Jana Unmüßig – HAUS

I had planned to see only a couple of performances in Tanztage, I thought perhaps one a night over a few days with Sunday off would be plenty. Then I found that each performance was a double bill. Lucky for me then, that the performance I wanted to see, Hermann Heisig’s Themselves already Hop! was preceeded by Jana Unmüßig’s HAUS, which, barely a week into the year will have to be met by an avalanche of superb performances in the coming months not to make it to my 2010 theatre list.

The Sophiensaele Festsaal is in itself a beautiful decrepit venue, high ceiling with peeling paint and rust-tainted girders, vast windows along both sides and the circle above, stripped for the most part of its floor retains only the metal and rivet skeleton of the balcony railings and arches behind. Quite a perfect setting for one of the most minimal, intellectual and considered performances I’ve seen.

Yes, I though HAUS was brilliant, even with its flaws, and had some debate afterwards with Jakob, wanting entertainment and Dy, who I think was nearly as taken as I. As with Clint’s Get a Leg Up, Jana has compiled this piece chronologically from three previous works. She quotes Walter Benjamin in the programme notes:

„Die Geschichte stammt aus China und erzählt von einem alten Maler, der den Freunden sein neuestes Bild zu sehen gab. Ein Park war darauf dargestellt, ein schmaler Weg am Wasser und durch einen Baumschlag hin, der lief vor einer kleinen Tür aus, die hinten in ein Häuschen Einlass bot. Wie sich die Freunde aber nach dem Maler umsahen, war der fort und in dem Bild. Da wandelte er auf dem schmalen Weg zur Tür, stand vor ihr still, kehrte sich um, lächelte und verschwand im Spalt.“

Walter Benjamin

A first sign of conceptual minimalism on arriving, the seven (and then later I discover an eighth) dancers in muted clothes, almost could be rehearsal gear, but with enough attention to detail to obviously not be thrown together, some standing, some sitting, by the walls on either side, or closer in, at the back. They wait, very still and patient. Silence.

For the fifty minutes not a sound of music. Once, one of the dancers makes a sound twice, like, “Uh”. I think. It could have been from elsewhere. Much later, almost at the end, another sound, like someone rattling chopsticks in a large glass of water. Maybe it wasn’t there. In-between only the sound of dancers, their clothes, their bodies moving on the floor, walking, occasionally louder in the rare moments of momentum, and because of the state of dance reduced to first instances, beginnings and then finishing, the silence was enormous.

(I am sorely tempted to unleash a diatribe against those in the audience who could not refrain from coughing, hacking, shuffling and otherwise showing their inability to remain attentive for a mere fifty minutes, as well as damaged the opening minutes, instead I will suggest that using a handkerchief or the crook of your elbow (“Dracula Sneeze” did win ‘Most Creative’ word for 2009), does muffle and render far less audible your tuberculotic outbursts.)

This is not a performance that lends itself to a linear, temporal description. Nothing much happened, yet it happened so fast and continuously that I felt I missed half the work every time I looked down to scribble another note. After the microscopic beginning, fingers and wrists twitching, puzzled looks (or perhaps exceedingly concentrated directing of gaze), a leg is thrown. On the left side of the stage one stands, another sits for perhaps half the performance, not once moving. The same over the other side.

Three walk in a circle, jump a little, two arrange one so they can be lifted onto one of their shoulders, a moment of classic contact improvisation. That’s all. It stops. No continuity. Not contact impro. They look at each other. Some laughter from the audience. I wonder if this is nervousness rather than appreciation of perceived comic value. One staggers around, falls to the floor, inelegance and undancerly, yet also becoming of that of a dancer, beautiful.

With the other four performances I’ve seen in the last two days, this one for me will remain special. In the discussion after, a woman asks of Jana and Hermann Heisig, why do they refuse to dance? Jana answers that she sees her work absolutely as dance, and this is rather a question of the definition of dance and the location of its frontiers.

I have been reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others whenever I find myself staying with Gala. She discusses the nature of photography in depicting atrocity. What is important in this is the veracity, naturalness and unartificiality that the camera confers upon that which it documents. In this, she describes how the fascination with these qualities affords an amateurism unavailable in other artistic mediums. Paraphrasing, she says unlike becoming a painter or musician, which takes years of training, anyone can pick up a camera and become an artist, a photographer with their first shot, that this apparent guilelessness of the genuine causes professionalism, training and artistry in the medium to be denigrated.

Thinking upon this in regard to bodies in dance performing, there are, I would suggest, similar tendencies. One is away from or antipathy towards technique and training, that the over-trained body is held in lower esteem than that of the ‘natural’, non-dancer. Another is a choreography consciously distancing itself from technique, again with attention paid to similar qualities. (Still another might be regarding the relationship of dancers with a high level of proficiency and training to the idea of ‘genuine’ movement as it might emanate from a specific, individual body.) That both of these might combine into dance that may seem to be made from people coming from any discipline but dance is perhaps of less importance than the often overly self-conscious avoidance of considering what more might be done in dance while pointedly coming from within the history of the artform.

Or perhaps to say what I find quite entrancing in HAUS was this extremely considered attention to dance and choreography in and of itself.

Two dancers with legs spread hang over, fingers on the floor propping them up and when released their torsos make small oscillations, bouncing with an uncanny precision and unity. Later all eight break the rhythm walking across the stage, rearranging themselves, at times I think of Trisha Brown. Often I find it mesmerising. It seems to be the beginnings of movement, though not an itinerary or listing of movements, but rather the set from which all possible movements can be extrapolated. Jana says later that it starts out with a lot of material, trying different relations, but then crystalises very fast. She also says it concentrates on working in the present tense, watching people watching you. And the rehearsal is as devoid of music as the performance.

Dy says perhaps it is painful, to rehearse, to perform, to watch, occasionally boring also, though possibly to venture into such territory is the point. Forsythe describes watching rain hit a window, it is something fascinating and either you get it or you don’t. I wonder about the unconsidered aspects of such a work, that it comes from its own particular milieu and within that what is taken for granted. What, for example, might the work look like if performed in the costumes of Hermann’s Themselves Already Hop!, yet pointedly without making the clothing mean something, as the neutrality of their dress infers? Dy asks her if she would exchange costuming, Jana laughs and says yes.

Making events, movement and gestures visible lies at the core of my work as a choreographer. I observe, look and sketch like a painter paints scenes; then I work on these first drafts, to hone, add detail and paint over anything that seems irrelevant. The appearance and disappearance of the perceptible and visible is held together by a thought in movement. It is a thought in movement that comes from me and is therefore unique and subjective. And at the same time, it operates on the level of the disappearance of that individual view. This is because I move in a similar way to the way described in the text by Walter Benjamin in my piece, like the painter who strolls “along the narrow path to towards the door” to disappear through its crack.

