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When life turns surreal

Jodie McNeilly: Vicki Van Hout, Les Festivités Lubrifier

Thomas Kelly, Vicki Van Hout, Les Festivités Lubrifier Thomas Kelly, Vicki Van Hout, Les Festivités Lubrifier
photo Heidrun Löhr
Thomas E S Kelly is on stage to welcomes us. A pile of clothes heaped stage left. Red plastic cups, and six-packs of beer stacked on a trolley stage right. Vicki Van Hout enters, part concealed in a well-padded, long pocketed navy blue parka. “Am I late?”

The rehearsal begins, but what to dance to? Kelly is asked to flick through the files on his phone to find the music, The Avenue, and a tempo in this tempo-lacking piece. Van Hout pulls from her pocket a printed email from the Finnish guy who composed it and wants her to choreograph to it. They met on Van Hout’s birthday, her 45th, in Paris, while she was a resident at the Cité Internationale des Arts. Among other things said slightly ‘off’ in translation, he “thanks her for existing.”

From this moment, the psychedelia of Van Hout’s travelogue recounted in bursts of hilarious, hyperbolic description—well written—land us elsewhere, in a non-fictional past. But fact and fiction in this meta-tale become as murky as the River Seine. Frenetic reveries of arriving in a city both beautiful and hostile to the foreign are physicalised. Neuroses ‘on high’ and she’s missing a device: her mobile phone—indubitable life support, much like a heart or lung when the technology of language for communication malfunctions. In an apartment decorated in cotton coloured undies pulled from every orifice of her long parka and strung haphazardly over the front row of the audience to air, her phone appears, misplaced, not lost. Social connections enabled. Lubricated (lubrifié). And the party (Les Festivités), well, not quite yet…

Present time. Rehearsal continues. Van Hout’s deprecating humour (and crankiness) toward self and others works overtime. Something about being 50, and the synapses not quite making the right connections. Who remembers the chore? Stand just slightly behind and to the side in front. A section of The Avenue is danced to. Momentarily we are suspended from Van Hout’s narrating and berating as the trio grounded with strong centres cantilever torsos from hip. Precarity is never present, contradictory to the artist life as Kelly intimates in an earlier scene. Shovel, paddle and whipping windmill limbs; sure-footed fast turns and shift of place, displace. Land. Okay, great, Van Hout’s “nailed it”! But the music’s too short. They’ve run out of tempo. But it’s not the real dance—here, now. Even though we are watching, together, in this moment.

Thomas Kelly, Vicki Van Hout, Les Festivités Lubrifier Thomas Kelly, Vicki Van Hout, Les Festivités Lubrifier
photo Heidrun Löhr
A tinny cracked and heels on. The auto-ethnographicist Van Hout whirls in a skirt with a pretty decent French accent, elle parle trés bien francais! Meantime slurping down the Fosters, filling cups and painting the scene as it was then, “dinner in a typical Parisian apartment of an Australian woman,” well decorated even when “belts are tightened.” Time and place oddly contract on stage and in the mind. Animated storytelling bridges these ‘then-now’ moments, while the pairing sequence of mostly Kelly and Van Hout narrate with weight, texture and force a physicalised, iterated accent to the spoken text—not just movement abstraction playing out on a separate track.

A sense of slippage between fiction and fact in the performative telling of a life event persists—however insignificant it may seem in the bigger picture (was it to try and make a dance?). Van Hout’s surreally constructed world appears as nothing less than brute fact from what is said and done on stage—like the beer drinking. She plays her self, somewhat exaggerated but, for those who know her, also not. This, along with the on-stage synergy between the trio and the unseen unheard “Chloe” alluded to up in the lighting box, is what makes the work endearing, rather than just funny, and more about the tenuousness of human relations: those that are fleeting and those made for life. Thanks for existing.

Liveworks Festival of Experimental art, Les Festivités Lubrifier, choreographer, performer Vicki Van Hout, performers Thomas E S Kelly, Caleena Sansbury, lighting design Chloe Stafford; Carriageworks, Sydney, 4-7 Nov

RealTime issue #130 Dec-Jan 2016 pg. 16

© Jodie McNeilly; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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