[2008050] Glow

Glow (Festival page)

Chunky Move @ Space Theatre

8:00pm, Sun 2 Mar 2008

Clocking in at a refreshingly short – and honest – 28 minutes, Glow is less a dance piece than an interaction with technology. A small dance space is covered by a white mat, onto which a live video feed is projected. Infra-red sensors detect heat (as they are wont to do), allowing the position of dancers on the mat to be detected in real time; the video projection is modified on that basis.

The upshot of this is that the dancer is directly interacting with the video content. She may be surrounded by a halo of light, or emitting trickles of colour; at times, her movements are stored and delayed, creating the impression that she is being chased by her own shadow. The visuals are often startlingly effective, and I remember thinking that any performer would love to be able to interact with a system like this. After all, it provides the opportunity for the performer to project themselves in an almost infinite variety of ways.

After this performance, my companion asked me whether I thought the dancer was any good. And I honestly had to say that I didn’t know – not because of my usual “don’t know shit about dance” excuse, but because I barely noticed she was there. And the quality of her performance is largely immaterial; I’m guessing that this technology has the potential to make poor dancers look good (not that I’m saying she was bad – I simply don’t know).

And – let’s face it – when I clapped at the end of this performance, I wasn’t applauding the dancer… I was congratulating the creation of the software, the programmers and technologists. And even then, it wasn’t a hearty clap – because Glow didn’t feel like a complete performance. Sure, to the technological neophytes that make up the bulk of the Festival audiences, Glow would have appeared to be approaching magic, a new frontier; but to the savvy amongst us, it felt more like a tech demo.

Yes, it looked pretty, and yes, it was entertaining – but I would rather see the evolution of this technology, see what a wider application will bring. I want to see tomorrow, not today.

[2008049] Emanuel Gat Dance Company

Emanuel Gat Dance Company (Festival page)

Emanuel Gat Dance Company @ The Playhouse

6:00pm, Sun 2 Mar 2008

I was really looking forward to this. No idea why, I just was. And the initial signs were good – the first piece, Winter Voyage, features Emanuel Gat and Roy Assaf strolling, running, jumping across the stage in straight lines, often intersecting each others paths and avoiding contact with a deft flick of the arm or leg. Then closer, mimicking each other’s moves, in a beautifully trance-like exploration of the space. Though set to two pieces of Schubert’s Winterreise, the music was separated on all sides by periods of silence (delightful – I love hearing the thumping of the floors and the dancer’s panting). A great start to the performance.

The second piece, however, was seven shades of self-indulgent suck. Gat – solo this time – roams fore and aft of a line of light at the front of the stage. The music – John Coltrane’s version of the titular My Favourite Things – could have been fifteen minutes of radio static for all the connection it had to the performance, and the dance didn’t engage me in the slightest. Boooooring.

The final piece, The Rite of Spring, was equal parts delight and meh. Assaf rejoins Gat onstage with three female dancers, and the periods where the women were lined up parallel to the stagefront and the men moved between them, engaging each in more intricate movements. These moments were genuinely exciting, and were repeated many times during The Rite of Spring; however, the bits inbetween were – again – intolerably dull.

Sadly, the Emanuel Gat Dance Company didn’t live up to my expectations. There was just way too much stuff that I couldn’t recognise as dance in there.

[2008046] DBR & The Mission

DBR & The Mission (Festival page)

DBR & The Mission @ Festival Theatre

7:00pm, Fri 29 Feb 2008

I don’t know the first fucking thing about DBR & The Mission, but – just two pieces into the performance – I was weeping from the imperious rhythmic majesty of it. Now, maybe that’s just a side-effect of my fucked-up and fragile emotional state, but I’ve got a feeling there was more to it than that; they delivered an epiphany, a musical moment that was so damned near transcendence that it begs religious fervor.

But my words are far too uneducated, ill-informed, and blunt to adequately describe it.

