Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Innocents retrieved: UTP's The Fence for Sydney Festival

The Fence, Urban Theatre Projects’ new performance for the 2010 Sydney Festival, promises “an explosive tale of love, belonging and dispossession.” Taking place in an undisclosed backyard in Parramatta, the performance investigates the “resilience and wisdom of five middle-aged Australians, four of whom were removed from their homes and grew up in care as part of the stolen generations and the forgotten Australians.”

Read the rest of my article 'Innocents retrieved', published in the print and online editions of RealTime #94, here. Image by Heidrun Lohr.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The pleasures of patriarchy: version 1.0’s THIS KIND OF RUCKUS

This is a piece that I started a couple of months ago in response to some thoughts expressed in our artist talk for THIS KIND OF RUCKUS. Like much of my current writing, it's been languishing as I grapple with the endless paperwork that running a so-called 'Key Organisation' entails. Given the current swirling discontent around gender equity in writing and directing theatre in Sydney (not formal issues which directly apply to version 1.0 given the nature of our group devising practice), I thought that it was probably time to throw this out there, unfinished and inelegant as it is.

In our exploration of depressingly ordinary, run-of-the-mill sexual violence – violence in the form of struggles for power and control that occur within all intimate relationships – we were forced to recognise and confront the reality of male power. Not only did we reflect at length on the banally obvious fact of physical difference – “He feels tall. Towering tall”, as Kym notes in our couples mediation session midway through the show. There’s a physical capacity for violence built into the male body and, like it or not, this remains close to the surface. Not that this is intended in any way to excuse the behaviours of violent men. On the contrary, such men far too easily get such behaviours excused on the basis that these were an aberration, a one-off, pushed over the edge, under the influence, under pressure, under attack, and will never ever happen again. Until the next time, which will also undoubtedly make claim to being another once-off. No, the point is more that all male bodies are capable of such violence, and as such must remain self-aware to keep such capacity in check.

Now, I like to think that I’m a sensitive, caring, considerate kind of guy, a so-called SNAG (presuming that the reader will permit me the excision of some of the more hippy connotations of ‘new-age’). I like to think that I have a healthy belief in both gender equity and personal excellence, and as such, that I oppose discrimination without reducing solutions to such discrimination to mere quotas. I like to think that ‘reverse discrimination’ initiatives should remain temporary measures. Most of my bosses in a wide range of jobs have been women, and its fair to say that almost all of my significant mentors have been female artists and artsworkers. I like to think that I’ve absorbed many of the primary lessons of feminism – biology is not destiny, the personal is political, etc, etc.

I begin with this awkwardly affirmative-action paragraph in order to indicate the scale of my self-deception. As we were making THIS KIND OF RUCKUS, the closer attention we paid to gender politics and power struggles within relationships, the more I realised that despite my belief to the contrary, I benefit from patriarchy. Not only that, but I use these benefits for my own advancement. Subtly, of course. And most importantly, I like it. I enjoy these benefits. This pleasure in (relative) power is unavoidable, even though it becomes, upon reflection, somewhat abhorrent to me. When I think too closely about it, I begin to despise the sight of myself in the mirror. Despite this reflective abhorrence, the simple fact remains that my power as a man is largely invisible to me. And by invisible, I mean that I am not required to think about it very much at all. I can walk through the world and think very little about my power – my power to inflict physical and psychological harm, my power to remain safe from various forms of assault whilst walking on the street, my power to only be required to be afraid of particular kinds of physical harm NONE OF WHICH attack my status as a subject. I have within my power the ability to effortlessly retain the status of a subject, and am never forced to risk reduction to an object. I benefit from patriarchy* and I like it. How could it be otherwise?

If this project was to succeed in anything, it should be to have made visible, however fleetingly, those powers that men wield that remain, in everyday life, invisible to us.

*Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in addition to being male, I’m white, physical unimpaired, and middle-class (in upbringing if not in income – I do work in the arts after all!)

Image: Kym Vercoe and David Williams in version 1.0's THIS KIND OF RUCKUS. Photography by Heidrun Lohr.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

A note on the video in version 1.0's THIS KIND OF RUCKUS

There’s a moment in many sporting matches (especially cricket and rugby league) where on-field arbiters are faced with moment in which they feel that their perspective is imperfect in order to make a definitive decision – in or out, try or no try. At these moments, they turn to the video, and ask for the camera to closely analyse and review what just occurred, often moments so fleeting that they are missed by the human eye. Over and over again the camera scans, reviewing frame by frame in ever-increasing close-up the event in question, edging continually closer to judgment.

The role of video in version 1.0’s This kind of ruckus is not to be an umpire or arbiter, but something of this role is certainly enacted throughout the performance. As the performers move throughout the work, their actions are analysed and closely scrutinised; slowed down, zoomed in uncomfortably close, and played back again and again in constantly changing configurations. In the process, this video landscape magnifies the detail of physical actions and offers new perspectives on fine emotional detail, shedding new light on the minutiae of these human behaviours.

In this sense, the video in version 1.0’s This kind of ruckus enables the construction of new stories about the onstage events, though probably not classically constructed stories with beginnings, middles and ends. Rather, the video continually and obsessively returns to the very recent past, teasing out the complexity of simple gestures and physical relationships, and in the process attempting to approach judgment without resolution.

Online program note by David Williams and Sean Bacon, August 2009

Images by Heidrun Lohr.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Video notes 2: Le Dernier Spectacle (The Last Performance) (1998) by Jerome Bel

I posted the first of these over a year ago, but its taken me a while to get back through my notebooks. To recap the nature of this side project: Taking a lead from Christine Evans, I'm going to post in installments my notes on a series of performance documentations I watched in the Live Art Development Agency's study room whilst in London in November 2007. Not quite reviews, these notes are largely my own labour of thinking through these works, an interest triggered by the recent performance The Show Must Go On for MIAF in 2007. Since that time, I've read with great interest sections of Andre Lepecki's book Exhausting Dance, part of which is an excellent response to the key concerns of Bel's work. Enjoy!

“Je suis Jerome Bel” states a solo performer (Frederic Seguette) in an affect-less monotone whilst standing at a microphone downstage centre. Identity announced, his choreography to demonstrate the legitimacy of this claim is simple: he sets a stopwatch and waits, looking out at the audience for the duration of the countdown. The alarm beeps, and he exits.

Perhaps a minute elapses. Another performer (Jerome Bel) enters in tennis whites, carrying a racquet. “I am Andre Agassi”, he announces. The tab curtains open, and he serves and volleys against the back wall of the theatre, swapping sides to indicate a change of service. Task completed, he exits once again.

