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Performance Space redux

Still Angela Still Angela
photo Jeff Busby
After what seems inordinate waiting, just too much realtime, even for a contemporary art space, the future for Sydney’s Performance Space suddenly looks brighter than it has for years. A new home for the national centre for contemporary art and hybrid performance has been confirmed, a 12 month program announced for 2004 and ventures in national training and touring realised. Director Fiona Winning, Associate Director Blair French and Chairman of the Board Tim Wilson announced these developments at the 2004 launch (December 9, 2003), replete with riotous performance excerpts by version 1.0 and The opera Project from the coming program and a flaming pink birthday cake to celebrate PS’s 21 years.

Winning was pleased to be able to say, instead of declaring another crisis, “We’re here, we’re healthy, we’re almost 21 and we’re looking forward to another dynamic 3 years in this space we’ve called home since 1983.”


Blair French said that the birthday would provide an opportunity “to share anecdotes about art that was made here, debates that have raged here, people that have worked here—artists, administrators, board members, technicians, front-of-housers. There’ll be a birthday party late in the year and a symposium looking at some of the major streams of work that emerged in our first 21 years. And an exhibition that traces the lineage of queer performance work here.”


Instead of the usual announcement of a quarterly program (not a little determined in the past by funding body timetables) Winning was proud to be able to present a full program in 2004, “a mix of our own productions, co-productions with peer organisations and artist-initiated projects.” She began however with residencies, a reminder that the primary importance of PS is not solely its status as a venue or even a producer but as a nurturer and hub to a vigorous hybrid arts community. Winning explained, “In a broader political context where research and development is increasingly devalued, our residency program...offers critical research and development time to 6 collaborative teams of hybrid practitioners throughout the year. In the last 3 years, one residency each year has succeeded in securing support to go to production and one each year has secured further development support.”

In 2004, residency artists include dancer/choreographer Rosalind Crisp who will return from Europe to collaborate with local artists on her new work Duck Talk; new media artist Keith Armstrong and members of the Transmute Collective from Brisbane will develop their Intimate Transactions project (see p20-21) ; and visual artists Gordon Hookey and Deborah Kelly who will, French said, “continue their ongoing conversation regarding issues of whiteness, blackness, place and the contest for Australian history via a process of learning to literally animate each other’s representations of land.” A number of these and other residencies will be programmed simultaneously in the theatre, the galleries and the studio in the Head Space open laboratory event with showings in early August.

At home & abroad

Winning and French described 3 major national and international projects scheduled for 2004. The third Time_Place_Space laboratory in partnership with PICA, ANAT and the Australia Council will involve 20 artists from around the country converging at AIT Arts in Adelaide, working with 5 facilitators including Marianne Weems, director of New York’s Builders Association (see interview RT57 p28) and Clare Grant, performance-maker, dramaturg and academic currently working at the University of New South Wales. The second project is Breathing Space Australia, a collaborative project between Arnolfini, a contemporary art space in Bristol, PICA and Performance Space, that brings together British and Australian hybrid artists and curators in an ongoing exchange. In 2004, Breathing Space will present works by UK and Australian artists that will tour Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. In 2005, the Australian work will tour the UK and be presented at Arnolfini’s Inbetween Time festival and at Tramway in Glasgow.

The third project, and one of considerable long-term significance, is the launch of a nation-wide touring consortium for innovative performance work. Winning reported that, “In conjunction with Performing Lines and presenting partners around the country, in 2004 we’ll present our inaugural tour.” The work to be toured will be the remarkable Still Angela, by Melbourne writer-director Jenny Kemp (see RT49, p28).

Winning pinpointed the significance of this venture as “a breakthrough for us as it will encourage more national dialogue, provide opportunities for audiences to engage with ideas and creative practices from elsewhere and offer artists the benefits of presenting a work beyond its premiere season, so that the work can be refined, leading to a maturing of practice in the long term.”

In production

The 2004 performance season commenced in January with The Boxed Set, 5 short shows in a shipping container, co-produced with Theatre Kantanka in association with the Live Bait Festival at the Bondi Pavilion and featuring Gravity Feed, Frumpus, Julie-Anne Long and Sam James, Clare Britton and Halcyon Macleod, and Theatre Kantanka (see review, RT60). During New Mardi Gras, Nigel Kellaway, Katia Molino and collaborators from The opera Project will present The Audience & Other Psychopaths (see p43).