The Mission are essentially a string quartet (two electric violins, cello (bliss!) and viola) backed by a rhythm section (drums, bass, keyboards, turntables & beatboxing). Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) himself also plugs along on the electric violin, and – barring the cello (Jessie Reagen, a subject of fawning lust) – all the string chaps had huge banks of guitar pedals with which they modified their strings.

And by “modified”, I mean “reconstructed”. The viola sounded like dirty underwater guitar solos; violins emulated guitars from tinny lead to chunky rhythm. Earl Maneein, in particular, conjured filthy chugs of rock goodness from his violins, which seemed to resonate with the audience that – if I had to guess – had sneered at ROCK for most of their adult lives.

But I think they’re converts now. And I think that the kids that reluctantly attended gained a new-found appreciation for the strings. And maybe that’s is where the attraction to this performance came from; it was a bridge between genres, between generations.

And, truth be told, I didn’t think that DBR was that great a musician; in fact, I’d go as far as to say that he was the least compelling player on the stage. But he had presence, and wrote most of the pieces on offer, and commanded the respect of the band and the audience alike. But I’ll be damned if I regard his solo re-interpretation of “Waltzing Matilda” (used as the second encore) as God’s Gift, as many of the audience did.

But every other piece in the performance more than made up for it. The conventional pieces, the academically constructed pieces – all seemed to deliver passion and rhythm and bloody awesome music and… I wept. And that welling up of emotion is more than you can hope for.

[2008040] Ainadamar

Ainadamar (Festival page)

State Opera of South Australia @ Festival Theatre

7:00pm, Fri 29 Feb 2008

It amused me no end that the first name I spied when opening the programme for Ainadamar was Peter Sellars – the man responsible for the blight that was the 2002 Festival. Thankfully, it appears that his self-indulgent touch of death had nothing to do with this production.

Ainadamar centres on a performance of Mariana Pineda, penned by Federico García Lorca in 1927. Pineda was a martyr for the Spanish Revolution in 1831 and, likewise, Lorca is also persecuted in 1930’s Granada. As Ainadamar opens, leading lady Margarita waits in the wings for her entrance; she begins telling the story of her first meeting with Lorca (in a Madrid bar some 40 years earlier) to her student, Nuria. She conveys the passion that inspired the Spanish Republic, we flash back to the Grenadan massacres, before returning to the play-in-progress – in time to see Margarita die in the wings, with the knowledge and desire for freedom passed on to Nuria.

First things first: the music in Ainadamar is incredible. Really, truly, amazing. Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov has created a score which is beautiful, powerful, sublime. The opening, alone, is worth the squillions of dollars I paid for these tickets. Yes, it was really that good.

The staging for the piece consisted of a series of curved walls, easily moved and rotated by the cast to create the illusions of the wings of the theatre, backstage, or even the wall against which people were shot. These blank white walls also served as a surface for projected media, and here’s where my major complaint with Ainadamar comes in: the styles used for projected information were a mish-mash, often clashing with each other and at odds with the mood of the piece. It’s not a huge complaint, mind you, but there was something quite jarring about the transition between beautifully scripted handwriting to puffy white clouds to gushes of bright-red blood and cartoonish bullet-holes.

Performances were fine – once I’d got over the girlish presentation of Lorca – and the chorus of the play-within-an-opera was just magnificent; every time the ballad of Mariana Pineda struck up, I’d get chills. But the thing that really sticks out in my mind about Ainadamar is the ending; as after a beautifully weighted build-up, Margarita dies, and the baton is passed to Nuria, who takes to the stage (within a stage) to a thunderous crescendo.

“Great place for this to end,” thunk I.

Except, with the mood and pace of the music dropped to a whimper, the chorus took to the stage again, leading me to instinctively think that Ainadamar was jumping the shark.

Oh how wrong I was.