Another minute or so, followed by another performer entry, (Antonio Carallo) dressed in tights, a vest, and carrying a skull. “I am Hamlet”, he declares. Again, the choreography of identity demonstration is simple and unemotive: “To be”, he states whilst onstage, followed by “Or not to be” delivered from offstage. "That is the question" he adds upon returning centre stage.

Another performer enters, a woman this time (Claire Haenni), who announces: “Ich bein Susanne Linke.” She dances silently, re-enacting a fragment of choreography. After some time, music begins (Franz Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’) and the dance increases in poignancy. It’s an unexpectedly beautiful eruption within the hitherto austere performance structure, and is quickly and firmly arrested. Carallo re-enters wearing the same costume. He too declares that “Ich Bein Susanne Linke”, and performs the same dance fragment with the same degree of seriousness, whilst wearing a tutu and slip that makes him appear ridiculous. The Schubert begins again, and Carallo tries valiantly to make his very different body perform the same work of identity formation as the willowy previous dancer. Does thinness and physical delicacy necessarily equate with beauty and vulnerability? Or is beauty, like identity formation, simply a machinic process? Carallo tries hard, but he remains unconvincing when measured against the original copy. The dance ends abruptly, and he exits.

Bel enters in the same costume yet again. He too claims to be Susanne Linke. The question arises – what did the original do to deserve such unfaithful imitators? Seguette enters as the fourth successive Susanne Linke. Is it a competition between the three men as to who can be the most interesting female impersonator? Or is it more likely, given the deconstructive nature of the work’s operation, that this parade of three highly unlikely physical surrogates for Linke is a means of aggressively curtailing the seductive possibilities of beauty and lyricism.

“Je ne suis pas Jerome Bel” Bel announces, and then proceeds to set and wait through the alarm clock. “I am not Andre Agassi” Haenni declares, then plays tennis against the back wall, somewhat less successfully than Bel’s earlier iteration. “I am not Hamlet” Seguette states, then removes his vest, dagger belt, fancy shoes, shirt and tights. Waiting in his underwear, he announces instead “I am Calvin Klein.” In place of Hamlet’s most famous sentence, he declares “Obsession”, followed by an exit and offstage declaration of: “Escape”. Still in underwear, he repeats the sequence with different brands of perfume: onstage is “Contradiction”, and offstage is “Eternity”. When there remains little else to say beyond the impersonal machinic replacement of personal identity with dramatic identity with brand identity, the rest has indeed become silence.

Left as a not-Hamlet Calvin Klein, Seguette helpfully offers: "Ich bin nicht Susanne Linke." Dressed as Agassi, Haenni announces: "Ich bin nicht Susanne Linke." Together, they hold a black cloth in front of Carallo, so that the audience cannot measure his performance as not Linke. The cloth traverses the stage, entirely obscuring his dance and negating his negative identity claim. The music plays out as before, and Carallo dances behind the curtain, the occasional foot or hand protruding beyond its bounds. Carallo exits, and the obscuring curtain follows him off.

Bel too is "nicht Susanne Linke", and he demonstrates his non-identification by listening to the Schubert music on headphones and humming its by-now-familiar melody out loud. Identity continues to be erased through actions and inactions - Bel as "not Bel" as Agassi throws his tennis racket after the balls. Not-Hamlet Calvin Klein sprays perfume towards the audience, waving a jacket to waft it more completely in their direction. Objects, it seems, can carry identity independently of their human possessors. If this proposition is correct, what is the future of subjectivity? If mere objects can act in our name and thereby 'be' us, is there any purpose to human existence? It's a depressing question, drolly delivered.

The black curtain 'dances' with no-one behind it. The microphone is left alone onstage, amplifying a recording of a female German voice (the 'real' Susanne Linke?) dictating a list whose contents remain unintelligible to me. Might the last performance be that in which human bodies are no longer needed by the practice of dance? With this question of post-human identity performance uncomfortably floating, the lights go out.

Concept: Jerome Bel. Choreography: Susanne Linke, excerpts from Wandlung (1978). Performers: Claire Haenni, Antonio Carallo, Frederic Seguette, Jerome Bel

Friday, 31 July 2009

Making sense; or what on earth is it that we are doing, and how might this possibly be achieved?

We're deep into rehearsals for the new version 1.0 project, This kind of ruckus, which will open at Performance Space @ CarriageWorks on September 4. It's a project in which we have got lost many times, and have traveled down many blind alleys following red herrings, if, dear reader, you might excuse such a mangling of metaphors. Like every one of our performance works, this one has felt utterly impossible - impossible to think through, impossible to understand, impossible to know what it is or might possibly be. And difficult at times to understand why we are making it at all. It's a process we've gone through with all of our past works as well, but nonetheless, this is a process that never gets any easier. After all, why should any of this be theatre? How can our always-inadequate provisional expertise possibly hope to contribute anything meaningful to these complex entanglements of policy, culture, and violence? And what right do we have to even attempt such an undertaking? The above photograph is one earlier attempt to understand what we might be doing, to navigate our way through the work, and through it, chart a course through the world. Yes, it's frightening. Yes, our preparations are never quite good enough. And yes, the show will go on. And our audiences are truly in for a surprise...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Interview with Andrew Morrish 10/3/2003

Old interview, but some beautiful wandering thoughts on performance and politics, conducted in the comfortable environs of the Rose of Australia Hotel in Erskineville as the rain poured down outside. This was supposed to be research for my thesis, but never made it in anywhere in the end. I love this conversation, and miss Andrew working in Australia - he was a continuing inspiration.

AM: what can I help you with David?

DW: I just wanted to have a brief conversation with you about improvisation, because I’m very interested in ummm improvisation, obviously, and you, Andrew Morrish are the guru of improvisation…

AM: Scheisser.

DW: No pressure.

AM: No pressure. No we gurus don’t feel pressure. That’s how you know guru, ‘cos you say ‘oh you’re a guru’ and they say ‘sure’ they don’t say, maybe?

DW: The thing that I’m interested in at the moment, well there’s a couple of things – your description of the ‘Rushing for the Sloth’ [a monthly improvised performance event in Sydney] as an engagement with openness and presence and I’m very interested in those notions, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve become very interested in the notion of uncertainty, and the radical uncertainty of improvisation. What is a radical performance act now, and I’m starting to think sort of well it one that’s undecidable, that’s uncertain, that’s in a real state of flux that can’t be easily reduced to ‘well this is what its all about’.