Jana Unmüßig

Death by Glitter – Get a Leg Up

The third performance of Friday night, and barely making it in time while snacking on Thunfisch pizza on the tram from Sophiensaele to Dock 11. Unlike the previous two, Get a Leg Up has no programme notes that I can find, and unlike the other two also, it is neither a solo – nine dancers altogether – and is more concerned with velocity than conceptualism.

It took some scruffing around on Clint’s website to find out this piece is a combination of two older works, Side of Splendour and the duet Get a Leg Up, and that it muses on the Bazar de la Charité fire in Paris, 1897 which left some 120 women dead, though only a few men; “‘Le reste détala, non seulement ne sauvant personne, mais encore se frayant un passage dans la chair féminine, à coups de pieds, à coups de poings, à coups de talons, à coups de canne’ (‘The rest ran away, not only not saving anybody, but also pushing their way past female flesh, kicking, punching, pushing with their heels and sticks’)”.

Knowing this now, perhaps I can view the pile of black-clad bodies at the beginning in a different light, and the whole work itself. Last night though, with the unceasing cascade of bodies flung through the air, spinning and sliding across the floor accompanied by the electronic score of Patrick Blasa, I was reminded strongly of the hyper-kinetic ADT in Adelaide.

While much of the aerial and tumbling movement, often carried out in masses, pairs, trios and occasionally all nine dancers, bears a resemblance to the aesthetics of that company, other solos and duos had an uncannily Melbourne Chunky Move and Lucy Guerin feeling, collapsing body parts and joints, staccato shifts of weight and momentum, arms and hands slashing and shunting legs or the whole body against the floor, bodies and their articulations disjointed from thought or agency, almost disconcerting to see the movement culture I passed through in a city about as far from Berlin as possible make an eerie return in Dock 11.

Perhaps most impressive is this full-evening piece was slung together in a mere three weeks, and the often physically and mentally demanding choreography, allowing scant room for mistakes at the likely cost of a foot or limb in the face largely showed up as very well-rehearsed. Towards the end there was some signs of tiring, though equally the end, as in Suites with Rosalind Goldberg came to an almost trance-like state of intensity.

Of the nine, only Clint and Bérengère Valour are not costumed in black, and for much of the work remain together in a duo first begun as dragging each other diagonally across the stage from the upstage wall of lights. For much of the work also, they cling to the walls, climb into the high window frames and avoid the panic and frenzy below.

Below begins with one black-clad wraith wringing her arms and legs from their sockets. coming from the pile of bodies (burnt black? ghosts and the dead? I can only read this into it now, and without programme notes found much of the narrative content of the performance obtuse to the point of frustrating), to be joined by more in duos and singles as arms and legs rise vertically from the heap.

One with orange bob begins screeching, “Don’t touch me!” while the others glide into couples, looking pointedly at her while they do so, until her cries become, “Touch me!”, and she is met by one who gags her with her hand, restrains her and drags her off.

Again, with hindsight of reading the short notes, I look at some of this differently now, but discussed last night with Dy the particular heterosexuality of this scene and of Clint with Bérengère, wondering what I was supposed to infer by this. And even if it is a performance revolving around a historic catastrophe, besides the pertinent question of why choose this incident as the core of a piece, which I feel is not addressed, I wonder about the simplicity of displaying the obvious male-female coupling and its place in such a piece. I also wonder about displaying the tropes of BDSM, gagging, restraint, breath control, dominance and rough scenes, within such a context. What can appear when removed from its context as sexual violation could be exactly how she wished to be touched.

With this, often the movement felt similarly without self-awareness. At times gestures and movements seemed to come from the depths of Modern dance and Martha Graham, the transferral of psychoanalysis and the psyche onto bodily activity, then flitting into aerial and post-post-modern thrash, and in this work not finding in or giving to the means of communication a commensurate attention. As with ADT, the spectacle of the bodies and their capabilities becomes lost in the presentation of the performance.

I often though with ADT, particularly Held and Devolution, they were far more suited to being performed in the studio in rehearsal clothes, where the individuals could be clearly identified and weren’t lost beneath the behemoth of staging, that there was something intriguing and attractive in these works as investigations of pure movement. This applies for me also in Get a Leg Up in that I struggled to work out what it was about, obviously more than just pure movement, yet exactly what I wasn’t able to say. How would it look stripped of costume and taken to where the individuality of each performer is both taken to the fore and subordinated to more involved sense of performed character?

Dragged out through the back doors, bare windows to the outside letting in light and shadows, they gather at this periphery to watch, mute, not intervening. Later a return, into the most physically brutal spinning in the air and headlong across the floor, or equally intense in deep lunges, bodies torqued as if about to launch themselves, the tension and power in their bodies so focussed as if they could by strength of will alone bend themselves endlessly further. The dragging from the corner returns, now a memory also of one stumbling at speed while helplessly looking back, across the floor to collapse in a slide, and the pile of bodies also, into darkness and finishing.

An Kaler – Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy

(An aside: Having managed to evade seeing dance for the most part last year, I thought I should take advantage of supernaut to procure seats at various performances around Berlin or wherever I happen to be, mainly because if I a) have free tickets and b) have to get along and write something here after, I’m more likely to actually progress from thinking about seeing to finding myself in the queue at the door. This week is Tanztage, and I shall be seeing a few pieces and writing what decidedly are not reviews. Despite that they appear in the category of the same name.)

The cowboy lies asleep as cowboys do, legs out, boots crossed, hat tipped down to chin, pushed up to reclining by the saddle on which he leans. Bales of hay line half the front, a low white wall behind. wind blows through the fields of wheat stalks projected over this, mournful, vast and lonely. I think I hear cattle lowing in the distance. If I could see his face, there would be stubble lining his chin. The dim light makes his white shirt look as though there is the curve of a breast. His shadow, a dark, timeless silhouette lines large the wall behind.

For a long time nothing happens.

He rises. Into the saddle, face occluded by the brim of his hat, boots into stirrups, a slow-motion bronco ride, circling the saddle, one arm flung behind, the other hanging onto the pommel, arms swapping as he is thrown wildly.

Is this imagination? Who is this cowboy and what is she doing riding this saddle? Is this real, perhaps, and I should assume an equine presence beneath, with all the associated visceral components, hooves, teeth, mane, shit and smell? Perhaps it is a wish?

The cowboy removes chaps, white shirt, hat. A tall, lanky, androgynous, bow-legged cowboy with a mop of short hair, the crotch cut of his jeans make him look like he’s packing. He saunters off upstage.

