[2013087] Dirtday!

[2013087] Dirtday!

Laurie Anderson @ Dunstan Playhouse

7:30pm, Sun 3 Mar 2013

There’s no point trying to hide the fact that I was disappointed by Laurie Anderson’s first paid offering this Festival, so I scooted into the Playhouse a little… well, wary. Hoping for the best, naturally, but preparing to ward off another snooze.

As per usual, I start chatting to my neighbours, a Tasmanian couple in Adelaide for the weekend; we compare notes and, as I raved animatedly about Skeleton, I discover that they (claim to) know Larissa McGowan personally. They’re thrilled to hear my ham-fisted and completely inadequate description of how amazing it was; they promised to pass on the compliments, before explaining the some of the finer points of Laurie Anderson’s body of work to me.

The stage is littered with candles, an armchair, various microphones, a keyboard, Anderson’s violin; there’s something about the candles that screams “these are precisely placed to appear nonchalant”, but I can’t figure out why they appear that way, nor why they should appear that way. The ambience is contemplative, but with a casual vibe; meditative and mysterious. And when Anderson walks onstage (I dwelt for ages on that verb – it wasn’t as focussed as a stride, nor lazy as an amble), it’s to rapturous applause – and I realised that I still didn’t know quite what to expect.

What followed was an odd mélange of spoken-word and music, of private and political; Anderson flits from story to poem to song, skirting across instruments and soundscapes and vocal manipulations, the steady rhythm of her voice just about the only constant in her delivery. Religion, politics, painting, art; feminism, the underprivileged, the loss of identity in modernity. It’s all in there, it’s all colourful, and it should be a mish-mash of grey as a result…

…but somehow every element of the performance comes together to form a cohesive whole. And the thing that makes it work for me is Anderson’s spoken delivery: it’s wonderfully measured, and she demonstrates a superb sense of timing, especially when it comes to injecting humour or sadness into the proceedings; no more so than when she spoke of her dog. What seemed like an eccentric excursion into the piano-playing of Lolabelle turned into a deeply touching tale of loss… a real rollercoaster of a sojourn.

I found Dirtday! to be an absolutely enthralling performance. Without settling on a single form of delivery, or even a single theme, Anderson somehow manages to conjure a sense of cohesion in the work that I still can’t quite figure out; that I can still be dwelling on her methods (and her message) some nine months on seems appropriate… and satisfying.

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