Another ascension, this time even more cunningly judged, rises up and up and up with Nuria in the leading role until the curtain is dropped – only to be caught by Nuria two metres from ground, allowing the chorus to well up again, sending the curtain to the heavens and the causing the titular Fountain of Tears (which I’ve neglected to mention before) rain down on the stage as the dancer representing the voice of Freedom emerges through the fountain and…

Fuck me, I’ve just welled up with tears again. Suffice to say, this was – without a doubt – one of the most beautiful, liberating endings to a performance I’ve ever seen – chock to the brim with stunning music and song and imagery and… passion. And to think that I’d almost written it off! Nice little life lesson there for me.

In short – Ainadamar was stunning; I only wish I could have seen more of it. My now-necessary pre-show naps seem to keep getting interrupted, meaning the I missed most of the surtitles in the first third, as I viewed the action through glazed and foggy eyes.

[2008037] Don’t Look Back

Don’t Look Back (Festival page)

dreamthinkspeak @ Torrens Building

7:55pm, Thu 28 Feb 2008

Don’t Look Back is loosely based on the myth of Orpheus in the Underworld, attempting to bring his wife Eurydice back from the dead. The rulers of the Underworld are softened by Orpheus’ plight, and agree that Eurydice may return to the surface with him – as long as he walks in front of her, and doesn’t turn back to see her while before she reaches the surface. Naturally, he fails to do so, losing Eurydice forever.

So – it’s pretty obvious where the name of the piece comes from; but what about the performance itself?

Punters gather in a little ante-room in the Torrens Building, waiting for admittance to the Experience. People make their way through the performance in groups of three – an odd number, perhaps deliberately so: my SO and I were in separate groups, and the pseudo-isolation of that was… interesting. Engaging in such an experience as the odd-man-out with an older couple certainly put a social spin on the situation that I wasn’t expecting; trying to engage in thoughtful conversation about what we were experiencing was alien, what with their invisible couple-communication.

We’re led through corridors and up stairs to a dark room; “wait here,” says a Festival volunteer, “someone will be here to collect you shortly.” She leaves – the room is black. Pitch black. Eyes still adjusting, aural senses heightened, there’s the noise of someone snoring in the room and, with a splutter, a desk lamp flicks on to reveal a grizzled old man eying us with suspicion. He queries our names, fails to find them in his ledger; issues us tickets, and sends us on our way. “Take as much time as you like,” he says.

We push through the black cloth holding back the light, and encounter our first usher. Pale, withdrawn, top-hat-and-tails, she tells us all we need to know with a simple gesture – which also carries with it a tinge of tolerant distaste. We walk down this nondescript corridor in a government building and discover an open door; we peek inside, where we see a scene from a wedding-gone-wrong; the bridal table lies in ruin, a bride corpse strewn atop it. We three stare; after a minute or two, I try to start a conversation: “so – what happened here?” The fallen chandelier, the ruined cake, and the pristine bride herself begged discussion. I got none.

And so we progress through the Torrens Building, following the relatively linear path made available to us. Along the way, open doors and lit areas attract your interest, whether it be to a tiny diorama or an elaborately staged reconstruction of events. Films projected onto the end of long tunnels; entire rooms full of very deliberate actors, slow and studied in every detail. Up and down stairs we traveled, through office hallways and subterranean tunnels, carpets and dirt floors. A bizarre sequence involving an elevator and the bride falling away from us. A violin in a waiting room. A pitch black passage with an apparition shimmering in from the dark.

And always – always – questions: Why did the bride die? Why the tracks in the snow? What was behind the other doors?

OK, I admit it – I looked back. Curiousity got the better of me; I had to know what was behind a door that was ever-so-slightly ajar. A very, very stern usher appeared from nowhere, startling me, and pointed me in another direction.

I didn’t look back after that.

Don’t Look Back is more like an art gallery than a performance piece, though I should be careful to note that the performances within the piece itself are perfect; slow, deliberate actions as befit a public service like the Department of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. The scene where you happen upon a young woman guillotining names is glorious; she ever-so-carefully-and-slowly lines up the paper – it’s almost torture to watch – before whipping the blade down with a thunk. As you explore the subsequent rooms, you’re still hearing this *thunk* in the background… it’s chilling, threatening, and you have to keep reminding yourself it’s benign.