For a while, I’m not sure what I’m watching. Far too much going on to be Viennese conceptual (un-)dance, and far too little at the same time. I decide then, or it becomes obvious, I am in a gallery and this is performance art. Or, as Ivo was saying of Paris, it is something in a museum, to look at, but she can’t be too close to her performance. There is some distance as well, that is perhaps self-consciousness, an awareness of what is being done, and that while becoming cowboy, the moment of arrival is endlessly deferred. So it is an installation, or performance art, in a theatre, in a dance festival.

Of the three performances I saw on Friday night, intellectually this one gave the most to think about, conceptually also, in the staging and progression, even though as my friend said, it was obvious what would come next. But taking on gender or identity politics in performance for me is like blood to a vampire, and so I think about chewing some meat.

An describes the saddle as “prosthesis and connector, contrasting, blending and overlapping the organic and inorganic”, much in the same way a strap-on functions. It becomes physically real through imagination, or perhaps completion. A cowboy is not complete without his saddle, and neither is a drag king without his cock.

The question though of a cowboy as a choice of subject matter, especially within the context of queer drag is a loaded one. Parenthetically, which “quasi-archetypal, white, male heterosexual hero” cowboy are we regarding here? John Wayne is an obvious choice, though we would find ourselves in two different discussions if An’s cowboy was Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, (I’m hoping he is Franco Nero in Django).

Am I to look at this exposition of frivolous masculinity in the same way that drag going the other way was regarded by a certain polemical and less than sympathetic strand of feminism? Or, rather to say, what is the fascination with such extreme forms of gender representation coming both from the (non-drag) gay scene and its romance with ‘straight-acting’, and the dyke scene with a swathe of heteronormative drag-kinging? If the performance was, say, of Marisol from A Fistful of Dollars, embodying the opposite role within the milieu of cowboys and westerns, what would it take to not be seen as frivolous femininity?

An becomes horse, panting and snorting, jumping, trying to throw off an invisible rider. A silent video of rodeo riding behind, while cowboy at sunset leans on the white fence. An is to my uncultured ear a pointedly androgynous name. Not quite Anne or maybe the first third only of Anthony. If An is female, what are the limits of remaining so when venturing to this realm of hyper-masculinised identity in the guise of a man? And if An is male, does that make this still drag, or a longing for something he’s not?

I was thinking about Julia Serrano in Whipping Girl during some of the performance. in particular where she writes upon the status of femininity in the queer scene. My dissatisfaction with Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy stems largely from this, that while the critical attention has been paid to hetero masculine archetypes and roles, the location of An within a culture that tends towards expressions or explorations of such roles under the broad and elusive label of queer did not offer a corresponding analysis of that culture’s very tendencies in this direction. Of course it is also possible An made a performance about longing to be a cowboy.

Gallery

2009 theater

Without taking the time to look, I’m not sure I’ve ever done an end-of-year best-of list for performances I’ve seen. Actually, judging from my cynicism alone, I suspect if indeed I ever have done such a thing, it was at Chinese New Year.

Not to worry, I saw not much in 2009, but luckily it was almost easily split between “ow! that hurts” awful and “uuuhh…” sliding off the chair with joy. Only two pieces don’t quite make it into either absolutist subset, and one of those, Jan Fabre’s Orgy of Tolerance wouldn’t have been mentioned at all if it weren’t for my thinking about the other, quite close to brilliant but also somewhat flawed No Dice from Nature Theater of Oklahoma – also the longest show I saw, at four hours. Both were exceptional pieces of theatre, and despite whatever qualifications I have about them, that I still think over what I saw gives them a place here.

Dasniya Sommer started off the year with MA√ 15 { IDIOSYNCRASY } || SIN X = LY – FX²¯, which I didn’t see. Strange it made it to the list then. Well, through my involvement with Dasniya on several projects revolving around her website I got to see this piece in many guises and as with many pieces that made this list, if I liked them enough to want to be in it, of course it should be here.

SOIT and Hans van den Broek were worth traveling to Brussels for, to see We Was Them. Of course again I am biased, having played in the Viennese Settlement with them in summer, 2008. Still, who cares? Astute and memorable theatre from someone who should be seen more.

Two from Ivo Dimchev, then. What does it say that most of the performances I found beguiling this year are from friends? Michael said, quoting Tilda, that you should make performance with your friends, because they’re the ones who have the biggest influence on you, who you hold in highest esteem, who have the closest affinity to you.

Lili Handel is an old piece, performed now some 200 times, and that many times Ivo has sold his blood. beautiful, dark, deranged theatre. The other, and last for they year, made by Ivo for Christian Bakalov whom I saw in Orgy of Tolerance is Paris.

All these I works I adore, and when I have my own festival shall make them first on the programme.

[Edit]

Cycling home in -5º or so on a rather broken bike, I remembered another piece I didn’t see but saw video of and was rather taken by. Yes, it is a festival of my friends. Daniel Jaber’s WG Spiel deserves a mention here also.

orgy of tolerance

To have your idols disappoint. It is a delicious sensation. And probably inevitable, necessary.

My Friday Antwerp wanderings, despite the sublime moments in Yoji, Walter, fashion and architecture, were all a precursor to Troubleyn. Jan Fabre has been for me, since 2003 when I saw the film Les Guerriers de la Beauté in Vienna, and the beautiful Je Suis Sang at the Melbourne Festival the same year, one of those I think of when I make performance. One also I wanted to work for, perhaps still do, though after Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day in Vienna, and especially Orgy of Tolerance, I am left wondering.

Je Suis Sang was for me one of the pivotal works I have seen, my introduction to Jan Fabre after years of dark rumours. It was – with all the wine-drenched frenzy – all I hoped for in what dance might think of, when it realised it was both forever twenty years behind the times and hopelessly conservative. Last year in Vienna put a sharp stop to such romanticising, seeing Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day, and my day trip to Antwerp to see Orgy of Tolerance was… deeply frustrating.

Warming up on stage is always a conceit. The awareness of an arriving audience necessarily removes the attention from the personal to a distracted outer, in a different way than that sense of impending presentation of self does while warming up out of sight. So what kind of performance do the several dancers in white underwear, long socks and trainers do? Much waving of arms, jumping, shaking limbs, explosive breathing. Either they are desperately hyping themselves for some collossal two hours or they are over-acting.

Or getting ready for a good wank.

A friend said to me that traditional sex is both obsessed with penetration, but more so with chasing orgasms. As the rifle-sporting guerillas in wool jerseys, thick and warm forest-toned trousers, boots and scarves coach the wankers towards a demented and performed string of orgasms, much shouting, stomping, hyperbole and grandstanding ensuing, ‘Do it for your country!’, and people start to walk out, I wonder if I shall reach any transformative state as an audience, watching.

