A Response: The Secret River | Arts Centre Melbourne presents A Sydney Theatre Company Production

March 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

The author lives. Despite protestation to the contrary, we must now reasonably conclude that the author still plays an integral role in both the context and the reception of a piece of art. It is with this declaration in mind that we turn to Sydney Theatre Company’s The Secret River.

First, however, we need to contextualise the issues. My first case study is this: last year Best American Poetry published a poem written by an Asian-American female, or so the editor was lead to believe. It turned out, however, that the author was a white male. This ignited a discussion about race and marginalisation that dramatically illustrated the continuing importance of authorship. While some would argue that the blind publication of the poem proves that authorship is irrelevant to the reception of a piece of work, this ignores why the piece was published in the first place, namely to include more people of colour in the annual, thereby reaffirming the importance of the author. Furthermore, those within the community, whose identity was misappropriated, argue an incident like this adds to their erasure from the socio-cultural fabric. An already privileged individual is exploiting a marginalised group for personal gain — therefore the artistic act is not a matter of ‘righting wrongs’ but of an individual colonising an identity for capitalist gain (as well as artistic notoriety, one presumes). This example typifies a wider response to contemporary practices concerning authorship. In particular it illustrates the way that marginalised groups and concerns are not treated as serious until a white man says exactly the same thing. Women often bare the brunt of this; during group situations a woman’s voice is often ignored or overlooked until a male raises her points.

Moreover, this case study elucidates the way that the Other is often reduced to their trauma; the idea that they cannot talk about their place in society unless it is about their suffering, which perpetuates the notion that to be Other is to suffer (how many ‘gay’ films have you seen that don’t involve HIV?) It is incredibly difficult for those seen as different to then talk on behalf of ‘the everyman’, as they can only be seen through the lens of their Otherness — even though those who can speak on behalf of ‘the every man’ (straight white men, by and large) actually do not represent the majority at all. The fact is, this case study is not an isolated issue and it typifies a broader philosophical discussion that gets to the heart of what is corrupt at the centre of modernity. « Read the rest of this entry »

A Response: Triumph | The New Working Group at fortyfivedownstairs

February 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

Part one.

When the lights come up—harsh florescent ones—the actors begin to set up some stools in a circle. They work in silence, arranging. Then there is a cry; a young girl has cut, or otherwise injured, her finger on the underside of a stool. A man—one who seems to be in charge—comes to her aide and holds her hand. He places pressure on it. He counts. There are others—two women, an older man—they go about their business, making tea over beside the snacks table and what have you. The counting continues: “sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three…” He stops and she walks away. He checks the underside of the stool, nothing. An accident? A miracle? Something else…?

Triumph, by Louris van de Geer, and produced by the New Working Group, is “inspired by real stories of fake victims”. This tag line sets the audience up immediately to expect deception and lies, fused with an undercurrent of truth — unless of course an audience member missed the advertising, which is entirely possible; although, considering the company included the line in their material we can assume they wanted people to know. And perhaps the notion of truth is superfluous (erroneous?) to level at a piece of theatre.

We’re introduced to these real story and fake victims via a support group: the chairs, snacks and councillor are here to help people discuss their trauma. They come together to speak. But we’re here watching, listening, silent. Are we going to hear their confessions, their secrets, and or shames? One can only hope so. We are voyeurs after all. One woman gets up and as she opens her mouth the stage darkens and two screens, suspended over the action, plays footage of the twin towers collapsing, September 11. She sits down. The rest of the circle is moved, affected, sharing in her grief. Only, we can’t help thinking, is she telling the truth? « Read the rest of this entry »

Pod4Ham | On Hamilton and loving shows from afar

February 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

On the inaugural episode of Me and All My Friends, host Matilda Dixon-Smith and I discuss the musical Hamilton, the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and loving a text from afar.  « Read the rest of this entry »

A Response: Double Blind | Presented by Darebin Arts Speakeasy and Stephanie Lake Company

February 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

Dance is not theatre. While that seems blindingly obvious as a statement, in an age still struggling to come to terms with post-structuralism, it’s an important distinction to make. The two are often confused and hybrid pieces of ‘dance theatre’ sometimes crop up, though none have been altogether successful* — unless you consider Nicola Gunn’s Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster ‘dance theatre’ (I don’t), which was a delight; although that was a solo performance with continuous text and narrative, so perhaps it’s not quite the same anyway.