AM: In a real way, the potential for that lies in any form, I don’t reckon its necessarily more likely to happen in improvisation than anywhere else, because there’s always a certain discrepancy between what you think you are doing and what other people think you are doing, as a performer anyway. There’s always that. So there’s always a degree of uncertainty and when I think about that in improvisation… I don’t think… as you know I promote the idea of self deception as a fundamental aspect of training really, so I certainly imagine I know exactly what I’m doing when I’m performing. I live in the world of certainty in that sense, even though I’m not certain what material might come, but on a moment-to-moment basis I’m always trying to be as certain as I can. So this is really a position of self-deception in a way – you create one idea so that another can emerge. There’s this idea that I use that is the idea that the improvisational moment is like the totem animal of a primitive tribe, its a little deer. If you direct too much attention to the deer, it’s never going to come anywhere near you. You actually have to get on with something else and the deer might get curious and come close. But the minute you go ‘hello deer!’ it runs away again. So it feels like that too, you have to distract yourself with certainties so the possibility of maybe something which is not totally known or controlled can emerge. I think that does emerge from a state of absolute confidence that everything is ok, for me anyway in my experience of it. I think these things interact in really interesting ways. I think you do have to convince yourself of…I’m sorry, not you, there’s no you… I convince myself that I know exactly what I’m doing. That means I don’t need to put any energy into planning my material. So sure, I don’t plan my material, but in the act of improvising…. I’m pretty much feeling very confident.

One of the hardest things to perform is indifference, because how can you be fully committed to presenting the idea that you’re indifferent? And it’s a bit the same with uncertainty which is if you going saying ‘I must be uncertain’ then what does that mean? At one level I could say ‘are you sure you want to be uncertain’? And you go ‘YES, I’m sure I want to be uncertain’

DW: And therefore you are certain…

AM: And the consciousness of going in going ‘I will be uncertain’ will produce a certain kind of material, so it almost seems its one of things that best achieved by not directing yourself at it, its actually you distract yourself towards another place. And I find myself teaching that; I’m continually telling people exactly what I want them to do. In my classes people have the experience that they are always completely certain about what my expectations are, and the tasks are completely concrete – I want you to do THIS. I just don’t tell them what the material is, I don’t tell them what the content is, I don’t tell them what to do it about. And so most people go I’m completely certain this is what I’m supposed to be doing. So I do think there’s a level of distraction in improvisation for me the idea of distracting myself is an important one. And another one is trying to overwhelming myself, trying to do too much is another great idea; trying to do an impossible combination of ideas that can’t actually be done because I don’t have the skill to do it. What I love about that is that something else happens that’s actually more interesting. So there’s an overloading principle, a distraction principle and these are kind of the ideas….

DW: I am very interested in this idea of the impossible task too, that’s a really nice one. I do remember you talking about it once; I think was after an impro that I did for one of the Sloths… maybe it was a Taming [the Sloth - a training session]. You told me that what I did was impossible. I think it was trying to pick myself up through the air…

AM: That’s right, yes. I remember once, it happened to be a German student…

DW: Because everything’s German at the moment…

AM: It’s a bit thematic, everything European… So I said: ‘Speak convincingly in Spanish’ to this German woman as an improvisational score, and she just looked at me and said, ‘I can’t do that.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ And she said, ‘Because I can’t speak Spanish’, and I said ‘Well neither can we’. I don’t actually imagine that you will be able to magically speak Spanish, what I wanted was for you to be so committed to the act of trying something that’s vaguely like Spanish, that something much more wonderful might come into that space as you attempt to do something that’s actually not possible. So its very close to that self deception principle; its to give yourself something that’s not possible to do, but do it with all the goodwill you could imagine, and if you like, at a complete level of certainty and confidence that you’re doing it, even though you know you’re not, if you want to. So in a way, there’s a first level of talking about improvisation, but I do think you do get very quickly to a level where the conversation becomes about notions of paradox and all the philosophical sophistication that arises from that, that very quickly, once you’ve kind of done the first principles of what improvisation is, you end up, especially I find this as a teacher, but I’ve also found this as a performer, that you’re talking in paradoxical terms, and immediately I go this is a more interesting place to be. But at any one moment within the paradox, I am completely certain of one of the contradictory elements of a paradox, so its not like I go…I don’t think a response to that is the dithery position. You need to be completely certain about the choice, but you know you could have made any other choice and it would be equally as good as long as you were equally committed to it. Dithering I try and not encourage. This is why if you take uncertainty as a score, it’s a bit like performing indifference. It could lead to you becoming, working in a dithering mode, of the audience going – he is not certain. Which I don’t think that is this uncertainty that you’re talking about is about. It’s not an attitude of going…

DW: …I don’t know what I’m doing

AM: And I just think that finding language that points at those particularities of meaning is kind of quite important.

DW: I guess where I’m heading with this idea of radical uncertainty, as a principle not necessarily of a mode of performing – I’m not performing indifference, I’m not performing uncertainty – its just that the work…OK, this is two examples of what I’ve been working with and have been talking with another colleague with… we’re on the bus, and we’re talking about three different performances, classics from different areas. One is Don Giovanni, the Mozart opera verses Cosi Fan Tutte, another Mozart opera, and the reason why Don G is OK, because all of these morally very shaky things go on in that opera…and I’m not valorising opera as an art form here, I’m just talking about things in that…the moral universe becomes uncertain. Why are we enjoying this man doing horrible things? But it’s OK, because in the end, certainty is restored, you know, he goes to hell, he’s taken to Hell, he goes to Hell, and he is judged, and made to pay. So that’s why Don Giovanni is OK. It’s certain in its moral and ethical convictions, it’s certain. And we can feel that our principles have been reinforced, in the way that you were saying in the last Sloth that I’m glad there’s a crisis so I can feel righteous again. Because I was uncertain, and now I’m…

AM:…I’ve got something else to be certain and righteous about…

DW: Because I know I’m right…

AM: …On this one.

DW: On this one.

AM: Absolutely. It’s very clear.

DW: The thing I liked about the implication of that statement is that you’re not just saying that ‘I think I’m right about the war’, you’re saying ‘it makes me feel right about everything. The great crisis of the left is that Communism has proved to be a completely and utterly totalitarian system, an impossible task to make the liberation…it didn’t work in practice. That doesn’t mean that it can’t work in practice, but the fact that it didn’t is such a, you know, a pulling of the rug, the rug of certainty, out from…

AM: There’s still plenty of communist local governments in France. And you can go there and get, well not free, but very cheap lunches for the community every day…So, yeah. Sorry, I’ve interrupted your flow about certainty and uncertainty…

DW: No, no, no, I was just sort of raving really.