A few days prior, watching SOIT’s We Was Them, I thought it was gratifying to see a performance that for once had a usefully adequate and well-spent budget. Orgy though, through its acutely designed mise en scène, mostly I was thinking, ‘Ooh, those Chesterfields would have cost a fortune’.

The scene changes. The men with guns lounge, beside each sofa, a lamp, small table and crystal decanter set. Lighting of cigars, and colonial men’s club jousting about the natives. ‘What has the world come to where we can’t even hunt a Pakistani anymore?’ while erect cocks are stroked by docile assistants lying at their feet.

A litany of offensiveness. Designed to shock? Or to show our tolerance by remaining? Remaining still and mute. Or our cynical apathy by doing both? I thought of the first episode of South Park I ever saw, ‘I haven’t seen a Jew run like that since Poland, 1938!’ Shocking, offensive and quite brilliant. So how is it that such a similar arrangement of words and settings here in Orgy seems empty?

Perhaps something like complicity from the audience, that when those horrid, dark Arabs from Morocco are mentioned, some laugh knowingly. It is uncomfortable to hear. By virtue of the meaninglessness of the past hundred years of western culture, I am a horrid, white, quarter Turk, or something similar. I think of the sameness in Berlin towards Turkish as in Brussels towards Moroccans. My whiteness hides both the possibility I could be on the other side of this conversation. It also relinquishes me of any sense of national or cultural identity, and perhaps that, as a outsider is something of a saving grace.

I don’t have an answer for this, and neither does Jan. I was thinking of Gaahl, being gay in the black metal scene when he said, “Mankind is known to be narrow-minded, so… I think it will be positive for some and negative for some. It’s always good to have some negative as well. Otherwise you would end up with equality and equality is the worst thing in the world. Equality is stagnation. It doesn’t let anything grow. It holds back.”

The scene changes again. Bondage, domination, whips, pain, humiliation. It’s not so believable though. Rather than showing a genuine interest in SM, this comes across as a vanilla heterosexual artifice. Perhaps this is the difference in Berlin, where this manner of kink has more value than gutter salaciousness, though equally, the equating of bondage immediately with porn and debasement speaks poorly of the intellect behind the opinion. Or perhaps this is the point, this is what intolerence represents any sex that is not straight and penetrative as. Personally though, I would have found far more convincing if it was demonstrably the case that the performers and others were speaking on this from personal experience, rather than unskillfully flailing with whips.

More scenes follow. Guns with dildos on the end, dildo dog tails, giving birth to consumer products with plentiful gusto in supermarket trolleys, Jesus and the fashion queens, (sort of) punk music, Flemish white trash, KKK and piles of bodies from Abu Ghraib. Fucking. Fucking sofas, fucking a bicycle, talking about fucking, or at least saying, ‘fuck fuck fuck’ a lot.

Talking at the audience, ‘You think we are terrorists…’, and later, ‘Fuck you…’. I score a ‘Fuck you’ for coming to the show for free, and another for conspicuous fashoin consumerism, as my Walter van Bierendonck retail bag shifts uneasily beside me, worried perhaps of a lynching. ‘Fuck you Jan Fabre’ also. Why? What are you trying to say? That it’s bad, that these acts of intolerance are bad? That our tolerance has let in those who are not and now the barbarians overrun the castle?

I’m finishing writing this a couple of weeks after seeing, so its freshness is dulled. I’m not sure if this is a bad review, though likely I will earn a third ‘Fuck you’ as it goes with the 21 or 27 less favourable ones. Would I see it again? Yes, though rather I’d like to see Je Suis Sang again, but that’s not the point. I’d see it for its horrid, raucous, bloated, incomplete, endless wandering, somehow like substanceless vaudeville, somehow attempting high social politics, its inadequate direction that firstly asked for extremes from performers who were more than capable of giving that and then sold them short by providing scant justification and direction for this, and perhaps also failing to bridge the chasm between those extremes and the social world upon which they discoursed, leaving everything in a storm of much noise and confusion, and yet glaringly incomplete.

SOIT – We Was Them

To start at the end. Or, an ending. Somewhere past an hour, Ivan and Harold (I think) sit on the edge of the pool, sweat-soaked, wet, shaved heads, mirroring each other, shaking in tension, spasming in staccato, until Ivan takes off his clothes, slips into the weed-ridden pool and floats away to invisibility, darkness, ending.

A perfect moment to finish, a resolution both of narrative, and musically – or sonically; a coming-home. Also a perfect moment to keep going. To have stopped here, despite the obviousness of the conclusion, and whatever else that might have followed would have been an easy task, the appearance of meaning and resolution, somewhat uplifting and hopeful, in fact were absent. To stop here then, would have been deceitful, as if to say of what preceded, ‘here is what it all meant’, when it didn’t mean that at all.

Hans’ performances – well, this is the first I’ve seen from the outside – can be a remarkable frustrating experience for those seeking expected narrative tropes, coherent development of individual character (or for that matter any development at all that might be supposed to be linear or sensible), and an exposition of group or interpersonal relationships. Equally frustrating perhaps for those unallied with realism who seek metaphors or attempt a reading of harmless and heartwarming eccentricity that purport to speak deeply of the human condition.

Lucky for me then, that my idea of a good time is one where I come away with a sense that something happened, and it was quite brilliant, but I really can’t say just what.

Reading J.G. Ballard recently, having avoided him for years, and Empire of the Sun in particular, and then to be dismayed I had missed such an acute and disturbing text, my first thoughts of the staging were somewhere between the internment camp out of Shanghai, and the fecund, tropical, desolate London in The Drowned World. An evolution of the staging of Settlement, the front of the stage cut by a part-empty swimming pool, aquamarine tiles stained by the detritus of abandonment, the pool itself sliced lengthwise so as not to finish, but were it not for the audience, continue on away from the stage. To the right, the housing, broken windows, rust-dirt walls, a tattered flyscreen door and peeling wallpaper. Weeds and plants grow in the cracks, and in the background, the length and height of the theatre, brushland stretching to a horizon swollen with brooding clouds.

What happens then, in this camp, or isolated, perhaps gated community? Or cult compound.

A small metal stationwagon on the end of a golf club is pushed in darkness, noisily around in circles, lit by a single emergency torch, the black-clad and masked driver somewhere between stagecrew and sinister apparition. He appears again with a soiled double bed raised almost vertical onto which he throws the fitfully sleeping, sleepless and restive Harold and Anthea.