Despite the ‘don’t-tell-me-what-to do’ attitude currently plaguing art, there are codes of discourse and traditions that inform artists’ construction of and ability to conceive both dance and theatre pieces—although there have undoubtedly been influences that blur the lines—whether we like it or not. Badiou makes a quaint distinction between the two in his Handbook of Inaesthetics. Broadly speaking, he discusses theatre as an event or an assemblage of materials that is “itself a child, in part of politics and the state, in part of the circulation of desire between the sexes,” whereas dance, he says, is the interplay between earth and air. Here, the dancer is a conduit between the two, with the body “incessantly renam[ing] the earth” by virtue of its movement and relation to it. He calls dance “a metaphor for thought…the image of flight”: very poetic.

While these characterisations are somewhat prescriptive, there is something that resonates: theatre, comprised of “a text, a place, some bodies, voices, costumes, lights, a public,” all gathered together for an event; and dance, with its interrogation of what a body can do and of what it is capable; the limits thereby creating the aforementioned air and earth dichotomy. Given these distinctions and how simple it is to mount an argument that the two art forms’ Being are actually vice versa, it’s easy to see how companies rationalise ‘dance theatre’ — although, it must be said again, often unsuccessfully; but whether or not that is to do with their inability to adhere to Badiou or not remains to be seen.

This is a preamble to my response to Stephanie Lake Company’s Double Blind, and in many ways characterises my entry into dance itself. That is to say, my entry to dance is in relation to theatre—for better or for worse—via theory. This jargon also goes to elucidating and explicating some of my shortcomings in terms of background and technical knowhow about dance in general. And so this, along with my experience, is the way in which I am approaching this piece. « Read the rest of this entry »

A Response: Ladies in Black | Queensland Theatre Company in association with Queensland Performing Arts Centre & at Melbourne Theatre Company

February 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

It is a fallacy to depict Australia as having no culture. It is an even more dangerous fallacy to argue that Australian culture is ‘less than’ or ‘not comparable’ to other cultures — particularly European, a colonial shadow which we have spent quite some time trying to get out from beneath. The former is an incorrect statement because it not only ignores all artistic endeavours in over two hundred years of colonisation but also renders indigenous culture as non-existent; and the latter falls down because it reaffirms the notion that Australian work is somehow not good enough — not good enough for what, no one is quite sure. It is therefore distressing to see both of these fallacies repackaged as entertainment in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s new musical Ladies in Black. « Read the rest of this entry »

A Response: The Bacchae | St Martins & Fraught Outfit at Theatre Works as part of the Melbourne Festival

October 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

Language is dangerous. The written word can be formalised and structured. Its rigid connotations are far more fixed than an image, a moving tableau, or fluid bodies in motion. And so it seems Adena Jacobs would rather focus on the phenomenological and the semiotic rather than text itself. She is freed in this space of symbols and is empowered in the bodily response she can generate though sound. This binocular approach to theatre making produces an experience that is felt in the gut and one that also requires a considered response. There is potential for confusion on the audience’s behalf, but in Jacobs’ developed craft we are taken to one hell of a place.

The Bacchae, at Theatre Works, as part of the Melbourne Festival, is a production created by Jacobs and Aaron Orzech. It incorporates some 21 young women and one young man. It is a frightening spectacle of bodies and signs that provokes the audience and questions the way in which they construct meaning and project expectations onto young women. Some audience members left; whether they were bored or bothered by the production is unknown. The points at which they left were often at moments of uneasy imagery and the seemingly unseemly use of young people, in particular women, in such a way. « Read the rest of this entry »

A Response: Desdemona | Melbourne Festival and UnionPay International

October 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

There is an insurmountable idealism at the heart of Desdemona, which is its ultimate undoing. Where last week’s, The Roar clearly stipulated that the actors do not speak for all women everywhere, here, the production tends towards mimesis, and collapses All women and All people of colour into the two leading ladies, in order to serve its driving desire to, it would seem, end racism. This noble cause is a dangerous ambition that leads to innumerable issues in execution. Although I saw a preview, this is an analysis of the ideas at work in the piece.

As the titular character walks the underworld in conversation with the dead, she dominates the space and relegates her supporting cast to vehicles to ease her own suffering. The five people of colour have very few words compared to Desdemona and it seems as though their only purpose is to absolve her (and therefore us) of the guilt of hundreds of years of inequality. The conclusion, that love and conversation will make everything better, seems at best naïve and at worse complicit with the systematic subjugation of minorities. Far be for me to tell Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison that her text is problematic; however, in performance, there is a resounding feeling that the conversation is very one sided. The notion, that two women, one white and one black, forgiving each other on stage affects a cathartic experience for the audience is hazardously Platonic — this is the very reason performance is excused from the Republic. « Read the rest of this entry »