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next wave 2010

risk: the limits of laughter & intimacy

varia karipoff: next wave 2010

Radhika Krishnamoorthy, Private Dances Radhika Krishnamoorthy, Private Dances
photo Jorge de Araujo

private dances

Have you ever had someone dance just for you? Up close, you can perceive sweat glisten, sinewy muscles snaking in the spotlight, chest heaving. Exhilarated, yet coy, you make eye contact. Private Dances (curator, producer Natalie Cursio) ranges from traditional Korean dance to Private Parking—a performance in a van while you sit in the driver’s seat. It’s a large scale production incorporating 10 live performances, food, unexpected sets and six short films all viewed solo. Due to the random manner in which viewers are chosen to participate the audience takes in a variable slice of the action.

The Meat Market was converted into a softly darkened bar while tents—set up as if for children in a lounge room—provided just some of the unexpected venues for viewing film and performances with the unbridled joy of playtime. Dancer Atlanta Eke donned a gorilla suit to dance with you to a ballad. Alone, you think, until invited to sit in the annexe of the tent and watch the next person sharing a teenage dance hall moment to Cindi Lauper. Dancing stripped of the restrictions of a stage and the anonymity of a crowd became an intimate interaction. Underlying the evening’s fantastical entertainment was pleasure in its quiet voyeurism and feeling of gratitude. Private Dances was a gift to the audience, a rare opportunity to be treated like a royal guest in a Persian tent city. Not surprisingly, the show was a festival favourite and quickly sold out.

 Sugar Coated, Hannah Raisin Sugar Coated, Hannah Raisin
photo Kim Ryan
sugar coated

Hannah Raisin in Sugar Coated took a multidisciplinary approach in exploring gender roles and sexuality with a collection of film, sounds and live performance. A slight 24-year old with an unassuming bob, the recent VCA graduate handles her subject matter with fearless aplomb and speedy costume changes. She seems to intuit where the history of gender politics is at, taking back raunch culture from the pornographers and exploiters, interpreting it with artistic wit and a sensory explosion. This even includes scent: bait fish rained from her underpants in the opening act, leaving a lingering fragrance for the remainder of the show. In her investigations into domesticity and sexuality Raisin uses props ranging from fling-ups (textile representations of female genitalia) to soapy water to draw a reclining nude. In one video she pours milk over herself on a city street wearing just a transparent raincoat—much to the shock of middle-aged theatre goers. In the closing act she dons a bikini made of bath bombs, dousing herself with bottles of water while standing in a toy sea shell pool—a sadly bedraggled Venus. Raisin’s desire to push her body to often painful new places wins her fans but is also effective in conveying her contradictory messages of female angst and empowerment.

short message service

In a risk averse culture, The Short Message Service was an experiment in allowing audience control of two performers via text message. The show echoed Marina Abramovic ‘s 1974 Rhythm 0, which freely tested the relationship between artist and audience. Here though, the audience requests were channelled through gatekeepers who chose which text message instructions to relay via a handsfree set. The props consisted of a table and two chairs; no scissors, gun, rose thorns nor direct interaction here.

Phase 1 of the experiment began slowly; the audience was urged to send greetings for the two performers. These were trite enough to begin with; “Ni Hao, Herro.” Phase 2 required the audience members to involve their respective actors in moments of tenderness and tension. Verbal communication became action; Mish, the female actor, was instructed to disrobe and spent a good portion of the performance topless. She bore the abusive urges of the audience with the passive stoicism of Abramovic. Naked breakdancing and slapping of faces were some of the dark desires that were realised onstage.

After Rhythm 0, Abramovic stated, “if you leave [the] decision to the public, you can be killed...” She went on to mention the aggressive atmosphere created. Indeed there was also something vaguely reminiscent of the ‘71 Zimbardo prison experiment in this show; instead of security guards with batons the audience inflicted pain via mobile phones. As an experiment, SMS raised some pertinent points on technology and intimacy, in the process receiving a few laughs, though the possibility of text message RSI and the occasionally puerile outcomes made it a hard sell for an hour long show.

Frances Barret, A Comedy, Brown Council Frances Barret, A Comedy, Brown Council
photo Devika Bilimoria
a comedy

Performed by artist collaborators Brown Council, A Comedy investigates Nietzche’s idea that maliciousness and absurdity are the basis of all laughter. The audience is guided through the well-established comedy canon: stand up, slapstick, spectacle and audience participation. Expectations are slowly dismantled and what we begin to see are uncomfortable, tortured performances from forced banana consumption to real slaps in slapstick routines. Not only do we sense the desperation of comedians for a laugh but the lengths they will go to achieve it. By the close of the show the once comical dunce hats that the performers and audience wear take on a sinister role. After her failed attempt to escape from rope bindings, a target is drawn on the face of a bound female performer and the audience is encouraged to hurl tomatoes. It could be a scene from Abu Ghraib; the conical hat and black sack clothing she wears are familiar images from the 2004 prison torture scandal. Unfortunately those pummelling the performer seemed to miss this reference and the premise of the show. To be fair, the constant encouragement for audience participation was quite manipulative and seemed to sanction this violence.

and that was the summer....

On a lighter note, And that was the summer that changed my life was a comedy where one could snort and guffaw without prejudice. Written and performed by Zoë Coombs Marr (of performance group Post), it’s a sharply observed monologue dealing with the acute embarrassment of teenage firsts—the transition from childhood love of dinosaurs and music camps to sexual awakening. That Marr unabashedly admits to her most excruciating moments is a cathartic experience for the audience. Dressed in an unflattering leotard with a parachute jacket, sometimes we even recognise ourselves in her. Before pity ever sets in, Marr cuts in with a boast—“I’ve crushed a lot of pussy”—and keeps the audience besotted with acerbic humour and the kind of daggy, alone-in-your-own-room creativity that sustains countless teenagers.

Peppered throughout are nostalgic musical interludes dating to that summer in the mid 90s when it all changed for her. In these, Marr performs Lucille Ball type facial contortions and uses an appliquéd brontosaurus on her leotard as a puppet. In her self-deprecating confessions are serious coming of age hurdles that lend poignancy to her story. Just as Frankie magazine elevated doilies and baking to fashion, Marr turns her flute playing, nose bleeding Sapphic alter ego into a high priestess of cool. The final musical number is a creamy chef d’oeuvre and a big payoff for the audience.

Next Wave Festival 2010: Private Dances, concept, curator, producer Natalie Cursio, Arts House, Meat Market, May 12-16; Sugar Coated, artist Hannah Raisin, Goodtime Studios, May 14-20; The Short Message Service, performers, collaborators Jackson Castiglione, Mish Grigor, co-creators, collaborators Leah Shelton, Lachlan Tetlow-Stuart: BlackBox, Arts Centre, May 14-22; Brown Council (Frances Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley, Diana Smith), A Comedy, Trades Hall, May 19-23; Zoë Coombs Marr, And That Was The Summer That Changed My Life, BlackBox, Arts Centre, Melbourne May 26-29

RealTime issue #98 Aug-Sept 2010 pg. 39

© Varia Karipoff; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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