Review: Trade (Hurrah Hurrah / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 4 – 15, 2017
Director: Alison Bennett
Cast/Devisers: Alison Bennett, Dymphna Carew, Alicia Gonzalez, Mathias Olofsson, Melissa Hume
Image by Maria Hansson

Theatre review
Corporations exist to make money for its stakeholders, that much is clear. Everything else they claim to do, are undertakings that must be taken with a pinch of salt. In Trade, we examine the nature of these organisations, and their perennial pretensions around social responsibility. If the point of their existence is to maximise profit, we must always hold a sceptical attitude toward their altruistic proclamations. It is a culture that defines itself by taking more than it gives, so our interactions with businesses should always be cautious, and if their people are anything like the vile characters in Trade‘s fictitious world, then the state of our affairs is very grim indeed.

The piece looks exaggerated, but what it communicates feels absolutely real. Its theatrical language is inventive, absurd and hyperbolic; the story is told with faces and bodies in a completely anti-naturalistic way, and through its performance art approach, we discover a surprising accuracy in its grotesque portrayal of greed and megalomania.

Alison Bennett’s direction is spectacularly entertaining while maintaining a raw unconventionality. In the absence of a complex narrative, details are located instead, in all the deliberate gestures of the five flamboyant players, each one presenting their own version of the unhinged corporate cannibal. Elaborate sequences involving an energetic ensemble and its strange movement vocabulary, keeps us fascinated and thoroughly amused. Their cohesiveness is deeply impressive, and the most persuasive element of the show.

It is a strong message that Trade wishes to impart, but for all its passionate assertions, what we do eventually leave with, is a simple and unoriginal idea about the darker sides of humanity. Also less satisfying, is the deficiency in commitment to visual design of the production. The audience’s eyes are thoroughly engaged in this dance of anthropological ugliness, but little is on offer when our sight shifts beyond the performers.

It is easy to want to participate in life with the principle of “eat or be eaten”. We can think of our capitalism as being fundamentally and inevitably cruel, and then allow ourselves to do harm unto others, to keep from falling prey to those who run faster. The fear of not succeeding can be overwhelming, and the voracious appetite for an unending more, is a force that few of us can hide from, but surely there must exist something more generous and compassionate, if not entirely more blissful, in a way of life that is abundantly honest and, dare we say, pure.

www.hurrahhurrah.com.au

Review: The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood (Japan Foundation)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 22 – 23, 2017
Playwright: Suguru Yamamoto
Director: Suguru Yamamoto
Cast: Wataru Kitao

Theatre review
The neighbourhood in question is Nagai, a small Japanese town, unremarkable and forgotten. The stories we hear are disparate, about individuals associated only by physical proximity, but each with an unmistakable sense of isolation. Suguru Yamamoto’s The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood is about the loneliness of modern life, our increasing introversion as a result of technological advancements and the ever-present tensions rendered by our human need to connect.

It is a script with lots to say, and a long, meandering plot. Small narratives pique our interest, but in the absence of a more conventional approach to manufacturing drama, the 90-minute production struggles to sustain our attention. There are inventive elements to its staging methodology that make the show an artistic success in many ways, but its emotional dimensions, although intensely performed, are less affecting.

Wataru Kitao embodies a large number of characters, including a gorilla and a train, in this ambitious one-man show. A highly accomplished dancer utilising both European and Japanese disciplines, along with versatile vocal abilities, Kitao’s portrayals of all ages and genders with no reliance on costume or makeup changes, is clearly impressive. Brilliantly self-assured, his presence is a confident one that keeps audiences gratified.

The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood shows us the problems of modernity but offers no solutions and does not place blame on anyone explicitly. It is a true representation of our experiences, so we know what it refers to, without requiring it to have everything spelled out. As each generation of trains move us faster and faster, we can only be carried away as the times see fit. Our humanity will offer resistance, but as history shows, people will transform along with the machines we build. The past can tell us so much of what to expect in the future, but the mystery of what is to come, will always prevail.

www.jpf.org.au

Review: Invasia (The Leftovers Collective)

leftoversVenue: Hustle & Flow Bar (Redfern NSW), Jan 26, 2017
Devisors/Performers: Veronica Alonzo, Nisrine Amine, Alison Bennett, Lauren Clair, Darryl Cooper, Curly Fries, Fiona Jopp, Tim Kemp, Lorna Munro, Lap Nguyen, Paul Ryan, Wendy Strehlow, William Suen

Theatre review
Australia Day remains a celebration for some, but for many others, it is an occasion to remember the atrocities that originated in 1788, and continue to happen to our Aboriginal peoples on a daily basis. There is no question that a significant proportion of the population understands the remorse that should feature on the day, although very few are able to conceive of any proper action that would extend beyond words of sorrow and guilt. We run the risk of turning the occasion into an opportunity for a kind of emotional absolution, that is ultimately inconsequential.