Later he bursts from the flyscreen door attacking Anuschka with two white pigeons, a frenzy worthy of Hitchcock wherein the neurotic subconscious manifests itself in a Lacanian irruption, tearing and surging across her flailing body. Or maybe just the shock of disturbing some roosting and panicked birds.

Other aspects of Settlement recur, though taken to a far more considered, intricate and powerful level. The fighting, white-face, sweating, violent and aesthetic, as though the symbolic representation of the form of attack and mêlée are as important in the personal consciousness as is the decision to unrestrainedly brawl itself.

One short instant remains singular in this, Ivan, towards the end when all are exhausted and bruised, stalking with renewed zeal, clarity, emotion, sliding and bending on legs like snakes, completely certain of his strength and ability to fight. So swiftly over, yet intoxicating, brilliant and compelling and in that moment to be taken outside of being submerged in a performance and to think, surely one of the outstanding moments in dance and performance I’ve seen.

Anuschka repeats this, throwing herself, flailing and spinning wildly on one knee, having roused herself later from another mattress. Her appearance and movement is uncanny and with a quality as if she is always on the verge of being possessed that makes for startling and forceful performance.

The fighting finishes with repeated dunking of heads into the pool, arcs of water and spluttering until collapse. Later, Anthea on rollerskates, singing and wearing a feathered warbonnet gliding in circles again with the black-clad stage wraith. The abandoned and blown-out toy house moves forward, a ballerina doll is devoured by a dog, barking growling, all begin howling and snarling, a pack of savage mongrels. Harold lays his hands on each and fingers, wrist, forearm, even head and torso sliding inside pulls out something … poisonous? Souls? Something anyway to cause their bodies to jerk like a shock.

And Harold again, whipping ropes, Jim Jones and every other cult leader, earnest, sincere, depraved and dragging each of them towards him, cleaning their chakras and bellowing, “Come to your death!”

And soon it could finish, though it continues, wet clothes, always under dim unfiltered lights from high above, never quite coming to dawn, or leaving the night, always with soft shadows, and always with sound swelling and ebbing, as if ears too sensitive hear each breath and movement through long minutes of decay to silence.

To talk of all this being seen, heard, felt, scenes and passing of time, I’m wondering what lasting effect this piece has. Certainly each performer, Ivan Fatjo, Anuschka Von Oppen, Anthea Lewis, Robert Clark and Harold Henning are individually and together a decidedly commanding group, each with their own abilities, and also sharing qualities together that make them a rare and memorable ensemble. Staging also, the set and its attention to detail, the simple and highly considered lighting, and the superb soundscape from James Brown, Eric Faes and Jason Sweeney is unequivocally one of the best I’ve heard, complimenting the performance sublimely. A performance that I thought, when it finished after nearly 90 minutes that it didn’t feel so long and could have kept going. Where to, then?

Hans is, I think, making performance that neither conforms to standard theatrical narrative progression, nor its current opposite, a decidedly antagonistic refusal to be anything other than opaque – both of which are unsatisfying in their simplicity. Something of a psychological experiment then, perhaps like Lacan and his seminars, or group analysis. It is difficult to say much beyond what happened, and pointedly, whether the session was a success, the patients recovered, or at least found some further way to go.

Not to confuse that though with the success of We Was Them, which I would certainly see again, and joins that small group of theatre I have seen that my main disappointment in is that I wasn’t part of it myself.

som faves

Ivo says, ” you know I was very suspicious about its qualities and I will still be…”. Though not in the hour or so at Halle of Som Faves. Suspicion then is maybe a place to begin.

Sitting in the front row, I look up as people are coming in, also thinking the theatre hall would be a nice place to play, realising also it is where Toula Limniaos rehearses. I’ve been meaning to come for class here for a long time. Looking up then, I see someone who I think I know. It takes me a while to identify him, handlebar mustache, Luke George, from Melbourne in Berlin standing in front of me. Antony Hamilton next to him. After the show I find Amelia McQueen, last seen in Adelaide. As Dy said, “I seem to know a lot of Australians at the moment.”

The stage is white. Floor and back wall, a desk placed center at the rear with small synthesiser on it, a painting on the wall, amateur-ish, two women, a blue dress and yellow headscarf. A white ceramic cat beneath, but a little further away from the wall. A chair also. Bright light. Nowhere to hide. A solo, I am thinking, is a difficult thing. (Thinking because making.)

Do you make a living from your dance? Yes. How long for? Two years now. How do you do it? You make a solo, it gets performed, maybe picked up by a theater, you tour. Uhh… I’ve never made a solo, what do you make a solo about?, I’d have nothing to say. It doesn’t matter, you just make it. Will you make a solo for me, Ivo? He laughs. We drive to Haus der Berliner Festspiele and fall asleep. East. West.

He walks on tense, fast, angry. There is blood on your face, I can see it. Light blue shirt buttoned up, black trousers. For a moment I’m not sure I believe him, suspicious, as we were saying. His voice is convincing, but his body hasn’t quite arrived.

Later… Bloody red dogs, behind the people, near or far? It doesn’t matter.

Later again. I am in Kreuzberg, visiting Barbara from Toronto, last seen in Vienna last summer. I met Ivo there, we rehearsed near where we lived, at WUK. Her friend also saw Ivo, the first night. Many people left she said, and somehow this made what perhaps, if there was a theme above the programme notes, more pertinent, close, alive.

He sings. He has a beautiful voice, contralto. In Vienna, he sung while climbing trees near Arsenal. He asks who thinks this is choreography? Who thinks it is singing. We must hold up our hands. I think it is singing, because, well, he is singing. Is it choreography also? Is it dance? Not an asinine question of What Is Art? He says it doesn’t matter. He shows some choreography. 32 gestures, hand and arms. 32 fouettés en tournant. When his blonde ratty wig comes off some people gasp, some make disgusted, revolted noises. He wears a football shirt, black and red, stomps and jumps around, closer to choreography perhaps. He says his voice gives the appearance of professionalism, and we are taken in by that.

Yesterday, I was thinking of repetition. He repeats. There is blood on your face. Bloody red dogs, behind the people, If you want me to be your mother. It reminds me then of Pina, repetition until it becomes something. Except repetition has become, or perhaps always was, a method of engendering meaning on inscrutable movement. Repeat enough until it gives the impression you’re saying something very deep. Very meaningful. Do you understand how important what I am doing is?

