Matt Ek’s Bye, a dance theatre solo for Guillem which she performs with her own and other virtual selves to a recording of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata 111 played almost jazzily by Ivo Pogorelich. The lighting is again geometrical, a flow of rectangles and circles on which Guillem in girlish demeanour hyperactively bounces, rocks, walks on all fours and jettisons cardy and socks until stalled by the image of a man on a centrestage mirror-like screen. He disappears. She executes a headstand. A dog appears on the screen. Curious, Guillem investigates and finds herself there—but discovers it’s at once her and not her, synced at first and then not. As she mock hip hops, struts flatfooted, shoulders up and then headstands again, a crowd gathers on the screen, likewise curious about her. Cardy and socks on, Guillem merges with new companions. Bye is an odd little parable but as dance, and dance magically engaged with new media, it’s fascinating, revealing a comically characterful Guillem persona and steps we’ve rarely seen from her.

brink & english touring theatre, thursday

Thursday, Brink Productions and English Touring Theatre Thursday, Brink Productions and English Touring Theatre
photo Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions
Thursday is built on an interesting conceit, transparency—the walls of the set are see-through, characters in different scenarios assemble in the one space simultaneously (as in Benedict Andrews’ account of Patrick White’s The Season at Sarsaparilla) and the inner thoughts of characters are delivered by others (“You’re thinking….”) while standing next to them. The latter was irritating, the audience struggling to get a handle on who’s who in the far too protracted opening of the play where ordinary lives are made transparent—and clearly permeable as relationships play out and overlap. The effect is unfortunately expository and soon overcrowded with supplementary scenarios. That said, once the pedestrian everyday and the horror of the terrorist bombing (London, 2005) are out of the way, Thursday becomes an engaging experience as various synchronicities play out, if sometimes melodramatically, and the characters grapple with profound loss, breakdown and disability.

The sense of a disaster reaching far beyond individual suffering is enhanced by the interplay of a large number of characters and the unfolding of inner lives (if sometimes awkwardly written and structured) within Bryony Lavery’s limits when it comes to psychological insights (as in Stockholm, 2008). There are some loose ends. Having been so firmly established, Paul Blackwell’s conservative Lionel is presumably killed in the blast; it would have been more telling had he lived to grapple with the aftermath. All that aside, Thursday is finally heartfelt and moving, strongly performed with ensemble unanimity by a mixed Australian-British cast and, for such a discursive work, tautly directed by Chris Drummond. Thursday grew on me, but if it is to have further life the extended opening needs to be more cohesively built into the balance of the play.

black lung & whaling firm, liurai fo’er & galaxy, doku rai

Black Lung & Whaling Firm, Liurai Fo’er & Galaxy, Doku Rai Black Lung & Whaling Firm, Liurai Fo’er & Galaxy, Doku Rai
photo Tony Lewis, courtesy Adelaide Festival 2013
Briefly, because Jonathan Bollen reviews Doku Rai on page 10, I wanted to add how engrossing this Australian-East Timorese co-production (a tauter re-working of the original; RT111, p38) was, a ritualistic and intensely theatrical account of the dangers of superstition when entangled with power—colonial, tribal and familial. This is raw theatre, rich in barely contained symbolism, music, gruesome comedy and acting rough and subtle. The central crime, the murder of a brother using a deliberate misreading of a prophesy, results in the victim being resurrected and killed over and over again, until the horror and exhaustion of it all for victim and assassin, and audience, is stilled when the actor playing the victim tells us that his family was murdered and that he dies a death every day. All the power of Doku Rai (“dead man I don’t believe you”) distills in this moment, one that haunts me still.

larissa mcgowan, skeleton

Tobiah Booth-Remmers, Lisa Griffiths, Lewis Rankin, Skeleton Tobiah Booth-Remmers, Lisa Griffiths, Lewis Rankin, Skeleton
photo Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions
Accidents apparently happen in threes. Dancer-choreographer Larissa McGowan’s Skeleton is a dance theatre reverie-cum-nightmare in which the fragility of the human skeleton is subjected to instruments of popular culture (skateboards, bmx bikes, high heels, baseball bats, action films and noise-reducing headphones). Accident scenes are cyclically revisited with increasing intensity. Cultural objects are rendered utterly iconic—chalk white fetishes, as they are in the works of visual artist Ricky Swallow, one of McGowan’s inspirers.

