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

Review: Project #Oüahn (Baühs)

bauhsVenue: 46 Foveaux Street (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 21 – 26, 2015
Playwrights: Gabriella Imrich, Christina Marks, Eliza Scott
Director: Christina Marks
Cast: Gabriella Imrich, Eliza Scott
Image by Diana Popovska

Theatre review
On stage are two young women, best described as anxious and frustrated. They speak in symbols, and their art is abstract. What they do is rarely explicitly named, perhaps to avoid things becoming undermined by convenient labels that can never completely address their thoughts. Instead, what we have is a series of physical and verbal enunciations that provide unmistakeable visceral sensations and clear indications about the way we experience our bodies, the construction of identities, and the political forces that dominate and disenfranchise. Project #Oüahn is a subversive work about subversion. The work aims to challenge, and because of our inevitable participation in prevalent ideologies, we do find ourselves in uncomfortable spaces in its 60-minute duration. It is hard to tell if the piece communicates universally, but its intention is not to create an “us and them” dynamic with its microcosm. There are moments of division, but its interest is ultimately about self-determination and self-empowerment. Its message is one of independence, but also of love, even if much of its language is militant and tough.

We do not find a conventional narrative structure, but the two actors Gabriella Imrich and Eliza Scott begin by setting up a visual reference to the madonna-whore complex. Their surfaces appear to be different as day and night, but as they wage war and undertake torment on each other, we soon discover that they are two of the same. It is a representation of the internal dialogues that we have and the socially complicit nature of how we monitor and police our own thoughts and behaviour. There is a precision to the performers’ motivations, that makes sense of the work’s abstractions in spite of their deliberate ambiguity. Chemistry between Imrich and Scott is flawless, and the production forges ahead with a confidence that is assertive and powerfully convincing. Christina Marks’ direction balances mystery and revelation, for a show that intrigues at every point, but is satisfying throughout. Sound design by Enola Gay is to be noted for adding a sophisticated yet dramatic dimension to proceedings.

The final section of the production is as memorable as any theatrical moment can hope to be. A mesmerising sequence that expresses divine beauty and tranquil strength, embodying an affirmation of life, lived with wisdom and courage. The art that we make is never worth more than when it is progressive. Project #Oüahn is a selfless exploration into the meaning of freedom that will touch anyone whom it is able to connect with, but freedom, like all that is worthwhile, will only discharge its magical prowess for those who know to receive it.

www.bauhsbauhsbauhs.com

Review: We, The Lost Company‏ (Clockfire Theatre Company)

clockfireVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Oct 13 – 31, 2015
Devisors: Emily Ayoub, Madeline Baghurst, Alicia González, Kate Worsley, Arisa Yura
Director: Emily Ayoub
Cast: Madeline Baghurst, Alicia González, Arisa Yura
Image by Geoff Magee Photography

Theatre review
Since time immemorial, we have danced in honour of the gods that watch over us. It is an acknowledgement of our vulnerabilities and reflects our hopes for better days during this time on earth. We, The Lost Company is an intertextual exploration into our relationship with water, finding inspiration from the paintings of Brett Whiteley to create a work of physical theatre informed by the disciplines of mime and dance. It is gently humorous but wildly imaginative. It touches on subjects of migration, ecology, community and ageing, revelling in the beauty of abstraction but powerfully connecting with its audience, if not in terms of meaning, then certainly with the level of engagement it manages to instil into what is usually a challenging form of performance art.

Music and sound by Ben Pierpoint is complex, evocative and spirited. His work controls our imagination, and leads us to grand and eccentric spaces within our minds that provide a context for the three dancers on stage. Charming anecdotes about water obtained from interviews with mature members of Sydney communities are woven into the soundtrack to anchor the production with a warm authenticity that keeps our shared humanity firmly inside what is being developed.

The dancers’ weird and wonderful physical language is a thoroughly amusing one that sustains a sense of intrigue and holds our attention for its entire fifty-minute duration. Their poetry is whimsical but ruggedly sincere, allowing us to understand its intentions from a drastically unconventional kind of theatrical expression. Arisa Yura’s very memorable but very short monologue in Japanese about childhood, the forces of nature, ice cream and beach balls, extends the theme of memory from the audio recordings, and touches us unexpectedly with its dramatically emotive and nostalgic pseudo drama. The production is full of adventure and sensitive innovation, but its lighting feels inadequate within the extravagance of its multi-disciplinary articulations. The space requires greater depth and colour to achieve a stronger sense of visceral lift off that is always just within reach.

To know something, does not necessitate the ability to put it into words. Call it a feeling, intuition, or a soul thing, art is fundamentally about communication and the modes through which communication happens. We, The Lost Company has vocabularies of its own that are refreshing, unique and dare we say, original, but what it speaks can be understood by all, and like the themes that it is concerned with, we are all embroiled in this mysterious undertaking as one.

www.venue505.com/theatre | www.clockfiretheatre.com