AM: Certainly. It’s interesting really, the other part of the self-deception it’s… is like, you know, having spent twenty years trying to be a good improviser, and now feeling like I am a good improviser, and then going, well, what do I have to say? That question hasn’t come up so often as I’ve worked through this other form of self-deception called becoming a good improviser. But know I find myself drawn to making statements at certain times. You know, going what is the purpose of what I do? And, like you’re kind of alluding to in a way, I think there is a kind of a, I wouldn’t call it radical, but certainly a subversive element to choosing to perform improvisation in the way that I do, so that feels like, I guess, a consistent message, which is – what are those other people doing with all that time? You know, if I can whip up this piece of theatre for you right now, in a way that seems to enliven all of us for the next twenty minutes, what are all those other wankers spending their time doing? That’s hopefully a question I would like to think of occasionally. So there’s that, there’s kind of the politics of choosing improvisation as an act, as a message, but I’m also at a point now where I’m asking, …the Maxwell Smart position- do I use it for good or for evil? I’ve noticed, in my longer pieces over the last two years, a tendency towards a moralising kind of content, content about a moral stance, in different ways, and this troubles me enormously. Because when it happens, you go: I am old enough and mature enough to know that my views aren’t that special that I deserve the forum to express to people my political views. It’s not the contract really. And just like there was a time where I wanted to tell coherent stories in improvisation, and I’m going hang on, sit down and write it and have respect for the form. And surely improvisation points at the possibility of a less conventional form being more interesting, and if you’re going to do a more conventional form, then do it properly. So I have this question about this moral and ethical kind of element that coming into my work; at a certain point I feel smug about it, or I feel pretentious, and I go, really, if you want to talk about those things, you should be writing about those things. There are better forms for that. So, this trend is of concern to me. I wouldn’t say that I worry about it, but its of interest to me that its coming, and nearly always I have that moment of making the statement and then within the piece questioning my right to have done that.

DW: Which is actually the thing that interests me about improvisation as being something being uncertain, in that sort of, moral ethical sense, because, for instance, I’m talking about, just because it’s the most recent performance of yours that I’ve seen, you had a few rants, some of which were completely ridiculous. Actually all of which I hope were completely ridiculous…your dark German phase, should we say? But what you do really, through improvising is that you question what is OK? I can say whatever I like, because there is a contract here between me the improviser and you the audience, and I’m going to ask lots of questions. About myself, about my own material, with a commitment to openness, with a commitment to engagement, …

AM: I had this moment in the last season of Gosh!, which I have three of the shows on video, and I hated that season myself, as a performer, and it took me a long time to watch the videos, but there’s one moment in one of them where I go, on this issue – I seem to have started picking on minorities. Convenient ones, you know, asthmatics. The night Robyn Archer was there I started picking on asthmatics. And I said, hang on, I’m the biggest minority out here. Because in a way I do feel there’s an underlying reassurance for me at an ethical level, which is what I’m actually doing is not convincing people of my view, what I’m actually doing is exposing my prejudices. And in the end I think whatever it is I say, if it reflects upon anyone, it reflects upon me. And people go away and think, there’s a guy who hates asthmatics. They might say that. But what they’ll probably think is that there’s a guy who’ll say anything to get a laugh, and that’s closer to the truth anyway. So whenever I do that kind of material there’s often that edge of rant in it, and I don’t actually feel like I’m being persuasive; I actually feel like all I’m doing is exposing an aspect of myself and also sometimes daring myself to say things that I don’t even believe, just as a challenge, as a performers challenge, go can I get away with saying this, will I go too far and alienate the audience? So its all quite local in the end, all of that.

DW: Its interesting - how can I go without alienating the audience – so much of your stage persona is love me, love me, here I am, love me! Here I am, I’m your best friend!

AM: And you’re my best friend, and where will we go tonight? And things like that…you know, and it’s the same as…I like a bit of lemon juice in the meal every now and then, and I do like it to go – he can’t say that! When I performed in Berlin I did this thing, I started doing this thing about dead German choreographers, of which I know about three, so it was a little bit short…I had to stick in a little bit of Isadora Duncan, just to help, and that was all good. And then I started saying, I’m not going to talk about Sascha Waltz, because she’s alive, and I sill want a career, you know. And I said to the audience: do you think its good that I’m just picking on dead people. And they said: no, it’s not good. And I could see every single German going: no that is not good. And just a few minutes ago we were all laughing, and that was not good. So there is always a moral uncertainty to every certainty. If you would. Certainly I have it. Certainly whenever I put out a statement of my own value I go, what’s on the other side of that? What is on the other side of that? I did a piece with Tony the other week when I was kind of accusing the audience of being gratified with my ability to play in the worms…of my own material. And I said to myself: look, Andrew, of all the people you know, you’re probably the one who has the most positive regard for the audience, and actually what you just said is quite cynical about an audience. And so in the piece I went into the whole idea of disdain for the audience as a persona that I never usually feel. But whatever it is it seems to me…and I’m not Jungian in any way, but whatever it is in any way, there’s always another side. There’s always a dark side to every light side and vice versa, and I’m very interested in getting lost between those two things. There’s something I wanted to say about…you’re talking about certainty and uncertainty but there’s also this thing…a relation, a shift I’ve had in my own understanding of the world that I’ve really only had in the last five years is this relationship between knowing and not-knowing. Which is kind of close to this idea, and as someone trained to be an educator, a primary school educator, I thought education was about things I was certain of, things I knew. Because I was teaching basically, things I knew. How to spell, how to count and all of that sort of stuff. But I’ve changed my model through teaching improvisation. Maybe what education’s about is creating a situation where people can stand to look into…stand on what they know to look into the dark space of something they don’t know, and that education’s actually supporting people in that place, and that learning is actually about what you don’t know instead of the way I was brought up and educated, which is about what you do know. And I think that’s something, in the conversation that we’ve had about the nature of improvisational performing. I can make a list of all the things that I do know, when I perform, all the things about which I am certain, and their role is to help me face the things I don’t know. And so I’m actually right in that, looking to support myself in the space between knowing and not-knowing. But, like a lot of these things, I don’t actually think you can be there without having both present. You can’t be unskilled. To be an improviser, its about uncertainty, but you bring your skills and experience to that place. You can’t be in the uncertain place without having some certainty to support you to be there. If you like, it’s equating trust and risk, the intimate relationship between those two things. Like you can’t take a risk unless you know you can stand up and you’ll be ok or whatever it is. And it’s right in that zone. So it’s about both of the things, it’s not about one or the other.

DW: Excellent. That’s fantastic.

AM: Openness and presence? C’mon, you got time? You haven’t? You haven’t. You haven’t got time for openness and presence.

DW: Well, I always have time for those kinds of things, but I have to go to a soccer game right now.

AM: It’s been called off, give me a break!

DW: It’s indoors, unfortunately.

AM: The roof’s leaking. Well OK then, bugger off!

Interview with Natalia Koliada, producer, Belarus Free Theatre, 17/1/09

I conducted this interview with Natalia Koliada during her company's visit to Sydney in January 2009, and it was used as the basis for a feature article in RealTime. I thought that the interview was quite fascinating (not least for the company's apparent focus on celebrity validation, and for the ineptitude of my interviewing technique), and so transcribed the whole thing. For more about Belarus Free Theatre, see here. Other articles about the company can be found here. Reviews from the Australian tour of Being Harold Pinter can be found here, here, here, and here.

