Megan Dennis & Rapid Eye Movement @ Adelaide Royal Coach
5:30pm, Sun 20 Feb 2011
It’s a glorious day to be alive (or, at least, a glorious day to be awake) and strolling across the parklands to the Adelaide Royal Coach – a little motel complex that I’ve often wandered past without ever contemplating what was contained therein. But the sun warmed my hangover-aching bones, I bump into Rod for a bit of a chat, and I’m feeling alright.
Better than alright, actually. I’m keenly anticipating Spectroscope – as even the most casual reader of this blog may have recognised, I love to see people perform Clever Things with light and shadow. The précis is delicious – described as “a ballet of light”, this solo devised piece is a study into authenticity; the technology of ‘self’: the screen that is created to both display and disguise – and I’m imagining all sorts of things, all sorts of possibilities… it’s very exciting.
But the first thing that I notice when navigating through the halls of the Royal Coach is the water damage – there’s splotches of wet carpet and matting everywhere. And, in the queue for the performance, the cross-group chatter seemed to indicate that this was very much a family-and-friends crowd, with lots of “how do you know Megan / The Girls” discussion. The doors opened, and we’re led into a darkened room, and instructed not to walk across the aisle as we made our way to our seats.
Of course, as soon as the front row on the far side filled up, the aisle was promptly walked across, evoking tuts and hisses from family members. The aisle was to be protected because of the collection of activated glow-sticks tied to a fishing line and laid along the floor; at the front of the space is a two-metre-high screen. Doors closed, there’s a moment of pitch-blackness before eyes adjust to the low light; and then, to inoffensive ambient tones (apparently the work of Sigur Rós), the performance began.
Of course, due to the fact that I was sitting in the second row, I couldn’t see anything for the first couple of minutes of the performance; awkward craning (and potentially creepy breathing into my obstructor’s ear) only allowed me glimpses of the initial action. From behind the screen, some strands of colourful light – more glow-sticks – shine through; they dance in time to the low-key backing music, all-too-slowly climbing the height of the screen. Well, “dance” may be a bit misleading; “jiggle” would be far more accurate, with the strands acting like jerky marionettes. There’s a certain beauty to the light and spasmodic movement – for a few minutes, at least – but the glow-sticks amble along their vertical ascent of the screen, and I’m almost dozing off by the time they reach the top. Luckily my eyes are open for the most visually striking part of the performance, as a bright white light blasts the scrim, and wafting leaves of red cellophane drift serenely down, dancing around Megan Dennis’ shadow (which is pretty much the only time the performer is visible throughout).
But after the autumnal beauty of the cellophane, it was back to more glow-stick action, broken up by some awkward torch-powered shadow puppetry. Colourful rings and shapes wander around behind the scrim, sometimes drifting too far from the screen, hazing their visibility; the fishing-line glow-sticks on the floor are pulled forwards, in what I can only imagine was supposed to mimic a marching stream of light. But that part of the performance was only visible to those sitting on the aisle; poor planning restricts the ability of the audience to appreciate the ideas on offer.
And that is Spectroscope‘s biggest problem: there’s obviously some interesting and creative ideas here, but they’re let down by execution. And, as an audience member, I don’t think the show looks half as good as the Rapid Eye Movement crew think it does. In that regard, Spectroscope reminded me of Fin – ideas and passion are present, but there’s no polish. And unfortunately, the part of the performance that (perversely) provided the most pleasure was the pregnant pause at the end of the show – the audience sat quietly in the pitch-black room for a good ten-to-fifteen seconds before the girl managing sound and lights started softly clapping, her small hands sounding feeble, almost pleading.
I left as efficiently as I could, eyes down; I quickly headed back into the city, wondering what the family-and-friends crowd thought of it, and giggled to myself. And, thinking back on Spectroscope after five months, that’s my fondest memory of the performance – not the “ballet of light”, not the uncomfortable silence, but the ruminations on reactions. And that, in a way, made the whole experience worthwhile.