Resident dance company One Extra Dance is presenting The Narrow House, a solo by Kay Armstrong combining movement and text in an exploration of a female killer and the way she undermines our sense of the idealised female. It’s inspired by an account of a serial murderess in the 1950s who killed her victims (often her husbands) with cups of poisoned tea. A work-in-progress showing at UNSW in 2002 displayed a palpable menace and a finely nuanced physical characterisation from Armstrong.

Performance company version 1.0 will premiere CMI (A Certain Maritime Incident), devised from the Senate Select Committee inquiry into the “children overboard” scandal. Six Senators wrestle with their wills, their words, their politics and each other. (See p40)

Winning briskly listed highlights from later in the year’s program: a series of dance commissions including Unsealed by Martin del Amo; Frumpus with a new version of Crazed after an Adelaide season with Vitalstatistix; De Quincey Co presenting Embrace 2, a performance emerging from the company’s residency in India; Women in Transit—3 women, 3 solos and 3 cultures by Rakini, Yumi Umiumare and Didi Dorvillier; Castrati by The opera Project; events for Pacific Wave 2004; and Plaza Real, co-produced with Urban Theatre Projects and Branch Nebula, a physical theatre work blending break-dancing, BMX bike-riding and martial arts in an investigation of diversity, ethnicity and cultural resistance through the micro-cultures of a shopping mall.

Screen appeal

At a moment when video is enjoying new prominence in galleries and new media screenings around Australia, Performance Space has taken a leading role in showing and debating the work of leading and emerging practitioners. Blair French’s Video Spell program, begun in 2003, explores “the relationship of video to performance and media culture.” Video Spell 3: Reanimates will feature works by Brendan Lee and Margaret Morgan, “2 artists who rework pre-existing cinematic forms and footage.” Video Spell, said French, “culminates in Interlace a major exhibition of newly commissioned work by Sydney-based artists Shaun Gladwell, Emil Goh, and Kate Murphy, artists who explore performative elements of everyday life. Interlace will tour to Tasmania later in the year.”

French also announced a welcome “series of annual solo retrospective exhibitions surveying and celebrating the work of key figures in Australian video art. The first will feature John Gillies, an artist whose work across video, sound and performance since 1980 has been presented in numerous international exhibitions, screening programs and festivals. This exhibition will tour to Brisbane in 2005.” This retrospective will happily coincide with a major new work from Gillies (see interview, RT60).


The Condition of Video Art Symposium, an afternoon of discussion on the impact of video on contemporary visual art of the past decade, will be held on June 26, running alongside the Biennale of Sydney. Cathy Naden, a founding member of Forced Entertainment will speak at PS on March 3 before the UK performance company’s Adelaide Festival season (see p14). The popular RealTime-Performance Space artist forums will return with, among others sessions on dramaturgy in performance and dance.

A new home

The Chairman of the Board, Tim Wilson, declared, “The whispering’s over. We’re saying loudly and happily we’ll be moving to the CarriageWorks at Wilson Street, Redfern. It’s a wonderful building that’ll house great performance spaces—one large-scale flexible space unlike any other in Australia, and other smaller spaces for performance and rehearsal.

“The CarriageWorks has been developed by the NSW Government through the Ministry for the Arts and promises to be an amazing facility that’ll be home for a range of innovative physical and site-based performance companies. The design team at Tonkin Zulaikha Greer have come up with a fantastic concept and building begins in the next year or so. We hope to move in during 2006 ready for its opening to the public in 2007. It’s a new phase for Performance Space and one the Board and staff have worked hard over the years to secure. There’s an enormous amount of work to do between now and then to prepare for the shift, but we’re in really good shape to do it.”

The new centre will be home to Performance Space, Stalker Theatre Company, Theatre Kantanka, Erth Visual & Physical, Legs on the Wall and Gravity Feed Ensemble. There will be a large flexible performance space for an audience of up to 800 and a smaller one for up to 350. There will also be multiple rehearsal and training spaces, a sizeable production workshop and office spaces. Smaller venues and a gallery will be built in the second stage of development. As to the management of the complex, that seems to be an open question at this stage. One thing that will surely need to be taken into account is Performance Space’s history of managing a building which it controls guaranteeing continuity and consistency of innovative programming and allowing for a richly creative response to the architectural and performative potential of its home.

Until it finally gets the key to the door, Performance Space will continue to be based in its Cleveland Street home, the former railway workers’ union hall, where every performative possibility will be further wrung from the building. Happy 21st! RT

RealTime issue #59 Feb-March 2004 pg. 39

© RealTime ; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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