This seems to have been a very successful tour for Belarus Free Theatre. So what kind of reception do you think you’ll have when you return home?

[interview begins but recorder has stopped]

[repeating from unrecorded discussion] All the actors have been fired from their other jobs…

Yes, this is one of the main that they’ve used before against us, so for example, if we go, it was our French tour, and there was a council of Minister of Culture on Free Theatre, and there was a decision to fire a few of our actors while we were touring in France. Then it happened last February in London, when two of our actresses they lost their jobs by backdate. So while performing in London… [recorder stops again]

So, ah, the last one it’s a case of my father who was fired from the Academy of the Arts, and one of our actresses. This is one of the ways that they show that there is oppression.

So it’s economic punishment?

It’s economic and they want to show us that they know about you, and they could stop us doing everything right away. So its important for the authorities to show that there is oppression. They do it very successfully, because for… it’s very complicated when you have family, when you have small children. When you get fired you cannot get any other job in our country. So what will happen next we don’t know. It depends on level of meetings here, because we still plan to meet with Cate Blanchet and to make this video appeal – it was done with Mick Jagger – so this the support we need for the whole country, not for us personally. But when we meet with such people, usually we get arrested.

Right, OK.

But we understand this. As I’ve said many times already, he have a very great teacher, who is Vaclav Havel, who told us we need to speak very loudly and openly in order to stop dictatorship. Otherwise we would just prolong this dictatorship. So this is what we’re trying to do, and we hope for the same level of support here in Australia as we got in the UK from the British actors and musicians. So we never know what can happen to us. We understand that you could lose job, you could lose education, you get beaten up, get arrested, go to jail, different types of repressions.

It’s like the torturer in… I’m not sure which play it is, it’s the one before Mountain Language…

New World Order

New World Order. The two torturers say, “he doesn’t know what we can do to him, or what we could do to his wife”. Or by extrapolation, what they could do to your family, or… take their jobs away. I mean the thing that’s quite beautiful about the Pinter that you guys use is the arbitrariness of power’s exercise – we’re going to exercise power because we can.

This is absolutely true, and when we read this piece New World Order, one of the recent plays of Harold Pinter, its like they do not do anything to him on the stage but there is an essence of violence in just words. Just two scary people. And this is what the Belarussian authorities do, they do a lot. They come to the point of torture when they kidnap and kill people, this is when we have in our country too. There are political enforced disappearances.

It’s very frightening to imagine in this context.

But it could… we never know when it comes to that point. For example, when we have the presidential elections I was walking with my husband every morning to walk our dog, because I had a hundred percent fear that I would never see him again. So it’s a constant feeling that we have. But we agreed silently that we need to stop [being] afraid of something, otherwise we would just stop work. ‘co if you in the fear of something all the time, you cannot change anything. Only if you are able to stop the fear inside of you, to overcross this line of fear.

In terms of the work the Free Theatre Belarus does, how do you begin making the work? For instance, something like Being Harold Pinter, though this is far from all that you do…

We were start with Belarussian plays. That was the main idea, to promote contemporary Belarussian plays. Everyone from official side says that there are no…

Ah! There are no plays! Prove them wrong.

And this is what we decided to do with my husband. He received royalties from Moscow for his play, and was called Here I am, and received many awards outside Belarus, but it is not possible to produce within Belarus because he the author is not recommended for production in Belarus. And it was not about politics, it was about life philosophy, how a person lives his life. But it is prohibited because of his name. And we started this theatre on his royalties. Then my brother started to help us from the States, because he has political asylum in the USA. And Vladimir Scherban, who is the director of Being Harold Pinter, he joined us in the month from the moment when we started. And it was 4.48 Psychosis of Sarah Kane…

I’d love to see what you guys did with that!

It’s a fantastic piece! Tom Stoppard said that this is the best Psychosis he ever saw. He saw many performances. He saw in Minsk underground in a small café, and one journalist from Time Magazine, he was at this performance too, he said “I didn’t believe that at 10 o’clock in the morning we would have 120 people in a small café, and Tom Stoppard is sitting in underground in Minsk watching Psychosis of Sarah Kane.” It was just amazing for everyone. So each topic you choose, it becomes prohibited. Whatever you choose, it’s not possible to talk [about]. It’s everything. We have like alternative system of education that we organise for young people, a small group because we teach only underground, and we discovered 16 taboo zones. It’s like you choose a topic and its prohibited, you cannot talk publicly on this issue. So we decided that we needed to explore it every time, one of the taboo zones. If it’s possible, we do many explores at once. For example, we have performance, its called Discover Love. Its about our friend love story, and she is the godmother of our younger daughter, and her husband was a businessman who supported opposition, and he was kidnapped and killed together with his friend who was vice-speaker of the parliament.

Then Zone of Silence, it’s a trilogy that we created especially for the European Theatre Prize – we got a special mention last April. It’s… Zone of Silence is Belarus. That’s why we came [up] with this name. We started with personal stories of our actors. They tell what happened in their childhood. And then… Its called Legends of Childhood. The second part is called Labours. The actors received a technical assignment to go to the city and find people from normal lives. And the last part is Numbers, Belarus in numbers without any words. So its… and Discover Love was done in support of European Convention Against Enforced Disappearances. So we started the big global campaign in support of this convention. So it’s a lot. We try to choose all these topics. As for Being Harold Pinter, I believe you already read it, because it’s the same story everywhere. So, it was the advice of Tom Stoppard, and it just took a while for us to get all those translations. But of course when we read it we understood that he [Pinter] understands us better than many people who live in Belarus. So it was absolutely direct contact, and besides we got his support when we started to write [to] him and ask him for author’s rights, as we did with Simon Kane, who is the brother of Sarah Kane. So we receive all of these permissions all of the time. So I don’t know what to tell you… Probably, you just ask me what you’re interested in, because…

I guess I’m interested in… I liked hearing about the kind of starting points for some of your other works other than this. So I guess I’m, what I’m interested in how do you approach – so you choose a topic that’s forbidden, that can’t be spoken about. How do you then begin working on it? I know you were talking about giving the actors an assignment to find particular kinds of stories of normal people, but I’m just interested in the kind of aesthetic strategies you have.