I wonder for a moment then, if Ivo falls into this. He speaks with a microphone, reciting the lyrics of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” I find this is the video on Tanz Im August’s website. For me this section had no meaning, and doubly, showed itself as a section. despite being possible to mark discrete parts in Som Faves, it was not so delineated as to be a series of vignettes. Repetition as leitmotif perhaps. At the end though, when the chorus became a dog-like grown and his wig slid off, rubbing his nipple, breastfeeding or wanking, here he pulled that previous scene into the work. Also to say, here he showed a sophistication of assembling a performance, wherein the passage from one part to the next reinscribes meaning on the previous part. This, I think is choreography, and Ivo affects me in this as few ever do, utterly beguiling and captivating. I am smiling with delight. Still though, it could have been any song.

Perhaps it was one of the faves. A list of 100 subjects, the festival producers can pick, rearrange, and so make the performance. And its meaning.

He sings more, moves, dances, speaks, plays on the keyboard, the audience laughs a lot. He though, I think, is not ironic. It is not a performance in inverted commas, it is not afraid to say exactly this and risk being ridiculous or failing. He becomes convincing after the first few seconds, he holds us, not because we laugh, but because he does not hide.

He plays on the keyboard. Four photos, wedged between lips and wig, a leprotic face it makes, his bottom lip undulating as he speaks. His boyfriend, returned to Bulgaria because of no work. Ended. His new boyfriend. Other things from this… I mean to say, when a personal, autobiographical work is made, it is implicit. Those who are party to the personal relationship interpret the meaning through to their privileged position, a different reading from being solely an audience.

He brings out a mirror, tells us to be calm. His body, after the first few minutes is drenched in sweat, glistens, runs, wets him entirely almost an hour of this soaking. When he cuts his eyebrows with a scalpel, the blood runs in a slick torrent, through eyes, cheeks, lips, into his mouth and teeth, neck, torso and stomach. Again noises of horror from the audience. He says again, “Keep calm”. We obey because of his voice. His sings again, beautiful contralto, shaved head, whiteness of the stage and his skin, beautiful, barbaric, blood, a monster, enchanting and terrifying. I am of course utterly in love. “There’s blood on your face…”

re.act.feminism – performancekunst der 1960er und 70er jahre heute

Still dark, before 6am, lying in bed, the clouded sky lighting the city and me already with coffee and reading, and then light turned out, I thought about this exhibition at Akademie der Künste and what I might write and knew I would forget how to start and so what I wanted to say.

I’ll start with the pieces I found most engaging, intelligent and… well perhaps to say most art isn’t art but polemic, a clever one-liner, an auto-biography or therapy, simply uninteresting, a gimmick even, so what compels me to think again on a piece and perhaps smile even at the subtlety and acuity that makes one remark yet from this cascade days of thought?

Three, I think, though perhaps to recount as I write, pieces affected me like this, though one remains more clear. Sanja Iveković’s Triangle places her on her balcony, a book, glass of whiskey maybe looking as if she’s masturbating, with three other photographs documenting her surrounds. The building across the road, a man standing on the roof, police on the street in front of the apartment, forming a triumvirate relationship as Tito passes in his motorcade. Then a restaging, almost two decades later, her balcony now part of the room it led off, she older, no man standing on the building roof opposite, less police and the EU members replacing Tito.

I was reminded of Zizek, whom I can no longer speak of favourably, with his crypto-fascist adoration and decidedly asinine homo- and trans-phobia, or more rather reminded of the art from these cities in the late 80s and early 90s which seemed so forthright and admirable, not lost in the self-referential mediocrity of American gallery culture and its international clones.

But I keep thinking of her sitting on her balcony and forcing an individuality and humanness into the anonymous spectacle of history.

Two other artists place their own bodies in the world in a somewhat similar manner, Martha Wilson in her photo-series, A Portfolio of Models in which she dons the accoutrements of Goddess, Housewife, Working Girl, Professional, Lesbian, others, finishing with the Earth-Mother, in pilgrim clothes, each one accompanied by a knowingly sardonic paragraph on their lives and intelligence. Closer to Sanja Iveković’s work somehow, Ewa Partum’s Samoidentyfikacja photographs of her naked in city streets, black and white, part of the minor everyday cityscape yet displaced.

Between these three I found something in feminist performance art that was missing or negated in much of the rest. Admittedly it is a vast exhibition, with hours of video content, and easily needing the free return visit the entrance ticket provides, and admittedly also thinking some of the artists’ other work is far more compelling, especially once it moved beyond the oppressive hegemony of second wave feminism.

Which I might talk about a little. Besides some well-known artists, Orlan whom I have a long-standing fondness for despite thinking she is perhaps the Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst of feminist performance art, Colette who washes over me with so much cute baroque glamour yet is perhaps the epitome of New York contentless idolatry, and Yoko Ono whom I simply can’t stand and have never found to be as interesting as I’m supposed to believe… besides this trio, there is much that simply baffles me with the question, why even bother? It’s not interesting, or if taken from a feminist political stance, contributing to either of those words.

And then there is Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz.

I feel somewhat excluded from feminism, because by its evolution it has come to be an exclusionary movement. To watch endless works by white, middle-class American women about domesticity, heteronormativity, marriage, has nothing to do with my life. Yet as a woman – and I use this generalisation in the broadest possible and most contingent sense because certainly we need something inclusive – there is an imperative for feminism to continue and for me to say, I am this because of these continuing and unaddressed inequalities.

There is a direct line in Lacy’s work to separatists like Dworkin, Daly, Raymond, Greer, to rigidly-defined roles for women, man-hating, essentialism… what I think of as a fascism of the body. And like all fascisms there is an obsession with autocrats, wherein these writers and artists are the self-appointed designates, with effectively replacing one social system with another equally repressive. More to the point, the language of revolution, distinctly Mao-ist, of smashing the patriarchy, destroying gender, of rage and anger as the primary tools of liberation, begs the question of who in all this will get hurt?

In Lacy’s work, which deals with rape and violence against women, somehow the appropriate target of feminism becomes showgirls, pornography, sex workers, a situation that remains unchanged today, thirty years later for a still highly influential strand of feminism that seeks to legislate these women out of existence and towards the exact same violence these activists purportedly oppose. This without ever entering into discussion with the objects of their politic to inquire as to what these women might really want.

Again, I find myself excluded by white, middle-class American women whose domestic political feminist agenda has been exported to a rather gullible international audience, an agenda which leaves scant room for queerness, trans* identities, any other form of living and finding recognition than highly rigid and prescriptive radical feminist lesbian separatism. That Valerie Solanas is quoted from her S.C.U.M. manifesto, “…destroy the male sex.”, both without irony and without a highly necessary accompanying criticism of this particular movement is unequivocally feminism’s moment of utter failure.

So I return to thinking of Sanja Iveković quiet sitting on the balcony, acting like she’s getting herself off under the binocular gaze of a distant rooftop observer, the later knock on her apartment door ordering that she and the sundry objects must vacate the balcony, a small private act, little more than juvenile defiance like ringing a doorbell then running away, yet this triangle, documented, outlived Tito. I wonder what in this is feminist, what also it proposes about human rights, wonder too how much more I can find that might include me as the subject of this.

