Thursday, 22 March 2007

New works by old favourites...

Martin del Amo Never been this far away from home Performance Space @ Carriage Works, 8 March 2007

William Yang China Performance Space @ Carriage Works, 20 March 2007

I must preface this piece of writing by stating that this is in no way a 'review' of either of these two performances. I'm on the clock today, and whatever I write in the next 20 minutes will go up, to be amended later. I want to be clear that I wasn't kidding about compromise. As Forced Entertainment's Richard Lowdon once said of performance: "A performance is never finished. You just have to show it to people at a particular time in a particular place." My time starts now.

Firstly, I was struck by the fact the Performance Space has begun its first season in the cavernous elegance of Carriage Works with the new works by two solo artists, each of whom in their different ways have well-established and well-regarded bodies of past work in the same aesthetic vein. With each of these artists, audiences know what they are going to get and know also that it will be pretty good. Both Martin and William are known quantities, good qualities. They deliver, and it helps that their production model is highly economic. I can't help but consider the similarity between this programming and emerging opposition leader Kevin Rudd's steady as she goes, good quality hard working image. Don't panic, implies Rudd. I'm not Mark Latham. Don't panic, implies Performance Space, both to long term stakeholders and the elusive general public audience out there. We'll be innovative, and hybrid, and very very approachable in this enormous new fancy building. We won't lose our identity at all - see, here are some old favourites!

In beginning my reflections in this manner I no way intend to belittle the artists or the programming - I understand the pragmatic compromises involved in each of these endeavours. And these are both mature, fascinating artists. And these works are indeed fascinating.

Unavoidable of course are reflections upon past works. I breathed a sigh of relief at the end of China that this was a much stronger work than I found Objects for Meditation to be. The latter work I found to be aimless and meandering, for the fans only. I'm all for self-referentially in performance (I'm guilty of this in my non-documentary work), but the notion of a piece that spends much of its stage time detailing past international tours of other work by the same artist I thought pushed the limits of acceptable self-indulgence. China too is a travelogue, but a much more interesting one. Charting (and occasional blurring) several of Yang's trips to China, the land of his ancestors, China wanders around and criss-crosses the landscape of that nation, with the nominal frame of a desire by Yang to climb a series of 'sacred mountains' in order to in some way connect with his Chinese-ness. A regular theme of Yang's work, the psychic and material relationship between his Chinese heritage and his identity as a gay Australian man is a rich theme, and one that Yang exploits elegantly through his quiet, conversational delivery with accompanying imagery and video. Its a simple set up, and as in past work Yang makes a virtue of its simplicity, producing an always engaging and often moving performance presentation. Even though in my opinion the crafting of this work isn't quite as strong as The North, Friends of Dorothy or even Blood Links, I still unreservedly recommend his work both to old and new friends.

OK 20 minutes gone. Will return to Martin after seeing Chunky Move.

[imagine a time lapse sequence to bridge this temporal interval, perhaps rushing across the city of Sydney from UNSW to the Opera House, streaming traffic, day fades to night back to day, wine glass morphs into tea cup into takeaway coffee back at the desk]

According to Blogger, no time will have elapsed between posting within this post. Which is great. I too, like the character on Heroes it seems have the power to stop time. And I'll use it to write about performance, not waste it on undoing accidents and adjusting the dispersal patterns of shrapnel during an explosion. After all, I'm with the forces of good, not evil.

Back on message, as the political types say. Martin del Amo in this case.

Autobiography is also a key concern of del Amo's work, though manifesting in significantly different ways, as might be expected operating as it does within a medium with quite different aesthetic demands and expectations. As dance, autobiography appears in frequently more ambient and abstract ways in del Amo's work than Yang's, but it is by no means no less effective and evocative. In previous pieces there has been a palpable sense of working through personal crises and their lingering psychic and bodily effects. del Amo regularly presents his own body in various states of crisis, frequently the physical channeling of grief and loss. There is a sense, for me at least, that this piece shows a del Amo who has worked through this, and arrived in a safer, more securer emotional and aesthetic state of being. In this work del Amo seems positively relaxed, at times throughout the show he can only be described as buoyant, and by the end of the piece there is a sense of a bright hope and joy. So the piece, in my opinion, can only be described as uplifting. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Too many adjectives compromising my discussion.

While I was quite amused to read Deborah Jones' description of del Amo's costumed appearance in the work, on reflection I had to admit that its true. Martin is indeed becoming perhaps the best dressed male dancer around, largely thanks to Virginia Boyle's exquisitely tasteful three-piece suit. Her costumes always make him look glamorous, but here so even more than usual. Of course it helps that unlike previous work, del Amo here keeps his kit on throughout. White underpants have never appeared glamorous to me.

Exquisite too is Gail Priest's electronica soundtrack, operated and manipulated by Priest onstage and lending urgency and poignancy at ideal intervals. Its probably Priest's best ever score for performance, and is by far the best sound design I've seen so far in Sydney this year (Sydney critics awards take note). Its clear that the del Amo/Boyle/Priest collaboration has developed richly over the last four full length works.

Deftly blending gentle spoken word (various engaging micro-narratives and anecdotes detailing experiences of dislocation and being lost between the geographic and cultural distance that separates Berlin and Sydney) with del Amo's trademark alternately sinuous and jagged movement style, and adding an onstage forest of microphones, stands and trailing cables that produce an ever-multiplying field of arbitrary borders that must be traversed and negotiated (design Mirabelle Wouters), Never been this far away from home maps out a series of abrasively human attempts to bridge the voids that must be navigated between people and the national boundaries that delimit the spaces they might be allowed to call home. It may at times have been a difficult journey through the various voids, but home, it appears as the final dance and music duet builds joyously, is close at hand and it's a great place to be.

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