This is absolutely the main point for us, because when we organise the theatre, we decided that it should be aesthetic opposition first of all. If we have a high standard of aesthetic opposition then we have, we could change aesthetically a society, and when we have such an artistic product then we could attract more attention for political changes, if we have an artistic voice. So this was the main aim for us. As for performances, all of them done absolutely different ways, but mostly actors need to show their ideas and their thoughts on pieces that they receive. So for example if they read plays, they should present the ideas. Its very important work of actor, because we don’t have a lot of scenery or costumes, so we decided that we needed the main impact from actors, if that’s correct to say. So for rehearsals – Being Harold Pinter was rehearsed in ten apartments, just move from one place to another. For example, Generation Jeans performance that we just presented at the house of Vaclav Havel in Prague. It was already the second time when we presented at his house in Czech Republic. It’s about transformation from Soviet Union time when jeans and rock music were prohibited, so it’s prohibited now in our country. We hope if there is a revolution, it will be a denim revolution, so if young people wear jeans and jeans jacket –

[Points out that both of us are wearing denim jeans and jackets] We’re matching!

Yeah! They get arrested and go to jail, if it’s before the election campaign.

Wow, that’s interesting, because Tom Stoppard recently did his play Rock’n’Roll, which was about…

It was the most interesting. He came to us and he asked Nikolai, who is my husband, he said “what are you writing now?” And he said, “I’m writing Generation Jeans.” And Tom Stoppard said, “I just finished Rock’n’Roll.” And they started to share what they wrote, and it was the same idea. It was music, jeans, and Czech Republic. Because in Generation Jeans, Jan Palach, the Czech student who burnt himself in the main square against the Soviet tanks, so he is a legendary person in Czech Republic, for Czechs and Slovaks. So when they shared ideas, Stoppard said, “now I understand why I am here.” So it was the same thoughts at the same time.

Absolutely. So this Generation Jeans performance, it was only rehearsed in my husband’s mind. It was not possible to find facility for this performance. It’s a monologue – it’s called a monologue for two, monologue for actor and DJ. So it’s a strange genre, but… And we have a DJ onstage with Nikolai performing, and everything depends on the music. So its like dialogue between music and words and, so it’s one of our most famous performances. Generation Jeans and Being Harold Pinter. Zone of Silence and Discover Love, these are two recent performances. The new piece is, its called Eurepica – that’s Europe and epic, one word. Eurepica. This is our own word that we made up. Eurpica dark challenge. So the idea is make new European epic. It will not be nice. At all.

No it certainly hasn’t been a very good century for Europe!

We believe that besides problems with our governments we will shake other European governments. So we invited 14 playwrights from all over Europe, besides Russia, Turkey, the USA as an influential neighbour, and Belarus as the last dictatorship in Europe. So they write, all these playwrights, they write on the main challenge of his/her country. So it’s a new European epic with original music that is written by, like a neo-classic [composer], his name is Sergei Netsky, he lives in Germany. And it was an attempt to write a new European anthem. So what will happen in the end, we don’t know but we understand that… we hope to give a push for Europeans to think about themselves, because they do not know about each other at all, as it’s appeared to us when we started to travel. It looks like everything is happening inside the borders of each country, not for the whole Union. And when there are such problems as Belarus – this is, we think that this is the main challenge for Europe because for the first time in the European continent history, this continent could become free from dictators. For the first time in the whole European history! Because for today there are only two continents that are free from dictators – Australia and North America. This is it. So Europe is still under dictatorship, which is our dictatorship. So is what we want to say, and we want people to think. And, actors they present again all their ideas on the plays. Many, many, many ideas. And then if our director Vladimir Scherban, who is directing this performance, and we are, Nikolai and me who created this conception and idea, we need to find the piece that could be developed. And of course the main role on directing is Vladimir’s, merging all of it.

A lot the work seems to be very much about the very specific bodies of the actors and their voices. So, when you talk about the actor’s ideas, that would seem very much… I mean the thing I like about this work in the terms of this Festival; the kind of antithesis of this work in the Festival is kind of Robert Lepage’s Lipsynch. Now all the ideas there are about objects. We have an idea, and we’ll build something very expensive, and we’ll use it. And there seems to be, at least this was my experience of the work, there seems to be a real paucity of ideas. There was an attempt to use technology as a way of kind of dealing with a lack of ideas. I since saw the show today for the second time, which was good because I didn’t have to watch the subtitles so much. Your work seems to focus very much on the immediacy of the actors’ bodies, their voices, their relationships in space with each other and their proximity to an audience…

This is the main. This is the main thing for Vladimir as the director of the performance, and Nikolai and me as producers. I wish you could come to us, because then you would understand all of it, because actors are the main. The connection with the audience, this is another side, the main side of it. So the actors – it’s one coin, actors and audience. Both sides of it. We don’t have light, so we have just one lamp like this at our house that we rent for rehearsals, and sometimes we don’t like to make it that we should use it for performances. There is a small wall with a broken part between two rooms, some part for audiences, some part for actors. So it’s direct connection all the time. So when we started to travel our work, the actors said they don’t see the eyes of spectators. “It’s so complicated for us, they don’t have this communication with us”. I mean we just said, “Probably you will like performing in real circumstances”. So it’s difficult for them to get used to real theatre light. This is very important for us to have this communication. This is hundred percent communication and contact with spectators. And actors they are the main, we just don’t have… And I think even if you have better conditions it’s interesting to continue by working through the actors. I mean, we love all the technology. We love Robert Lepage, but we will continue by working with actors. We met with Robert Lepage one year ago in Thessaloniki, and he received this European Theatre Prize, and we invited him to come to us, but his schedule is very overloaded I believe. And he said: “To me, it would be very interesting to come and work underground because it would make my environment wider.” So it’s very to good to hear this for us, because not many people are saying that to work underground is opening in some way.

Sometimes restrictions actually force you to be more creative in order to find solutions, and you seem to have many restrictions!

It seems very often… we have meetings with our journalists from all over the old and they say, “You know, when you are old, won’t this be one of your best memories?” And I say, “I dream of the time will come, and it will be my best dream.” I mean, we are so tired with so many situation of political stress that we have in my country I’m not sure that we will get to old years.

Well I hope that you do. I feel like I could talk for a long time, but I’ll just ask one more question.

Ask as many as you want.

Well, you guys have got to have a break! You set up the Belarus Free Theatre to work against the dictatorship in Belarus. What would happen if your work, and the work of other activist, and other pro-democracy activists around the world and within Belarus – what happens…

What happens next?

What happens next? If the President is forced out of power and a real democracy takes the place of that regime, what would happen for Belarus Free Theatre?

First of all, all the presidential candidates, they are our friends… very good ones…

So, a ministerial post?

So I’m sure we will have a fantastic theatre in the centre of Minsk.


And the time will come when we will organise the Minsk Festival, and we will bring the best examples of world theatre to Belarus and start to educate the Belarusian people on the world theatre, because people are hundred percent isolated. They don’t know what’s happening in the world. From our side we try to do it by performing world plays, and there are many people who write to us and want to bring their performances underground and show audience. But it’s small audience. Even if we perform very often we cannot make it for the whole of Belarus because very often we are restricted. So we are waiting for this time when democracy will come. Hopefully all of us will be alive when this time will come…

Alive and not too old!