42a

How to write about someone I have spent much of the last couple of months hanging out with, eating too much, drinking, laughing till pain sets in? Or more pertinently if I say this is one of the best pieces of art I’ve seen this year, how much of that is derived from knowing Alison Currie and the pleasure I get from seeing their personal weirdness as an artist unfurled? I thought perhaps I tend to favour art by my friends because I have this intimacy with them, an unscrupulous duplicity born of dance world nepotism, but perhaps I like my friends because I am entranced by their intellect and passion and ideas and personal fascination and so the art they make is only this attraction made real. Of course then I’d like it.

42a + downtown artspace = ✓ is is something of an installation, performance art, and post-show party without the attenuating distraction of the show, something of a second-stage development and mostly a visit into the odd minds and home of some of Adelaide’s most sublime artists.

Downtown, located appropriately opposite the warm fire of the Grace Emily Hotel is two smallish concrete rooms, the front possessing a large, wall-opening chrome-fringed sheet glass window. The past three weeks, Alison along with programmer (and dancer and choreographer and maker of Blood Rain) Adam Synnott, video artist Annemarie Kohn, artist and performer, chainsaw collector and cardboard box enthusiast Kel Mocilnik, dancers Veronica Shum and Rachel Fenwick, and with mentor Sol Ulbrich have been inhabiting the two rooms and growing a peculiar collection of objects, movement, things that do things when you do things, food, games, an accumulation of adventures to be found during its opening hours.

This is not a dance performance. It is dance, or rather there is dance there, movement, small phrases that evolve and adapt depending on who is watching, where they are standing or sitting or lying, fragments that come and go that become something different over time. It is like a raindrop. If rain on a window holds no attraction neither will this, though if the difference and repetition of each tiny explosion profoundly stills your attention, the continual ebb and flow here can become transfixing. As a performance it is one to attend or ignore to arrive and leave and arrive again; the opposite of a narrative chained to steps and counts impelled into existence over time that demands unfaltering focus.

Then there is the minutia, for those with microscopic attention who look for dirt in the cracks and seams of tiles, or how one wall folds into another, a certain kind of attention that privileges detail and minor architecture as much as the broad scale inhabited by people, one for getting on your belly and peering. After and hour or so delighting in all these things to be found and discovered, I interrupted Adam in a game of Go with Tanja to coax maybe some more things I’d missed from him. A fake powerpoint, more fingernail sized bicycles, and yes, a chainsaw. Another hour on and still without the chainsaw, I’d increased my collection of oddities again, and when we all departed still thought about what I’d missed.

As with Adam’s in the bones of children in which Alison danced, I’m caught between a mechanical listing and describing of objects and events and an evasive, subtle and entrancing experience, like floating, eyes out of focus. A favourite pastime for me is letting my thoughts bleed to a background haze, eyes barely registering the blankness or complexity of whatever room I’m inhabiting, a comfortable abandonment as much asleep in absence of response to the world yet nowhere near drifting into oblivion. All of 42a allowed my most enjoyed diversion complete indulgence.

Things and objects. Adam has again been programming and soldering, building and coding, giving movement to Annemarie’s luminous pixel flowers sliding across Alison’s turquoise wallpaper, and Kel’s coin-operated ice cave fridge and miniature sink-side tundra. I’m really in awe of his phenomenally rapid grasp and application of the technology he’s working with, and also where his aesthetic is coming from. For me, him and Alison are by far the most interesting and accomplished independent choreographers and artists in Adelaide.

Carboard boxes growing like lichen on moist and shaded concrete, spilling out onto the streets around Downtown, a pop-up New York Story, the coin-operated freezer ice-fountain, a fridge-top plate of hundreds-and-thousands cookies and a television with dancing technicolour cookie dots. The fake powerpoint. A medicine cabinet with ginger candy and Berocca, Alison’s breakfast snacks, The lift to the crystal room, more diminutive bycycles, cars and a condom. The worktable, games, food, chairs to sit with the residents of 42a. The wallpaper growing under linoleum floor tiles, between broken and perished gaps, into the walls where tiles and skirting aren’t quite flush. How much more have I missed?

People dancing. Veronica Shum, Kel Mocilnik and Rachel Fenwick are the trio who deal with the dancing part of this installation, though all the artists by being there somehow emerge as performers or actors. Kel is the only non-dancer in the midst, though for me often he pulled my attention more than the others. Besides having a really elegant natural movement, he was playful and spontaneous in how he could respond to the people closest to him, and more than once had someone following his gaze as he repeatedly glanced at something only he saw, or straining to hear conversations with himself, Veronica, Rachel or someone near.

Rachel often slouched to the floor drunk or insensate, pulling herself inwards mid-phrase to an unconscious stop before getting up, wandering off for a drink of water a sitdown and chat then off somewhere again, maybe to terrify the patrons of the Grace Emily. Veronica was by far the most introverted of the three, barely registering another’s presence, adding a voyeuristic confusion in watching her, like peering through someone’s uncurtained window.

The complete closeness of the dancers to audience, sometimes on top, around, constricting, or just brushing past is mostly absent in dance performance where the body is seen at a distance and the choreography relies on the broadest of gestures. Like Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker in her solo Once, the audience in the first few rows have an entirely different experience to those in the rear. And here, to be able to see and feel the warmth of a dancer’s skin and breath or if you so choose to touch, to see a performance so close it loses focus.

What did I want more of? I came along to the preview or I suppose dress run, and after thought a few things that remained after seeing it at vernissage. Of course I want more things to discover, a continual growth like the forest reclaiming Chernobyl, and for this also to occur across the duration of the season, so the evolution occurs not just across the hours of one day. Yes they only had three quick weeks, and really did not have an unclaimed minute.

The ceiling and area above eye’s horizon was sadly neglected, and I would have loved to find as much fascination in lying on my back gazing skywards as I did looking at the floor. Also, as this was a play with homes to have smells and odours, potted aromas of fish soup and compost, far from the smells of a house under the hammer of an auction. And more sound.

My immediate and enduring favourite place was beside the shoebox cardboard house listening to a drugged chainsaw or farm town pissup on insulating headphones watching Rachel Kel and Veronica arrive and depart. To have more of these also or to hear the different rooms and corners of the gallery amplified like this, the spaces continuously folding in on themselves would have been magical.