Invasia imagines an absurd scenario, whereby a new ruler is democratically elected to take over the Australian government, with dictatorial powers that enable them to determine a whole new way of life. Five individuals take to the stage, reciting passionate diatribes, in various non-English languages. We are mostly confounded, restricted by our monolingualism, unable to understand anything. Listening takes on a different meaning, as we move away from the activity of deciphering words, to becoming open to the other signifiers in communication. We are forced to connect on other levels, heart to heart perhaps, in trying to reach something concrete, and mutual.

It is easy to talk about the dismantling of failing systems through radical ideas, but we never go through with them. We take small steps instead, and are frustrated that change is invisible. If the problem is identified as being a white patriarchal thing, we want to conceive of a solution that simply replaces an ethnicity for another, a gender for another, except existing power structures will easily determine that the staus quo remains. The art of Invasia provides no answer to our Australia Day woes, but it is a strong articulation of the many questions, relevant and pertinent, even if we comprehend none of its words.

www.theleftoverscollective.com

Review: The Adonis Procedure (The Leftovers Collective)

theleftoverscollectiveVenue: Hustle & Flow Bar (Redfern NSW), Nov 1, 2016
Devisors/Performers: Liam Benson, Curly Fries, Chantelle Jamieson, Tim Kemp, Lou Pollard, Courtney Stewart, Ronan Sulich, Paul Wilson
Image by William Suen

Theatre review
In a small bar, a drag queen by the name of Aphrodite greets us, as we gather to participate in a rare happening, a throwback to art events of the sixties that most have only read about. The performance is carried out by all in presence, as everyone is required to invest into the playacting that creates a scene of a high-status auction. First part of the show involves a series of presentations that investigate the 5 lots being put on sale. Classic Greek statues, brought to life by 5 actors emulating poses and reciting classic verse, while a cameraman zooms in tightly into a single spot on their bodies. A screen shows us skin and hair in hyperbolic detail. Thereafter, the crowd is encouraged to bid on the items, using money previously distributed by Aphrodite.

The crowd very quickly begins to pool their cash. We realise that these iconic objects are beyond the ownership of single persons. Entities begin to form, and wars break out over these relics of beauty. Ronan Sulic, the auctioneer from Christie’s is conducting the proceedings and we are all swept up in his verve and excitement, for the art, and for the money. Frantic contests to acquire esteemed works of art have occurred since the rise of the middle class, but it is an unusual episode for independent theatre and emerging artists. Our society values art, but not all of it. Money is channelled to certain people, while others languish in neglect. The system pretends to be based on merit, but it is not. In its alleged estimation of values such as beauty, skill and social significance, artists are placed in a triangular hierarchy that favours few and subjugates many. It is a problem of economic rationality, and a problem of applying capitalistic principles to how art comes to be in our lives.

When the crowd battles it out for their desired articles, it is the squabble that becomes the centre of attention, and any intrinsic qualities each statue might have had, fade into irrelevance. Art is social, and in this case, it is about who comes out on top, and who faces defeat. Of course, we all understand that great works should exist in the public domain, and not be controlled by individuals or organisations, but we are unable to fulfil that idealistic principle in how we actually carry out the business of art. Our institutions fail us, and our governments fail us. The increasing privatisation of everything in Australia, means that how we do art, is in accordance with how the elites will profit from all activity in the industry. The big guys are a dictatorship that determines the rules of what art should look like, and the small guys have to choose whether to submit to a career of emulation and placation. Forces in the economy want everyone to believe in the survival of the fittest, and when artists forget to question things, which is their most sacred purpose, art will die. In The Adonis Procedure however, subversion and interrogation of norms is its intent, and the key to making a kind of art that is lively, surprising, and necessary.

www.theleftoverscollective.com

Review: Do Something Else (The Old 505 Theatre)

old505Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 4 – 22, 2016
Devisor / Director: Michael Pigott
Devisors / Cast: Cloé Fournier, Ryuichi Fujimura, Brigid Vidler
Image by Michael Pigott

Theatre review
Meaning can be derived from anything, because being human requires that we make sense of the things we come in contact with, even if their inherent characteristics are not readily intelligible. In Michael Pigott’s Do Something Else, the deliberate absence of a narrative relocates the audience from a position of passivity to one of mental vigour. The work provides visual and aural cues that seem to be, on a superficial level, incoherent, trusting that our response is a creative one that will formulate personally resonant symbols and messages.

It is an elegant work, but also surprising and challenging, with a confidence that allows its abstract approach to communicate with authority. Pigott’s work on sound and lights creates a hypnotically gripping atmosphere, balanced by the dynamic physical expressions he introduces to the piece. The three performers have distinct and strong presences that connect with us effortlessly. Cloé Fournier and Ryuichi Fujimura are memorable for their idiosyncratic and nuanced movement styles, while Brigid Vidler captivates with her incisive delivery of text. Fascinating words are also provided by Diana Shahinyan and Ari Mattes whose prerecorded voices guide us with scholarly ideas to reach an increasingly precise interpretation of the work.