And not too old, yeah. So we know it will be another start up. And we know that each country needs Free Theatre. Even if we move somewhere else before we get older! So I believe even very stable and democratically open society needs such a theatre as Free Theatre. We are ready to go and work in different societies. For example, now we’ve doing our first documentary about arts and politics. It will be called It Lasts. So we start from our situation, this is the last dictatorship, but ‘it lasts’, so it continues. It means that we want to go to Zimbabwe and Burma and meet with artists who are doing this sort of, like Cuba, who try to make their artistic jobs in their environments. And from another side we started to record interviews like Vaclev Havel, with Tom Stoppard, with Mick Jagger, hopefully we will get some Australian people who will help us with this, so we want to show the strength, and we want to make it for artists, by artists. And we want to show that only art will change the world for better.

[…] And have you had some good dialogues with local artists, with local audiences?

We haven’t really had the chance… we really want to do the same stuff we did in London, when all the British... I don’t know if you know this, but we did this really fantastic gala event in London. It was presented by Harold Pinter. I showed this video on the first night.

Yes, I remember seeing it.

And at the last part of the performance, when the actors read political letters from political prisoners, our actors exchange with the British actors. And the British actors were reading all these letters from Belarusian political prisoners. Alan Rickman, Kim Cattrall, Diane Rigg, Richard Wilson, Henry Wolf… so it was just a list of them. And absolutely, it gave to our actors one year of life, because they, they got such support. And as for the whole Belarus, all the actors they made video appeal, saying lonely Belarus in Belarusian language, and send in support letters, like Belarus should be free and democratic, and we should continue the fight and we’re with you. We put it on internet site in Belarus, as we did with interview with Jagger and Tom Stoppard and Vaclev Havel and Harold Pinter before. And internet site, servers just collapse, because people were downloading this information and sending to each other and saying if we have such a support, we could continue our fight. So we do want to get in contact – I don’t from the list of those people we have from the Sydney Festival, we see Cate Blanchet and we hope to contact her. We know that there are many Australian great actors, but we don’t know how to contact them, like Nicole Kidman, Russel Crowe. But I believe its not a… so we just don’t know how to get to them.

If you get to Cate, she might be able to tell you how to get to the other ones.

Yeah, yeah, like Nick Cave. Unfortunately we have to leave tomorrow, because we know if we went to the island we would get him. So we need these video appeals which support not the theatre, but the people in Belarus.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

At the bottom of the garden

A dark and mysterious backyard dominates the space of Night Garden. Viewed from either end of CarriageWorks’ cavernous Bay 20, the centrepiece of this stunningly realised stage environment is a small shed in which all of the walls are transparent—a glasshouse, seemingly itching for stones. Surrounding the house is a shadowy lawn incongruously populated with sun lounges, a clothesline and a backyard tennis game that spins lazily around when hit. The audience peers into the backyard through a scorched skeletal wall, and stars glisten far in the distance. Despite the suburban trappings, there’s no sense here of the proximity of any other houses. The building and yard form an island, one in which the inhabitants may not be entirely safe.

Read the rest of my article, published in the print and online editions of RealTime #90, here. Image by Heidrun Lohr.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Blast Theory: Small secrets in public spaces

Navigating my way through crowds of tourists at Circular Quay, I arrive at a special check-in counter inside Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art ready to experience Brighton UK-based new media group Blast Theory’s Rider Spoke. The artist team who welcome me—core Blast Theory artists Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj with the able assistance of a group of local guest artists—are polite, friendly, and casually dressed in colourful checked shirts. I autograph various insurance and indemnity forms, display my credit card, and then receive a short briefing and my equipment—helmet, headphones, and a bicycle with a small tablet computer mounted on the handlebars.

Read the rest of my article, published in the print and online editions of RealTime #90, here. Image by Alex Kershaw.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Funding advice video online now

For those of you who might be interested, my helpful advice to writing successful funding applications to the Australia Council's Theatre Board has been included in a range of short video interviews posted on the Australia Council's website. I must confess to traveling directly to this interview from a long boozy lunch at another blogger's place, so I was definitely half tanked at the time. For the record, I finished the interview, and went straight back to lunch. (For what its worth, it was a Saturday, and they weren't paying me anything.)

I'm too scared to watch it myself (and hate myself on video anyway), but I'm sure that there must be something useful in there, otherwise they wouldn't have put on the site. Perhaps this is wishful thinking. You can my performance in all of its dubious glory here.

ps. A friend of mine in Wales informs me that he especially likes that the video is punctuated by strong hand gestures, and I feel obligated to note publicly that the hands were filmed separately. I can't remember what we were talking about when I was waving my hands around for the camera, but it definitely wasn't funding applications...

pps. Of course, I have realised now that doing this video has jinxed me, as I have just received my first rejection letter for an Australia Council application since 2002. Is it all downhill from here?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Belarus Free Theatre: an aesthetic opposition first of all

The Minsk-based performance group Belarus Free Theatre made their much-anticipated Australian debut with Being Harold Pinter at the Sydney Festival, and this work took on a great poignancy following Harold Pinter's recent death on Christmas Eve. Much of the excitement around this company’s work derives from its political context. Described by producer Natalia Koliada as “Europe’s last dictatorship”, Belarus under President Alexander Lukashenko is very far from a safe place to create political theatre. In a nation where every aspect of life, including artistic practice, is strictly regulated, Belarus Free Theatre work underground to produce uncensored accounts of life under the totalitarian regime. Co-founded in 2005 by Koliada and her husband Nikolai Khalezin, a playwright and journalist, the Belarus Free Theatre has created 11 productions, and regularly travels internationally, drawing attention to the plight of their homeland. For their efforts in daring to imagine a free and democratic Belarus, their audiences in Minsk have been arrested, performances broken up by armed police, actors denied exit visas, artists threatened and assaulted, writers banned from production and company members and their families fired from State-run institutions.

Read the rest of my article, published in the print and online editions of RealTime #89, here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

2009 performance hots up!

Now I've finally got 2008 out of the way, it's time to plug some fantastic works opening over the next month or so. Despite the grimness of the Arts NSW funding results that effectively decimated the Sydney performance community, there's some exciting work on the way. (Actually, 'decimate', meaning as it does the killing of 1 in every 10, is probably not harsh enough. Given Arts NSW effectively refused funding to what seems to be about 90% of the local performance culture - funding a total of only four theatre projects State-wide, plus a smattering of annual program grants, 'exterminate' is probably a more appropriate term. version 1.0 got lucky, and got two-thirds of our funding request but most of our peers, especially in the independent dance sector, got a big fat nothing. Ironically, these funding results were announced two days before the Sydney Festival's Festival First Night, a major part of which was framed as a celebration of local dance. This one-off event received $1 million from Arts NSW.)