The choreography also which evolved depending on who and how many were in what proximity at times had that sleepy attraction for me I am so partial to. Again though I’d have liked to seen a more complex and subtle evolution. Stealing unconscious movement from the audience, growing into something absolutely unrecognisable from what was at the beginning of the night, really to play and be set free from itself. This I think is one of the contemporary concerns in dance, how to get beyond imprisoning movement to steps and counts, to understand movement as a series of initial conditions that can change over multiple iterations the way software models of organisms, cells, life can do the same.

To grasp how this could be achieved in movement I think is what Alison is striving for. Simultaneously how to engender a conceptual involvement with the scale of individuals one step magnified, like standing too close, and where identity resides at this level. Along with her ensemble, Alison is more than capable of bringing these off.

Housewives on Fire

A conversation before the show: girl-a, “wanna sit in the front row?”, girl-b, “nah I don’t wanna be that close when someone’s starkers …”. A sign on the door coming into the theatre (paraphrased) “This show contains violence, partial nudity, loud noises”. Notes from Troy Mundy: “‘Housewives on Fire’ is set in the late 50s and through to the early 60s … does our art and media truly represent our daily lives?”.

I was in the midst of confusion with the ACArts graduating dancers’ performance until just before the kitchen scene when I realised this wasn’t a work about 1950s morality in a country that has so far to go before overcoming its indelible prudery, but a homage to the great works of Baltimore from John Waters, Polyester, Pink Flamingos, Hairspray, other suburban dystopias like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and the high modern irruption of The Other in Twin Peaks. My confusion between programme notes and performance cleared up, it became a dual question of what kind of homage was being made and why his programme notes were so misleading. Wilfully duplicitous, slyly skirting around the real agenda or something else?

To the dancing and a soundtrack of golden oldies we can all sing along to – if we come from the right culture, and skirts and jackets and shirts and shoes right out of Cry Baby, a fifties vintage explosion I was considering a timely backstage visit to purloin. Chris Hewitt had an evil, scary fixed grin all the way through that made me think he would made a perfect serial killer, all the while snatches of conversation drifted from the ensemble throwing themselves through all the dance steps of the era stitched into Troy’s endless arms and legs, spinning, cutting the air, swirling in and out of groups, fast and intertwined.

At some point the steps became a bit blurred and all looked the same. This settled in a difficult arrangement with the subliminal chatter that never quite achieved an out-of-place dreaminess I thought it was striving for, also not aided by the murky lighting in this scene. Throughout I felt a tension between a desire to commit absolutely to the b-grade movie aesthetic and a contrary pull towards a certain aesthetic of contemporary dance, both somewhat incompatible.

Thinking of Divine eating dogshit at the end of Pink Flamingos made me want to see the dancers pushed further, they are obviously capable and willing to go there and more smut and discomfort while unraveling the historical revisionism of the 50s would have been great. As it was, I kept thinkng, so ok all the clichés have been consciously accounted for but what does it say?

Into the kitchen for a Hugh Hefner swingers dinner party and once more Chris is the lecherous, slimy and revolting heel. After the all-out dance-mania of the first act, this second act is decidedly darker, swirling into a death spiral abyss of adultery, overdoses, villainy. recrimination and despair, accompanied by a Vegas crooner ripe with nihilism and blandishments and even blowing away your husband with a Magnum counts for shit in the history of the universe.

This scene in its entirety from the happy couple at breakfast until the explosion of viscera and dead ghosts, relying wholly on the fine abilities of the dancers in embodying caricatures of golden age polyester lifestyle let itself down in the editing. In engaging with a genre, particularly b-grade and cult, it’s not so much the narrative arc where the rapt attention lies as in the ability to manipulate the form. It’s not for his cardboard sets and morphine-addled performances that Ed Wood’s oeuvre is the pinnacle of trash, it’s the spectacle of sheer unending catastrophe, and for Housewives, it was always a little too clean.

Rachel Fenwick as the four-eyed wallflower, social misfit and sneezing puking misery crumpling in on herself in despair, the valium-bearing drug fairy in blue, the mink stole socialite insensate in her own detritus, Chris again utterly beautiful in the porno-maids’ chorus line, a slow landslide of mess accumulating while on the bed a tryst becomes four-way action with tits and (sadly not naked) cocks and pussies, bizarrely sliding between the Red Room in Blue Velvet and the bed scene in Centrestage.

I like porn, but I couldn’t work out what genre Troy was working in, or if he was saying anything about sex and gender in the world we live, especially in Australia that has such a fixated obsession with being repulsed by dirt and sex and bodies. It’s easy to ostensibly engage in such social critique at a safe distance of half a century but I think in turn this merely reifies the dire stereotypes that plague Australia and the remnants of Queen Victoria’s empire. Vegas guy’s backup chorus girls were hot eye candy though.

I had this feeling especially in this scene of a hesitation from Troy to wholly commit to the mess and sex and bacchanalia of the soirée, not helped also by a soundtrack that completely didn’t work. The first scene’s 50s compilation was entirely appropriate, and the black third, cycles of voices in hysteria also was unsettlingly effective, like low-grade torture and babies screaming, but here I though silence would have been better, or Shostakovich’s apocalyptic Leningrad opus, or anything other than the easy sub-Aphex Twin noodling that has passed for acceptable contemporary dance music for way too long. I feel like I say the same thing every performance I see and it’s the greatest frustration for me, the banality of sound in dance.

Death. Blood. We go to the foyer. Interval.

The technical decision to have an interval to prepare the stage for the black final act broke the momentum and I would liked to have seen a more considered approach to this, one that didn’t require us to depart for a length of time about equal to what remained to be performed.

Electric chair. Bonnie Williams like some sadistic lesbian prison guard from Jesu Franco’s Sadomania shook her ass and pumped her night stick and would put all the girls at Crazy Horse out of a job. Tara Robertson then reminded me of the mesmerising and powerful Carlie Angel whom I saw Sunday at a showing of Mia Mason’s, and then … Rachel again. Clad in black in the guttering far corner, entombed in the heavy unlit drapery void while unavoidable directly in our line of sight four dancers in a death mania, yet Rachel with small arthritic twists of hands and fingers stole the moment.

Then more guns, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, a quick rush for the finale and loss of innocence that would have been John F Kennedy’s assassination or Charles Manson’s Helter Skelter had it been included and then a watch and wait for us to depart.

All the dancers were beautiful to watch. I need also to mention Emma Stokes in the lead, who has an elusive strength and emotion in both her dancing and acting, and is the centre around which the work revolves. For me it’s a special thing to see these dancers, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a tertiary dance performance in Melbourne, and the first for me here. It’s as much about gaining some familiarity with the scene here and how everybody moves as it is about seeing a performance and I was really impressed with how determined and self-assured they all are both as individuals and as an ensemble.