It really is a wonderful experience, with experience being the operative word.

[2008033] The Angel and The Red Priest

The Angel and The Red Priest (Festival page)

Oddbodies Theatre @ ACA (Main Theatre)

7:00pm, Wed 27 Feb 2008

I’ll be honest, here – I dozed off more than once during the first half of this production. I maintain that it’s not entirely my fault, given the sleepy lighting and lulling music used in the performance. And, let’s face it, what’s on offer early on – at least, what I saw – was pretty missable.

We’re observing Vivaldi on the cusp of his rise in greatness. In search of a soprano, he finds instead a confidante, a muse, in a disfigured cleaning girl – his Angel. Despite his training as a priest, they fall in love – only for Vivaldi’s ambition and opportunity to tear them apart.

The angular set is really attractive, and a quintet of musicians – harpsichord, oboe, cello, violin, viola – line one “side”. Musical and theatrical performances are fine – nothing to complain about, anyway – but, as a whole, it’s all rather pedestrian and lifeless…

…until the last five minutes. Vivaldi indicates to his Angel that he’s leaving Venice; she is heartbroken. Those moments between them are beautifully weighted, full of import – and the finale is, likewise, a thoroughly enjoyable, emotive piece of work, wonderfully staged. Such a shame, then, that the earlier part of the show – when it managed to keep my eyes open – was so unemotional.

[2008031] Township Stories

Township Stories (Festival page)

The State Theatre of South Africa @ Royalty Theatre

9:30pm, Tue 26 Feb 2008

“Contains graphic scenes of sex and violence” says the postcard précis. Woohoo, said I.

Of course, I had a feeling that this depiction of life in a South African township would lean heavily on the violence side of that statement, but I wasn’t really prepared for the brutality that was to unfold. And the opening scene featured the rape and murder of a schoolgirl whore which, even though she was the only person onstage, was utterly chilling.

The rest of the production is a somewhat predictable thriller; with a serial killer on the loose, we’re privy to life of a number of families in a South African township. There’s the cop leading the investigation into the serial killer and his son; the girl who acts as a narrator for some of the story, her drunken father, unfaithful mother, and the criminal to whom she falls pregnant when she runs away from home. The bodies start to pile up, indicated by tokens on the washing-line above the stage, and the story steadily progresses towards its inevitable conclusion.

The production and direction of the piece is wonderful – set scenery is whisked on, off, and back-of-stage by the cast, accompanied by song, between scenes. At times, dialog can be utterly unintelligible – but I’m still unsure whether that was because of accent or language. I suspect the latter, because long dialogues would appear to snap into English about halfway through. There’s no real issue with that though, since the themes are pretty obvious – and universal.

But, let’s face it, Township Stories won’t be remembered for its story, nor its performances – it will be remembered for its sheer, unadulterated brutality. We witness the rape and murder of multiple young girls. We see a schoolgirl gleefully accept her place in life as a whore, before being impregnated in an imaginatively explicit scene. We see a young boy raped by his father, the audience uncomfortably mute as their bed is dragged offstage, the boy whimpering in violation. There’s a girl performing an abortion upon herself. There’s multiple stranglings and gunshots (including one which had the chap sitting in front of me diving for the floor). There’s a completely bizarre zombie-like Zulu hitman who staggers through the streets, machete at his side. The start of the second Act, featuring the beating of a pregnant woman, is brilliantly staged – which feels like an awful thing to say :}

Needless to say, this is a pretty bleak and vicious piece of work. The final scene, featuring the brilliantly-played drunk Dan (Molefi Monaisa) stumbling home in bliss – while his daughter lies raped, dead, at the front & centre of the stage – is chillingly poignant. The massive cast all put in powerful performances in a show which runs about two-and-a-half hours (plus interval).

This was my first Festival show of the year. I certainly hope the rest are a little more positive in nature; whilst an undeniably great piece of work, Township Stories joins the list of shows that are terribly difficult to recommend, such is the nature of its brutality.