As human scale black boxes-cum-screens automatically crisscross the stage they deposit these items on which we rest our gaze. First we see a skateboard, and then, in another pass, a man frozen in time, tilted forward on the board. Shortly we see him roll out, in slow motion, from a black box in a damaging tumble accompanied by the sound of an almighty crash rising out of Jethro Woodward’s dynamic, pop culture saturated score. With other accidents we sometimes see the damage first: the order of cause and effect is not always obeyed, heightening the sense of obsessive reflection on a traumatic moment.
The images of the man and skateboard are typically punctuated by others in a world where people appear to be ephemeral and replaceable. At worst they relive their accidents. A man (Louis Rankin) wearing large white headphones, is hit violently on three different occasions by a rushing passerby. A woman (Lisa Griffiths), appears, locked in muscle seizure. McGowan lifts her rigid frame and attempts to manipulate her back into shape. Later we’ll see Griffiths with the bike, folding herself, possibly lovingly, into it in various positions, one of which will become this rigor-mortised condition.

Manipulation of the damaged body is a significant motif in Skeleton. After our initial sighting of the writhing McGowan, she shortly reappears being extensively manipulated by a male dancer to sharp electric jabs heard in Woodrow’s score. What first appears helpful becomes threatening, in an extension of the motif, as the male repeatedly, in near slow motion, hits McGowan’s jaw.

This world of gliding black boxes depositing and disappearing humans and objects is scarily fast, but there is a telling, relatively slow and sustained scene that heightens the joint themes of damage and care. To a melancholy strain from Woodrow, Tobiah Booth-Remmers rolls and shapes the rigid Griffiths with increasing aggression, as if irritated by her body’s unresponsiveness. She suddenly softens, grabs his leg; he falters and crumbles. Sitting, she creates a push/pull pieta, drawing him softly into her lap only to repel him and then draw him back.

It’s the final stage of Skeleton where the work—after too many action scenes which emphasise popular culture’s invitations to risk-taking and thrill-seeking—achieves the thematic fruition that McGowan and co-director Sam Haren were doubtless aiming for with the completion of the ‘damage and care’ motif and now an evocation of not just the breaking of bones, but also the smashing of icons. We see the front wheel of the BMX shatter into plaster—this at last is Griffiths’ accident. The skateboard appears, shockingly, to crack of its own accord. The high heeled shoe, so delicately approached and negotiated by McGowan rolling, turning and slipping into it, crumbles beneath her. It’s as if, a la the dromology (the science or ‘logic’ of speed) of Paul Virilio, each of these instruments (they are all technologies—even the bat offers prosthetic reach) incorporates its own accident, damaging itself and its user. Louis Rankin, though, reminds us that the skeleton is likewise a piece of fragile technology as a rush of plaster pieces tumble from his t-shirt. After a final burst of violent energy the dancers, left only with the culture of fight, all fall down.

McGowan’s first major work reveals intelligence, thematic integrity and a potent sense of theatre magic, if at times the desire to amuse risks undercutting Skeleton’s seriousness, expressed most strongly in the ambivalence portrayed concerning our attitude to the pain of others—its meaninglessness in action films, and the tension between concern and denial in reality, yielding even cruelty. The design of Skeleton allows McGowan and her collaborators to replay and review, cut and paste the pleasures and traumas of youth with a three-dimensionality and physical and lo-tech immediacy still beyond the reach of digital media. The Skeleton team have made an analog machine for reflection, albeit one with all the speed and rapid cutting of its digital peers.

See Keith Gallasch's full review of Skeleton as well as Carl Nilsson-Polias' response as part of RT's Dance Massive coverage.

Adelaide Festival 2013: Sylvie Guillem, 6000 Miles Away, Festival Theatre, March 1-4; Brink Productions & English Touring Theatre, Thursday, writer Bryony Lavery, director, dramaturg Chris Drummond, designer Dan Potra, Norwood Concert Hall, Feb 20-March 16; Black Lung & Whaling Firm, Liurai Fo’er & Galaxy, Doku Rai, direction, design Thomas M Wright, remount directors Thomas Henning, Melchior Dias Fernandes, Queen’s Theatre, Feb 28-March 4; Skeleton, choreographer Larissa McGowan, directors Sam Haren, Larissa McGowan, AC Arts Main Theatre, Adelaide, March 2-9

RealTime issue #114 April-May 2013 pg. 11

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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