But enough gloom for now. There's some great stuff appearing over February and March.

First up, the amazing UK group Blast Theory is presenting their work Rider Spoke in the Rocks from February 6-15. Last in Sydney back in 2002 with their acclaimed work Desert Rain, Blast Theory's latest work is described as "a unique cycling event which mixes theatre and location game play with state of the art technology." Blast Theory are world leaders in technology-saturated live performance, but unusually for that domain of practice their research and dramaturgy is always excellent as well. Even their conceptually simplest works such as Can you see me now? provide intelligent, surprising, entertaining, and deeply satisfying experiences. Definitely a must see.

For the first time, Performance Space is grouping together six works over the year into a subscription season, a long-overdue idea that's fantastic value. The works are
Night Garden by My Darling Patricia (5 - 14 March), Dancenorth/Splintergroup's Roadkill (18 – 21 March, pictured), Martin del Amo's It's a Jungle Out There (17 – 20 June), version 1.0's Hurt and Damage (4 – 12 September) Sue Healey's The Curiosities (29 October - 7 November) and Marrugeku's Burning Daylight (12 – 15 November). All six shows for $120, which is a saving of $10 per ticket, AND there's no booking fee either! For those suffering from the global financial crisis and/or the extortive ticket prices and booking fees for Sydney Festival, Performance Space is offering the best value, and most interesting performance in town. But you need to get in quick! More info online here.

Also upcoming is the 2nd incarnation of The Imperial Panda Festival, playing from February 10-22 at a range of artist-run spaces across Chippendale, Redfern and Surry Hills, and featuring new work by The Suitcase Royale, Brown Council, Nick Coyle and much more. All tickets $12, only at the door. Be quick, and arrive early as every night will sell out. Full program online.

Following Imperial Panda, PACT's Quarterbred initiative has generated its own festival! The Tiny Stadiums Festival, running from around Erskineville from February 24- March 8, features performance works from spat + loogie, James Brown, Deadpan, Kenzie Larsen, Tiek Kim Pok, and much much more, as well as a DVD library and a symposium on February 28. Full program online here.

The fun's only just begun!

Images: Kenzie Larsen's The Word Game Project, Blast Theory's Rider Spoke, Dancenorth/Splintergroup's Roadkill.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Most interesting performance works of 2008

OK, I'm well aware that it's pretty ridiculous to post a 'best of' list for 2008 on the 3rd of February 2009, but... well, that's what I'm going to do. So there. I've been having some great conversations over the last few weeks at the Sydney Festival with local artist colleagues and visiting types, and while we've swapped endless opinions about the shows we'd just seen over many many drinks, a regular theme was what we thought was the 'best' things we'd seen last year. Most of my blogger friends have had a go at this already, but despite being a long way behind, I thought I'd put my two cents in. Also, I thought that 'best' was perhaps too pejorative, so to make it clear that these are very much based on my personal perspective, I've gone with the moniker 'most interesting'. This of course matches neatly with my 'least interesting' list, some of which canny readers might note appeared on several mainstream media 'best of' lists. We clearly have very different tastes.

So, here goes (virtual drum roll).

Top ten most interesting works of 2008:
Aalst by Duncan McLean (based on Flemish text by Pol Heyvaert and Dimitri Verhulst) National Theatre of Scotland, Sydney Festival
The Three Minute Bacchae and Other Extreme Acts by PACT Youth Theatre
No Success Like Failure by The Fondue Set, The Studio, Sydney Opera House
Tough Time, Nice Time by Ridiculusmus, Company B
Frankenstein by Ralph Myer and Lally Katz, Wharf 2 Loud
The Whale Chorus by Janie Gibson, Alex Grady, Matthew Prest, Phoebe Torzillo, Georgie Read, PACT Theatre
Paradise City by Branch Nebula, Performance Space @ Carriageworks
Desert Island Dances by Wendy Houstoun, Melbourne International Arts Festival
The Modern International Dead by Damien Millar, Griffin Theatre Company
Pool/No Water by Mark Ravenhill, square the circle, Darlinghurst Theatre

Honourable mentions:
Apocalypse Perth by Kate Rice, Always Working Artists, The Blue Room, Artrage Festival
reform by pvi collective, Artrage Festival
The Tent by Matthew Prest, Liveworks Festival, Performance Space @ CarriageWorks
Insert the name of the person you love... by Meow Meow, Sydney Festival
Underground by Aphids
The Ghost of Rickett's Hill by The Suitcase Royale, Imperial Panda Festival

Least interesting works of 2008:
Kitten by Jenny Kemp, Malhouse Theatre, Melbourne International Arts Festival
The Navigator by Liza Lim, Melbourne International Arts Festival
Blackwatch by Gregory Burke, National Theatre of Scotland, Sydney Festival
When the rain stops falling by Andrew Bovell, Brink Productions, Adelaide Festival
Bubble by Rowan Marchingo, Legs on the Wall, Sydney Opera House
Yibiyung by Dallas Winmar, Company B
Antigone by Seamus Heaney, Company B
Salome by The Rabble, CarriageWorks
Back from Front by Dean Walsh, Performance Space @ CarriageWorks
The Vertical Hour by David Hare, Sydney Theatre Company

Image: Kate Dickie and David McKay As Cathy and Michael Delaney in Aalst. Photo from the Sydney Morning Herald website, photographer uncredited.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Night of The Hoofer

Along with 70 or so other keen followers of the Sydney dance trio The Fondue Set, I'll be dancing their delightful (and exhausting) choreography known only as 'The Hoofer' tonight for the opening of the Sydney Festival. For those after a sneak peak at the routine, enjoy the wonders of YouTube here! Here's the blurb from the Sydney Festival site:

"The Hoofer is a relentless unison routine, a large scale choreography for non-dancers working so hard to get it right that it becomes a hilarious exercise in absurdity. It is a cross between a ‘skank’ and a soft shoe shuffle that is stuck on the spot and stuck in time. It illustrates The Fondue Set’s exploration of dance techniques, and their understanding of an awkward body. They work against the idea of dazzling the audience with skill and tricks, but dazzle them nonetheless with an ongoing and almost ritualistic virtuosity."

I only learnt the routine on Wednesday, so my grasp of it is tenuous at best, but this struggle to remember is part of what makes the piece so fun to watch. The key instruction from the choreographers is "maximum effort for minimal result", and this results in a beautiful and beautifully silly routine. Catch it tonight at the Pitt St stage, Martin Place, at 8.30pm and 10.20pm.