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online exclusive - march 29

life & death, sound & soul

keith gallasch: jo dudley, louis & bebe, berlin

Joanna Dudley and Dirk Dresselhaus AKA Schneider TM, Louis & Bebe Joanna Dudley and Dirk Dresselhaus AKA Schneider TM, Louis & Bebe
image courtesy the artists
There are many Australian artists based in or working regularly in Berlin: Barrie Kosky, Benedict Andrews, Paul Gazzola, musicians Clare Cooper and Clayton Thomas, media artist Jordana Maisie, dancer and choreographer Adam Linder (see RT95) and live art performer Sarah-Jane Norman are just a few who have appeared in the pages of RealTime. One we should know more about is innovative director, performer and singer Jo Dudley. On a brief visit to Sydney recently she dropped into the RealTime office to tell me about her latest work, Louis & Bebe, inspired in part by electronic music pioneers Louis and Bebe Barron.

Dudley choreographs, makes installations and collaborates on music theatre works. Her most recent creation, with designer Rufus Didwiszus and electro pop/noise impro composer-musician Schneider TM (Dirk Dresselhaus), is Louis & Bebe. It will appear at the Sophiensaele (where it premiered last year), Berlin, April 15-17, for IETM [International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts]. The video excerpts on Dudley's website convey some of the work's musical and physical subtleties and viscerality.

Dudley's principal music theatre collaborator is Didwiszus. Their work The Scorpionfish was part of the 2008 OzAsia Festival in Adelaide [see RT82]. Another work, Who Killed Cock Robin, was performed with the Flemish vocal ensemble Capilla Flamenca and Dudley's sound installation Tom's Song for music boxes and LP players was presented at the 2006 Sonambiente Festival, Berlin [see RT74].
Joanna Dudley and Dirk Dresselhaus AKA Schneider TM, Louis & Bebe Joanna Dudley and Dirk Dresselhaus AKA Schneider TM, Louis & Bebe
image courtesy the artists
Dudley has studied traditional Japanese music in Tokyo and traditional dance and music in Java, and recently created the choreography for the opera Eugene Onegin directed by leading German playwright Falk Richter and conducted by Seiji Ozawa for Tokyo Opera Nomori and the Vienna State Opera. Dudley has also worked with Sasha Waltz, Thomas Ostermeier, Les Ballets C de la B, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Heiner Goebbels.

Louis & Bebe (1 couple, 3 lives, 3 deaths) is inspired by "forgotten pioneers of electronic music", the Americans Louis and Bebe Barron who worked with magnetic tape to create distinctive sounds—later regarded as music—which brought them into contact with John Cage, Maya Deren, Morton Feldman and others. The couple also created the 'electronic tonalities' score for the 1956 sci-fi feature film, Forbidden Planet.

Dudley says that Louis & Bebe is not a literal account of the work, or the lives, of the Barrons, "we had to abstract it." A particular focus in this music theatre work is the creation and death of a sound, and the parallel life of the soul. The work moves through three phases: childhood (The Landing, Reaching for the Red Star Sky), full-blown life (Garden, portraits of a Zoomorph couple), and death (Graveyard, A Night with Two Moons). In these worlds dense with sound, "there's not much movement", says Dudley, "it's like still images—snap-shotttish." The images seen in stills from the production are striking: in Garden the couple wear long-beaked masks inspired by Max Ernst images and symbolic of "soul, flight and heaven." In Graveyard there's a similar bird image ("a particular stork that eats dead animals") in an eerily beautiful altar.

Other than a 20kg bell, small bells and some foliage, the space for Louis & Bebe, says Dudley, is a stripped back Sophiensaele—where the performance "works beautifully." It would be wonderful if Australians could see more of the creations of Dudley and her collaborators at a moment when music theatre here looks to be enjoying revived promise.

Jo Dudley, Louis & Bebe, Sophiensaele, Berlin, April 15-17;

RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg. web

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

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