A key concern of Do Something Else pertains to a neurosis that emerges with the rise of the metropolis. We can choose to see that city life drives us crazy, or we can adopt an alternate view that the innate insanity of life has proven to be untameable by a culture of industrialism. Our chaos simply takes on a different form. It is naive to think that nature is independent of technology, and falling into nostalgic fantasies for an imagined world of primitive perfection is futile, and erroneous. Technophobia however, is an interesting and helpful concept that can help us in discussions about ecology and environmentalism. It also encourages a healthy cynicism of progress that interrogates our priorities, and questions our values. Our societies run on a momentum that thinks that big is better, and more is good. Civilisations must move forward, but the choices we make within that propulsive trajectory must never be left unexamined.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Pedal & Castles (House Of Sand)

houseofsandVenue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 20 – 24, 2016
Creator: Eliza Sanders
Director: Charles Sanders
Cast: Eliza Sanders

Theatre review
Pedal and Castles are a pairing of individual pieces that demonstrate the genius talent of Eliza Sanders, whose boundless exploration into performance and theatre creation that deliver experiences that are full of joy, surprise and wonder. Amalgamating the clichéd triple threat of singing, dancing and acting, Sanders redefines the stage artist into a singular agent with capacities limited only by imagination. Her multi-disciplinary skills are showcased perfectly in both works, along with the most inventive approach to writing and choreography for a style of show that is striking for its effortless originality and distinctive sense of beauty.

These are not simply stories, but abstract expressions that find a purpose in time without the reliance on logic and narrative. In tandem with brother Charles Sanders’ direction, the siblings’ ability to move us, to cease our attention and connect with our emotions, without the use of anything remotely formulaic or conventional, is evidence that a purity of intention and an instinctive acuity are at play here.

Eliza Sanders’ physical presence is that of a dancer’s, all discipline and agility, but her personality refuses to be subservient, the combination of which results in a powerful state of being that puts on stage, the very vibrancy of life itself. Without the distraction of reason, we are in direct contact with a living, breathing and in this case, enthralling, organism, whose various representations of our complex existence, draw us into a state of sharing, listening and acknowledgement, that seems to make life that much more meaningful. Observing Sanders is to be at one with nature, and the resonance she provides, is akin to the excitement one receives when enraptured in the vision of early spring’s blossoming flowers.

Where there is no need to ask why, we abandon the past and the future, to stay firmly in the now. Eliza and Charles Sanders are important artists who give us an alternate view of the world. Knowledge and experience are limitless, and in art, we can find catalysts to help us grow. The language in Pedal and Castles is not a translatable version of the familiar, but a different course of communication for arriving at somewhere new. The danger of becoming small and narrow is ever-present, but when art does its job well, we are shown the way to emancipation, and we must take every step that leads us there.

www.houseofsand.org

Review: The Forest Unyielding (Self Help Arts)

selfhelpartVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), May 24 – 28, 2016
Director: Margot Politis
Cast: Taryn Brine, Grace Partridge, Margot Politis, Lauren Scott-Young, Claire Stjepanovic, Lucy Watson
Image by Sarah Emery

Theatre review
The Forest Unyielding is a dynamic new study of mental health, set in a dark forest space representing the inside of a brain.” It might be considered a performance art piece, comprising six actors each demonstrating her own isolated corner of dysfunction. Some are in perpetual motion, and others are caught in modes of stasis. No words are spoken, but there is a potency of intent and presence that is inescapable.

Dylan Tonkin’s sensational set design keeps our eyes fascinated with a enigmatic blend of colours (with Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lights) and textured surfaces providing an affecting approximation of a mystical fairyland, in which we roam and explore. Sound is thoughtfully orchestrated to provide tension to the ethereal environment, with a mixture of drone and spiritual elements by Thomas Smith controlling our visceral responses to the work.

Without the use of a narrative, The Forest Unyielding requires that we interact with its abstract displays instinctively. Each of the women are trapped in a repetitious cycle of activity and emotion. We observe them from a state of initial curiosity to varying degrees of understanding or perplexity, with director Margot Politis’ use of time requiring of us reflection and perseverance before we are able to encounter the depth of what is being represented. The space moves, but is non-changing for its 50 minutes, and it is the audience that experiences a transformation within.

The show is not always an easy journey, and its ending could be executed with greater flair, but the experience it delivers is unexpectedly satisfying. It relies on our selves to make the most of what envelopes us, and it is that investment of personal energy and thought that leads to an appreciation of the work. Passivity will not get one very far in this forest. We are used to being told what to think at the theatre, but on this occasion, our own devices are put to the test.

www.facebook.com/SelfHelpArts